Berrios gets Opening Day nod for Twins

March 4th, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Rocco Baldelli said he met with his staff to gather different opinions about the Twins' pitching plans for Opening Day, but that discussion didn't last long. The consensus was clear, and Baldelli announced Monday that right-hander Jose Berrios will make the first Opening Day start of his career on March 28 against the Indians at Target Field.

"Everyone was basically just happy for him," Baldelli said. "I think everyone feels not just comfortable with it, but excited for him and for us."

Berrios, 24, will be the youngest Opening Day starter for the Twins since a 24-year-old Brad Radke earned the nod in the 1997 season opener.

Berrios led the Twins with 202 strikeouts in 2018, when he also lowered his ERA to a career-best 3.84 and was named to his first career All-Star Game. Though Jake Odorizzi earned the Twins' Opening Day nod last season, Berrios threw a complete-game three-hit shutout against the Orioles in his first start of the year.

The ambitious right-hander had made no secret of his desire to start Opening Day and establish himself as the ace of the Twins' rotation.

"I have the chance to try and be the ace for the team for a long time," Berrios, a native of Puerto Rico, said earlier this offseason. "I want to work, and I want to be the best. I don't care if people say, 'Oh, Berrios is a young guy, he's a little guy.' How I prepare myself is to be the best guy in the world at this level."

Though Berrios was already considered the de facto ace of the staff, Baldelli was thrilled to formalize the young pitcher's Opening Day status in their conversation on Monday morning.

"It means a lot to me because I know it means a lot to the players," Baldelli said. "It is important."

Berrios said that he learned a lot in pitching a career-high 192 1/3 innings at the Major League level last season, including elements of healthy eating and rest and recovery. He prides himself on his durability: he has pitched at least 166 innings in each of the last four seasons, including the Minor Leagues.

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"That was one of my goals for last year, to throw more than 180 innings, and I made it," Berrios said. "I had 32 starts, so if you want to be an ace, one of the best pitchers in the league, you have to be able to do that. That's why I pride myself on going out there 100 percent every time."

Berrios, who has worked with pitching coach Wes Johnson to clean up his mechanics and refine his changeup this spring, said during the offseason that he hopes to win 20 games and make another All-Star Game appearance in 2019. But more than anything, he hopes to lead the Twins to the postseason.

"That's the thing I want most," Berrios said. "I want to play in October with my team."

Gibson makes spring debut after E. coli battle

With his battle with E. coli firmly behind him, right-hander Kyle Gibson made his first appearance of the spring on Monday, when he started and pitched two innings in the Twins' 6-3 loss to the Orioles, as he continues to ramp up his conditioning for the regular season.

Gibson, who threw 28 pitches and struck out the side in the second inning, said he was happy with his outing overall, but felt he had better command of his sinker than his four-seam fastball. He had previously thrown one live batting practice this spring as the Twins exercised caution with the right-hander following his illness.

"We’re going to continue to talk to him, make sure he’s doing fine," Baldelli said. "He looks really good on our end. We can continue to monitor him, but he has a full workload. So it’s not like there’s been very much altered, especially over the last week or two."

The 31-year-old Gibson said that he has gained a few pounds since he reported to camp at 203 pounds, well shy of his desired playing weight of 215. He has been working on his legs more over the last week, after he felt during a live batting practice session that his upper body took over too much.

Gibson said that he has always found it difficult to gain weight while eating healthy foods, but he's integrating snacks and smaller meals into his day while helping his digestive system recover with foods that are more easily broken down, like quinoa, lentil and chickpea pastas.

His conditioning regimen had been disrupted in January while he was sidelined with the E. coli that he contracted while doing charity work in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

"I think [I'm] pretty close," Gibson said. "Now it’s just about getting the endurance back and keep working on the leg strength and gaining the weight back."

Up next

Odorizzi, who had a 4.49 ERA in 32 starts for the Twins last season, will make his spring debut on Tuesday in a 12:05 p.m. CT home game against the Rays. Adalberto Mejia, Tyler Duffey, Trevor Hildenberger and Kohl Stewart will also pitch for Minnesota before its scheduled off-day on Wednesday.