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  • 3 Injured Pitchers That Can Help the Twins in the Second Half

    Cody Christie

    Twins fans will be clamoring to add more pitching depth at the trade deadline, and there’s little doubt the team will need pitching. However, as they return from injury, these three pitchers can bolster the team’s pitching staff.

    Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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    Injuries can play a significant role in a team’s eventual finish to the season, as clubs that have their key players are more likely to stay in contention. Expectations were high for two of the three players below to help the Twins in 2022, and one possibly being a late-season addition to the team’s plans. All three are expected to return before the season ends for a team fighting to stay in first place. 

    Bailey Ober, SP
    Injury: Right Groin Strain
    Expected Return: Early July

    Bailey Ober was arguably Minnesota’s best pitcher in the second half of 2021, so hopes remained high for him entering his sophomore season. In seven starts (33 2/3 innings), he posted a 4.01 ERA with a 1.28 WHIP and a 29-to-7 strikeout to walk ratio. Before going on the IL, he allowed eight earned runs in his last two starts, so his numbers may have been impacted by him trying to play through the injury. When healthy, Ober has been one of the team’s most consistent pitchers, and his return will be a welcome addition to an improving rotation. 

    It will be interesting to see what the Twins decide to do with the starting rotation. Currently, the Twins have five pitchers already occupying rotation spots, so the team will have a few options. Bringing Ober back might push the team to move to a six-man rotation. Candidates to remove from the rotation include Devin Smeltzer and Dylan Bundy. Smeltzer has been pitching well, but he has minor league options remaining. Bundy would have to be moved to the bullpen or designated for assignment. It seems likely for the team to switch to a six-man rotation because another injury will likely occur to a starter. 

    Jorge Alcala, RP
    Injury: Right Elbow Inflammation
    Expected Return: July

    Minnesota’s bullpen has been a question mark for most of the season, with few pitchers having any level of trust. Alcala was projected to be one of the team’s high leverage relievers, but he has been limited to two appearances this season. Elbow issues can be problematic and linger, especially for high-velocity pitchers. There’s little doubt the Twins bullpen would take on a remarkably different view if Alcala was healthy and pitching late in games. 

    At the beginning of June, Alcala appeared in a rehab assignment with Fort Myers, where he was hitting 96-97 mph on the radar gun. Unfortunately, his throwing progression was temporarily halted due to stiffness in his right elbow. Minnesota had Alcala continue to work on strengthening exercises, and he is expected to resume throwing this week. 

    Kenta Maeda, SP/RP
    Injury: Modified Tommy John Surgery
    Expected Return: Possibly September

    Kenta Maeda has a chance to turn into Minnesota’s not-so-secret playoff reliever, especially based on his track record with the Dodgers. Luckily, Maeda had an internal brace put in the elbow to cut his recovery time down by a couple of months. His procedure took place on September 1, 2021, and the recovery time is 9-12 months. At the beginning of June, he shifted his recovery from the team’s Fort Myers facilities to Minneapolis so he could be closer to the team. 

    Maeda has been throwing from flat ground at 120 feet and is scheduled to throw off the mound near the beginning of July. There is obviously no guarantee that Maeda will be back on the team’s roster this season. If the team wants him to start games, he will need a more lengthy rehab assignment to build up his workload. His best option to help the 2022 Twins may be to come out of the bullpen if the team’s doctors feel he is up to the task.  

    How much do you think these three pitchers will help the Twins in the second half? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

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    Right now, the rotation is:
    Joe Ryan
    Sonny Gray
    Dylan Bundy
    Chris Archer
    Devin Smeltzer

    Bundy, Archer and Smeltzer have all pitched very well recently. Every bit as good or better than I'd expect from Ober. It'll be very interesting to see how the Twins handle Ober's return. Gray, Archer, and Bundy cannot be optioned. I can't see Joe Ryan losing his rotation spot. That leaves Smeltzer to AAA? How much better than the other rotation options is Ober? Probably not much.

