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Berrios eyeing Opening Day start

MLB.com @RhettBollinger

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jose Berrios remains lined up to start on Opening Day against the Orioles on March 29 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but nothing is official yet, and the right-hander said he's still competing for that honor, with Ervin Santana set to miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery on his right middle finger on Feb. 6.

The Twins could turn to veteran right-hander Kyle Gibson or new addition Jake Odorizzi for the regular-season opener, but Berrios is coming off a breakout year that saw him post a 3.89 ERA with 139 strikeouts in 145 2/3 innings. Berrios looked sharp on Sunday in the team's 9-3 loss versus the Pirates, throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts and three hits allowed in his second start of the spring.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jose Berrios remains lined up to start on Opening Day against the Orioles on March 29 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but nothing is official yet, and the right-hander said he's still competing for that honor, with Ervin Santana set to miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery on his right middle finger on Feb. 6.

The Twins could turn to veteran right-hander Kyle Gibson or new addition Jake Odorizzi for the regular-season opener, but Berrios is coming off a breakout year that saw him post a 3.89 ERA with 139 strikeouts in 145 2/3 innings. Berrios looked sharp on Sunday in the team's 9-3 loss versus the Pirates, throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts and three hits allowed in his second start of the spring.

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"Obviously, everybody knows Ervin won't start the season with us, so us starting pitchers are competing for that day," Berrios said. "So right now, I'm trying to be healthy and strong and ready for that day."

Berrios is on the upswing and isn't shy about his goals for the 2018 season. He endured a rookie season that saw him record an 8.02 ERA in 14 starts in '16, only to turn it around last year and show why he was such a highly regarded prospect.

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"The first thing is, I want to help the team make the playoffs again," Berrios said. "For me, I want to win 20 games for the team and make the All-Star Game. If I accomplish those things, I think I can be up for a Cy Young Award."

Twins manager Paul Molitor has high expectations for Berrios given his stuff, work ethic and his demeanor, but cautioned that he's only 23 years old. Berrios, though, is the closest thing to a potential ace on the roster, and it's hard not to get excited about what he could become.

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"I think we all are hopeful that he's going to be that kind of guy, but I always caution people not to jump too far too fast on people that young," Molitor said. "He's got experience, but it's not a ton. We're expecting growth. How far he takes that from the opening part of the season until the end, it's 162 games away."

With that long season in mind, Berrios is a workout freak who enjoys posting videos on social media, including one that went viral this offseason when he pushed a truck across a parking lot in Puerto Rico. The 6-foot, 185-pounder said he notices a difference physically from when he first got to the Majors two seasons ago.

"I'm moving better on the mound," Berrios said. "All my body is moving forward together. I don't worry about my arm too much. It's just nice and easy and pitch. When I was a rookie I felt strong, but I notice a difference from now when I pitch. I feel better."

Video: Outlook: Berrios could continue to ascend with Twins

Berrios also benefited from changing his pitch mix last year, as he threw his curveball more his second season, throwing it 30 percent of the time compared to 21.6 percent as a rookie. Opposing hitters hit just .220 with a .306 slugging percentage against it, while it generated 102 swings and misses, which ranked as the 10th-most in baseball, per Statcast™

Berrios also learned to trust his stuff, and located better with 44 percent of his pitches in the strike zone compared to 38.3 percent in '17. His plus-stuff makes him tough to square up, as opposing batters had an average exit velocity of 85.2 mph against him, which ranked as the 10th-best mark among Major League starters.

Berrios said making adjustments is simply part of the game and its the same reason why he works out so hard in the offseason, as he knows it takes a lot to be a successful starting pitching.

"I want to play a long career in the Majors," Berrios said. "So I have to prepare myself."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Minnesota Twins, Jose Berrios