Spring training ends abruptly due to coronavirus
Nobody could have quite predicted after the Minnesota Twins lost to the Atlanta Braves 3-2 March 11 at Hammond Stadium that this would be the last spring training game for the Twins this season.
The topic of the coronavirus pandemic threatening spring training came up in a press conference after that game with Twins Manager Rocco Baldelli saying none of his players were concerned about it. “Our guys are not seemingly worried about this at all. I haven’t really heard much beyond just general chatter,” Baldelli said of potential disruptions to spring training that had been suggested. “It’s more of we’ll play wherever they tell us to play and I think our guys are of that mindset.”
After the NBA cancelled its season that same night following a report that Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus and the NHL followed suit the next day by cancelling its season, it seemed unavoidable that Major League Baseball would do something similar.
On March 12, just hours before a game and fireworks show were scheduled between the Twins and Baltimore Orioles, spring training was cancelled.
It was the first time since 1995, when the effects of the 1994 player’s strike were still being felt, that spring training was disrupted.
The baseball season has been postponed by at least two weeks with the first games scheduled for April 9 at the earliest. It remains to be seen whether the 162-game schedule will be shortened.
While the Twins lost their last game of spring training, there were positive signs for them as well as the Braves when the season finally (hopefully) starts.
Until the fourth inning, the game had been a pitcher’s duel between Twins ace Jose Berrios and Braves southpaw Max Fried. Neither allowed a run until Berrios gave up a two-run homer to Peter O’Brien on a fastball that Berrios said was supposed to be up in the zone but stayed in the middle.
Berrios kicked off the game by striking out Ronald Acuna Jr. looking on a 96 mph fastball. Berrios struck out Acuna again looking on a 96 mph fastball on the outside corner in the third inning. Berrios admitted after the game that he was pumped when he saw Acuna in the lineup for the Braves. In Acuna’s third appearance against Berrios, he hit a weak dribbler for a single through a shift.
Over the first three innings, Berrios only allowed one hit and struck out four. Over 4 1/3 innings, he allowed six hits, three runs and walked none. He struck out five including a punch-out of slugger Marcell Ozuna on a changeup.
His fastball was strong, intimidating, effective and he threw it often averaging 96 mph. In addition, Berrios clearly entered the contest wanting to sharpen his curveball and slider. In his previous outing, Berrios threw more of a slurve. Against the Braves, Berrios showed true separation between his breaking balls instead of one mixture. His improved spin rate was clearly evident.
Berrios has worked hard during spring training to improve his game, and has the look of somebody on a mission to be a truce ace and gamestopper. After he throws in a game in spring training, Berrios has been putting himself through extra trials with attachments to his arm and shoulder which are meant to add strength and conditioning without the violent acts of pitching by stimulating his muscles. Berrios has a positive attitude about it all, saying it helps him.
Fried, who had a perfect game going into the seventh inning last year in an outing during his first full season starting, has the look of an All-Star. Though he gave up five walks, he surrendered no runs on two hits over 4 2/3 innings while striking out three. Fried was exceedingly tough for the Twins hitters to square up, between a fastball consistently between 94 mph and 96 mph, a sinker at 92 mph, a slider and changeup in the 80’s, but most of all a devastatingly hook of a curveball at 74 mph.
Fried possesses some of the best curveball spin in the game and Twins hitters looked befuddled throughout when it when the slow-moving but big breaking ball was thrown. The seventh pick in the 2012 draft out of high school, Fried’s career was slowed by Tommy John surgery. He is just starting to come into his own and he has the ability to throw five pitches with a dynamic change of speeds.
The best swing the Twins got on him all game was in the first inning when Nelson Cruz crushed a pitch off the wall for a stand-up double. In the third inning, Cruz made a loud foul popup out. Cruz stands in the batter’s box like he owns it. The delay of the season will hurt Cruz, who will turn 40 in July.
With the bases loaded in the second inning, Max Kepler swung violently threw a 75 mph curveball from Fried, before striking out on an 86 mph slider. Fried walked young prospect Trevor Larnach in that inning but also threw his best pitch of the afternoon an 83 mph slider that violently swerved inside to the left-handed hitter like a cutter.
The Twins are not alone at looking bad against Fried. According to Statcast, Fried was one of the hardest pitchers in baseball to make strong contact with, ranking in the top five of two different barrel rate percentages.
After the game, Baldelli named Berrios the opening day starter. “He’s done this before,” he said. “He’s ready to go. He’s ready to pitch.”
Only time will tell when that will be.