FORT MYERS, Fla. – Jose Berrios pitched much better than his numbers look on Friday, due to some shaky defense behind him. But Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger were simply hit hard again.
Berrios allowed three runs, but only one was earned, and it wasn’t deserved, and the bullpen allowed eight more runs in Tampa Bay’s 11-1 rout of the Twins at Hammond Stadium in the first of two games on Friday.
Errors by outfielder Chris Heisey and shortstop Jorge Polanco each turned into early runs for the Rays, and another run was scored when Heisey lost a fly ball in the bright sunshine, allowing it to fall for a triple. But Berrios was mostly in control throughout his start, though he walked his first two batters of the season. He also struck out four before departing in the fourth inning after throwing about 75 pitches.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — You don’t need an advanced degree in dot connection to recognize the strong relationship between the Twins’ decision makers and Eric Cressey, certified strength and conditioning specialist and proprietor of Cressey Sports Performance.
With newly signed right-hander Lance Lynn on board, there are six current Cressey clients among the 48 players left in Twins’ camp: Lynn, recently signed designated hitter Logan Morrison, Rule 5 reliever Tyler Kinley, lefty reliever Taylor Rogers and a pair of non-roster invitees, outfielder Ryan LaMarre and reliever Michael Kohn.
Oh, and don’t forget right-hander Blayne Enlow, a third-round pick last June already ranked among the Twins’ top 10 prospects.
When the Twins played in Clearwater last week, former Twins outfielder and current Phillies front-office assistant Sam Fuld greeted Kinley with a good-natured jab about their shared connection.
“What is this, the Cressey workout facility over here now?” Fuld said.
Add in first-year assistant trainer Matt Biancuzzo, another Cressey associate, and it’s hard to take more than five steps in the Twins clubhouse without bumping into a CSP alum.
“It’s Cressey University,” Kohn said.
Added LaMarre: “Maybe we’ll get T-shirts and everything.”
It’s also no accident. Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, who rose through the Cleveland Indians front office, noted this offseason the “pretty close relationship” he has with Cressey, a contemporary who has worked for years with Indians ace Corey Kluber, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, as well as more recent Indians high draft picks such as pitcher Triston McKenzie and outfielder Will Benson.
“It’s just been a very good, mutual, professional respect that’s developed,” Cressey, 36, said in a phone interview. “Derek was heavily involved on the amateur scouting side early on with the Indians. He would call for character references on guys they were thinking about drafting. And, obviously, there was the Kluber relationship and just knowing what he was working on.”
THE KINLEY TIP
Cressey opened his first training center in Hudson, Mass., in 2007, and added a second in Jupiter, Fla., in 2014. Originally from southern Maine, Cressey helped former Twins relievers Brandon Kintzler and J.R. Graham reclaim their careers after debilitating injuries.
It appears to be happening again with Kinley, a surprise selection in December after the rebuilding Miami Marlins failed to protect him. The oft-injured Kinley, 27, was one of Cressey’s first clients at the Jupiter facility and the South Florida product took a major step forward in the Dominican Winter League this past offseason.
“I think it was a matter of finding himself and trusting his body to be healthy,” Cressey said. “We talked a lot about teaching him how to move more efficiently, and that made him a lot more durable. All of a sudden he goes out and he’s hitting 100 mph on the radar gun.”
A few outings into what became 13 scoreless appearances in the Dominican for Kinley, Cressey contacted Falvey with a tip about a stealth Rule 5 candidate.
“Tyler hadn’t really spent time in Triple-A last year, so he was probably not a guy that a lot of people know about,” Cressey said. “I had reached out to Derek: ‘Hey, keep an eye on this guy.’ His numbers in the DR this offseason were comic book.”
On the morning of Dec. 14, Cressey was at a local car dealership getting his vehicle serviced when his phone buzzed with the news of Kinley’s selection. His reaction brought more than a few quizzical looks in the service department waiting area.
