Harper's nasty curve has him in spotlight

March 15th, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- 's phone buzzed with texts from friends and tags on Twitter after his inning against the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., on Tuesday. As it turned out, Major League Baseball's account had tweeted out a video of Harper striking out three straight batters with a big, backdoor slurve-like curveball.

"It was, like, 'Oh, man. I guess people saw my outing today,'" Harper said.

Harper, who will turn 30 in two weeks, likely isn't in a position to make the Twins' Opening Day roster, but his spring numbers have been as sharp as the break on his curve -- he has nine strikeouts and no walks over six scoreless innings in Grapefruit League play, though all but one of his outings have come later in games, when starters have been substituted out.

His strong spring has been a continuation of his solid numbers from 2018, when he recorded a 3.60 ERA in 38 outings for Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester with a stellar 86 strikeouts in 65 innings -- and only 10 walks.

Harper does that despite largely throwing only fastballs and a lot of curveballs, with the occasional changeup mixed in. The slurve-like pitch in the video is one of two curveballs in his arsenal, along with a more up-and-down 12-6 curveball, and he changes speeds and release points to keep hitters guessing. Harper said that he sometimes slows down the pitch to as low as 68 mph.

"For all of them, my grip's actually the exact same for every speed," Harper said. "It's just the release point of it. I tinker and just try to come around and make the ball spin a certain way. But I've always had a good feel for it."

Harper said that he has been working with Minnesota's coaching staff to more effectively "tunnel" his pitches this spring, to keep hitters guessing by keeping the ball in the same slot coming out of his hand. He hopes that continued progression will finally help him clear the final hurdle into the Major Leagues after eight seasons in the Minors.

The publicity on social media sure doesn't hurt, either.

"That's really cool," Harper said. "I was pumped that MLB did that and my friends were able to see it and the [Twins] organization was able to see it. I was excited."

Twins show off power potential

The Twins added plenty of power potential during the offseason with the acquisitions of C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Nelson Cruz, and after hitting six long balls in Friday's 12-9 victory over the Orioles, they now lead the Major Leagues with 40 team homers this spring. As of the end of Friday afternoon's game, the Brewers were in second, with 38.

The power didn't necessarily come from the expected sources, as Ehire Adrianza homered twice -- once from each side of the plate -- against the Orioles, while Jason Castro, Willians Astudillo, Luke Raley and Tyler Austin each went deep once.

"Adrianza, that’s a nice day for him," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "More than even the home runs, the confidence and the strength coming back from both sides of the plate. And getting there right-handed. He’s getting there and putting good swings on the ball. He’s come back nicely."

Twins tidbits

• Michael Pineda started on Friday and struck out three through three hitless innings before slowing down in the fourth, allowing an infield single and a soft bloop single before a pair of run-scoring hits ended his outing at 69 pitches. Pineda has been working on his mechanics with Johnson this spring, trying to keep his front shoulder more closed and staying back on his leg during his delivery.

"[In-game challenges] are good things," Baldelli said. "To rip through every Spring Training outing probably doesn’t get you what you need to get ready for the season. But the fact that a vast majority of the outing looked really good from where I was sitting and then him having to work a little bit toward the end, it all worked out well."

• Shortstop Wander Javier, Minnesota's No. 4 prospect, was removed from the game following the third inning as a precaution for a right quadriceps strain. Javier, who missed all of last season following left shoulder surgery, was 2-for-2 with a single and an RBI double in his second consecutive start.

• Left-handed reliever Gabriel Moya is not currently throwing as he deals with tightness and soreness in his shoulder and back area, and Baldelli said that Moya will be reevaluated in several days. The 24-year-old has only appeared in one game this spring, when he allowed three runs in one inning in the Feb. 23 spring opener against Baltimore.

• Shortstop Jorge Polanco has not played since Tuesday as he attends to a personal matter.

Up next

Kyle Gibson will continue to stretch out with his third start of the spring on Saturday in a 12:05 p.m. CT game against the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. Gibson, who was sidelined in January with a bout of E. coli, has yet to allow a run this spring and has seven strikeouts in five innings. Tim Collins, Matt Magill and Mike Morin are also scheduled to pitch.