Even though they grew up only about 6 miles and six years apart, Ervin Santana and Michael Pineda are more like acquaintances than comrades. They hope -- and so do the Twins -- that that's about to change.
"I feel pretty good that 1/8Santana3/8 is here," Pineda said last month, after a neighborly Target Field reunion with his Dominican Republic cohort and new teammate. "Me and him can be friends here."
If Derek Falvey's best-case scenario works out, they will be more than that. They could occupy the top two spots in the Twins rotation -- but not for another year.
"It would be great if that happens, and they both certainly have that kind of ability," the Twins chief baseball officer said.
Pineda, however, underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery last July, and he threw a baseball again for the first time post-op the day before flying to TwinsFest in mid-January. Falvey signed the 29-year-old to a two-year, $10?million contract in December, with the understanding that he won't pitch much this season.
"We want to let Michael's rehabilitation move at its own pace, with the objective of being fully recovered and ready to resume that role 1/8as a starting pitcher3/8 by next spring," Falvey said. "I don't envision any scenario where he would do that in 2018."
That's not to say Pineda can't have an effect on the Twins' fortunes this season, though, especially if they repeat their run to the postseason. Though the former Yankees and Mariners right-hander has never pitched out of the bullpen in the big leagues -- his last relief appearance, in fact, came in Class A in 2009 -- he understands that short relief stints might be the best way to ease back into pitching and limit the strain on his new elbow ligament.
"I'm going to focus on my rehab, get ready for the team, and whatever decision the team makes, I'd be OK with it," Pineda said. "I want to help the team. If I help the team in the bullpen, that's what I'll do."
It's a thought that intrigues Twins manager Paul Molitor, who utilized a franchise-record 36 pitchers last season. Pineda is a power pitcher, his fastball averaging 94 miles per hour before the injury and his slider 87, and he has averaged a strikeout per inning throughout his five-year career. For all the pitchers Molitor has used, few have had that sort of velocity.
"We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but if he gets to the point where he's able to turn it loose again, that would be a nice option to consider in certain situations," Molitor said. "Getting comfortable on the mound again, while helping us win some games -- that's a win-win scenario for everyone."