Who, me? Stashak stellar, under the radar

August 2nd, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- In a bullpen with the likes of , , and in late-inning roles, the Twins instead turned to little-known rookie as their setup man in the eighth inning of Saturday night's 3-0 win over Cleveland.

As he usually does, the quiet, stoic Stashak jogged out to the mound, took care of business with two strikeouts in a hitless inning and strolled calmly back to the dugout. One might assume that after posting a 3.24 ERA last season and throwing four scoreless innings while protecting leads in 2020, Stashak would have grown more accustomed to the Twins trusting him in tight spots.

Nope. He's still as surprised as anyone.

"When they called my name, I was like, 'Me?'" Stashak said of an earlier performance.

Yes, you.

"I think Cody should get used to it," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He’s really good. Probably a guy that doesn’t get talked about enough. The guys that do it quietly usually don’t get talked about a ton, especially when they haven’t been pitching in those eighth- and ninth-inning spots."

There was something unusual about Stashak's eighth inning on Sunday, actually: He issued a walk. That's kind of a big deal.

Not only was it Stashak's first walk of the season, it was also just the second of his Major League career across 29 innings. He had 25 punchouts and one free pass last season, and he reached 30 career strikeouts before he issued the two-out base on balls to César Hernández. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that marked the most strikeouts by any pitcher before his second career walk since the mound was moved to its current distance in 1893.

No shocker there. When Stashak first arrived in the Majors last July, he concisely stated his goal: "Throw strikes. The only way to get outs."

Easier said than done? Perhaps. But Stashak has maintained his aggression against big league hitters all the same.

"I’m going to challenge every hitter I face," Stashak elaborated this week. "I want to make them earn their base. That’s the main thing I hate doing, is walking somebody. I’d rather give up a hit than a walk, so I’m just going to go in and pound the strike zone, and the results are kind of showing it. Like I said, I hate walking people."

The results have followed, and despite having a fastball that averages just 92.4 mph, the unassuming 26-year-old has quickly become an important piece in a bullpen that has been nothing short of spectacular in 2020. and combined to allow nine runs to the White Sox in the Twins' second game of the season. Otherwise, the Minnesota bullpen has contributed scoreless outings in 22 of 26 individual relief performances so far, entering Sunday's game.

Twins relievers have allowed two runs in their last 24 innings. Stashak has been right in the middle of it, pitching a scoreless seventh in a three-run game on Tuesday before protecting another three-run lead in Saturday's eighth inning.

"It just seems to be automatic with the guy, and it is impressive because he always seems to be on the attack, but he hardly ever says a word," Romo said. "I don't know. My dad always kind of told me that those guys are the ones to really watch out for -- the guys that don't say much, but you know where they're at at all times.

"He just seems to be a different person on the mound, almost like a real silent assassin."

The thing is Stashak says he doesn't even feel completely sharp yet. His body is still catching up to game condition. He keeps getting outs anyway.

"Cody’s a guy that’s kind of firmed himself up in our bullpen and a guy that we’re going to rely on in big moments throughout the year," Baldelli said.

Twins tidbits
• Every Sunday during the regular season, the Twins typically like to name a Minor League Player of the Week and Pitcher of the Week. That's obviously more difficult with no Minor League season being contested in 2020.

Instead, the Twins named shortstop their "St. Paul Player Pool Player of the Week" with a rather tongue-in-cheek note that claimed that Lewis, the organization's top prospect, "went 29-for-42 (.690) in batting practice with ghost fielders" and "took 'tons' of ground balls." was named the "St. Paul Player Pool Pitcher of the Week" for his "wonderful" bullpen sessions.

Alcala, the No. 25 prospect in the organization, was recalled to the active roster on Saturday with Littell moving to the 10-day injured list.