Balazovic seizing early chance as Twins' long man

June 25th, 2023

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This probably isn’t the way that  imagined he’d be pitching in the Major Leagues -- but then again, he knows that he hadn’t exactly put himself in position to take any shot at the Majors for granted.

“In the long run, personally, I would love to build back to a starter, but at the end of the day, I've got to take whatever I can get,” Balazovic said.

Once a borderline top 100 overall prospect and ranked as high as the No. 4 prospect in Minnesota’s system, Balazovic initially appeared on track to be slotted in as a building block of future Twins rotations. Instead, his first week in the Majors has been spent continuing to learn a new job -- a bulk relief role -- and figuring out how to maximize his potential there.

It’s not a totally new job, since the Twins fully committed Balazovic to this role in late May, when he was with Triple-A St. Paul. Still, he’s trying to figure out how to stay ready without playing long toss, as he would before a start, or when to work in his Plyo ball routine. Balazovic still doesn’t have the answers, even as he talks to Brent Headrick and other starters who have been pushed into a similar role this year.

As Balazovic tries to figure out what his new normal looks like, there’s also no way to really prepare for outings like Saturday, when he was pushed into the eighth inning of a game totally cold after José De León injured his elbow during his warmup pitches. Balazovic still got his fastball up to 94.9 mph, which was about where he was at the end of a tough 2022 season, when he got back to some semblance of his normal form.

In his big league debut, he was up to 96.2 mph with the fastball -- and he’s not quite sure if it’s the shortened stints that are helping him, or if it’s the general impact of his improved health.

“Last year, I wasn't strong, so I couldn't have the late force into the ground,” Balazovic said. “I was trying to be too quick and rushing, and now I have a left leg to where it's strong and I can be more elastic and back into my tempo.”

He still thinks much of his struggles last year were due to the impact of a left knee injury that he brought into the season, and how it took away his conviction in planting on that leg and might have thrown everything else out of whack. He feels much healthier now -- even after a late start to the season due to a broken jaw sustained when he was punched on a night out in Fort Myers, Fla., before Spring Training.

But he’s not here to think about the what-ifs or the whys of how things are going the way they are; he just knows he feels good, and he’s looking ahead at how to make the most of this opportunity -- whatever it might look like.

“Having those injuries and whatnot definitely set me back,” Balazovic said. “Who knows without having those, you know? But this year, coming into it, my goal was obviously to get to the big leagues and be here as long as I can. No matter what, if they want me to be a starter, reliever, whatever, just be ready. Capitalize on opportunity.”