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Twins read progress into rule changes

@dohyoungpark
March 14, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The rule changes agreed upon by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association were generally received positively by the Twins with knowledge of the discussions -- both in terms of being good for the game and as a sign of progress between the two sides.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The rule changes agreed upon by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association were generally received positively by the Twins with knowledge of the discussions -- both in terms of being good for the game and as a sign of progress between the two sides.

"It’s definitely positive because it’s not something that necessarily had to happen, but for both sides to get together and agree to something that kind of moves the needle is good," said Jason Castro, who was the Astros' player representative throughout his six seasons in Houston. "From a player’s standpoint, we want the best product on the field all across the league, and in order to do that, I think some of these changes are a step in that direction."

The agreement, announced Thursday, included shortened inning breaks, reduced mound visits, a singular July 31 Trade Deadline and changes to the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby for 2019. In 2020, active rosters will expand to 26 players during the regular season and 28 in September, and perhaps more controversially, a three-batter minimum will be instituted for pitchers, with the minimum period for pitchers on the injured list and on optional assignments lengthening back to 15 days.

Castro, Twins player representative Kyle Gibson and executive vice president Derek Falvey all agreed that the expanded rosters were a positive step, but reactions to the three-batter minimum for pitchers were more mixed.

Gibson wasn't a fan of the three-batter minimum and, in general, thought that the desire to introduce more offense to the game and shorten games were at odds with each other.

"I think it’s interesting to explore the pitch clock, but I mean, I think it’s pretty impossible to have more offense and a shorter game," Gibson said. "That’s just me. Especially if you want more action other than home runs."

Castro, on the other hand, understood the need to limit the dead time during pitching changes, particularly in September, when bullpens used to expand more significantly.

"I think that’s a good thing," Castro said. "Just the way that bullpens are utilized has changed a lot, so keeping that pace swift is something everyone wants."

But moving forward, with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire in 2021, Gibson emphasized more significant issues on the players' side about the stagnant nature of free agency and service time questions among younger players at the starts of their careers. Castro also emphasized the need for continued discussion about incentivizing more teams to be competitive at all times, for the good of both the players and the on-field product.

"We really think that with soaring revenues unlike we’ve ever seen, players need to continue to fight for our piece, so we have a long way to go," Castro said. "We have a lot of discussions to take, but like I said, having this agreement in the middle of a CBA, which doesn’t have to happen, is a good first step."

First-round pick Larnach homers in first Major League spring at-bat
Though shortstop Wander Javier and outfielder Trevor Larnach are both a long way from the Major Leagues, the Twins got a good look at both top-five prospects in Thursday's 10-4 split-squad loss to the Nationals at Hammond Stadium.

Larnach, the Twins' No. 5 prospect who was drafted out of Oregon State with the 20th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, homered in his first career Major League Spring Training at-bat by sending a Tanner Rainey pitch the opposite way over the left-center field wall. Javier, the Twins' No. 4 prospect, walked twice in his first start of the spring. Javier had appeared as a substitute in four games before earning his first start on Thursday.

"It's good for me to personally lay eyes on them, and good for the staff to see them on the field, but it's what they're taking out of it, I think, is the most important thing," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "They're all taking advantage of these ABs and these innings and these opportunities. They're doing a really nice job."

Twins tidbits
• The Twins optioned right-handed pitcher Zack Littell to Triple-A Rochester on Thursday, leaving 46 players in Major League camp. Littell had been dealing with a shoulder issue through the start of camp and threw only one inning in a Major League game this spring. The 23-year-old Littell had a 6.20 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings at the Major League level last season.

Eddie Rosario's fourth-inning homer off Nationals right-hander Austin Voth involved some extra drama, as the shot to right-center field ricocheted back onto the field and the Nationals played the ball as if it were live. Rosario was shaken up after he slid into third base on a bang-bang play, not having realized it was a homer.

Though he was examined by training staff at third base, he shot to his feet and sprinted the remaining 90 feet to home plate once it sunk in that his shot had cleared the fence.

"If he was actually hurt, I was going to probably want someone else to finish the home run for him," Baldelli said. "But as soon as he heard 'home run,' and it actually sunk in, he was not going to have any of that. Ultimately, he was fine. And he said he was OK. He was just a little shaken up."

• Several players competing for the final few spots on the Twins' bench led a split-squad, 7-6 victory against the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla. Michael Reed hit an RBI single as part of a 3-for-4 afternoon, Willians Astudillo went 2-for-4 with an RBI single, Jake Cave hit a two-run double and Tyler Austin hit an RBI single.

Up next
Michael Pineda will make his fourth start of the spring for the Twins when the Orioles visit Hammond Stadium for a 12:05 p.m. CT matchup on Friday. Blake Parker, Trevor May and Fernando Romero are also expected to pitch for Minnesota.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.