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Berrios sets tone in Twins home opener

By Nathan Mayberg - | Feb 26, 2020

Twins pitcher Jose Berrios threw two scoreless innings and struck out four in the team's Grapefruit League home opener Feb. 23 at Hammond Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays. NATHAN MAYBERG

With their sights on the World Series, the Minnesota Twins know their pitching will have to step up.

Jose Berrios took to the mound at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers for the Twins’ Grapefruit League homer opener Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays and gave his team what they wanted to see. The righty threw two scoreless innings while notching four strikeouts with a blazing 95 mph fastball.

Berrios showed crisp location and a good feel for his offspeed pitches. While the Blue Jays didn’t send out their top lineup, the results mattered. Expectations are high for the 25-year-old pitcher who is already a two-time All-Star. His consistency will play a large role in where the Twins finish.

“One of the most important things for me is to be fresh and strong for the first day to (Opening Day). As a team, we want to win it all,” Berrios said after his outing.

Berrios was happy with his performance as well as his high velocity this early in the spring. “I want to know where we are at. I think we are in good position.”

Kenta Maeda, a crafty right-hander who pitched with the Los Angeles Dodgers is one of three pitching acquisitions the Twins made this offseason. NATHAN MAYBERG

He liked the feel of his four-seam circle changeup and his breaking ball, with his slurve (curveball/slider) getting called for strikes and a lot of looks. A couple of his changeups were called just off the plate.

In camp, the Twins have shown a devotion to technology and analytics. Every swing and pitch is videotaped and analyzed. After he was done pitching against Toronto, Berrios was fitted with an electronic stimulator around his shoulder. The device is meant to help him recover easier.

The Maeda touch

Perhaps no acquisition in the offseason was more important for Minnesota obtaining former Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda. The right-hander has been working this spring with staff on the spin efficiency and movement of his pitches. For Maeda, those are his specialties.

Hitters batted .158 against Maeda’s slider last year and went .183 against his changeup. His 6.7 hits per innings rate ranked seventh-best in the majors. He had a 4.04 ERA and split time as a reliever and starter last year and the Twins lande the 31-year-old for a relative bargain with a contract that will pay him $13 million over the next four years with the Dodgers having sent them $10 million as part of a trade.

On Feb. 24, Maeda made his spring debut pitching two innings against the Red Sox, giving up two hits and a run, including a homer to Andrew Benintendi.

In a bullpen session last week, the Twins staff showed Maeda his spin rate and movement with computer tools. “They didn’t have that in my day,” remarked Johan Santana, the Twins’ former two-time Cy Young Award winner. Now a spring instructor with the team, Santana said “that’s the beauty of baseball. There is always room for improvement.”

Maeda said he is working on developing a cutter. “It’s not an easy pitch,” he said.

Maeda spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was with them when they lost the 2017 World Series to the Houston Astros in seven games. That was the same season the Astros cheated by stealing catcher signs and relaying them through a video booth set up near the dugout. The scandal led to the firing of Astros manager A.J. Hinch, General Manager Jeff Luhnow and former bench coach Alex Cora, the loss of draft picks, and a $5 million fine to the owner.

“Sign stealing in general is not right and as a pitcher I hope that none of these things happen again,” Maeda said. While Maeda had a 1.59 ERA against the Astros in the 2017 World Series, he gave up a three-run homer to Jose Altuve in a 10-inning game the Dodgers lost. Altuve has acknowledged receiving stolen signs in 2017 and expressed remorse. “I feel bad about what happened in 2017,” Altuve said in a press conference this month. Maeda stopped short of calling for the punishment of the players, saying it was up to the league.

Bert Blyleven, a Hall of Fame pitcher who was on the Twins’ 1987 World Series championship team, is a roving instructor for the Twins and a television commentator. He mostly works with younger pitchers. “These (big league) guys know what they need to do,” he said. “The games has changed. It’s more analytics,” Blyleven said.

Blyleven, who calls Fort Myers home, believes that pitching is largely based on the lower half of the body. “The arm is nothing more than a whip,” he said. He is a proponent of “sprint” pitching, by using the pitching mound to push off.

A right-hander, who was born in Holland, Blyleven ranks fifth on the career strikeout list (3,701) and ninth in shutouts (60). A World Series champion with the 1979 Pirates, Blyleven is proud of his 242 complete games, which is about 240 more than today’s average pitcher will throw in a lifetime. “It was when men were men,” Blyleven said of his era. “I hated coming out of the game,” he said.

Blyleven doesn’t think today’s pitchers approach the game any different. Just because he threw more innings doesn’t mean he threw less hard, he said. Known for his big curveball, he had eight seasons with 200 or more strikeouts. He led the league in WHIP in 1977 with the Rangers.

“We threw every fourth day. You had to go make good pitches,” Blyleven said.

“We never had a pitch count. The hitters let you know when you were done.”