“It was funny,” Cressey said. “I was getting my tires rotated when the Twins picked him, and I’m doing fist pumps at like 8 in the morning. We’re so excited for him. It’s a great opportunity for a great guy.”
VOUCHING FOR LOMO
Like Kinley, who appreciates the family atmosphere that includes Cressey’s wife, Anna, and their 3-year-old twin daughters, Morrison went to Cressey soon after the Jupiter facility opened four years ago.
“He’d had some pretty involved knee surgeries earlier in his career, and his knee had never quite been right,” Cressey said. “That was really one of his initial reasons for coming in. I was joking with him the other day like, ‘Man, we haven’t even had a conversation about your knee in like three years.’ That first offseason really nipped it all in the bud, and it’s been pretty awesome.”
Traded in December 2013 by the Marlins for injury-riddled reliever Carter Capps, Morrison reestablished his career over the next four years in stops with the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays. Coming off a 38-homer breakout season in 2017, Morrison found himself waiting for a suitable offer as spring training camps opened.
On Feb. 12, Cressey posted a video on his Twitter account of Morrison facing Lynn in live batting practice at the Jupiter facility. It carried the hash tags #freeagentfun and #AdventuresofLoMoandLance.
Two weeks later, Morrison had agreed to a one-year, $6.5 million guarantee with the Twins, and less than two weeks after that, Lynn agreed on a one-year, $12 million deal with them. It speaks to the level of trust between Falvey and Cressey that the Twins never even sent a scout over to the Jupiter facility to evaluate Morrison and Lynn in advance of those signings.
“I don’t know that anybody really did,” Cressey said. “In LoMo’s case, his body of work really speaks for itself. When you’re dealing with situations like this, it’s more a matter of them dealing with the agents and figuring out the dollars and cents of it all. The No. 1 thing on my end was really, ‘Hey, he’s ready to go, he’s healthy.’ That’s probably the most important step I can do.”
Morrison’s early-career missteps on social media and his general bluntness may have caused some wariness among potential suitors, but Cressey was able to recommend him to Falvey without reservation.
“When we have these bigger-name free agents, more often than not people will call you over the course of time and they’ll ask, ‘What kind of a guy is he? Does he have good work ethic? Does he take care of his body? Is he a good teammate?’ All that stuff,” Cressey said. “I mean, LoMo checks literally every one of the boxes, so those are really easy conversations to have.”
Morrison, 30, swears by Cressey and his staff as well.
“I think he just really knows the body and how it works,” Morrison said. “He has multiple people in the gym watching your form so you don’t get hurt. When you do things the right way and do progressions, it keeps you healthy but gets you stronger and you see the results when you work out more functionally.
“It’s not necessarily working out hard. I’ve worked out harder on my own and gotten hurt a lot. It’s working out smart.”
Morrison looked around his new clubhouse and smiled at the number of Cressey alumni in the room.
In Lynn’s case, it was simply a case of helping out a neighbor. The former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher lives in the same development as Cressey.
After the 2015 season, Lynn had stopped in for an evaluation with Cressey before being diverted by Tommy John surgery that wiped out all of 2016. Last October, facing free agency for the first time, Lynn again reached out, and they worked together until Lynn signed with the Twins on March 12.
Lynn, 30, is coming off a 33-start 2017 in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. By turning down potential multiyear deals in less-competitive situations, he is betting on himself to have a big year and earn the sort of contract that was projected for the former all-star and two-time World Series participant back in November.
“Lance is a very deceptively good athlete,” Cressey said. “People don’t realize he was a three-sport athlete in high school. He was a (football) lineman and a basketball player, as well. He’s a very quick learner.”
With the help of pitching coach Brian Kaplan, a former Notre Dame pitcher who is Cressey’s business partner, and manual therapist Shane Rye, Lynn was able to build his pitch count to 50 in live batting practice by the time he signed. In his Twins spring debut on Tuesday, Lynn was remarkably sharp, touching 94 mph and fanning five with just one walk allowed in three hitless innings.