    Alcala could potentially be good, but he's the quintessential "should be good" but isn't. He's just a middle reliever at this point.

    Maeda probably won't pitch more than a handful of innings for the Twins this year. The question will be all about his control. Pitchers returning from TJ often have significant problems hitting their spots and Maeda won't have any time to really get the repetition he needs. The real value of Maeda is if he returns and manages to have control. He could make the biggest impact on a playoff roster.

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    For his career Alcala has blown 5 of 17 hold/save opportunities and has pitched 2 1/3 innings this year, so lets hold off on the "Twins bullpen would take on a remarkably different view" until he proves he is worthy of it, which probably won't be until close to the end of this month at the earliest. I hope he comes back dominant but that is all it is as of now, hope.

    Ober has averaged less than 5 innings a start in his 27 starts, so thinking he will come back and do something he really hasn't ever done is asking a lot, he seems like the perfect guy to piggy back Archer's starts.

    Maeda is a complete unknown as of now and in likely hood won't be asked to pitch many innings this year whenever he comes back.

    I think they could all be good or better, but lets be realistic about how the Twins handle pitchers.

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    As pointed out, the Twins will need to make some calls soon on both the rotation and the 'pen. Josh Winder who is arguably the third best starter got sent down. Now there seems to be an Ober/Smeltzer showdown coming (and if Winder isn't the third best starter, then Smeltzer is). I love Bundy's guts, and Archer's potential, but you can't keep two 4-5 inning guys in the rotation when you have guys (Smeltzer and Winder) who can throw 6-7 better innings sitting around on the pine or in St Paul. Give Bundy a shot at being the old starter/dominant RP, and put Winder in the rotation.

    And for heaven's sake, keep Smeltzer in the rotation until he pitches out of it, and make some calls on the mass of so-so arms cluttering the bullpen; there are plenty of fungible arms out there. Trials for Sisk and Schulfer wouldn't hurt (can they be worse than we've seen the last week) and we shouldn't be demoting good pitchers to keep bad ones. Ober might be a great guy to bring in mid-game, and it could speed his return to the team. (Nice piggy-back with Archer?)

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    In an ideal situation, the Twins repeat basically what they did in 2019 and bring in a pair of solid vets for a top 30 prospect, or two, and a couple lower A toss ins. This time, they get a pair of arms that are BOTH healthy. Then, there is at least the possibility of either Maeda and/or Alcala being healthy and available to add and really ramp up the depth and options. I'm not betting on either, but we're talking limited innings for the rehabbed Maeda, and Alcala showed late in 2021 that he might have been turning a corner. But again, I wouldn't be counting on them, just optimistic they might factor. 

    I'm not sure how Ober fits in if everyone is healthy and ready to go. I wasn't surprised Winder was sent down as he wasn't going to be available for 4 days no matter what. I do think he will be up very soon as, frankly, he's a better arm than at least 2 or 3 arms currently in the pen. Of course, he further complicates the rotation issue as its very arguable that despite being a rookie, he's one of the teams best 4 SP. But so is Ober. In 2021 he got better as the season went along. He was throwing just as well, if not better, here in 2022 before his groin injury. No, he didn't look all that great in his couple of starts when he came back, but clearly he was just settling in again, or not 100% as he ended up back on the IL again. But he is a fine, young, good looking young SP who is part of the future, unlike Bundy or Archer, in all probability. Having 7 potential, good/solid SP is a GOOD problem to have. 

    I don't know if a 6 man rotation works as the staff is only 13 right now, and has already been...well...what it is. If Bundy keeps pitching as he has been lately, can you pull him? Archer is looking better and better and has been going 5 innings lately, except for his last start. Do you pull him? It almost seems at least one of the 7 has to go to the pen, which helps there, and offers up the long piggyback option that is probably needed. 

    I don't know how this is going to work out, glad I don't have to make the decision, but Ober is a quality arm and an important part of this team and it's future, and that should be remembered. 

