Report From The Fort: Looking For A Bounceback (Part 1)
Image courtesy of © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsJake Odorizzi
Almost exactly a year ago, the Minnesota Twins traded for Jake Odorizzi, coming off (for him) a substandard year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Mind you, that meant a 4.14 ERA, which looked pretty good for a pitching-starved Twins franchise. I was especially optimistic about him given that his struggles appeared to be injury-related.
That optimism faded fairly fast. Odorizzi had an even worse year, posting a 4.49 ERA, though he did stay healthy and eat up 164.1 innings. So if the problem in 2017 was injuries, what was the issue in 2018? “I was just fighting mechanics and stuff all of last year,” Odorizzi says matter-of-factly.
Getting that corrected was the focus of the offseason. “Just tried to smooth, do more range of motion. I started doing some more mobility stuff this offseason.” The struggles that he experience became a motivating factor, a recurring theme in the players I talked to. “I want to do well for the Twins because I didn’t do well for them last year.”
A look at his numbers as he faced batters repeatedly were especially jarring. The first two times through an order, opponents posted only a .627 and .659 OPS against him. But the third time they saw him that OPS exploded to 1.159. He had similar struggles in 2017, though not nearly as pronounced. However, he didn’t have that problem in his first three years in the majors. He says that kind of struggle is the case for all pitchers, and it is, though not usually as pronounced.
It remains to be seen if he’ll run into a similar issue this year, and what the team will do about it. As of the time we talked, he had not heard any talk about the Twins using an “Opener” role and thinks with the veteran starters the Twins have, he thinks they might not need one.
It is a key year for him, not just because he wants to redeem himself. The 29-year-old also needs to show the market that he’s the same guys who posted a 3.72 ERA and average 175 inning between 2014 and 2016. He’s a free agent at the end of this year. But to him, that’s not a distraction. “You have to focus on now,” he says. “Take care of a season right now and let everything fall into place after that.”
Unlike Odorizzi, Pineda wasn’t expected to contribute much last year. He had Tommy John surgery in July of 2017, so the Twins signed him to a 2-year deal for $10 million. He got $2 million while he rehabbed from surgery and will make $8 million this year.
Pineda has always been perceived as a high upside pitcher who struggles with injuries. He strikes out more than a batter per inning, and his walk rate is low. But he’s struggled with home run (which is not unusual in Yankee Stadium) which has led to a career 4.05 ERA, which seems high for his pedigree. But the big know against him has been his durability; the 6’ 7” 30-year-old has never pitched more than 175.2 innings in a season.
So it was seen as a good sign last year the he recovered quickly enough that the organization considered bringing him up to the majors in a bullpen role late in the season. Cue injury. He tore the meniscus in his knee and had to undergo surgery. Should that be a concern?
It’s not to Pineda. In fact, he is quick to point out that not only does he feel fine, but that the late season surgery didn’t impact his preparation at all. “It’s like a normal offseason,” he says. “I had six weeks for my [meniscus tear] recovery and then started working out.”
So two members of the Twins rotation are hoping to regain the form they showed back in 2016. Odorizzi hopes his range-of-motion training helps him be more consistent with his mechanics, while Pineda hopes that 20 months of recovery and a full offseason will bring back his effectiveness. Tomorrow we’ll talk to two other bounceback candidates, both of whom started the year strong but were ambushed by … well, you’ll see.
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