Sonny Gray unwittingly became the most popular Twins player in uniform last week, a hero to many before even throwing his first pitch of the season.
A man not known for bodacious quotes carried a pointed message shared by the masses to his boss's doorstep, branding himself forevermore as the Pitch Count Provocateur.
"I don't think we're interested in going four innings and being happy," Gray told reporters at spring training. "I feel like we had a group last year that was pretty content with going four innings, [where] four innings and five innings is considered a good start. I disagreed with that then. I disagree with that now. But I feel like just the guys we have aren't content with it either, which is what you want as a rotation."
And the crowd exulted, Hallelujah!
A new Major League Baseball season begins Thursday. Opening Day. Green grass. Fresh start.
Coincidentally, but perhaps also fortuitously, I recently began taking blood pressure medication. For the love of all things sacred, can we please have a Twins season that doesn't get hijacked by injuries and quick hooks?
This winter has been hard enough. Minnesotans deserve a respite from those two narratives sucking the joy out of ballpark entertainment.
Injuries and pitching changes became a constant source of agitation last summer. Same two themes every … single … day. Who's hurt and which starter is getting taken out in the fifth inning tonight?
Injuries largely are unavoidable, of course. No player wants to be injured. The organization changed athletic trainers this offseason, sparking a theory that management didn't believe the volume of injuries was all the product of bad luck.
The club also isn't exactly sailing injury-free into this new season. Second baseman Jorge Polanco and first baseman Alex Kirilloff need more time from holdover injuries before they're ready for action. And the team plans to limit Byron Buxton's playing time in center field by using him primarily at designated hitter to start the season.
This is not how anyone wants to christen Opening Day.
Gray provided a nice distraction from those developments by having the guts to voice his displeasure with starting pitching workload, a topic that rankles Twins followers more than any other. Manager Rocco Baldelli is the prime target for the public's criticism, but this is a philosophy that flows downhill from the very top.
The rotation last season posted 110 starts that ended before the sixth inning, most in MLB. Their starters only faced 448 batters a third time in a game. That was the second-lowest total of any team in the past 100 years, excluding the 2020 pandemic season. Only the 2018 Tampa Bay Rays finished lower in that category in a century, and that's because they employed relievers (so-called "openers") to pitch the first few innings of games.
The Twins' mismanagement was twofold: Derek Falvey's front office constructed a weak rotation that was either incapable of pitching deep into games or tossed batting practice when given a chance, and then a vulnerable bullpen got exposed from being overworked.
That plan had no chance of succeeding.
The debate over whether personnel or organizational philosophy is to blame should get settled this season. The rotation looks stronger and deeper. The fifth inning should not be treated as the finish line by Baldelli and front-office analysts. The starters that required strict handling last season have been jettisoned.
The current rotation is capable of consuming more innings. Baldelli expressed his desire and expectation that starters will pitch deeper into games.
That trust works both ways: starters must prove that they can do it and deserve that latitude, and the organization must be willing to give them the opportunity. How each individual game is unfolding should be the guiding force.
Happy Opening Day, folks. The hope here is that this season provides a departure from those two topics that caused so much consternation and allows us to obsess over something else in the daily discourse.
Speaking of which, anyone else wondering if this lineup can score enough runs?