Twins starting pitchers have been hit hard by the injury bug early this season, and the team entered Thursday with three projected members of the Opening Day rotation on the 10-day injured list. They'll finally take an important step forward Saturday night, when All-Star right-hander Jake Odorizzi will make his season debut against the Royals.
Odorizzi is still not fully built up for the regular season and expects to be limited to approximately 70 pitches in his first outing. He threw 52 pitches in a simulated start on Monday.
"There’s still some things to be ironed out, of course," Odorizzi said. "It’ll be my first game of the year, and it’s August, so I don’t really have any expectations going into the game. I just want to get out there for my first time and get things going again."
Odorizzi began the season on the IL after he suffered a right intercostal strain toward the end of Summer Camp. He reported feeling good after facing hitters with four up-and-downs at the club's alternate training site in St. Paul, Minn., on Monday.
The right-hander felt ready to slot into the rotation after seeing that his velocity was in his desired range during that Monday outing and his body recovered well over the next two days. Odorizzi also felt he wasn't compensating for the injury by changing his mechanics, which was an important consideration in his readiness for the season.
Odorizzi has only faced live hitters four times since the end of the original Spring Training period, meaning he'll still have to make some adjustments as he feels out in-game situations. At a certain point, however, there's no substitute for in-game reps -- and he's finally ready to take that step.
"If I would have rushed it, it could have been a thing that just lingers the entire year or whatever it may be, and that’s what we didn’t want," Odorizzi said. "Having the flexibility of 30 guys on the roster ... kind of gave us a little bit extra leeway with that, especially with the rash of starting pitcher issues right now across the entire league. Taking it a little bit slower might have been the correct move considering what’s all been happening."
The Twins won't yet have a rotation jam upon Odorizzi's return, as both Rich Hill (left shoulder weakness) and Homer Bailey (right biceps tendinitis) remain on the 10-day IL. That could eventually be a possibility, though, as rookie Randy Dobnak continued pressing his case for a regular spot with six scoreless innings on Wednesday, his second straight quality start.
It's too early to think about those considerations for now, but Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said he has no intention of pulling Dobnak from the rotation.
"We’ll be ready for pretty much anything, but I don’t think there’s any reason right now to think [Dobnak] is going to come out of the rotation any time in the near future," Baldelli said. "But as everyone else does get healthy, we’ll continually readjust and look at how everyone lines up."
Whitefield optioned; roster down to 28
The Twins optioned fifth outfielder Aaron Whitefield to their alternate training site on Wednesday night to trim their roster to 28 players ahead of Thursday morning's deadline. According to the new agreement in place between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, teams can carry 28 players through the end of the 2020 postseason.
Whitefield, 23, was a surprise addition to the Opening Day 30-man roster. He appeared in three games as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement and he grounded out in his only at-bat of the season. His high-end speed and defensive ability could have been an asset in close games, but he was likely not used often enough to justify the roster spot.
"Whitey was prepared every day," Baldelli said. "We didn’t know if he would play in every game or one game, but he did a nice job and knew his role and took care of business."
The Twins had already trimmed down to 29 on their active roster because they didn't make a corresponding move when they placed Hill on the 10-day injured list on Tuesday.
Arraez getting planned day off
Though second baseman Luis Arraez appeared to be a late scratch from the Twins' lineup that was originally posted on Thursday morning, Baldelli indicated that there was a bit of a mix-up and that the coaching staff had already decided Wednesday night to give Arraez the day off.
Arraez started each of Minnesota's last nine games as part of this trying stretch of the schedule in which the club will play 36 games in 37 days. Marwin González replaced him at second base on Thursday.
"[Arraez has] been playing a lot out there for us," Baldelli said. "Just wanted to make sure we were able to do that. So there's not a ton to report in there."