Rocco Baldelli trusted his starter on Opening Day, and it paid off

What a way for the Twins to start the season.

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals
Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals / Jamie Squire/GettyImages

One of the biggest gripes Minnesota Twins fans have had with Rocco Baldelli over the years is the quick hook he has for his starting pitchers. It's often an exaggerated trait, but Rocco rarely lets a pitcher go too deep into a game, even if he's dealing.

That's what led to frustrations not only from fans but from players over the years. Sonny Gray famously took issue with Baldelli's management of pitchers, not so subtly calling him out last spring and stopping short of telling him he didn't know what he was doing.

Name a pitcher that wants to be taken out of a game, though.

Rocco's history of taking pitchers out before the sixth inning, esepcially early in the season, is why his decision to let Pablo Lopez throw seven innings on Opening Day was so stunning. Not only that, but he left Lopez in after a mound visit.

It's hard to overstate how big of a plot twist this was. Everyone, from Cory Provus in the booth to Brok Stewart out in the bullpen, assumed that Rocco emerging from the dugout meant Pablo's day was done.

Rather than take him out and turn to the bullpen, Rocco made his first brilliant managerial decision of the season.

Rocco Baldelli trusted his starter on Opening Day, and it paid off

There are a few layers to this, some more obvious than others. On the surface, Rocco trusting his starter allowed Pablo to not only finish the sixth inning unscathed but turn in another fnatastic Opening Day start.

Lopez’s day started with a leadoff home run but ended with him becoming the fourth Twins starter to go at least seven innings on Opening Day.

He’s now 2-0 on Opening Day for the Twins, having won his start last season in Kansas City as well. Lopez finished the day with seven strikeouts and allowed only four hits and a single run. It’s exactly that type of start Minnesota needed out of him but also one that earned the sort of trust Baldelli showed in him.

It was also a calculated moved in terms of preserving the bullpen.

Minnesota is starting the season with four relievers on the IL — Jhoan Duran, Justin Topa, Caleb Thielbar, and Josh Staumont. That’s a lot of firepower missing from the bullpen, and absolutely factored into the decision to let Lopez get through the seventh.

By leaving Lopez in, Rocco set up a situation where he’d ideally need to use just two pitchers the rest of the way. Brock Stewart came in to set things up in the eighth while Griffin Jax came out to close in the ninth. The Twins are off on Friday, but not needing to dip deep into an already thin and unproven bullpen right out of the gate will go a long way.

Duran, Thielbar, and Topa are all eligible to return on April 8th, which means the Twins simply need to bide time until then.

Rocco has been sharply criticised in the past for the way he’s handled his starters, but credit due after he expertly navigated a situation we’ve seen him default in before. Not every starter will go as deep as Lopez did, but to see Rocco make that sort of call right out of the gate is a very encouraging sign.

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