Report From The Fort: Time For Jose Berrios To Take Control
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn, USA TodayHeading into his fourth start of the spring on Friday afternoon, Berrios had yet to allow a single walk in Grapefruit League action. He broke that streak against Tampa Bay, issuing a pair of free passes in the second inning of a game where his final line failed to reflect his performance.
Berrios got through only 3 2/3 innings on 72 pitches while allowing three runs, but two were unearned and the other should've been; Brandon Snyder scored after tripling to lead off the fourth when left fielder Chris Heisey lost the ball in the sun. That was one of four outs that Minnesota squandered behind the starter.
Despite all that, Berrios notched four strikeouts and came away from the outing with a 1.64 ERA.
Hard work appears to be paying off for one of the most relentless grinders in the organization. He's noticed a difference compared to last spring.
"I feel great. I feel better," he said. "Every year I get to know my body and myself more."
Indeed, by all appearances, Berrios has smoothed his mechanics and improved his fastball command – an utmost priority for setting up his physics-bending secondary offerings.
Paul Molitor believes the best is yet to come in that regard.
"He's throwing fairly well, but I still think that we're going to see a little bit more sharpness command-wise from him," the manager said after Friday's game.
Berrios is a crucial component in Minnesota's starting pitching equation, and not just because of his youth and a ceiling that exceeds that of all other players currently in the rotation mix. (Though that's huge.) His particular skill set fits well on this team.
Despite some improvements with missing bats in 2017, Twins pitchers still ranked near the bottom of the league in strikeouts. Berrios led all Minnesota starters in K-rate at 22.6%, and did so as one of the youngest starters in the majors, still learning how to fully harness his stuff.
There is also this: Berrios, like the rotation's elder statesman Ervin Santana, is a fairly extreme fly ball pitcher. But whereas this has often proven a weakness for Santana, leading to many of those flies leaving the yard, Berrios has generally been able to keep them in the park.
In the minors, the former first-round pick out of Puerto Rico allowed only 35 home runs in almost 600 innings while coming up through the minors. During his time in the majors last year, Berrios was taken deep just 15 times in 145 frames – good for a 0.9 HR/9 rate that ranked as the lowest among all Twins starters, and in fact 12th-lowest among all MLB starters (140+ IP). Pretty impressive in a season where long balls were way up across the league.
With Minnesota boasting arguably the best outfield defense in the game, getting a high percentage of hitters to put the ball in the air, but inside the fence, is a very good recipe. Especially when you're putting away so many guys without needing to rely on your fielders at all.
If Berrios is staying in the zone and hitting his spots, he's going to be a force. I have zero doubt. And as he enters his first full season as a big-leaguer, there are plenty of signs that he is poised to do just that.
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