FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Fernando Romero had expected to compete for a starting role this spring, but manager Rocco Baldelli sat down with him in Fort Myers and told him that the Twins planned to use him as a reliever.
Romero told Baldelli that he wanted to do anything he could to help the team, and pointed down at his finger, as if he were indicating a championship ring.
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"You couldn't ask for a better response from a guy," Baldelli said. "He seemed really excited."
The Twins have long thought that Romero and his fastball -- which touched 97 mph in the Major Leagues last season, during which he made 11 appearances, all starts, as a rookie -- could be an effective bullpen piece. Now that the Twins appear committed to using him as a reliever this season, he could become an immediate factor in the battle for the open closer's role.
"I love being a reliever," said Romero, who has made 18 relief appearances in the Minors. "Closer? Doesn't matter. I'm giving my best, 100 percent."
Though he has worked on developing his changeup for his repertoire as a starter, Romero said that he spent the offseason working specifically on the release point of his slider, as well as the general command of both the slider and his four-seam fastball.
Romero doesn't plan to rely only on his two-pitch fastball-slider mix just because he's in a bullpen role; he'll continue to use all of his pitches, which could help him continue to work towards a possible future transition back to the starting rotation.
"Fernando we look at as a weapon going forward, and a guy that could fill the role as it was described in shorter stints, as someone we rely on to pitch important innings for us," Baldelli said. "We see him as the kind of guy with the mentality and the ability to be really impactful, and that's why we're doing what we're doing."
Mejia to prepare as starter
The Twins plan to use left-hander Adalberto Mejía as a starter this spring, likely as a primary competitor for the open fifth rotation spot alongside the newly acquired Martin Pérez. Baldelli said the initial goal is to get some length out of Mejia.
Mejia is out of options, so he could eventually transition into a bullpen role to keep him on the Major League roster if Perez wins the competition and the other four projected starters -- José Berríos, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda -- all stay healthy. In the event of an injury to a starter, Mejia could then be primed for a starting role.
The other young pitchers that could also be considered for a starting role -- Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves and Zack Littell -- all have remaining Minor League options, making their roster situation less pressing than that of Mejia's.