Twins make lemonade from lemon season

Garvin Alston
Garvin Alston Charles Hallman/MSR News

With no chance of making the playoffs this season, the Minnesota Twins are doing more than playing out the string or playing spoilers for those opponents who are vying for post-season spots in the final weeks of the 2018 season. There are still opportunities to improve player performance, for example.

Second-year Batting Coach James Rowson and first-year Pitching Coach Garvin Alston both told the MSR in separate interviews during the team’s last homestand last month that the remaining three and half weeks of games will serve as foundation-building opportunities for 2019.

“We are trying to get better with each guy individually,” Rowson stressed.

“We are going out there trying to win, but there are elements” where he wants pitchers to learn and grow from game situations, Alston added.

Both men didn’t flinch from the disappointment of 2018, a season in which they would not be post-season participants. Nonetheless, despite the sub-.500 record, Alston and Rowson both saw some improvement among their players.

“Our main issue at the start of the season was control,” the pitching coach recalled. “Our command has gotten a little better, especially with our secondary pitches [such as] our change-up.”

Rowson continued on the hitters, “You start out the year hoping everybody will have an MVP-type season and start the season off real well. It doesn’t always turn out the way you want, but how you respond to that and how you keep moving forward” is important as well, he noted.

“As the year went on, I continued to see growth in guys. I watch Max Kepler do some things that he has gotten better at in terms of his approach at the plate. I think Miguel Sano has been real good since he came back [from the minors in August] in taking what the game gives him and not do too much.”

The Twins hurlers, especially the less experienced ones, had to learn how to be themselves on the mound, Alston observed. “Some of these guys try to be something they are not, and try to throw a fastball at 95 [M.P.H.] when they are better at 92. Once they figure that out on what they can and cannot do,” their improvement becomes more evident, he said.

James Rowson (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

As for his first year as big league pitching coach, Alston noted that it has been an adjustment for him as well. “I think the main thing for me in learning as pitching coach is you can’t pitch the pitch for them,” he said. “You go through it mentally and emotionally, and at the end of the day, I’m spent. I go home and try to get some rest but can’t sleep.

“The number-one lesson for me, and I’m still working on it right now, is to be able to release it and let it go,” Alston admitted, “so I can come back and be a better coach the next day.”

Rowson and Alston, five years apart in age, both hail from the same hometown, Mount Vernon, New York. The two men made history as the Twins’ first Black pitching coach and hitting coach together in the same season.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” the younger Rowson said of his work with Alston. “I think it’s a unique situation to have a coach that you played with and watched play growing up in the same hometown. You don’t see that very much [in the majors].

“We bounce questions and ideas off one another during the season on how to attack guys on both sides of the ball. He knows the game and studies the game.”

Conceded Alston of Rowson, “He is better than me in certain aspects” of the game.