Twins option two as bullpen picture comes into clearer focus

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Perhaps the Twins’ bullpen might have some surprises come April 1. At least that’s what manager Rocco Baldelli seemed to be teasing on Friday.

Maybe, maybe not.

But on Friday afternoon, the bullpen picture started coming into sharper focus after the club made a pair of roster moves, optioning Devin Smeltzer and Shaun Anderson to the alternate training site. The moves left the Twins with 24 pitchers in major league camp. All but nine are on the 40-man roster.

“There’s a lot of moving parts. You never exactly know what the roster is going to look like when that time comes for it to be set,” Baldelli said. “There could be some smaller surprises or maybe rosters that people are not completely thinking of. We stay open-minded is really the point.”

Twins decision-makers had spoken about both Smeltzer and Anderson as potential candidates to make the club in the past, and they very likely could later in the season.

Smeltzer, a starter who the Twins have used out of the bullpen in the recent past, gave up seven earned runs in four innings this spring. Anderson, acquired in a trade for LaMonte Wade Jr., had given up five runs in 3 1/3 innings this spring.

While it’s not certain — at least publicly — how the Twins will configure their bullpen, pitching coach Wes Johnson has spoken about having a 13-man staff, which would mean an eight-man bullpen. There are the late-inning guys in Taylor Rogers, Alex Colome, Tyler Duffey and Hansel Robles. And there’s another group of guys in Jorge Alcala, Cody Stashak and Caleb Thielbar who threw meaningful innings for the Twins last season.

While those spots seem more or less set or close to it, there are still three others on the 40-man roster remaining in camp: Lewis Thorpe, Randy Dobnak and Edwar Colina. There are also a handful of non-roster invitees around. That group: Luke Farrell, Derek Law, Ian Hamilton, Griffin Jax, Juan Minaya, Glenn Sparkman, Brandon Waddell, Charlie Barnes and Andrew Albers.

“We were really excited at the arms we were able to bring in. To be pretty frank about it, some of them are throwing the ball well,” Baldelli said of the non-roster invites. “Some of them have not thrown the ball the way they wanted to, but we certainly believe in their stuff and in their character and what they bring to the table, their ability to make changes to what they do.”

Seemingly more likely, Dobnak, a righty, and Thorpe, a lefty, are both starters on the roster who have major league experience and could give the Twins innings out of the bullpen, as they’ve done in previous seasons.

Both have thrown the ball well this spring. Dobnak started Friday’s game against the Braves and threw 3 1/3 innings, giving up just an unearned run while striking out five. To date this spring, he has yet to give up an earned run in 8 2/3 innings, striking out 13.

Dobnak has tinkered with his slider recently, working on getting more break with it. In his remaining time in camp, as he’s working to make the club, he said he’s also working on his changeup, trying to either get it to dive a little more like his sinker does or slow it down.

Last year, Dobnak slid into the Twins’ rotation for much of the truncated season last year, making 10 starts. He’s also handled stints out of the bullpen during his career.

Though he has less major league experience, Thorpe has also served in both roles for the Twins. He’s turned in five scoreless innings this spring with each of his last three outings lasting just an inning. Baldelli said that wasn’t indicative of a changing role, and that the Twins would continue to keep him stretched out so he’s available to throw multiple innings for them. Thorpe’s fastball velocity has been up this spring after taking a dip last year, and the Twins have had plenty of praise for the work he’s done.

And so while the Twins haven’t finalized their plans yet, the tough decisions are coming. And soon.

“We have a lot of guys that are in a group that we like to consider just a group that’s competing and going out there, you know, taking pride in their work before the game and going out there and pitching and throwing the ball well,” Baldelli said. “There are probably a number of guys that are right on that line that we’re still watching and assessing and just keeping track of everything they do. We’ll see where we’re at on Opening Day.”

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