Twins’ In-Game Pitching Plans are Predetermined and Non-Negotiable

Photo: Jeff Wheeler – Star Tribune

Devin Smeltzer may have had the best pitching performance of his young Major League Baseball career on Thursday night. The 26-year-old left-hander was only called up in wake of Joe Ryan’s trip to the ‘health and safety protocols’ list but Smeltzer took the form of a rotation ace in Ryan’s absence.

How good was he? It took just 80 pitches for Devin Smeltzer to slice and dice his way through 7 innings vs the Royals. He allowed 0 runs on just 2 hits and struck out 6. Kansas City hitters appeared lost in the batter’s box all night. It was probably the most dominant performance from a Minnesota Twins starting pitcher this season.

Smeltzer Pulled After 7th

So when Tyler Duffey walked to the mound in the top of the 8th inning, fans were dumbfounded. Myself included. Smeltzer’s pitch count was still well under 100 pitches and he had left Royals hitters hopeless at the plate all night. Oh, and the first batter of 8th inning was a lefty. Was Smeltzer hurt or sick? That’s the only sensible explanation, right?

Nope, pitching Duffey in the 8th with the lead was a decision that was made pregame. And Rocco Baldelli made it very clear with media, after the game, that it didn’t matter how much common sense fell into his lap last night. Devin Smeltzer could have morphed into Game 7 Jack Morris and the Twins would still have went to Duffey in the 8th. Why? Because that was the plan and nothing, not even winning, was going to stand in the way of letting things unfolding as planned.

“The Plan” > Everything

To Rocco and the Minnesota Twins’ braintrust, “the plan” takes precedence over everything else. We’ve seen it with Byron Buxton’s management, Royce Lewis’ demotion and, last night, with Devin Smeltzer’s early exit. Choosing “the plan” over winning looks like the new ‘Twins Way’.

Asked Rocco Baldelli if a pitcher (Devin Smeltzer) can lobby his way into another inning: “Sometimes the decisions are already made, and (Thursday), after the seven, I think it was pretty solidly going to the bullpen. Guys can lobby. That can happen. But when the decisions are made, there’s really no lobbying, no matter how hard they’re going to push for it.”

Dan Hayes – The Athletic

What happened to adaptability? For a decade, new age baseball fans and nerds have ripped and destroyed ‘old-school’ baseball managers and classic ‘ball guys’ for their inability to adapt in an always-changing environment. We have all of this information at our fingertips telling us what works and what doesn’t. Adapt or die, right?

Adapt or…

There isn’t a franchise in the league nerdier than the Minnesota Twins. We’re told that no organization is more adaptable or more open to change than the one located at 1 Twins Way in downtown Minneapolis. Unless, apparently, a game is being played. When the team steps between the lines, adaptability dies.

It doesn’t matter that Devin Smeltzer is willing and able to carry you to a victory or if a batter vs pitcher matchup might be more favorable. The Twins pregame plan, if they had a small lead entering the 8th inning, was to pitch Tyler Duffey. Nothing was going to make them deviate from that “plan”. Including, but not limited to, winning.

This in-game attitude makes no sense. There isn’t an environment more apt to change in baseball than on the actual field during actual competition. Why is that the place where fluidity is not allowed? That in-game rigidness cost the Minnesota Twins a victory last night.

It won’t be the last, either.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan