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Season of misfortune: Cut on middle finger is latest issue for Twins starter Jake Odorizzi

Jake Odorizzi
Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi looks at his pitching hand as he leaves the baseball game with a trainer during the fourth inning against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Jake Odorizzi decided to bet on himself last November when he accepted a one-year qualifying offer the Twins extended to him. The righthanded starter was coming off a fantastic season in which he went 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 30 starts and was named to the American League All-Star team.
Odorizzi opted not to test the free agent market in part because a team signing him would have had to forfeit a draft pick. Instead, he thought it would be wise to take the $17.8 million from the Twins and then become a free agent after the 2020 season, when there would be no draft-pick compensation attached to him.
Five-plus months later, one has to wonder how much Odorizzi would like a mulligan on his decision. Shortly before his 30th birthday on March 27, the coronavirus pandemic forced baseball to shut down for four months.
Odorizzi was then placed on the 10-day injured list prior to the start of the season in late July because of a right intercostal strain suffered in summer camp. He returned to make his first start on Aug. 8 in Kansas City and gave up two runs and four hits in three innings before departing in a 9-6 loss.
Odorizzi made another start against the Royals on Aug. 15 at Target Field — giving up two runs and three hits in four inning in getting a second consecutive no-decision — and then started again on Aug. 21 in Kansas City. He surrendered five runs and seven hits in three innings in taking the loss in a 7-2 defeat. That wasn’t the worst of it. Odorizzi’s night ended when Alex Gordon’s 103.2-mile-per-hour comeback shot hit him, resulting in a bruised chest that landed him back on the injured list.
So Odorizzi’s luck couldn’t get any worse, right? The stoppage in the MLB season alone was costly because the loss in revenues — not to mention pitching opportunities — means that some teams that might have been tempted to pay Odorizzi last winter likely will be out of the bidding this offseason.
The hope for Odorizzi on Wednesday night was that his luck would change on the South Side of Chicago. Activated from the IL earlier in the day, Odorizzi took the mound against the slugging White Sox, who had won the first two games of the series against Minnesota and increased their lead over the second-place Twins to three games in the American League Central. “I worked really hard to get back,” Odorizzi said, “and my one goal today was to come out, set the tone, put the team on my back a little bit, just as I did last year, and get us back on track.”
Odorizzi, considered the Twins’ No. 2 starter behind Jose Berrios when spring training opened in March, held the White Sox without a run for the first three innings, and the Twins took a 1-0 lead in the third on Eddie Rosario’s solo shot off Lucas Giolito. In the bottom of the third, television cameras showed that Odorizzi was dealing with what looked to be a blister on his pitching hand. The Twins added two more runs in the top of the fourth on Byron Buxton’s home run, but as the White Sox batted in the bottom of the inning it became clear that Odorizzi’s hand issue was a problem.
Jose Abreu homered to lead off before Odorizzi retired the next two hitters in a game the Twins won, 5-1. It was after that second out, a Yoan Moncada fly ball to center, that you could see Odorizzi’s hand shaking. Manager Rocco Baldelli and a member of the Twins’ athletic training staff came out to check on the pitcher. Odorizzi attempted a few pitches to see if he could continue and then departed.
So what happened?
Baldelli said Odorizzi was dealing with a blister and bleeding around a finger nail on his right hand. Odorizzi provided more details and if you are eating breakfast right now, you might want to stop reading.
“The bleeding is fine, I can deal with that, I’ve dealt with that for years (around the nail),” he said. “It’s just a process of getting a callus built up. Usually that’s something that happens in spring training as you build up and kind of get your hand seasoned and all that good stuff.  …Me, personally, I haven’t had the opportunity to do (that) this year. That’s fine. It stings a little bit when you release the ball, maybe affects command a little bit. … The issue was the last pitch I threw my finger just kind of ripped, essentially like in the middle of the pad. I don’t really know. There’s nothing I can really do. It’s unfortunate, I’m frustrated, it pisses me off.”
That cut is in the middle of Odorizzi’s middle finger. It’s something the Twins will continue to monitor and it remains unclear if the problem could cost him yet another start.
“There’s no way to know right now anything for certain so we’re going to wait, talk with Jake, see how he comes in the next day or two,” Baldelli said. “But it’s a legitimate blister that opened up. You know how you get a blister and then it kind of rips, it opens up in some way. Whatever was underneath there comes out and we’re going to have to make sure that that blister and his finger are healed before he can go out there and pitch again, that’s for sure. I think it’s very difficult to say right now, we’ll continue to assess it and talk to Jake. That’s probably the most important part of it.”
Odorizzi was especially frustrated because he felt so good before the problems  began. He ended up giving up one run and two hits, with a walk and three strikeouts in 3.2 innings. The Twins’ bullpen was fantastic as three relievers gave up no hits and no walks and struck out seven. Righthander Cody Stashak, who replaced Odorizzi, got the win by pitching 2.1 innings.
“Almost certainly this is just one of those things that is related to the season that we’ve had this year,” Baldelli said of a 60-game regular season that didn’t have the ordinary ramp-up. “There’s been limited time on the field. … There’s no way to actually get to where you need to be in every way. That’s what I would say this has to do with. I feel for Jake, he’s worked really hard and hasn’t been able to be out there pitching anywhere near as much as he deserves to be. Now dealing with this, I’m sure is tough on him.”
Odorizzi admits he has felt snakebit.
“I don’t know how I really couldn’t,” he said. “Everything has kind of been fluky. I haven’t had any arm troubles, anything like that, my stuff when I’ve pitched is normal. It’s just trying to get into a groove, which I think has been borderline impossible for me this year. So, yes, it’s frustrating, but four starts doesn’t determine who I am. I think it’s just one of those years. I don’t really know. Tough luck? Tough you know what, that I will probably just let go. I honestly don’t know what to tell you. It’s been tough, it’s been crappy. When I’ve been out there, especially today, I felt the best I’ve felt this year. Got swings and misses, everything that I could have wanted. To have something that I’ve never had happen to me before is just one more kick to the groin.”
Odorizzi echoed what Baldelli said about this being a day-to-day situation.
“The cut I have on my finger is exposing the skin underneath, so you know how sensitive that is?” Odorizzi said. “It’s like a paper cut, like a large paper cut. That skin underneath just needs to be exposed and harden up and all that type of stuff, so it’s a day-by-day type of a thing and hopefully I’ll be able to make my next start and get back to it. But my focus is being ready for the playoffs and being able to do what I can do for this team. I know what type of pitcher I am. I don’t need to go out and prove that I deserve to be in the starting rotation.
“I just need to be healthy and get healthy with all these weird things that happened to me. Today was a lot of positives. I’m trying to take the positive route  and not get too down on it because it’s something I can’t control. I felt like me again today, so it’s just a matter of letting time go by, letting things heal. Hopefully I’m a quick heal(er). I’ll tell you this, I’m going to work my ass off to do everything I can to be as back as quick I can because I want to help this team. I believe in this team. I think I can give us an extra edge that we need going into the playoffs. … When push comes to shove at the end of the year, I’ll pitch through it and do my best to letting this team do what it needs to do and win. I want to be out there and I want to compete for this team.”
Plus, Odorizzi knows there aren’t many who are going to feel sorry for him. “There’s a saying about problems and issues: Half the people don’t give a crap and the other half are glad you have them,” he said. “So I’m not going to let this affect me, get me down.”