Jose Berrios dazzled Rockies hitters and Twins fans alike on Thursday, in just his second start in the big leagues this season. He struggled in 14 starts last year, and despite outstanding minor league stats, Berrios posted an ERA higher than 8.00 with the Twins.
This year things look different.
Berrios pitched 7 2/3 dominant innings Thursday at Target Field, allowing just 2 hits and no earned runs, to go with his 11 strikeouts and just 1 walk. For the seasons, the young right-hander from Puerto Rico is 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA in 15 1/3 innings, and owns a 15:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
What’s led to the stark turnaround? Well, it begins with hard work from Berrios himself. He works methodically on his conditioning, and after being humbled last year, his confidence, at least outwardly, didn’t seem to waver.
After he failed to make the team out of spring training, the Twins got a group to together and devised a plan for Berrios. They challenged him to throw more quality strikes inside the strike zone.
“We gave him some challenges down in Triple-A and he embraced them, and he’s come up and it’s really translated into a lot of success,” Twins GM Thad Levine said in a radio interview on 1500ESPN Friday. “What he did [Thursday] was exceptional.”
A group comprising pitching coach Neil Allen, bullpen coach Eddie Guardado, manager Paul Molitor, CBO Derek Falvey, Levine, other pitching guys within the organization had a meeting of the minds to help Berrios reach his full potential.
“We devised a plan for him,” Levine explained. “A huge part of his success in the minor leagues was the ability to miss bats But when you evaluated it a little bit further, we recognized it was from but it was in large regard throwing pitches outside the strike zone. And when he came up the big leagues he wasn’t able to get away with those types of things. He was in a lot of hitters counts, and unfortunately big league hitters were taking advantage of that.
“We really just impressed upon him the importance of throwing quality strikes. … [He has great stuff] and he just needed to use it more in the strike zone more often,” Levine said.
“He embraced the challenge, went down to Triple-A and did just that.”
“So there wasn’t really a formula for when we were going to call up him up, but it was when Stu Cliburn, who is the Triple-A pitching coach, said: “Hey, this guy’s ready to get big league hitters out,’” Levine said. “He’s proven Stu to be right so far.”
There was some speculation in the local media that the Twins might be holding back Berrios to keep him from earning bigger contracts in the future by preventing him from racking up more service time this year.
Levine addressed those questions head-on.
“I do think at times you factor some of those things in. I mean, listen, we’re trying to deliver the best talent to our fanbase for as long as we possibly can,” Levine said. “But in this case I would say unequivocally that was never even part of the conversation.”