Twins rookie shines in debut, joins select club

April 20th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Do-Hyoung Park’s Twins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Every baseball-playing kid dreams about what their Major League debut could look like. Did any version of ’s fantasies for his first time on a big league mound involve… a save?

“Zero,” Headrick said. “I had forgotten I could even get the save. I had forgotten I could qualify until the game was over, and they came and told me that. I didn’t even remember that was a thing at that point in the game, so it was crazy.”

That’s understandable, because this sort of scenario pretty much never comes up for a pitcher making his Major League debut. In fact, when Headrick, the Twins' No. 25 prospect per MLB Pipeline, allowed one run on one hit as he threw three innings to close out the Twins’ 10-4 victory over the Red Sox on Wednesday, he became one of only three pitchers in team history to earn a save in his MLB debut.

Go back two decades to find the previous one: Micheal Nakamura, who closed out a 6-2 Twins victory over the Padres on June 7, 2003. The only other occurrence came three decades before that, when Steve Barber (who only made 22 MLB appearances across two seasons) achieved the feat against the White Sox on April 9, 1970.

The historicity of the moment certainly never dawned on Headrick at any point while he was on the mound at Fenway Park -- and the pressure of the moment never really hit him, either.

“I thought I was going to be nervous, and I wasn’t,” Headrick said. “When I got out there, I was wondering why I wasn’t nervous when I was out there. But I was like, ‘Whatever, let’s pitch.’”

Part of it was probably relief after three days of uncertainty since his callup on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. A starter for his entire professional career, he had no way of anticipating when he was going to pitch -- but the opportunity finally arose when the Minnesota bats erupted in support of Joe Ryan, presenting the chance for Headrick to give the other relievers a night off.

And it probably helped when he started absolutely dealing, too.

Headrick admitted he laughed when thinking back about his college self at Illinois State, because baseball-wise, that feels like such a distant memory. His fastball has jumped from the high-80s to the low-to-mid-90s. His slider is more consistent, and he has added a splitter. His arm mechanics feel so much better.

That showed as he got two popouts and a strikeout of Red Sox rookie Enmanuel Valdez in the seventh, then went through an impressive sequence in the eighth, when he dispatched Justin Turner on three straight fastballs and got three more swinging strikes while fanning star third baseman Rafael Devers.

And even after loading the bases with none out in the ninth, it took him only 10 more pitches to clean it all up and finish the game.

“You usually don’t see that, regardless of the score and setting it all aside,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “When you bring a young player into this environment, it’s more challenging than most places. It can get into guys’ heads, and they end up not pitching like themselves. That’s not what we saw today, though. He was dialed in.”

That was a familiar version of Headrick for the large group of family who drove first from Illinois to New York, then to Boston to watch him pitch, including his parents, uncle, sister, brother-in-law and fiancée -- many of whom will race home to repopulate the staff of the Reed-Custer Community School District, where both of Brent’s parents and his sister work.

He certainly made it worth the trip.