Allentown, Pa. – Bartolo Colon’s first attempt at resurrecting his major league career got off to a bumpy start.
Signed by the Twins to a minor league deal last week, the former Cy Young Award winner gave up four runs, all earned, in 3⅔ innings in his debut for Class AAA Rochester, a 6-1 loss at Lehigh Valley on Thursday night.
Colon gave up four hits — all for extra bases, including a home run to Phillies top prospect J.P. Crawford. Colon also struck out five and walked two.
The pregame plan was for the 44-year-old to go five innings or 75 pitches, whichever came first. He left after 76 pitches, 50 for strikes. His fastball topped out at 88 miles per hour.
Colon struggled through a 24-pitch first inning where he gave up back-to-back doubles after getting the first two outs. He walked the first two batters in the fourth before a two-run double contributed to his exit.
Colon said a late flight from the Dominican Republic, combined with over an hour drive from his home in New Jersey and a rain delay of 1 hour, 41 minutes at Coca-Cola Park all contributed to his disappointing performance.
“I felt fine. I had to take a long trip last night, so I was a little tired,” he said through an interpreter.
Colon said he chose the Twins because of his close relationship with Ervin Santana, his former Angels teammate and fellow Dominican.
“[Ervin] talked to me about coming to the Twins, that was a big reason,” Colon said.
Colon hadn’t pitched since giving up six runs in four innings at San Diego June 28. That was his final outing for the Atlanta Braves, who designated him for assignment after he went 2-8 with an 8.14 ERA in 13 starts this season.
If and when he joins the Twins, it would be his 10th major league team in 20 seasons. With 235 career victories, Colon is eight shy of matching Juan Marichal as Latin America’s winningest pitcher.
“It isn’t something I’m thinking about now,” Colon said of Marichal’s record.
Colon was an All-Star last season with the Mets, when he went 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA. He signed a one-year, $12.5 million deal with Atlanta last offseason. After he cleared waivers, the Twins, who would only need to pay him the prorated major league minimum, aggressively pursued him.
“Once he cleared waivers our interest was piqued,” Twins General Manager Thad Levine said. “When you can add a high-caliber individual like Bartolo, you don’t pass up that opportunity.”
The Mets also showed interest in Colon, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 285 pounds on the Rochester web site, but they weren’t offering him a guaranteed spot in their rotation. The Twins are looking at him as their No. 5 starter but don’t have a timetable for his call-up.
“When you’re dealing with a veteran of his stature, we’re looking for him to give us guidance,” Levine said of a potential promotion. “We made the decision to help fill out our pitching depth. We used more pitchers in the first half of the season than we desired, but that’s the nature of the game.”
Rochester manager Mike Quade managed Colon 20 years ago in the Dominican Winter League. He remembered him as a hard-throwing Cleveland Indians prospect.
“Those people that have watched him the last several years carve people up with his command may have no idea he was 96, 97 [miles per hour] and higher,” Quade said. “He was a hard-throwing farm boy from the Dominican.
“The amazing thing for me is there’s a lot of guys with good arms that can never make that transition. I’m always impressed who can make the adjustment, who can now lean on the soft game more than they had to is remarkable stuff. The fact that he is still competing is amazing.”