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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Hansel Robles thinks he has pinpointed where his 2020 season went wrong.
And now, he’s hoping that he’ll be able to avoid the same issues that plagued him a season ago. The 30-year-old relief pitcher, who the Twins signed to a one-year, $2 million deal this offseason, posted a 10.26 earned-run Cheap Minnesota Twins Jerseys average in 16 2/3 innings last season with the Angels, when his walks were up and his velocity was down.
That season, he hopes, is an outlier. Robles, who began his career with the Mets, came to Anaheim in the middle of the 2018 season and gave up 12 earned runs in 36 1/3 innings (2.97 ERA) that season. The next year, in 2019, he had 23 saves and a 2.48 ERA in 72 2/3 innings as a heavily relied upon member of the Angels’ bullpen.
“I think starting 2020 spring training and going full speed and then having to stop because of the pandemic, it was tough. It got to me a little bit,” he said. “Then you had to go and stay inside because you were scared of getting sick and (you had concerns for) your family and then going back at it again. That was difficult for me, that adjustment. We went into a short season, but that doesn’t mean it was easy going through all of that. I think that had to do with my performance.”
With the pandemic still ongoing, and players beginning a second season with strict health and safety protocols in place. But this time, Robles will have a normal spring training to prepare, he’s more comfortable with the protocols and said he feels safer.
Robles said his primary focus this spring was working on sharpening his command — he gave up 10 walks last season in 16 2/3 innings, though just 16 walks a season before in more than four times as many innings.
His four-seamer clocked in at 97.2 mph in 2019 but dipped to 95.4 mph last season, undoubtedly something pitching coach Wes Johnson will look at improving with Robles this spring.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said his staff doesn’t want to put too much stock in what it saw from Robles during the pandemic-shortened season. Robles is a guy, he said, they think has tremendous potential and is someone they’re going to be relying upon out of the bullpen.
“We still think there’s more in there for him to unlock,” Baldelli said. “We think he can be dominant. I think we’re getting a chance to see that now. He’s got a really unique pitch mix, delivery, and there’s some things in there that are different that we think will allow him to separate himself from a normal good guy with a good arm that you would bring in.”
Versatility is key
Expect to see the Twins shifting players all over the field this spring — and into the season.
While Miguel Sano is still going to mainly play first base, Baldelli said they could see him slide over to third at different times. Jorge Polanco is moving to second base this year with the addition of Andrelton Simmons, but will get work in at shortstop, too. Outfielder Alex Kirilloff will play some first base to go along with both corner outfield positions. And Luis Arraez might be moving around the most of all.
Though Arraez spent some time in the outfield in 2019, Baldelli said he would primarily be taking reps at second and third base this spring. He hinted that Arraez could get some innings at short or possibly first base, though that’s not a priority.
“Every guy that can competently handle more than one spot on the field, it helps us do individual things,” Baldelli said. “Those individual things lead to winning games. The more flexibility we have, the more moves we can potentially make, the more games I think we’re going to win.”
Taylor Rogers, Robles, Tyler Duffey, Cody Stashak and Ian Hamilton will make their spring pitching debuts on Sunday, along with Devin Smeltzer, who will start the 12:05 p.m. CT game against the Red Sox.
On Monday, Lewis Thorpe will start, followed by Shaun Anderson, Juan Minaya, Luke Farrell and Griffin Jax. Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda are expected to make their spring debuts sometime in the next four or five days, Baldelli said. Berrios threw to hitters on Friday at Hammond Stadium.
“Everyone was kind of saying the same thing about Jose’s bullpen: He looks very, very sharp and very, very focused,” Baldelli said. “Every pitch he threw that I caught had great intent, and he was executing. It did not look like a very early-season bullpen.”