Twins Daily Roundtable: Romero's Rotation Spot
Image courtesy of Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY SportsNick Nelson
Unless Romero experiences some sort of major backslide, his name shouldn't even factor into the discussion of rearranging to accommodate Santana's return. Right now the rookie right-hander looks like the Twins' best starter, and until that changes he needs to stick.
Given the lack of long-term investment in them, Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi should be atop the pecking order. But with Erv likely a month away, the rotation landscape will probably look quite a bit different by the time he's ready.
So, presumably Santana may be back in mid-June, so about a month from now. That's plenty of time for things to work themselves out, as they almost always do. Someone will need to be placed on the DL, a younger guy will be struggling.
But, if that answer had to be made today, it would be difficult. At least somewhat difficult. Jake Odorrizi and Kyle Gibson aren't going anywhere. Jose Berrios is struggling right now, but he's not going back to AAA (subject to change if he's still struggling in a month. And, no one wants to hear it, but Lance Lynn isn't going to be dropped now (again, maybe in a month if he's still not throwing strikes).
So, maybe the Twins should go the way of the Angels and use a 6-man rotation and treat Romero like Ohtani and the rest of the rotation works around the Romero schedule (purpose being to limit his innings).
Fortunately, that answer doesn’t need to be made today. However, Trevor May could return from the DL in two weeks, and roster/rotation construction could get very interesting then.
Ervin Santana or no, Fernando Romero needs to stay in the Twins rotation right now. The only reason not to do so would be to limit his innings for the first half of the year in order to use them in the latter half, and specifically the playoffs, so let’s chart that out a little.
Following his Tommy John surgery, Romero pitched 90.1 innings in 2016 and 125 innings in 2017. He should likely be limited to ~150 innings in 2018. With his upside and injury history, stretching beyond that is just plain foolish.
So let’s do the math. He’s at 37.2 innings right now, so that leaves about 115 innings. There are 126 games left in the season, so approximately 25 starts. Over his last three years, he’s averaged about 5.1 IP per start, which would be 133.25 innings, which means he would likely miss his last four starts if he makes every start. Assuming the Twins also want him available for a couple of playoff starts, that means shaving off 3-6 starts.
That might be easy if he ends up on the DL at some point, so no need to panic now. So keep him in the rotation for now, with a plan to ease up on the innings mid-summer if he stays healthy and effective.
Fernando Romero’s a 23-year-old who’s never thrown more than 125 innings in a season. Ervin Santana’s a 35-year-old who’s recovering slower than expected from a major finger surgery. Neither of those guys sound like somebody you can rely on to pitch into October.
My short-term answer would be to insert Ervin into the rotation and piggyback him with Romero out of the bullpen in each of his starts. Santana is going to need some time to catch up, so you work him in slowly. It’s likely that an injury would open up a spot for Romero eventually, but let’s just say that doesn’t happen. In that case, I say once Ervin’s up to speed you roll out a six-man rotation. I think both Ervin and Romero could use the extra rest.
The hope would be you keep everyone healthy and get fresher pitchers for the stretch run/playoffs. The fear would be altering the routine of everyone in your rotation would also result in everyone falling apart. Personally, I think a team like the 2018 Twins is perfect for such an experiment.
Fernando Romero has been electric for the Twins in the early going. There's also the reality that it's been a very small sample size and the volatility with rookies is generally off the charts. That being said, he's a special talent and I've rated him highly on prospect reports given his potential to be the Twins ace for many years to come. Right now, I think it's hard to worry about what to do when Ervin Santana returns and in large part, because that timetable is so murky. Lance Lynn could turn things around by then, someone may be hurt, or another pitcher could falter.
If we're still having to look for answers to this question when Santana is a week out, I think then it becomes a bigger talker. Until then, Paul Molitor has to hope for continued strong outings from his full staff and go from there. I do know that as the pitching crunch continues to come down the pipe, Phil Hughes and his remaining contract money is looking more and more like a big bite for the front office to swallow (but a necessary one).
Short of something dramatic happening in a Fernando Romero start before Ervin Santana is deemed healthy enough to join the Twins rotation, I think it’s obvious what you do with Romero at that point. You send him out there to pitch in his Twins jersey every fifth day.
The question becomes, what do you do with the other guys?
Maybe one of them joins (or replaces) Phil Hughes in the Twins bullpen until one of the other rotation members falters or gets injured, but you simply do not take a guy who is literally allowing no opponent to cross home plate out of the rotation in a season where you’re honestly trying to win your division.
I suspect the situation will resolve itself the way these things so often do. A starting pitcher that has given up a run or two more than they’d like to see will suddenly suffer an “impingement” in his throwing shoulder or a “strain” in his arm, necessitating a 10-day stint on the DL.
Poof! Problem solved.
There are still a few starts to be had by Romero before decision time, but as of now you can't take him out of the rotation. There's also a doubleheader on June 5 that would require a sixth starter or pitching a guy on short rest later that week. Having too many capable starting pitchers is never a problem... and it won't be here either.
Short answer: He should stay in the rotation.
I think Fernando Romero needs to stay in the MLB rotation upon the return of Ervin Santana. If everyone in the rotation stays healthy, I don't think a six-man rotation is a bad thing for a few reasons. First, for Romero's sake, it would help the Twins limit his innings this year, as he has never thrown more than 125 in a season. Second, it will help keep everyone in the starting rotation fresh throughout the season as they get an extra day's rest between each start.
Next, the Twins don't have a front-line ace in their rotation, so it's not like they will be taking starts away from someone like a Max Scherzer or Corey Kluber. Finally, someone else in the rotation will inevitably get hurt, and when that happens the rotation can simply go back down to a five-man rotation without skipping a beat.
Right now, we are evaluating Romero's initial performance through rose-colored glasses, and rightly so. He's been dominant against two really good teams. He's likely to run into bumps in the road as teams adjust and see him more. If he keeps pitching the way he has been, there's no way the Twins, who have less margin for error after a difficult start, can push him out of the rotation. I don't think it's debatable, even at this early stage, that he has the best stuff on the team. Right now, Lance Lynn is the odd-man out (performance wise) in the Twins rotation. This decision likely depends largely on what the Twins decide to do with Phil Hughes. Are the likely to cast aside an arm who is making $26 million over the next two seasons? I'm doubtful, although that's absolutely what they should do from a baseball standpoint.
I think it's likely that the rotation logjam works itself out naturally. The chances of the Twins starting staff staying injury free seems unlikely, in which case Romero stays occupying.
Ultimately, I think it's hard to argue that right now, the optimal Twins rotation would be: Santana, Berrios, Romero, Gibson, Odorizzi. We'll see what happens at the end of May, but Romero has undeniably provided some much needed spark and swagger to this pitching staff.
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