Twins, Thorpe clicking
Lewis Thorpe faces three, strikes out three against Rays in 8-4 victory at Hammond Stadium
No other team sport is about development as much as baseball.
A perfect example was on the mound for the Minnesota Twins to start against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
Lewis Thorpe, who has been in the Twins system since 2013 seeking to establish himself as a full-time starter with the club, faced the top of the defending American League champion Rays lineup Sunday and sent all three batters he faced walking back to the dugout on a total of 13 pitches.
Willy Adames, Austin Meadows and Randy Arozarena went down swinging, making short work for Thorpe. In three innings this spring, all against the Rays, Thorpe has not allowed a hit.
The strikeouts were all on the lefty’s four-seam fastball which beamed in at a top speed of 93.7 mph, while his slider, changeup and curveball were all thrown for strikes. The Twins went on to win 8-4 and improved to 3-4 on the spring.
For Thorpe, a 25-year-old native of Australia, his development is crystalizing after his career was disrupted due to Tommy John surgery.
Thorpe appeared in six games with the Twins last year and in 12 games in 2019 but was used mostly as a reliever with an E.R.A of 6.14. Thorpe is considered a starter with swing-and-miss stuff. In 424 career innings in the minors, he struck out 511 batters and started 84 of the 91 games he threw in.
Thorpe said he has spent much of his time in the weight room bulking up this offseason and spring.
He has been working to bring more depth to his pitches.
“Changeup and slider I’ve been working on a lot,” Thorpe said. “My slider last year, the (velocity) was down on it and it wasn’t as sharp as it was in 2019. Just being able to trust that and throw it as hard as I can. I’ve been zoning now, I’m seeing the pitch before it even comes in my head.”
Twins Manager Rocco Baldelli said Thorpe “was very sharp” Sunday. “I think his fastball command was exceptional.” Baldelli said “I don’t think he could put himself in a better position” to make the club. With the progress of J.A. Happ delayed due to his COVID-19 diagnosis (he joined the team last week), Thorpe could potentially make a start at the beginning of the season. Twins fans should expect to see much more of Thorpe one way or the other.
Josh Donaldson tore into a fastball left over the middle of the plate in the third inning by Rays pitcher Collin McHugh which went over the 405-feet centerfield wall and off the batter’s eye green wall, traveling at least 415 feet for a three-run homer.
Donaldson’s first home run of the spring was joined in the sixth inning by a three-run shot from Twins outfielder Keon Broxton. Broxton cracked a slider off David Hess down the left field line to give the Twins the lead for good.
Rays outfielder Austin Meadows hit a solo homer in the fifth off Twins reliever Jorge Alcala.
Michael Wacha, a former All-Star pitcher with the Cardinals, pitched two scoreless innings for the Rays. Wacha is exiting a disappointing season with the New York Mets last season.
The fifth inning of the game Sunday will be one some may be able to brag about watching when a young pitcher made his Spring Training debut.
Rays pitcher Shane Baz, a 2017 first round pick with the Pirates who came to Tampa Bay in the Chris Archer trade (along with Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows), hurled fire in his first outing in a big league uniform.
The 21-year-old righty topped out at 99 miles per hour with the crowd marveling at the radar gun shown on the screen as Baz threw 26 pitches – 23 of which were fastballs between 97 mph and 99 mph. The last strike, part of a three-pitch punchout of Twins hitter Zander Weil, topped out at 99.8 mph.
With his long blonde hair, the Texas native is a shorter version of Texas fireballer Noah Syndergaard. Picked 12th overall in 2017, Baz uses the long legs of his 6’3 frame to push off the rubber and amplify the quickness of his delivery. Baz struck out two and walked two while not allowing a hit.
Of his 26 pitches Sunday, contact was made on three – two fouls and a lineout by Jorge Polanco.
For the Twins, the most eye-catching prospect on the field Sunday was 24-year-old righty Josh Winder. A Virginia Military Institute product who has not pitched above Single-A, Winder flashed a 96 mph fastball and two strong breaking pitches. A seventh-round pick in 2018, he walked two batters, struck out one and allowed no hits.
Four-time Gold Glove Award winning shortstop Andrelton Simmons, one of the main free agent signings for the Twins this offseason, made his first showing in camp on Sunday.
Simmons, 31, had been delayed in his native Curacao over travel issues. An ankle injury limited his playing time in 2019 and he only played half of the season last year after opting out over what he has since described as mental health issues.
“We’re happy to have him back,” Thorpe said. “I’m excited to see what he can do. He is a great athlete and he is going to really help us out.”
Fans at the games still relish the Spring Training experience though there is an admittably “Twilight Zone” feel due to the limited seating situation.
Not only are tickets limited to approximately 2,400 seats each game but due to social distancing rules, so are the number of seats that can be purchased together.
Over at the lawn seats section, one family sat divided with three sisters on side, two of their husbands on the other side and their children roaming along the outfield fence.
Sisters Brittani Engen, Bryanne Horn and Brooke Jordan come down every year from Minnesota every year with their families and always see a Twins Spring training game. They usually stay in Fort Myers or Coral Springs. This time, their parents stayed home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Engen said she likes coming out to Hammond Stadium. “You see people from home and everybody is so nice,” Engen said.
Engen had mixed feeling about the seat limits.
“It’s nice because there is not as many people (this season). It’s kind of sad,” she said.