MINNEAPOLIS — They made up the rules as they went, used a robot umpire to call balls and strikes and weren’t worried about the end result. But no matter how quickly Wednesday’s intrasquad game between the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Twins was forgotten, it still carried far more importance than your normal meaningless game. That’s because in the days of the coronavirus pandemic, any step taken toward a return to play is significant.
So after four months of waiting to play baseball, Jose Berrios’ strike out of Byron Buxton to open four innings of work at Target Field put a smile on many faces. Berrios, who is likely to start on opening day (July 24) against the White Sox in Chicago, looked sharp, giving up no runs, three hits, walking one and striking out five. Thirty-eight of his 63 pitches were thrown for strikes.
“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Berrios. “He looked good from the side. We’re not standing behind. We were in the dugout today and got a good side view. His stuff was up exactly where you would want it. He commanded his pitches well. I think it was, again, one of those productive outings.
“We talk about Spring Training outings all the time — it’s hard to really throw too many superlatives when it’s not really a real game or anything like that. But I will say being able to face hitters, being able to get out there with the slightly elevated adrenaline level, make it a little more real, probably helped in some ways — both him and the rest of the guys behind him. I would call it a very productive day for him. He did everything he would want to do.”
Berrios’ performance wasn’t a surprise given he’s the Twins’ top starter. But righthander Randy Dobnak, who is fighting for a spot in the starting rotation, was able to match Berrios. Dobnak also pitched four innings, giving up no runs, two hits, no walks and striking out four. Thirty-six of his 49 pitches went for strikes.
Berrios fanned Buxton, Ehire Adrianza (twice), Jorge Polanco and Marwin Gonzalez. Dobnak struck out Buxton, Polanco, Josh Donaldson and Gonzalez. The Twins used hitters in groups of three and had guys in the field for the first four innings before righthander Jhoulys Chacin (a member of the Taxi Squad) got some work in with only a few fielders behind him. Chacin, who split last season between Milwaukee and Boston, was added on a minor league deal in early February.
Here are a few notes from Wednesday:
- Buxton, who returned to the Twins on Sunday after the birth of his second child, was cleared to take part in Wednesday’s scrimmage. Not surprisingly, he made a nice play in center field by ranging for a ball. Buxton went 1-for-4 with a walk against Berrios/Dobnak. His hit was a double down the left field line against Berrios.
- Josh Donaldson, signed as a free agent last winter to take over at third base, singled to right off Berrios in his first plate appearance. He also popped to short and struck out against Dobnak.
- Colby Suggs, an advance scout for the Twins, stood in the first row behind the plate with a headset on and relayed the balls and strikes as they were called by the TrackMan system. Yes, the Twins had their first experience with a robot umpire and it did not appear as if everyone was thrilled with the results. “We tried to prepare the guys, just letting them know what they were in for a little bit,” Baldelli said. “Jose, in the first inning, threw several pitches, I think three different pitches, that we checked with Colby, and were told basically a half a ball, between a half a ball and a ball off the plate. Pitches that are gonna be called (strikes) a lot of the time. Pitches that sometimes look like strikes, are expected to be strikes in a lot of ways. But were basically a ball by the machine. It seemed like the plate kind of shrunk up a little bit side to side, kind of lengthened out up and down. I think you see some of the breaking balls catch the bottom of the zone, too, in the front. But you definitely see different things and definitely get some reaction from the hitters, especially when certain pitches are called, and frankly not called from the pitcher’s perspective.”
- Baldelli, asked for the highlight for him from Wednesday, said: “Well, seeing (Buxton) back out there and put a good swing on the ball basically right off the plane was very fun to see him go out there and do that. Watching him is always a highlight. Frankly, it was a very well-rounded performance by all of our guys.”
- The Twins will play another intrasquad game at 6:10 on Thursday evening at Target Field. Jake Odorizzi and Lewis Thorpe will start and pitch the first four innings (or get 50 to 60 pitches apiece) and Taylor Rogers and Sergio Romo will get an inning. While Wednesday’s first game was played with music in the background the entire time, this one will feature more game-like conditions. Public address announcements will be made and music will play between innings. As will be the case when the season starts at Target Field, the game will be played with no fans in the stands. The Twins are hoping to stream the game. Check twinsbaseball.com for details.