ANAHEIM, CALIF. – There will be nasty pitches thrown, eliciting awkward swings. Hitters will look overmatched. Oohs and aahs will be heard throughout the crowd.
And the Twins expect Shohei Ohtani to throw a few nice pitches himeself.
That’s generally been their reaction when asked about Sunday’s matchup of young guns. Ohtani, 23, has been the talk of baseball because of his two-way talents. But the Twins would rather talk up their guy, Fernando Romero, who has begun his major league career with 11⅔ scoreless innings while featuring a 98-mile-per-hour fastball and a vicious slider.
“It’s going to be good just to see two young guys go at it,” Twins outfielder Robbie Grossman said. “The little we saw of Romero in spring training was exciting, and it is exciting to have him up here and for him to contribute like he has.
“Ohtani, it’s his first year in the league, and it is exciting to see new guys.”
Romero, also 23, shut out the Blue Jays for 5⅔ innings in his major league debut May 2, then followed that with six shutout innings against the Cardinals on Monday. Sunday’s meeting will be his biggest test yet — even without Ohtani involved.
But Romero ended up drawing the fire-throwing Japanese righthander in the Mother’s Day matchup, giving Sunday’s game even more flavor.
Ohtani became a star in Japan by both hitting and pitching at a standout level, and now he has made the leap to North America, entering Saturday night’s game batting .348 with five home runs and 16 RBI at the plate while going 3-1 with a 4.10 ERA on the mound. He was named AL rookie of the month for April. The Twins will face him, his 100-mph fastball and dominating split-fingered pitch Sunday, but they already saw him hit a homer against them Thursday.
“Just watching Ohtani hit is pretty impressive,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said. “I watched his batting practice on Friday and it was pretty special. I didn’t know the guy can run, too. I say let him hit while he pitches.”
Ohtani’s starts have become must-see events, as he has been a phenomenon in every sense.
“He’s definitely opened the conversation,” Grossman said. “It will be interesting to see how long that lasts. Not only this year, but as the years go on.”
Romero has held opponents to a .184 batting average while striking out 14 in his 11⅔ innings. He might have the biggest arm the Twins have ever produced in a starting pitcher.
“You never know what you are going to get from guys making their debut,” Dozier said. “How you react to walks and giving up a couple hits. He bounces right back and fills up the zone. His ball runs all over the place and gives hitters fits.
“Aside from his stuff, he’s very, very comfortable. That says a lot, doing it on this level.”
The hype doesn’t appear to faze Romero, who needs six more shutout innings to set a Twins record for most scoreless innings to begin a career. He is prepared for whatever the atmosphere is Sunday.
“I’ll be ready to face batters,” Romero said. “I’ve got no excuse to not go forward. I can’t wait for the day to get here.”
A long injury update
The Twins provided updates on a number of injured players on Saturday.
The most concerning is the plight of catcher Jason Castro, on the disabled list because of a torn right meniscus. Castro is headed Monday to Vail, Colo., where he will be examined by Dr. Robert LaPrade of the Steadman Clinic. Castro initially injured his knee April 20 at Tampa Bay. He took off a game before returning to action but had more problems with it, leading to him landing on the disabled list.
But his rehabilitation has hit a snag of some sort.
“Not progressing as much as we had hoped,” manager Paul Molitor said. “It looks like we’re going to send him out for another opinion on Monday, given his history. We want to make sure we do this thing right.”
Castro, batting .143 with a homer and three RBI, missed all of 2011 with Houston when he tore the meniscus and ACL in the knee, requiring surgery. He missed 30 games in 2012 with more problems in the knee, then had a cyst in the knee drained in September 2013, then had minor arthroscopic surgery in the knee later that month.
All-Star righthander Ervin Santana, who had surgery on his right middle finger, will face hitters on Monday and Thursday in Fort Myers, Fla. If that goes well, he will pitch in an extended spring training game May 21, then begin an official minor league rehabilitation assignment on May 26.
The Twins have not decided how many rehab starts Santana will need before he is activated. The Twins hope Santana can throw four innings or 60 pitches in his first rehab start.
“You can talk about if you want him up here for five [innings] and 75 [pitches] or you want to do another one in the minor leagues,” Molitor said.
In his last bullpen outing Thursday, Santana threw 50 pitches, including eight to 10 sliders, Molitor said. The slider is the pitch Santana needs his middle finger to spin properly.
Righthander Trevor May (elbow surgery) started for Class A Fort Myers on Saturday night, striking out five in three scoreless innings. He gave up one hit and three walks, and his fastball hit 93 miles per hour at Dunedin.
Third baseman Miguel Sano (left hamstring) worked out, hit and took some more grounders Saturday in Anaheim, but not at the intensity as the past couple of days. Sano is not totally pain free yet, Molitor said, so the Twins are being careful with him. Sunday’s plan is to reduce his workload again, then increase his activities Monday when the Twins open a homestand.
When asked if the past few days have been positive with Sano, Molitor said: “I think to get him out on the field doing more baseball things was good. I don’t know how to measure it other than that. We have to see how he progresses. Obviously, I’m a little apprehensive with a guy with hamstring history, that body type and all those types of things.”
Molitor added there is still a ways to go with Sano before he can play a full game.