Trial By Fire For John Curtiss
FORT MYERS, Fla.—What terrific training John Curtiss has gotten for a possible role some day as the Twins’ closer.
In 2014, he handled the ninth inning of a College World Series semifinal in Omaha. In 2015, he pitched in the Midwest League championship series. Last November, he finished the Arizona Fall League title game.
Only one problem.
"Lost them all,” Curtiss said with a shrug.
Oh, right. Well, who needs all that gaudy jewelry, anyway?
But the 24-year-old former Texas righthander has learned a lot from his proximity to glory, from his embrace of pressure.
It started when he was recruited by the Longhorns after a decorated high school career in suburban Dallas, though he quickly learned that résumé meant little.
"A freshman at Texas, if you don’t pitch well against Texas State on a Tuesday night, you don’t pitch for the rest of the season,” Curtiss said. "You get used to pressure.”
That pressure is about to rise again. After a concussion, an elbow strain and some disappointing results in 2015 caused the Twins to abandon their plans to convert Curtiss into a starter, he thrived last summer in the bullpen at low Class A Cedar Rapids and high Class A Fort Myers.
He racked up 85 strikeouts in 61 innings, and while the 25 walks he issued give the Twins pause, they decided to challenge him with an assignment to the Arizona Fall League.
He responded with a 2.84 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 12.2 innings.
His slider is part of the reason. "My slider has gotten way better than it was in college, and I’m starting to be able to throw it in all counts,” said Curtiss, a 2014 sixth-round pick. "That’s a big development for me.”
Is it the mark of a closer? "I really don’t care,” he said. "I treat the sixth inning and the ninth inning the same. It’s about pitching well when the game can turn.”
• The Twins optioned Puerto Rican righthander Jose Berrios to Triple-A Rochester after he returned from the World Baseball Classic. He pitched just twice in the WBC, and the Twins didn’t want to rush him.
• Lefthander Tyler Jay, the sixth overall pick from Illinois in 2015, will move to the bullpen after two seasons of starting. The Twins cited concerns about his durability.
— Phil Miller covers the Twins for the Minneapolis Star Tribune