NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Lewis Thorpe’s push to crack the Twins’ rotation hit a bump on Tuesday afternoon when manager Rocco Baldelli announced Thorpe had taken a personal leave.
“We expect him back at some point during camp, [but I] can’t tell you when that’s going to be,” Baldelli said prior to the Twins’ game against the Braves at CoolToday Park.
Thorpe had yet to debut this spring, but he was an early favorite to take on at least a share of the fifth starter’s duties early in the season. The last spot in the Twins’ rotation is open for now, as Michael Pineda completes the last 39 games of the 60-game suspension that prematurely ended his 2019 season due to a violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Despite a stat line that overshadowed his potential during his rookie season, Thorpe flashed brilliance at points that suggest a bright future. The 24-year-old fanned seven batters in a rain-shortened MLB debut on June 30, 2019, one shy of a club record. He carried a 3.18 ERA through his first four games (one start), while shuffling between bullpens in Minnesota and Triple-A Rochester.
The moves didn’t help his rhythm, and Thorpe finished the year with a 3-2 record and 6.18 ERA across 12 games and four callups.
While the plan this spring was to settle him in with a more consistent routine, Thorpe’s absence -- albeit early in Grapefruit League action -- certainly doesn’t help matters. After Jhoulys Chacín debuted in Tuesday’s game against the Braves at CoolToday Park, Thorpe was the last of the four starting contenders yet to see game action.
Chacín, an 11-year veteran who is playing for his eighth MLB team, endured a frustrating 2019, posting a 6.01 ERA in 103 1/3 innings for the Brewers and Red Sox before signing with Minnesota on Feb. 3. The 32-year-old righty looked sharp in his Twins debut on Tuesday, holding the Braves scoreless on one hit with two strikeouts in two innings of work.
Dobnak finished with a 2-1 record and 1.59 ERA across nine games (five starts) and posted a 4.6:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 28 1/3 innings pitched. Smeltzer worked 49 total innings in 11 games (six starts) and finished 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA.
Baldelli declined to comment on the nature of Thorpe’s departure or to speculate on the player’s immediate future, but entering Grapefruit League play, the Australian appeared to be in consideration ahead of the pack to earn the No. 5 spot.
Obviously, the longer Thorpe is out, the more it will affect his chance to crack the rotation. There will potentially be some leeway, though, as Baldelli admitted that the Twins may use more than one arm to fill the role until Pineda’s return.
“When [Thorpe] comes back, he will be the one commenting and talking about what he’s dealing with right now,” Baldelli said. “We’re respecting him in every way, and we’ll see him back soon.”