Bullpen additions for Twins don’t mean demotion for Taylor Rogers

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins bolstered their bullpen this winter by signing two pitchers with ninth-inning experience, including the most recent closer for their primary division rival.

Adding Hansel Robles and Alex Colome doesn’t mean the Twins have demoted Taylor Rogers, though, despite a rough 2020 that was his worst of five seasons in the majors. They won’t designate one reliever for a permanent ninth-inning role, in keeping with their practice over manager Rocco Baldelli’s first two years. They’re also confident the struggles Rogers endured last season were more statistical fluke than warning sign.

“We didn’t think Taylor had a bad season. That’s baseball, man,” pitching coach Wes Johnson said. “He got dinked and ducked a couple of times.”

The 60-game schedule, shortened by the virus outbreak, left no margin for slumps for any player. In 2019, Rogers had a 2.61 ERA with 90 strikeouts and only 11 walks in 69 innings while compiling 30 saves, but even that summer wasn’t without lulls.

“You take a 60-game stretch in the middle and you compare it to the 60-game stretch last year, he actually pitched better last year,” Johnson said.

In 2020, the left-hander posted a 4.05 ERA in 21 appearances with the highest walks-and-hits-per-inning rate (1.5) of his career, but his opponents batted .400 on balls in play, the best proof of bad luck available in the sport’s vast troves of data. The major league average was .298.

This spring, Rogers arrived at camp far more relaxed, regaling coaches and teammates with jokes and relieved that the surprise stress of serving as team union rep during the height of pandemic uncertainty has subsided.

“It really did take a toll on me. Not going to lie. It was a lot,” Rogers said, adding: “Everybody had a different situation, and just trying to take care of everybody’s individual situation was interesting. For myself, I was alone all season, and that’s not easy either. Everybody’s getting to see their families and all that type of stuff, but I don’t have one.”

The Twins weren’t oblivious to his burden.

“He certainly had to deal with a lot of different things. I don’t think anyone could deal with it as well as he did,” Baldelli said.

Adding Robles and Colome to the bullpen sure won’t hurt. Robles came from the Los Angeles Angels, having served as their primary closer in 2019. Colome has been a ninth-inning man for five years, leading the league in 2017 with 47 saves for the Tampa Bay Rays and posting an 0.81 ERA for the Chicago White Sox last season.

Sergio Romo, Tyler Clippard and Trevor May departed as free agents, but Tyler Duffey has returned to form a formidable late-inning quartet with Rogers, Colome and Robles.

“With us, it’s become, `Get your outs and contribute,’ and then that’s all that matters,” said Duffey, who had a career-best 1.88 ERA in 22 games in 2020. “Obviously guys want to be closers and guys want to be setup men and all the names, but at the end of the day if we’re winning, everything else will take care of itself.”

Colome threw a live batting practice session Wednesday at the team’s complex in Fort Myers, Florida, prompting praise from Baldelli. He said Colome “exudes confidence” on the mound, which is always at the top of the list of prerequisites for late-inning relievers.

“Coming to a team that works differently than other places, I don’t have that in my mind that I have to be the closer or not,” Colome said. “I’m just trying to help the team win, and this is a good team and this is a good place to be.”

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.