Varland preps for 'dream come true' -- being a Twins starter

March 20th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After making 15 starts to begin his big league career, was called upon to fill a need in the Twins’ bullpen. Across 12 innings last September, Varland pitched to a 1.50 ERA before he recorded two scoreless outings in the American League Wild Card Series.

Despite his success as a reliever, Varland still had his sights set on the rotation. On the outside looking in as the sixth man entering camp this spring, Varland put his head down and went to work, not letting his positioning in the rotation picture distract from his end goal.

With the news of Anthony DeSclafani slated to start the season on the injured list after a recurrence of a strain in his right forearm, that fifth rotation spot now belongs to Varland.

Though the opportunity arose as a result of injury, the choice to have Varland fill the spot is representative of the hard work the right-hander put in this offseason and throughout his time at camp.

Entering Wednesday’s 12-3 loss to the Tigers at Hammond Stadium, Varland had yet to give up a run in his first four appearances (three starts) this spring. The right-hander grinded through his start against Detroit, giving up eight runs on nine hits -- eight singles and a two-run homer -- and a hit by pitch.

“He got in trouble a little bit with some two-strike stuff and then they got some guys on base and they started kind of hitting the first pitch,” bench coach Jayce Tingler said. “We want him attacking the zone. We want him throwing strikes … there were some singles in there and we just got to keep working.”

Outside of Wednesday, the outcomes have been largely positive for Varland. But that’s not what the Twins are focused on. It’s the stuff, how Varland looks, his ability to command and land his secondary pitches. How he works his counts and moves his fastball.

“All these things that he’s doing, that’s what we’re most focused on,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “We said this: We always believed in Louie in that role. We wanted to have as many options as possible and that lined up pretty good.”

Since being taken by the Twins in the 15th round of the 2019 Draft, Varland has gone from throwing low-90’s with an “OK” breaking ball and a shaky changeup to a pitcher who tops out in the high-90s with a five-pitch mix.

Of those five pitches, his sinker and changeup were the focus for Varland ahead of Wednesday’s outing. Entering the start, Varland had only thrown each pitch 11 and nine times, respectively. Looking to get more experience and strengthen his repertoire before he breaks camp with the Twins, Varland threw seven sinkers and 10 changeups against the Tigers.

“I think they're coming,” Tingler said. “I think they're still a work in progress. And him trying to put it all together, he's got the repertoire and all the pitches to be a starting pitcher. So he's right now just going through the process trying to navigate that and how to do it. He's looked good all spring and came out healthy today.”

Varland was tasked this offseason not only with developing his secondary pitches, but mastering the pitches already in his mix and refining their usage.

“Louie does a really good job of just focusing on making good pitches, shows up every day, works his tail off, does all the things you want to see,” manager Rocco Baldelli said earlier this week. “So he's put himself in a really nice spot and I think he's prepared to take a place in our rotation from the beginning of the year and we'll just keep watching him pitch.”

With just one more start standing between Varland and the regular season, the Saint Paul native looks forward to breaking camp with his hometown team.

“It's a dream come true,” Varland said. “This was a goal since 2019, and it's right in front of me. So it's pretty cool.”