Twins cobble together staff

Army of arms

Posted: Sunday, July 07, 2002

After using three pitchers in a shutout win over a visiting team from New Jersey last week, American Legion Post 20 Twins manager Lance Coz said that, at the beginning of the season, he was asked who would be pitching.

Coz said he rattled off four or five names, then added, "And that's for the first game."

Alaskans have earned the reputation of being able to make the best of a tough situation, and this year's Twins are no exception.

The Twins have been able to cobble together a pitching staff this season out of next to nothing, and not only has the team gotten by with its assortment of arms, it's exceeded some expectations -- certainly not their own -- posting a 15-14 record entering this weekend's Fourth of July Tournament in Wasilla.

"Pleasantly surprised," said Coz of how his nontraditional rotation has worked out. "It's just that we're throwing more people, more often."

More people, more often, indeed. While the squad started the season with a nice nucleus of seven returning starters, none of them were pitchers. Instead, the Twins have relied on a collection of throwers -- guys who can put the ball over the plate consistently and keep it down in the strike zone, but not players who, under other circumstances, would be considered pitchers -- to get the job done.

"I joked around last year with coach. I be like, 'Put me in,'" said Twins' Kenneth Butler. "I never got the call, but this year, I got the call, and it's been enjoyable taking the the hill."

Butler is one of the players Coz considers a thrower, rather than a pitcher.

"He looks like a catcher trying to pitch, which is what he is," Coz said.

Butler is one of a group of Coz's three-inning throwers, players that can be successful for about three innings, but also have the ability to come back the next day for three more. String enough of those guys together, mix in the Twins' one true pitcher, Corey Grimm, and two acquisitions from Juneau, Will Ridgeway and Geno Vick, and the Twins' staff is tough to beat.

"It's starting to come together," Grimm said. "Things were shaky at the beginning of the year because we didn't know who was going to pitch. Things are just starting to fall into place right now."

Much of the success of the Twins' staff has been in its ability to rely on a steady defense -- Post 20's veteran players just happen to be filling the infield positions and anchoring the outfield.

"As long as we keep the ball low, the infield is going to do its job," Butler said.

Coz said that getting throwers comfortable with letting the defense carry the load wasn't that tough.

"If you get them to do it, and they see that it woks, it reinforces itself," Coz said. "The one item we want to drill into them is that leadoff hitter -- don't walk him. Throw strikes, let your defense do the work.

"In our league, if a pitcher can control his fastball, then throw a changeup, he can dominate. Right now, these guys are just learning to throw a changeup."

Throwing more players, more often isn't without its consequences, and the Twins are doing their best to ease the physical toll. Pitch counts are kept low, and ice is applied early and often.

"Sometimes I'd like to go longer because I feel like I'm pitching well, but we've got to conserve our arms," Ely Evanson said. "It's been a little rough -- it was really nice playing only one game (Wednesday). Our arms are starting to get a lot stronger and more durable, so we can go more innings."

"Ice," said Grimm of his postgame regimen. "You use a lot of ice on your elbow and shoulder to keep it from tightening up so you can throw more than 12 innings in a week."

The things have worked out for the Twins this year has made for some exciting baseball, with plenty of opportunity for great defensive play.

"Even our fielders are playing every inning, and they're making a lot of throws," Coz said. "They're playing a schedule that a full 18-man roster would be hard-pressed to handle, and they're doing it with a 12-man squad.

"I think when everybody looks back, however we finish up, they're going to say, 'That was a heck of a summer of baseball.'"

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