Notes: Jax eyes triple-digit heat; Kirilloff 'optimistic'

February 24th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Four of the pitchers who could factor into this season’s Twins bullpen have thrown 100 mph in a Major League game. is vowing to make it five.

“You'd better hope so, or I'm going to retire,” Jax joked. “I think we got it. I've got to have it warm up a little bit, though.”

For the record, Jax cranked it up to 97.9 mph in a game against the Dodgers last August -- comfortably up from his 95.2 mph peak as a starter in 2021. It comes as no surprise that Jax’s max-effort fastball gained plenty of zip following his transition to the bullpen, but he’s hoping that there’s even more to be unlocked there.

Jax’s emergence as a high-leverage bullpen option with a 3.36 ERA in 72 1/3 innings served as a crucial development in the evolution of the Twins’ relief picture, and he worked hard during the offseason at Driveline Baseball in suburban Seattle to add a cutter to his arsenal -- and inch closer toward the 100 mph mark that has long stood as a benchmark for pitchers.

, of course, routinely lights up the radar gun for triple digits, and he did so on the first day of live batting practice sessions, when he threw 102 mph against Carlos Correa. , and are also members of the triple-digit club.

And more than ever before, pitchers’ offseason training regimens have them reaching that level of form earlier in camp -- as evidenced by Duran’s heat, Alcala already throwing 97 mph and throwing 95. That has even taken the Twins’ staff aback this spring.

“The goal with every single guy is probably to throw harder than you ever have before, but rarely do you expect that to actually play out in that manner,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That’s not the easiest of things to pull off, but it’s nice to watch. Our hitters who are up there facing them right now, I think they’re happy these guys are on our team and they’re enjoying it, even though they’re not enjoying some of the swings right now.”

Jax says he still needs time -- and more heat -- to reach that full potential, though.

“I've got to have it warm up a little bit,” Jax cautioned. “[Not] when you go back to Minnesota and it's 32 for the first month. Give me like June 27 in Kansas City when it's like 97 [degrees] and 100 percent humidity.”

Kirilloff ‘really optimistic’ about wrist 
has been a participant in fielding drills at first base, but he hasn’t begun taking swings against live pitching as he ramps up for the regular season. During his measured swing progression, the 25-year-old noted that there’s been a “lot of improvement” in how he feels as he swings, with continued abatement in the soreness and aches he feels in his right wrist as the bone heals.

“I’m really optimistic,” Kirilloff said. “I’m happy with the spot we’re in right now. Like I said, it’s getting better and better every week, so just keep pushing forward.”

He said he’s getting “closer and closer” to normal every week as he hits in the cage and off the machine, and he has even stood in the batter’s box during batting practice to track pitches, keeping his eye sharp. Kirilloff noted that he’s on track with the swing progression program that has been determined in monthlong increments, adjusting depending on how he feels as he works his way through.

Though he didn’t offer a direct answer when asked about his potential availability for Opening Day, the greater priority in the big picture is making sure he can swing pain-free in the way he was when Kirilloff was the organization’s No. 2 prospect, before consecutive season-ending surgeries on the troublesome wrist sidelined him for large chunks of time.

He also hopes that continued tweaks to his lower-half usage when swinging can take more pressure off his arms -- and that could get him back to doing what he loves most.

“I think I have a lot to prove, a lot to show,” Kirilloff said. “I love hitting, and it's probably one of my favorite things to do. I think I can do that at any level and do that at a high level. I'm excited to hopefully do that a lot more this year and do it consistently.”