We learned earlier this week that Scott Baker had trouble getting loose in a B-game on Saturday, which “raised some red flags” about his throwing elbow. The Twins and Baker continue to downplay the severity of the issue, but it’s increasingly likely that he’ll begin the season on the disabled list.
According to Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com, Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said this afternoon that Baker needs to make it through bullpen sessions on Saturday and Monday before being cleared to return to game action. Barring any setbacks, the soonest he’ll pitch in a game again will be next Thursday against the Orioles. This would set him up to potentially start two more games before the team breaks camp, which Mackey estimates would put him in the range of 80 pitches.
Baker still hopes to start the team’s home opener on April 9 against the Angels, but he also doesn’t want to rush back too soon.
“If that’s what we need to do, that’s what we need to do,” Baker said Friday when asked about the possibility of starting the season on the disabled list. “I know I would love to make the home opener start, and as far as I know that’s still the case. But you’ve got to do what’s smart and wise, and do whatever it takes to get ready for a long season.”
The Twins won’t need a fifth starter for the first time until April 15 against the Rangers, so giving him some extra time might be the most prudent approach.
Baker, 31, posted a career-best 3.14 ERA and 123/32 K/BB ratio over 134 2/3 innings last season. He was limited to just four starts and two relief appearances after the All-Star break due to a strained flexor muscle in his elbow.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.