The Twins optioned two more pitchers to their alternate training site on Friday, and in doing so, may have consolidated their Opening Day bullpen picture.
Left-hander Devin Smeltzer and right-hander Shaun Anderson were moved off the active roster before the Twins’ 4-2 loss to the Braves, leaving only the relievers widely expected to make up the Opening Day bullpen among the Major League group. The only question now might be whether Randy Dobnak or Lewis Thorpe will complete the bullpen as a long reliever.
Anderson entered camp as the lone reliever not considered a surefire fit in the Twins’ bullpen among those on the 40-man roster who were seeing regular game action this spring. Now that he’s no longer in the picture, this seemingly clears the path for Minnesota to break camp with a relief corps of Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Alex Colomé, Hansel Robles, Jorge Alcala, Cody Stashak and Caleb Thielbar, along with either Dobnak or Thorpe, to fill out their 13-man pitching staff.
Dobnak struck out five batters in 3 1/3 innings vs. the Braves. He allowed one unearned run and one hit and maintained his 0.00 ERA in Grapefruit League play.
“There are probably a number of guys that are right on that line that we're still watching and assessing and just keeping track of everything they do,” Baldelli said. “We'll see where we're at on Opening Day. There's a lot of moving parts. You never exactly know what the roster is going to look like when that time comes for it to be set. There could be some smaller surprises or maybe rosters that people are not completely thinking of.”
That said, the Twins have typically valued roster flexibility and depth above all when making their end-of-camp decisions. Their willingness to turn to depth arms throughout the regular season could make it advantageous to have several bullpen options stashed at the alternate training site.
Sanó preparing at third base
Miguel Sanó doesn’t exactly need convincing to head back across the diamond to his old position at third base, as he did for the first time this spring on Friday. That might not be an isolated occurrence, as Baldelli said that the big man could factor into the Twins’ plans at the hot corner during the year.
"I think it's something that we could see during the regular season,” Baldelli said. “It's not just in case of an emergency.”
Baldelli noted that the Twins kept Sanó’s focus at first base last spring and throughout the 2020 regular season to get him acclimated to the new position, but there won’t be any hesitation to move him back and forth between the corner infield slots as needed. The Twins’ skipper hinted that third base could be a possibility for Sanó early in the season, when Josh Donaldson could be eased into action. Alex Kirilloff or Willians Astudillo could fill in at first, if needed.
There was a bit of rust as Sanó transitioned back across the diamond. An off-target throw to home plate on a fielder’s choice attempt in the third inning brought home Atlanta’s first run on Friday.
Polanco progresses to on-field drills
Second baseman Jorge Polanco said that he hit and took ground balls on Friday, marking the first time he was able to do both activities since he sustained left adductor tightness on a diving play Tuesday. He also ran six sprints and appears encouraged by his condition.
“I think it's feeling very good now,” he said.
Polanco confirmed that he rolled over the ball on the diving play and experienced what felt like tightness in the area while he ran out a grounder later in the game. Otherwise, he said his problematic right ankle, which was surgically repaired for the second straight offseason, is feeling better than ever and that has translated to the quality of his plate appearances this spring. He’s 6-for-19 with a team-leading six walks.
March of Maeda
This spring couldn’t possibly be going any better for Kenta Maeda. He has allowed only one hit and one walk in nine innings, with 12 strikeouts mixed in, and he was awarded the first Opening Day start of his Major League career, to boot. It’s getting to the point where he’s not sure about what else he needs before the regular season.
“Maybe give up a run?” Maeda said. “It’s scary when things are going too well, so it might be better if I gave up a run or two.”
He’ll get that chance when he takes the mound Saturday for a 5:05 p.m. CT matchup on MLB.TV against the Rays at Hammond Stadium opposite right-hander Michael Wacha. Expect Maeda to ramp up a bit more from the four innings and 53 pitches in his last outing.