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How the Twins Are Keeping Pitchers Primed in St. Paul


Twins alternate site pitching coach Mike McCarthy is a broad thinker and big doer, but right now, his professional world is very small. Nonetheless, he and the Twins are working hard to continue developing and preparing hurlers at CHS Field.McCarthy, 33, is no more naturally suited to the seclusion and sterilized atmosphere of the alternate site than are his highly competitive charges. However, he and the team have found ways to make the most of the situation.

 

“It’s a really difficult challenge,” McCarthy said of keeping pitchers working at a high level in simulated games that often feature fewer than six fielders and a small rotation of two or three batters per half-inning. “So we add runners on base, we’ll start them with a dirty inning, we’ll try to give them as game-like an environment as possible.” By calling out various situations and asking pitchers to work within the simulated constraints, he and other Twins staffers can kindle the competitive fire a bit even under tangibly bizarre circumstances.

 

Even so, the day-to-day work in St. Paul isn’t an adequate replacement for minor-league competition, nor a good way to keep pitchers ready for quick recall to the big leagues. To turn the strange setting to their advantage, therefore, the team treats it almost like a constant workshop.

 

“This can be an opportunity for development--for guys to work on things like that,” McCarthy said, noting the Rapsodo camera that sits on the ground between the mound and home plate throughout sim games. “We can give them a quicker feedback loop than, say, in a game in the major leagues, where you can’t pull your TrackMan data and look at how the pitches are moving, or locations, all of those things. We can do that in real time here, and look at those things in between innings, so we’re leveraging that.”

 

In the majors, relievers have to be ready to pitch every day. While they’re with the alternate-site crew, the pitchers are kept on regular schedules, for both health and logistical reasons.

 

“We’ve said, ‘hey, let’s set them on a schedule, so they know when they’re throwing.’ That also keeps us more COVID-compliant, with limited facility access and keeping guys spread out, and because we are short on players and staff,” McCarthy explained. “What we’re doing is trying to stagger that so that they have opportunities to throw on set days.” To simulate the varying urgency of game situations, though, the coaches sometimes don’t tell players whether they’ll pitch the top or bottom half of an inning until the last possible moment, forcing them to get ready quickly or stay loose for a few extra throws in the bullpen, the way they’ll have to if and when they’re needed in a competitive setting.

 

Primarily, though, the camp can be used to extend the processes the team implemented during spring training, helping pitchers become their best selves. McCarthy talked about the way he and his colleagues have continued their work with Derek Law over the first month of the season, culminating (for now) in his inclusion on the taxi squad for this week’s trip to Cleveland.

 

“Derek obviously had a really good spring training. We really helped him understand how to utilize his mix better,” McCarthy said. “Something that has been a strength for him is his ability to throw his breaking ball for strikes, and to locate extremely well. So we’ve just tried to maximize that, and to add a little bit of carry to the fastball. He’s been phenomenal. He’s continued to do what he did in spring training, continued to work on understanding how to use his profile best, and how to pair his pitches together.”

 

Those have been easy changes to maintain. Whether they’ve continued to tighten and are sharp enough to withstand the vicious test of a high-leverage situation in a big-league game is yet to be seen. In the meantime, McCarthy, Toby Gardenhire, and other Twins staff are doing their best to navigate the major vestigial challenges of pandemic baseball.

 

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I heard before that at the St. Paul site that there isn't enough to have 2 teams. Why not bring in some AA players to help out? I'm sure they could use the extra playing time and they can better simulate games.

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I heard before that at the St. Paul site that there isn't enough to have 2 teams. Why not bring in some AA players to help out? I'm sure they could use the extra playing time and they can better simulate games.

 

I believe they are limited to like 30-33 players and when the MLB team is on the road, five guys are on the taxi squad. They also have a lot of pitchers working there. Could be something like 14-16 pitchers so you could just have 7 position players on a side... stuff like that. 

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