Neal: Twins newcomer Robles was holding out on us

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La Velle E. Neal III, Star Tribune
·5 min read
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Hansel Robles came to the Twins looking to rebound from a forgettable 2020 during which he posted a 10.26 ERA and watched his ninth-inning appearances disappear.

He didn't make much of a case for a big role during spring training, with a 4.91 ERA and three home runs belted off him. His fastball hovered around 93 miles per hour.

Little did the Twins know then that Robles had a plan. Once the games began to count in the standings, they would be able to count on him.

"He said, 'Just wait, when the season gets here, I can dial it up from here,' " Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "And that's exactly what we've seen."

Robles made his Twins debut on Opening Day in Milwaukee, where he was asked to pitch the eighth inning. He threw six fastballs to Lorenzo Cain that made observers check their glasses for smudges: 98.1 mph, followed by 96.1, 97.7, 96.0 and 97.6.

Where did that come from, Hansel?

"During spring training I try to take it easy," said Robles, 30. "I know what I'm capable of and what my body can do at that point during the season. Once the season starts, then it's game on. I know my body and what I'm able to do, and I also know my arm and how I need to prepare to get to this point."

Robles' fastball, as of Thursday, is averaging 96.3 mph and his changeup 88.8, but there are times when there's more than a 10 mph difference between his heater and change. That's very good.

"I mean he's been pretty dominant out there," Baldelli said. "He's been able to take the great stuff that we know he has and really add in the high-level execution. It's a tough at-bat.

"When he's throwing the ball like this, I bet he is a very tough at-bat."

This is a significant development for the Twins bullpen.

Robles, who saved 23 games in 2019 for the Angels, gives Baldelli another high-octane matchup problem for opponents in the final innings. Suddenly, the Twins bullpen is inching toward formidable.

In addition to Robles, Tyler Duffey's fastball checks in at 93.4, but he's been known to touch 96.

Alexander Colome, who will likely get the most closing opportunities, is at 94.8 mph but prefers a cut fastball that checks in under 90.

Taylor Rogers' fastball is at a career-high 95.9 mph. He astonished himself in Milwaukee by throwing a 98-mph sinker that he had to verify with the analytics department to believe.

Jorge Alcala brings the most heat out of the bullpen with a fastball that is averaging 97.4 mph.

In addition to these fastballs, each pitcher has complementary pitches to neutralize hitters. Having multiple 95-plus guys means Baldelli won't have to ride one or two relievers all season.

Draft setting up for VikingsWe are less than three weeks away from the NFL draft, and things are shaping up nicely for the Vikings.

Five quarterbacks — Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Trey Lance and Justin Fields — are expected to be selected among the first dozen or so selections.

Pass catchers Kyle Pitts, Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle also are expected to be off the board early.

With teams desperate for offensive skill position players, the Vikings will have the opportunity to select from a group of the best offensive linemen in the draft. Someone like Rashawn Slater from Northwestern or Christian Darrisaw from Virginia Tech or Penei Sewell from Oregon. One thing that could influence their draft is if cornerback Jeff Gladney, who is facing a third-degree felony assault charge, needs to be replaced.

Try a different Buxton chantI get it. It's been more than a year since fans have been able to yell things at players, particularly Twins players. But we've got to do better than to start "MVP" chants for Byron Buxton after one week of dominance.

Buxton's swing looks as lethal as ever. He immediately noticed the benefits of adding 21 pounds of muscle during the offseason. He's speaking, and swinging, as confidently as ever.

But let's slow our roll here.

The list of first-week MVPs is a long one and includes names that were rarely heard from again, such as Doug Ault and Tuffy Rhodes. Buxton was more hyped coming into the league that they were, but Buck has to stay off the injured list, first and foremost, before full-throated votes for awards can begin.

So let's just start with: "By-ron Bux-ton" chants and let this play out.

Vikings will add pass-rushing helpIt would make it even easier for the Vikings to draft an offensive lineman if they didn't have a need at edge rusher. To solve this problem, the Vikings will bring back Everson Griffen. But he would have to apologize for ripping Kirk Cousins on Twitter first.

Wolves' opponents will run up the scoreThe Timberwolves, who gave up 145 points to Boston on Friday and 141 to Indiana on Wednesday, will give up at least 140 once more before the season ends and will give up 130 at least four times. They face three of the highest-scoring teams in the league — Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Utah — before the end of this month.