Untouchable so far in camp, Ober still fighting for spot

Correa expected back in spring action on Friday after birth of son

March 14th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Here’s a question: If Bailey Ober throws three more hitless innings this spring, will he consider himself to have tossed a Spring Training no-hitter?

“I don't know. We'll see,” Ober said. “That would be pretty nice. I'm just going to keep trying to do what I've been doing. Hopefully, the results show.”

Spring Training results aren’t typically considered too meaningful for players who have been in the Majors for a few seasons, and that would usually be the case for Ober, whose rotation spot for the 2022 season was all but secure throughout last year’s camp. But this year, there are five experienced starters ahead of him in the pecking order -- and that’s why, perhaps, outings like Ober’s three hitless innings in Tuesday’s 2-2 tie against the Pirates could carry significance.

If Ober is, indeed, on the outside looking in for an Opening Day rotation spot, he can’t be doing much more on the field this spring to make his case, following a hitless inning against the Phillies on March 1 and two hitless frames against the Blue Jays on March 8 to add to Tuesday’s outing, even without his best stuff.

That makes it six hitless frames with six strikeouts to two walks this spring for Ober, who sought consistency with a harder, more horizontal-breaking slider this offseason and added to his extension and explosiveness after being hindered by groin issues last season.

“I'm trying to do everything I can to try to force their hand and see what can happen,” Ober said. “Hopefully, I'm in there at the end of spring. That's kind of my goal. Just try to do everything I can to make the team.”

Frankly, Ober’s Opening Day fate might not be in his hands, regardless of how well he continues to pitch. President of baseball operations Derek Falvey has acknowledged that the health and quality of stuff around the rotation this spring have led the Twins to at least consider what a six-man rotation could look like. But that would also involve Minnesota coming into the season with a shorthanded bullpen, which might be a tough proposition.

Since Kenta Maeda and Tyler Mahle have both been healthy, while Joe Ryan, Pablo López and Sonny Gray have showcased big stuff this spring, any questions the Twins may have had within that group during the offseason (which could have led to an opportunity for Ober) look to be lesser concerns for now.

If it were to come down to remaining stretched out as a starter in the Minor Leagues vs. taking on a swingman or long-relief role in the big league bullpen, would Ober have a preference?

“I can't remember the last time I came in relief,” Ober said. “But whatever the team asks me to do, I'll be happy to do it. I love being up there with the big team. All these guys are great, so I love being around my teammates. Whatever the team asks me to do, I'll do it.”

Anything can happen in these last two-plus weeks of Spring Training, but if things stay on this trajectory, the Twins could face an unexpectedly tough roster question -- and Ober has done everything possible to make it even tougher.

Correa returns to camp
Carlos Correa was back in Twins camp on Tuesday following a six-day absence for the birth of his second son, Kenzo Noak Correa, and he plans to return to game action on Friday against the Orioles. Correa will gradually ramp up, he expects, starting with three innings in that game, followed by five innings in his following appearances and a continued buildup from there.

Correa said he worked out and hit in the cage every day while at home to stay fresh.

“I stayed active for the most part,” Correa said. “Sleep wasn’t quite there. I was getting maybe two hours of sleep. The baby’s waking up and then the other one would wake up, so then I would take care of one, I would take care of the other. But it was fun. I enjoyed every second of it.”

Correa said he has also watched every game that Team Puerto Rico has played in the World Baseball Classic, including Monday night’s combined eight-inning “perfect game” started by teammate José De León -- though he reiterated that he wouldn’t look to join Team Puerto Rico, even if it was to advance to the elimination rounds of the Classic in the coming days.