CLEVELAND – When it comes to starting pitchers going deep into games, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Wednesday he could walk up to any number of guys in the clubhouse to ask them if they'd go out and toss 140 pitches in nine innings, and they'd readily agree.
But one starter wouldn't have to imagine what that scenario would be like because he's already lived it.
About eight years ago, Devin Smeltzer threw 140 pitches with 20 strikeouts while playing in the Junior College World Series. And perhaps surprisingly, the strikeouts are not what makes him the proudest. Complete games are what he truly covets.
In starting the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader, Smeltzer struck out a career-high nine batters, besting his previous record of seven from his major league debut in 2019. And though he gave up only four hits and a run, he seemed mostly disappointed that he went only six innings and 95 pitches.
"Strikeouts are great. But I think I could have gone deeper if I'd had some earlier contact," Smeltzer said. "… Fans love them, front offices love them. But I'm trying to go deep in the game. If I punch a guy out on three or four pitches, that's great. But there was a lot of deep counts [Tuesday]. … I would like the soft contract early and go a little deeper in that game."
Smeltzer's longest outing was seven innings on May 26, when he threw 80 pitches. In his next outing, May 31, he left in the sixth inning with 101 pitches, his season high to date.
This season for the Twins, Dylan Bundy went eight innings on 107 pitches on June 18. The last time a Twins pitcher threw a complete game was Jose Berrios in 2018.
"Unfortunately in today's game and with the organization that I'm with, I don't think there's much of an argument to go deep," said Smeltzer, who has a 4-1 record and 2.86 ERA. "I believe I could go deeper. … The gut in me and determination and just, I want to go another inning or two. It's plain and simple. But I'm not going to sit there and argue when we have a game plan and we have a fresh bullpen. There's going to be a time and place for it."
Baldelli agreed, so at least there is still hope for Smeltzer.
"It's going to depend on more than just if they haven't given up a run yet. That's not really, it's actually not even the most important part of the equation," Baldelli said. "… That's something that I've always felt strongly about. If we have guys that are eager to come out of games and things like that, that creates more challenges than guys that want to stay in games. We want them to want the pitch, and Smeltz is definitely in that category."
Pitching coach positions
A few Twins staff members manned different spots in Wednesday's game. Bullpen coach Pete Maki was in the dugout, while run prevention coordinator Colby Suggs was stationed in the bullpen. With Thursday being pitching coach Wes Johnson's final game before he moves on to become head coach at Louisiana State, Baldelli was preparing some of his successors.
"Anytime you can go through something before it actually counts, and you have the ability to learn and even pick up on a few things, it's just the experience that comes along with it," Baldelli said. "And you're only going to pick up so much in one day or two days, but it's better than no days."