Hometown kid embracing move to bullpen

October 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Do-Hyoung Park’s Twins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

How many tickets did  have to request as part of his allotment for this Wild Card Series at Target Field?

“I had to draw the line,” Varland said. “I only have, like, 13 coming, I think.”

How exactly does one draw the line at 13 guests?

“Family only,” Varland said. “Family only, and you had to have come to a Minor League game. Because a lot of people want to just come when it’s the postseason. ‘Where were you when I was a Minor Leaguer?’ [That] kind of thing, you know?”

Those who made the cut will be treated to a show -- because the kid from North St. Paul and the pride of Concordia University in St. Paul could really be an X-factor as part of his hometown team’s remade bullpen this postseason.

Chris Paddack, Kenta Maeda and Brock Stewart have also been part of that largely successful influx of help to the relief corps -- but none have taken to the new role as readily as Varland, who has allowed only two runs in 12 innings as a reliever (a 1.50 ERA) with a sparkling 17 strikeouts and two walks.

Those two runs both came in his second relief outing, back on Sept. 9. Since then, he’s thrown eight scoreless, walkless innings with 13 strikeouts across five appearances, relentlessly pounding the strike zone with his simplified arsenal of a four-seam fastball and cutter playing way up.

It’s no wonder he was openly hesitant to embrace the move to relief work at first -- it’s hard not to look at this form of Varland and think he could be a lights-out reliever for years to come.

“There's no BS in Louie Varland,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “I love that about him. So I think it was a little bit of, like, do we not view him as a starter? It was like, ‘No, absolutely not, we definitely view you as a starter. We just view your role on this team, with the group that we have, to be this bullpen role.’”

It’s not, “You’re just pitching out of the bullpen.” The message is more, “You’re a weapon out of the bullpen.” The other pitches -- his slider and changeup -- will be there for him in the future when he goes back to starting.

Varland popped his head into manager Rocco Baldelli’s office the other day with a message: “I get it now.”

It’s likely that Paddack and Maeda will be asked for innings in bulk. Stewart will be a late-innings, high-leverage option.

Varland could bring both -- and that’s what’s so intriguing. He has gone out there and given the Twins two-plus innings in three outings since his transition -- but he has also given them a pair of holds in high-leverage seventh innings in a more traditional setup role.

All that is setting up for a potentially memorable October in front of those who have been behind him the whole way.