Twins have ratcheted up Farrell's usage

June 12th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Think back to all those relievers to whom pitching coach Wes Johnson and the Twins' staff have given new life over the last two seasons to fill out their bullpen depth -- from Ryne Harper and Tyler Duffey in 2019 to Matt Wisler in last season's shortened campaign.

It's been tougher for the Twins to engineer one of those career turnarounds this season amid the overall struggles and injuries that have afflicted this bullpen since Opening Day. But they finally seem to have found a hit with right-hander Luke Farrell, who has quickly climbed the ladder from depth contributor to leverage arm in a relief corps that sorely needed one.

The 30-year-old had to earn every bit of this opportunity -- which is perhaps why he was uncharacteristically fiery after escaping a jam against the Yankees on Tuesday with a strikeout of Gary Sánchez, yelling into his glove as he walked off the field.

"I was fired up," Farrell said. "I don't usually show too much emotion, but it's been a long time since we've had fans in the seats. For me, I didn't get to pitch a whole lot last year. In '19, I was hurt a lot. So honestly, it feels like every time I'm going out right now, I just really enjoy it."

That outing, and another scoreless frame against the Yankees on Thursday, lowered Farrell's ERA to 0.75 through his first 10 appearances with the Twins, which have also featured 13 strikeouts and four walks. He's only allowed one run in 12 innings, spanning a brief, one-appearance callup in April to his more consistent presence in the bullpen starting at the end of May.

All the while, the Twins have slowly started to ratchet up the leverage of his situations, from the eighth inning of a 10-0 blowout on May 21 to that Tuesday appearance against the Bronx Bombers, when he was trusted with the seventh inning of a tie game.

Part of that is due to the current nadir of the Twins' bullpen health, with Cody Stashak, Caleb Thielbar, Edwar Colina and Shaun Anderson all on the injured list. It certainly doesn't help that free-agent signing Alex Colomé has pitched himself out of usage in any leverage situations. But Farrell has also impressed the organization and earned those chances in his own right from the start of Spring Training, when he struck out 10 batters in seven scoreless appearances.

"It's just, 'Hey, we're going to keep leaning on you. We're going to keep using you,'" Farrell said of what the coaches have told him. "And that's a huge vote of confidence for me, to know that my name's probably going to get called, so just stay ready and keep my body ready and keep managing my workload."

Farrell said that vice president of baseball operations -- and pitching guru -- Josh Kalk spoke to him of the plan for him before he signed a Minor League deal during the offseason. If you've been paying attention over the last two seasons, it should come as no surprise that he's throwing his slider for 54.1 percent of pitches, far more than he ever did before throughout his journeyman career that has seen stints with the Royals, Reds, Cubs and Rangers.

Farrell said that he feels more comfortable adapting the slider during games according to his needs -- whether making it break more or less, or adapting the velocity -- to complement a curveball that has also added depth.

"Even standing behind him in Spring Training behind the screen and watching him throw, it’s not a very comfortable type of breaking ball to attack, I think," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I think it’s one that kind of pops out of his hand in kind of a deceptive, kind of unique way and then has an extra bite on it at the end, and I think he knows what his strengths are, and he goes out there and ultimately makes good pitches."

And though the stats have been good to this point, Farrell, who posted an 8.44 ERA in four appearances with the Rangers last season, isn't letting himself get comfortable with his early success.

"I don't ever feel that way," Farrell said. "I've maybe let myself get to that point in the past, and I think just the way the game is right now and the way front offices operate, no one's safe. ... I've really just tried to stay one day at a time and pitch as well as I can every chance I get."