Notes: Healthy Rooker; stronger Thorpe

March 1st, 2021

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- never had any doubt that his right arm was fine. But he showed the world, too, with a homer in his first in-game plate appearance since he fractured that arm on a hit-by-pitch last September.

"I had plenty of offseason to kind of get it rehabbed and get it back strong again and get swinging," Rooker said. "It’s nice for even me to have peace of mind after that first swing, knowing it’s all good."

The second-inning solo shot to right-center off a 98-mph fastball by Tyler Glasnow set the tone for Minnesota's 6-5 win over the Rays in six innings at Charlotte Sports Park on Monday. It also kicked off a Spring Training in which Rooker, like the others stuck in the Twins' outfield logjam, is jostling for the left-field spot vacated when Eddie Rosario signed with the Indians.

That's a competition that also involves longtime fourth outfielder Jake Cave and top prospect Alex Kirilloff, but Rooker does have a head start with seven games of Major League experience under his belt. Rooker was 6-for-19 (.316) with a homer and two doubles in that stretch before Cleveland righty Zach Plesac's pitch ran inside and ended his season.

Rooker knows that it's tough to extrapolate from that small of a sample size. But that short stint in the Majors gave him the mental boost he needed to prepare himself for the competition this spring.

"I know that a seven-game sample size isn't going to prove anything to anybody other than me," Rooker said. "But I know that the way I felt during those seven games, the amount of comfort and confidence I had in the box doing what I do, I proved a lot to myself that I think I can do that over an extended period of time. Whether that sample size is big enough or not to influence or prove anything to anybody outside is not really in my control."

So far, so good. And another advantage that Rooker holds in the competition is that he bats right-handed, unlike both Cave and Kirilloff. The Twins love playing matchups -- often trotting out different orders altogether against left-handed and right-handed starters -- and the ability to at least platoon Rooker with one of his left-handed counterparts could carve out a niche for the 26-year-old.

Rooker plans to do a limited amount of work at first base this spring, but his primary focus will be in the corner outfield. His bat could find a neater fit in the lineup as a right-handed power option who could step in for Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson or Miguel Sanó.

"We know we have some pretty good left-handed-hitting outfielders," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "To always be able to complement our group and have a guy out there that can face some of those lefties, but also a guy that competes really well against righties, knowing you have that kind of offensive punch always available to you is a really good feeling. I think that's the way he kind of fits."

Thorpe flashes velocity in first spring start
certainly put in a lot of work this offseason to get his body in a better place, and he added 28 pounds as part of an effort to strengthen his lower half and improve his velocity. It showed on Monday.

Thorpe worked into a jam with a walk and hit batter in the first inning but otherwise navigated two hitless frames in which his fastball sat 91-92 mph and peaked at 93, including on several consecutive pitches to Yandy Díaz to complete the first inning.

"These are the types of outings that I think are great for Thorpey," Baldelli said. "He went out there, probably didn't find it immediately, and then worked for it and found what he was looking for and worked his way through some situations. ... His actual stuff has ticked up this spring, which is great to see. But on top of that, he's in a good place."

There's no room in the Twins' starting rotation for now. But Thorpe could work himself back into Minnesota's group of depth starters with a strong spring following a difficult 2020 season in which he lost velocity on his fastball and posted a 6.06 ERA.

Twins reschedule trio of April home games
The Twins will move up the start times of their regular-season matchups against the Red Sox at Target Field from April 12-14 to 1:10 p.m. CT, in part as a response to feedback from season ticket holders requesting the possibility of more home day games in April due to the early spring weather in Minnesota.

The games had originally been scheduled as 6:40 p.m. CT starts. The final game of the four-game series on April 15 will remain as scheduled at 12:10 p.m. CT.

Up next
Expect another game without most of the Twins' starters on Tuesday, when the club heads to North Port, Fla., for a 12:05 p.m. CT matchup against the Braves. Left-hander Charlie Barnes will make his first start of the spring and should be followed by the Twins debuts of several non-roster invitees, including Derek Law, Ian Gibaut and Brandon Waddell.

"That’s a Kevin Cash move right there. You’ve got to be pretty big to be able to change the game after the game’s already started. To be able to make a move like that and have everyone just kind of go along with it, it says a lot about what he can do on a baseball field." -- Baldelli, on good friend Kevin Cash's decision to shorten the game to six innings