MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Rocco Baldelli isn't going to name a set closer as part of his fluid bullpen usage, but Blake Parker has been the pitcher that Baldelli has turned to most often at the end of games through the first three weeks of the season.
But Parker hasn't had the cleanest start to 2019, as he has struggled with his signature splitter while posting five walks and four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings entering Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays. He took a promising step forward in a 4-1 win, striking out a pair in a 1-2-3 ninth inning to earn his fourth save of the season.
Parker remains confident that with more time and some mechanical adjustments that he discovered on video, he will continue to feel out improvements as the season progresses.
"The split was what was kind of tripping me up last outing and early in the season, first outing," he said. "So I'm getting a better feel for that as we go on. Like I said, I'm not quite in midseason form yet. The more I get out there, the better feel I'll get for all my pitches."
After reviewing his film prior to Wednesday, Parker felt he was rushing out of his delivery with the pitch, particularly with runners on base, in an effort to help his catchers control the baserunning game. He feels that the disruption in his timing led to a chain of some other mechanical disruptions, leading to the increased frequency of spiking the pitch.
Parker has thrown 32 splitters this season, but he has only induced three swinging strikes and one strikeout with the pitch. Five of the last nine splitters that he has thrown on this homestand have been spiked into the dirt without generating swings.
"I don't know if it's a giant adjustment," Parker said. "It's something that's a quick fix. But you always want to be quick with runners on base to try and help your catcher, and not, obviously, let a runner get in scoring position, but you've still got to focus on making quality pitches. You can't give up too much in your delivery and in your mechanics just to hold the guy on."
Parker has been able to rely on his other pitches -- namely his fastball -- to get outs while he works out the kinks with his splitter, which he calls a "feel pitch." That fastball command also eluded him in his last outing against the Tigers on Sunday, when he walked a pair and exited after loading the bases in the ninth inning.
"I think I have some pitches that play at this level and break to both sides of the plate," Parker said. "When one of them is not working, I have to rely on that other one. And I always have to be able to rely on my fastball's command, which was a touch off. That's why you've got seven guys in the bullpen to pick you up."
Parker said earlier in the season that he hadn't ruled out that the cold weather in Minneapolis might have affected his feel for the pitch, and he acknowledged on this homestand that he still doesn't feel completely locked in on the mound.
"I'm not quite in midseason form yet, but we'll get there," Parker said.
Miguel Sano was sent to the Twins' Minor League facility in Fort Myers, Fla., on Tuesday, as scheduled, to begin his rehab process. Baldelli said Sano is undergoing a conditioning and baseball activity program of 10-14 days before he will be eligible to play in games.