Canterino showcases arsenal in return from Tommy John surgery

February 29th, 2024

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- says with a sheepish grin that he probably looks down to check that his right arm is still in one piece “a little bit too much” as he navigates his first healthy MLB Spring Training.

It’s hard to blame him, because as Thursday showed, it’s still a really, really darn good one.

The Twins pulled no punches with Canterino’s first assignment since he underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2022, lining up the 26-year-old to face the Braves on the road, starting with the heart of arguably the best lineup in baseball in Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Matt Olson, who quickly went down in a flurry of ugly swings and weak contact.

“That was a pretty fun opportunity right there,” said Canterino, the Twins’ No. 18 prospect. “I'm glad that was the way it shook out. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. It gives you a little vote of confidence that you were able to throw strikes at them. They get out every once in a while, too, so I was super happy about that.”

It wasn’t a flawless two-inning outing as part of the Twins’ 5-0 loss to the Braves at CoolToday Park, but it was as encouraging of a debut as Canterino and the Twins could have hoped for, with the return of his wicked raw stuff and a clear ability to attack the strike zone and get ahead of hitters.

Canterino’s first competitive pitch since July 22, 2022, was a fastball that lit up the radar gun at 95 mph, followed by the first head-turner, when Albies’ knees buckled and he nearly fell over as he flailed and missed at the 89 mph slider that Canterino had been workshopping and tweaking throughout his rehab. Olson later had the same kind of off-balance whiff on a first-pitch slider.

“To have the poise to get some swings and misses from some really going ballplayers, those were awesome,” catcher Ryan Jeffers said. “It was good to see. The stuff obviously plays. You saw the swings that All-Star-caliber players had. So he goes on with the feel he had today, there’s a chance he could play a good role for us.”

The All-Star trio went down in an efficient 10 pitches in Canterino’s first frame, but he ran into a bit more trouble in his second inning, as he couldn’t find whiffs in two-strike counts to his first two hitters -- Tyler Tolve and Michael Harris II -- who knocked a double and RBI single.

Canterino responded with three consecutive strikeouts -- one on the changeup, two more on his slider -- as his stuff largely sustained well through his 33-pitch outing, of which he threw 25 for strikes.

“I was hoping to get some bad swings in two-strike counts, but I guess maybe there's still a little bit of rust to shake off and everything after 16 months off from pitching,” Canterino said. “It was just a really fun time out there. If I came away with one thing, it was that I had a lot of fun today.”

The stuff hasn’t really been in question, and the results have followed whenever Canterino has been healthy, as evidenced by his 1.48 career ERA in the Minors in 85 innings up to Double-A since he was drafted in 2019. He feels even better about his slider now, after he worked to add velocity and take out some depth to help it play more effectively against lefties.

This was clearly a meaningful day to Canterino, with even Chris Paddack -- Thursday’s starter, who carries notoriously intense focus on his start days -- taking some time to disengage from his routine to offer Canterino some encouraging words before the outing. The pair had rehabbed from Tommy John surgeries together in Fort Myers last summer.

“I didn't know exactly what it was going to be like, but I did know what I wanted to do today, and that was to throw a lot of strikes, see how everything played and make sure I just challenged hitters and attacked them,” Canterino said. “If I came out and was able to say that and my arm is in one piece, that's a great way to come back from it.”

He did indeed challenge hitters, the stuff did indeed play and his arm is indeed in one piece, so consider it a win for Canterino -- and, if he can sustain and build on this, a win for the Twins' potential 2024 depth.