In his postgame press conference following Friday night’s loss to the Royals, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli still hadn’t named a starter for the Saturday afternoon matchup.
To the media, Baldelli made it appear as if he still hadn’t made up his mind. In reality, he and his staff have had a plan brewing to give Griffin Jax his first start in the big leagues on Saturday, and in the process, make him the first graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy to start a Major League game.
Minnesota missed the mark by about 20 hours to have Jax start on Kansas City’s Armed Forces Night, but the fact that Jax made his first big league start on Fourth of July weekend makes it a special occasion for the Twins nonetheless.
“We've had this planned for a few months now, to have Griffin pitching this weekend, and we missed it by a day,” Baldelli said. “Sometimes we mishandle things, and that was one of the things we may have messed up a little bit, but it still plays out all right.”
Jax was locked up in a scoreless duel through three innings Saturday before a four-run fourth by the Royals. He ended up allowing six runs in five innings to take his first Major League loss in a 6-3 defeat.
Jax already became the first Air Force Academy graduate to make a Major League roster on June 5, and he became the first graduate to appear in a Major League game when he debuted on June 8. Knowing who he is representing could put added pressure on Jax’s shoulders as he looks to make a name for himself with Minnesota, but Baldelli said Jax has taken everything in stride.
“I'll tell you this: he's representing the United States military and the Air Force Academy very, very well,” Baldelli said. “The type of character that he brings to the table, you're not surprised that he's having the success he's having, because he's a very disciplined, hard-working and talented young guy. He is always going to put himself in a position to succeed. He does every day when he's here. Doesn't get distracted by things that could distract others and could get in his way. Doesn't let any of that bother him. He's doing a great job, and I have no doubt he'll continue to be the same guy going forward and have success on the field.”
Jax hasn’t had the success he’d hoped for early on. He appeared in four games in June, pitching to a 7.82 ERA, a .280 opponents’ average and a 1.50 WHIP. But he’d worked almost exclusively as a starter across five seasons in the Minors -- where he posted a 3.20 ERA and struck out 217 batters to just 60 walks -- and he finally got that chance on Saturday.
“He's a guy that's been a starting pitcher, he's very familiar with that role, comfortable in that role, and I think he's been waiting for that opportunity,” Baldelli said. “And Fourth of July weekend is not a bad time to put the Captain out there to go do his thing. It all worked out, and, now, he can go out there and do it on the field.”
He said it
“I don't think it's been a problem. I think he's adjusted well, and I think he'll continue to figure out what he needs to do on a daily basis to be ready to go. He's going to have to continue to be ready to play in the outfield and play over at first base. I think this is going to be something that, throughout his career, he will see time in both spots, and he's going to have to be the best defender he can at each spot.” -- Baldelli, on Alex Kirilloff playing around the field