Plan for beefed-up 'pen? To stay flexible

Adding two former closers won't change how Twins use their relievers

March 1st, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For as long as Rocco Baldelli roams the manager's office in the Twins' clubhouse, the title of "closer" is unlikely to be bequeathed upon any single pitcher. He and pitching coach Wes Johnson like flexibility and matchups too much for that.

That mix is all the more complicated this year, as the Twins have three pitchers with recent experience finishing games, following the acquisitions of and to join . Two of them -- Rogers and Robles -- are coming off challenging 2020 seasons. Considering all that, how much do the Twins have to figure out about their late-innings plans?

As it turns out, not too much.

"The way that I'm personally thinking about it is not really up in the air at this point," Baldelli said. "We have a very good bullpen. We have a very talented bullpen. We have guys we know we can trust. We have guys who have pitched extensively at the end of games and important games. We have an idea of what we are going to do."

Here's what Baldelli and Johnson have to say: Rogers and Colomé are both in line to finish "a lot of games" this season. Robles could also factor in, depending on how he rebounds from his 10.26 ERA with the Angels last season. Heck, Johnson even threw 's name into the mix, though it appears that the right-hander is most valuable in his "fireman" role from the past two seasons.

One thing's for sure: Colomé and Robles in particular are going to be asked for more flexibility than their roles in the recent past, considering Colomé closed 42 games for the White Sox over the past two seasons and has been a closer since 2016. Robles saved 23 games in 2019 before falling out of that role last season..

That sort of flexibility may have been less well received in years past, when teams mostly used well-defined closers. But this has just become a way of life in the Twins' bullpen under Baldelli and Johnson -- and even veterans from outside the organization such as Colomé arefine with knowing that's what they're walking into.

"I’m not worrying about that as of right now," Colomé said. "To be honest with you, I don’t have any issues with that, either. Coming to a team that works differently than other places. I don’t have that in my mind that I have to be the closer or not. I’m just trying to help the team win, and this is a good team and this is a good place to be at. That’s where my mindset is right now."

Over the past two seasons, Rogers owned most of the ninth-inning opportunities. But Sergio Romo, now with the A's, broke into the mix in certain situations -- and the Twins even used Matt Wisler, now with the Giants, for a save opportunity against the White Sox in 2020.

But the ninth inning is far from the Twins' focus; it's all about matchups in the most important situations, and conveying the growing popular understanding that other situations often matter more. The benefit of bringing in Colomé and Robles is more than just their late-inning experience -- it's in giving the Twins different looks in those meaningful situations.

"Ego gets in the way sometimes, and when you realize that an inning’s an inning and how there’s a leverage index and all these things that really put more value into pitchers, you realize that inning you come into the seventh and get the three hitter out to finish an inning, that out may be so much more valuable than the eighth inning facing seven-eight-nine," Duffey said. "So definitely, with us, it’s become 'get your outs and contribute,' and then that’s all that matters."

It's not all hard throwers with big breaking balls in this Twins bullpen, and there's likely an element of design to that. There's Rogers with his sinker-breaking ball mix from the left side. There's Colomé, who relies almost exclusively on his cutter and fastball. Duffey is a fastball-breaking ball guy, while Robles also has the split changeup to pair with a hard fastball out of a less orthodox delivery.

"We’ve got different looks, which I think keeps hitters on their toes," Duffey said. "Like, last year, we played Detroit like eight times over 10 games or whatever it was. Being able to mix it up and have guys not see the same people over and over, there’s a lot of benefits in that."

As for how all of those different looks will mix in? Don't expect to know anytime soon. When many of those arms first saw the field on Sunday, Robles threw the third inning, Rogers the fourth and Duffey the fifth -- seeing as how it's Spring Training. But with more back-end weapons than ever in the Twins' arsenal, this might be the toughest season yet to place any expectations at all on Minnesota's late-innings usage.