Fully healthy Alcala looks to contribute to bullpen

February 29th, 2024

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- is back to being healthy and throwing hard, which is a meaningful step in getting him back to being who he is, first and foremost. The next step is for him to put himself in position to become a meaningful part of the Twins’ bullpen again.

Though Alcala didn’t pitch against the Braves in Minnesota's 5-0 loss on Thursday, he has made two appearances this spring and is back up to sitting in an encouraging 96-97-mph range with his fastball. But the focus remains -- as it did last time Alcala factored into the picture -- on the offspeed stuff and the consistency, and that’s still what the Twins need from him now that health isn’t the issue.

“Even though he's throwing hard, he's not going to be a guy out there that can just go out there and throw fastballs,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He's going to need his breaking ball, and he's going to need one version of his changeup to be effective. Overall, very positive. I think he looks really good to the eye. So we'll take it.”

The last time the Twins saw Alcala with any consistency was all the way back in 2021, when he pitched to a 3.92 ERA in 59 2/3 innings, with 61 strikeouts and 13 walks. His big stuff had wavered in consistency early in his career as he fluctuated with velocity and location within outings, and his notable and pronounced struggles against left-handed hitters prevented him from taking that final step into being a more meaningful leverage piece for the Twins.

On the final day of a largely challenging ‘21 season for the Twins, one silver lining in an otherwise mostly meaningless game in Kansas City was that Alcala earned his first career save to cap a stretch of 0.96 ERA pitching in the final two months (17 appearances) -- seemingly ready to take that next step.

Instead, elbow and forearm issues have held him to 19 2/3 innings in the last two seasons, and he’s got to prove himself again after he made it back to the active roster at the very end of the ‘23 season but watched the playoffs from the sidelines.

“It was really difficult, because you always want to play, you always want to help the team, and it wasn't the case for the playoffs,” Alcala said through interpreter Mauricio Ortiz. “But one is always ready to go in and help the team.”

“We’ve seen a lot of guys come back from a lot of different things to perform out there on the mound and succeed,” Baldelli said. “He’s fully capable of that. I see nothing standing in his way at this point. He just has to get back out there and get back into good, midseason, productive form. When he does that, he’ll help our Major League team.”

It’s that phrase -- when he does that -- that seemingly indicates where Alcala is in the pecking order until he does show again that he’s ready.

Though Alcala is now 28 and has been part of the MLB mix since 2019, when he came to the big leagues alongside Brusdar Graterol, he still has remaining Minor League options, and a flurry of offseason activity in the bullpen brought Justin Topa, Steven Okert, Jay Jackson and Josh Staumont into the mix, seemingly pushing Alcala out of the roster picture, assuming health.

As for Alcala’s health, he said he had a normal offseason of throwing in the Dominican Republic and is in camp “feeling great, at 100 percent,” he said. The changeup was an area of emphasis back in 2020 and ‘21 when he was trying to balance out his left-right splits -- or get them into at least serviceable shape -- and remained a focus of his offseason.

He said he’s been preparing mentally for a full season by asking questions of veterans, and he added that not much has changed about his arm care routine coming off the two seasons of injuries.

Alcala sees the roster picture and knows what it likely means for him -- but his primary goal is, unsurprisingly, to finally have a 100 percent healthy season during which he can actually be available when the need for his services arise, whenever that may be.

“I can't say much about that, but all I can say is that every time I'm here, I'm competing,” Alcala said.