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    I don't see much help from any of those pitchers this year.  Injuries were way too serious and why push it and possibly make it worse.  Four inning Archer could be moved to bullpen.

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    Rather than a 6 man rotation, move Archer or Bundy to the bullpen and put Ober in the rotation. Archer could pitch on back to back days I think Bundy could as well but this would be a way to add depth to an awful bullpen without trading prospects. The rotation has been solid, they don't get deep enough into games but I think that's a leadership decision not players. We enough pitching to explore with adding a bullpen guy right from our clubhouse, Archer would be my 1st choice.

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    I would move Ober into the pen. I think he could be a very good setup guy to go along with Jax. If the Twins are going to go with a 6 man rotation I would rather see Winder get a shot as a starter. I think he has a better chance at going deeper right now than Ober. I also feel they are going to have to loosen the rope a little on Archer. It just doesn't make sense to me to keep him in the rotation if all we get is 4-5 innings per start. That is just wearing down a thin bullpen that much more!

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    One thing is for sure if Ober gets healthy.  Someone needs to go to the BP at that's without bringing back Winder.  The ideal scenario would be if they could pull-off a 3-team trade sending one of Bundy / Archer to a team that would send us a good RP with more than 1 year of control and that team would receive a prospect from the team getting Archer Bundy and we would include a lesser prospect that is on our 40-man.  We would still have Winder in case of injury to a SP.

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    If ober comes back, I say the bullpen until someone really falters. Or, better yet, use him as an opener. Although I'm not sure if Archer's routine is to start a game. Some pitchers can't pitch releif without changing their whole routine, which doesn't always work.

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    Yes. I could see how respected veteran pitchers who are performing well and were brought in as free agents would be really excited to be moved to the bullpen for mediocre guys.

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    Ober and Winder need to be in the rotation.  A least one of the low-inning starters (Bundy/Archer) needs to go to the pen and piggy back the other.  That allows the one in the pen to still be on a starter rotation and he can warm up just like he would for a start so as to not ruin his routine.

    I really hope Alcala gets back but doubt Maeda will have time to provide much.

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    We need to make some moves. I would be all for making Ober a temporary reliever and stretching him back out as a starter if one of the other options fail. Winder also seems to be the real deal for a rotation spot as well.  

    Honestly though. I really wish we would go after Frankie Montas and David Bednar. Both can help us remove our playoff losing streak curse. Correa might be gone next year. Outside of the dominance of the Yankees, the AL is wide open this year and I think having another top of the rotation starter with our lineup would help us compete against the Gerrit Coles and Justin Verlanders. 

    Our lineup is a bit streaky but I think we have the right pieces to compete with Buxton, Correa, Arraez, at its core. Palanco should heat up a bit as the season moves on and I like what we are seeing with Kiriloff and Miranda. Can they stay healthy is the question and will we go after the few more pieces? Maybe a few upgrades to the bench strength would be in order as well. 

    We are in a window. Let’s fly through it and go all in. 

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    29 minutes ago, Highlander1 said:

    I like the idea of piggybacking Ober with Archer. Could help save the bullpen. 

    Or, help deplete the bullpen by one.

    They run with a pitching staff of 13, 5 starters and 8 relievers.  Those 8 starters are available only once every 5 games, typically, while the relievers might appear in every other game (or consecutively, in a pinch).

    Now if you assign two pitchers in piggyback, neither one is available sooner than the same five games as before, and you probably will still need to utilize a closer for some of their games, and/or an emergency reliever if either one of the two has a bad outing. 

    That leaves 7 relievers to cover the other 4 games in the rotation, in their usual alternating fashion. They're maybe a little more rested up than otherwise, at least the less-talented ones, due to that one day out of five, but I'm not sure this offsets much.  It might be close to a wash overall, and when things go wrong you're basically down a reliever for the coming four games

    I'm not saying it can't be done, but it seems to me it makes the manager's job just that little bit harder, not easier.

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