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Berrios in favorable position as season nears

Young righty has chance to take hill Opening Day, but may hold out for series in hometown Puerto Rico
Special to MLB.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jose Berrios is in a win-win situation when it comes to his spot in the Twins' rotation for the regular season.

On one hand, he has seemingly earned the right to take the mound for the Twins on Opening Day. With staff anchor Ervin Santana (finger surgery) unavailable, Berrios is a logical choice. At just 23 years old, Berrios could become the youngest Twins pitcher to get an Opening Day nod since Brad Radke in 2006.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jose Berrios is in a win-win situation when it comes to his spot in the Twins' rotation for the regular season.

On one hand, he has seemingly earned the right to take the mound for the Twins on Opening Day. With staff anchor Ervin Santana (finger surgery) unavailable, Berrios is a logical choice. At just 23 years old, Berrios could become the youngest Twins pitcher to get an Opening Day nod since Brad Radke in 2006.

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"Every starting pitcher wants to be there as the first pitcher," Berrios said.

He also said he would like to be on the hill in front of his family and friends when the team plays the Cleveland Indians in a two-game series in San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 17-18.

Unfortunately, because of the way the rotation lines up, he likely can't do both. Berrios said that he will just concentrate on his next start --Wednesday against Pittsburgh -- and be happy with whatever the coaching staff decides.

"We're here to compete together, to accomplish a lot of good things for the team to get ready," Berrios said.

Based on how he has looked this spring, Berrios is more than ready to top a rotation despite some tough-luck in Friday's 11-1 loss to the Rays at Hammond Stadium. He allowed three runs -- one earned -- on four hits, struck out four and walked two in 3 2/3 innings. So far this spring he has a 1.64 ERA.

"He's throwing fairly well, but I still think we will need some more sharpness command-wise from him," Twins manager Paul Molitor said.

After starting last season with Triple-A Rochester, the former first-round pick (32nd overall) in the 2012 Draft had a breakout season in 2017 after being recalled, going 14-8 with a 3.89 ERA. His 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings average was tops among Minnesota starters.

Berrios didn't exactly have a lot of backing by his defense on Friday afternoon, which ended the day with three errors. In the top of the first, Kevin Kiermaier singled and stole second, but Berrios was able to strand him in scoring position with a strikeout of cleanup hitter Wilson Ramos to end the frame. In the top of the second, left fielder Chris Heisey misplayed a fly ball off the bat of Tampa Bay's Micah Johnson to put a man on second. Designated hitter Jason Coats then drew a walk off Berrios -- the first he'd allowed in three starts this spring. Johnny Field singled to left to plate Johnson for the unearned run.

"His pitches got up there pretty quickly because of outs that we lost," Molitor said.

Berrios walked Denard Span on four straight pitches to load the bases, but was able to get another big strikeout -- this time of Matt Duffy -- to end the threat.

"My plan was to trust my stuff out there," Berrios said. "[Duffy] is a good hitter, he's a veteran, so I just threw my pitches and it worked out."

The oft-erratic Berrios had frequently struggled with his command since breaking into the Majors in 2016, issuing an average of 3.7 walks per nine innings. He also led the American League last season in hit batsmen with 13. It was the defensive miscues by his teammates that hurt him more on Friday, though.

Heisey had more defensive issues in the fourth after losing a fly ball off the the bat of Brandon Snyder to the cloudless Southwest Florida sky. Snyder would end up on third, and came in to score on an RBI single by Johnson. Field would end Berrios' afternoon with two outs that same inning after reaching on a throwing error by Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco. Reliever Matt Magill gave up a double to the next batter, Span, to allow the inherited runner to score.

"Days like that are going to happen, it's Spring Training," Berrios said. "Molly took me out because I already had 72 pitches. I'm just working on myself to get ready for the season. It's not on my teammates or anything like that. It's just part of the game."

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Twins on Friday.

Minnesota Twins, Jose Berrios