SWR lives up to big-name billing in debut

October 2nd, 2022

DETROIT – When first became a member of the Twins’ organization at last year’s Trade Deadline, he was an ocean away, in Japan, as a member of Team USA in the Olympics. He didn’t appear on the mound for the silver medal-winning Americans and spent much of his time sequestered in a hotel room with fellow national team member , who, in a fun coincidence, had been traded to the Twins a week and a half earlier.

It sure looks as though the pair is poised to spend much more quality time together in the years to come.

Though Woods Richardson was the youngest pitcher to appear in the Majors this season when he took the mound on Sunday -- record-breaking last name arching gloriously across his back -- in the Twins’ 5-2 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park, he showed serious poise in finding his rhythm and overcoming the jitters to complete five strong innings of three-hit ball in his first taste of the big leagues, the lessons of which he’ll now carry into an important offseason.

“He's going to be thinking about this start for a long time, and he’s going to take it into the offseason, and he’s going to go over at-bats in his head, and he’s going to be thinking about that first inning, and he’s going to be thinking about the last inning, and everything in between,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “These are the reasons why we bring guys up and let them go out there and experience and compete and do all of these things.”

Woods Richardson turned 22 years old on Tuesday. He made just seven starts in Triple-A St. Paul before this promotion and might not have an easy path into a crowded Minnesota rotation for Opening Day 2023, but with the Twins long since eliminated from postseason contention and considering the importance of Woods Richardson to the club's long-term future, the value of this learning experience likely can’t be understated -- especially since it didn’t start off so smoothly.

The right-hander said the gravity of the moment first hit him as he walked out of the bullpen in left-center field following his warmup session, and the nerves persisted into his 29-pitch first inning -- made even more difficult by three Twins errors that loomed large in a two-run frame.

“I was breathing for maybe half a second,” Woods Richardson said. “I was almost hyperventilating. But after the first inning was done, we got back into the zone. We got back into the rhythm, mental cues that I had, and just pitched my game.”

Once he got back into the dugout and got the chance to take a breath, Woods Richardson got back to being the poised strike-thrower he’s been all year, allowing only a solo homer, a single and a walk the rest of the way. He walked off the mound after throwing 91 pitches in five innings, having allowed three hits and three runs (two earned), walking two.

That sort of performance has been fairly typical for Woods Richardson as he dominated Double-A (3.06 ERA) and Triple-A (2.21 ERA) this year, with his walk rate dipping back to his typical stingy level after he addressed some mechanical challenges ahead of this season.

He’s not going to blow anybody away with his current velocity, which has dipped since he entered the Minors, but his well-rounded pitch mix is even more complete with the addition of a slider with which he’s made huge strides this season. That’s the kind of stuff that’s led to his being a centerpiece of two trades ahead of this debut, as he went to Toronto in the Marcus Stroman trade in 2019 and came to Minnesota in the José Berríos deal last August.

The Twins are counting on him to be a key part of their young pitching core in the years to come alongside others like Ryan, and . Come next spring, he’ll be in big league camp, working toward a more consistent opportunity at this level.

Now, he’s had a taste of his ultimate goal.

“It put me on a better note for next year, see what I need to work on, see what I need to critique, see what I need to tackle in different game plans,” Woods Richardson said. “I think I loved all of that. Tried to soak it up as much as I can, tried not to let it rush me.”