Minnesota Twins Opening Day Countdown: 39, Juan Rincon

DENVER - MAY 18: Pitcher Juan Rincon
DENVER - MAY 18: Pitcher Juan Rincon /

The Minnesota Twins are just 39 days away from Opening Day in Baltimore. As we near that day, here is more Twins history related to that number.

The Minnesota Twins are preparing for a 2018 season with expectation after making the playoffs in 2017 as a Wild Card team. We will highlight numbers from team history that represent the number of days until Opening Day on March 29th in Baltimore.

For number 39 we take a look back at a pitcher the last time I saw him was 2012 on a Triple-A mound in Des Moines, IA. Juan Rincon was giving major league baseball what would end up being his last real shot with the Los Angeles Angels Triple-A affiliate Salt Lake Bees. I was shocked to know he was still in professional baseball but also recalled some of those good years Rincon had with the Twins.

The Twins signed the Venezuelan pitcher as a free agent on November 4, 1996. Rincon then would make his major league debut on June 7, 2001, against the Cleveland Indians. He came into the 8th inning and pitched a perfect inning as he struck out two batters in the 6-2 loss.

That outing was the beginning of eight major league seasons with the Twins for Rincon. After a few years of still figuring out pitching at the major league level, in 2004 Rincon really seemed to find his form as a major league reliever. It started a stretch where Rincon became a reliable set up man for the Twins and from 2004 through 2006 he pitched 233.1 innings, held a 2.66 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 172 ERA+, and 9.8 K/9.

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Looking back at his numbers it is easy to remember why Rincon was given so much praise as a relief pitcher in those prime years. If it wasn’t for Joe Nathan having a lock on the closer role in Minnesota, Rincon would have been the likely first in line for that top position in the Twins bullpen. Part of his success was due to a jump in strikeout rate as Rincon’s K/9 jumped from 6.6 in 2003 up to 11.6 in 2004 and then 9.8 the next season in 2005.

Rincon did seem to fall away from being a dominant reliever as fast as he emerged. In 2008 the Twins released Rincon after he rejected a minor league assignment. That allowed Rincon then to go sign with the division rival Cleveland Indians. He would also get chances with the Detroit Tigers and Colorado Rockies but eventually would see his last chance at major league baseball seemingly fade during that 2012 season.

After a few years of pitching in independent ball, Rincon would hang up the cleats until he returned to the baseball diamond in 2016 as the pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays rookie ball team the GCL Blue Jays. A position he held through the 2017 season.

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As we remember #39 Juan Rincon, we remember the pitcher who wore that number through one of the last great stretches of Twins bullpens. Especially as we hope the Twins have hit another era of great bullpen pitching after the revamping of the 2018 bullpen this offseason.