“The biggest thing with him is a good chunk of last year he was really inside that 18-month post-op window on Tommy Johns,” Cressey said. “So, it’s really a matter of command tends to be the last thing that comes around. I’m really excited to see him this year.”
After working with Lynn for nearly five months, Cressey was able to give Falvey a positive recommendation about his neighbor as well.
“He’s got a great sense of humor — he cracks jokes all the time — I certainly see how he takes pride in his work,” Cressey said. “The second he picks up a ball, he flips the switch and it’s go time. The thing I’ve always heard about him is he just competes. There’s an element of a Max Scherzer-type competitor in him.”
Yes, Scherzer, the three-time Cy Young Award winner now with the Washington Nationals, is another Cressey client. The Nationals and New York Mets join the Twins in the top three of clubs with Cressey connections, a web that extends to all 30 clubs and at one point included more than 50 players on 40-man rosters.
“They’ve found quite the little niche and they’ve run with it,” LaMarre said.
T-shirts do seem appropriate.
Rosario feels no pain in return
PORT CHARLOTTE, FLA. – It was a quiet 0-for-3 for Eddie Rosario on Thursday, a strikeout and a couple of pop-ups that barely reached the outfield grass. And Rosario was delighted.
“Very good. Good to hit,” the Twins’ regular left fielder said after facing live pitching for the first time in 11 days. “No pain.”
That last part is the most important, because Rosario had been sidelined since March 4 by tendinitis in his right arm. He began throwing again Wednesday and felt so good a day later, he handled two more sets of 15 throws apiece from 90 feet on Thursday.
It’s all been pain-free so far, Twins manager Paul Molitor said, so he’s encouraged. It probably will be another couple of days before they put him in the outfield so he can work on catching fly balls again. Molitor suggested that that might occur in minor league games, with Rosario instructed to simply toss the ball to an infielder rather than put his full strength behind a throw.
“We all know Eddie’s tendency to try to make every throw,” Molitor said. “We want to limit his have-to factor of throwing in a game.”
Molitor said the Twins don’t believe the problem is anything structural, so it’s just a matter of letting the soreness fade, and then being proactive about a training program to keep him loose.
“We just have to get him to understand he has to be a little diligent about whatever program they put him on to get ahead of it,” Molitor said. “We’ve been working with him for a while to try to eliminate some of the tail on his throws.”
As for Thursday’s at-bats, it was a good just to get him back to the plate, Molitor said.
“Probably a little rust for live pitching. The good aspect of his three at-bats was, he got a lot of swings and saw a lot of pitches,” said the manager, who has Rosario schedule to play again Friday night.
Praise for hustle
Kennys Vargas lofted a high pop-up behind third base in the fourth inning, and it fell in fair territory just out of left fielder Denard Span’s reach. Seeing the Rays scramble to reach the ball, Vargas rounded first base and headed for second. But Span recovered and threw him out by a couple of steps. Molitor, though, was far more impressed with Vargas’ read of the situation than irritated by the out.
“It was the right play. Two outs, you’re ahead in the game — he tried to go,” Molitor said. “He’s made some pretty good baserunning plays already. … He takes that pretty seriously. For me, that was the right play, given the circumstances.”
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — In his four full seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, Jake Odorizzi had a dugout-level seat for Opening Day starts by David Price (2014) and, the past three seasons, Chris Archer.
The opportunity to kick off this Twins’ season on March 29 in Baltimore, an increasingly likely (if still unofficial) scenario, carries great appeal for the right-hander.
“It would be pretty special,” said Odorizzi, who turns 28 two days before the opener. “It’s not something I really hang myself up on, but it’s a cool accomplishment that this organization feels enough confidence in you to go Game 1.”
Jose Berrios, coming off a 14-win breakout season, had appeared in line to become the Twins’ youngest Opening Day starter since Brad Radke in 1996, but Berrios’ desire to pitch back home in San Juan, P.R., in mid-April overrode the more traditional honor.
“I know he wants to be able to pitch down there, and why wouldn’t he?” Odorizzi said. “I mean, that’s his home. Probably personally that’s more important than Opening Day because how many times has a team played in Puerto Rico during the regular season. Hopefully everything works out and he’ll be able to do that.”
Ervin Santana, the Twins’ Opening Day starter the past two years, isn’t expected back until late April at the soonest as he recovers from Feb. 6 surgery on his right middle finger.
Odorizzi, who has a 5.44 earned run average in nine career starts at Camden Yards, still managed to win both his road starts against the Orioles last year with a 2.45 ERA. Odorizzi, who hasn’t pitched in a game since March 7, threw a bullpen without issue on Thursday and is scheduled to start again on Sunday at home against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“You always want to set the tone in Game 1 and put one in the win column,” he said. “If the team believes in you enough to give you that Opening Day start, I think that’s just a big vote of confidence of how they view you and what type of player they think that you are.”
The Twins thought enough of Odorizzi to pursue him for more than two months this offseason, even after their initial trade proposal at the winter meetings was rejected. By the time they finally acquired him on Feb. 17, it was for Class A shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios, rated No. 31 in the deep Twins system by Baseball America.
Despite their Indianapolis-area roots, where Kyle Gibson (Greenfield) and Lance Lynn (Brownsburg) were contemporary prep pitching stars at high schools separated by about a 50-minute drive, the two new Twins rotation mates had never met before this week.
“We never played Brownsburg,” said Gibson, who grew up in the eastern suburbs while Lynn was reared on the west side of town. “He was a year ahead of me in school. They had a really good team. I think they won state.”
Future big-league pitcher Drew Storen teamed with Lynn on the 2005 state 4A champions, who went 35-0 to become just the second unbeaten Indiana state baseball champion.
In 2008, Lynn’s Ole Miss Rebels went to the same NCAA Tournament regional as Gibson’s Missouri club in Coral Gables, Fla. The Tigers and ace Aaron Crow pinned a 7-0 loss on Lynn in the opener, but Miami eventually advanced with an 11-2 win over Ole Miss in the final.
Eddie Rosario, dealing with right triceps tendinitis, played in his first game since March 4 after extending his pregame throwing program to 30 throws from up to 90 feet.
The left fielder went 0 for 3 as the designated hitter while seeing 16 total pitches.
“He got in a lot of swings and saw a lot of pitches,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “I think he’d tell you he had a couple pitches to hit that he missed.”
Rosario is scheduled to DH again on Friday night at the Boston Red Sox.
Twins pitching coach Garvin Alston, drafted out of Florida International University in 1995, was saddened to hear of Thursday’s collapse of a pedestrian bridge at the Miami campus that reportedly resulted in multiple deaths. “I don’t have any friends or family there now, but FIU is still my family,” he said. “My prayers go out to everybody that’s involved.”
Gibson gave up a run on four hits and no walks in five innings against the Rays. He struck out five, including four straight near the end of his outing, and credited recent adjustments to his slider.
Rule 5 pick Tyler Kinley ripped through a clean sixth on six pitches (all strikes). His fastball was 95-96 mph.
The Twins will play rare day-night split-squad games on Friday, both in Fort Myers.
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Kyle Gibson became the first Twins pitcher to throw five innings in a Grapefruit League game this spring on Thursday, and the righthander looked sharp, allowing only four hits and one run to pitch Minnesota past Tampa Bay 8-1 at Charlotte Sports Park.
Gibson never allowed more than one hit in an inning, and for the third time in four spring starts, he didn’t walk a batter, though he hit former teammate Denard Span in the foot with a sinker. Gibson also stuck out five Rays, four of them among the final five hitters he faced.
“I had one out and a guy on second base — that’s a situation where you want to try to get [a strikeout] if you can. To get two in a row [to end the fourth inning], that’s pretty fortunate,” Gibson said after lowering his spring ERA to 1.80. “You’ve got to get in strikeout counts first. We’ve talked a lot about that, not being in counts where you can get strikeouts. I feel like I did that and sequenced a little better today.”