BRADENTON, Fla. — Fernando Romero was sent back to the Dominican Republic after arriving in Atlanta earlier this month due to a customs issue. The Twins’ reliever will have to remain there as he goes through the paperwork process to obtain a new visa, further delaying his arrival to camp.
Romero was expected to compete for a spot in the Twins’ bullpen, but it is possible that he could miss all of camp — or at the very least most of it — manager Rocco Baldelli said before the team’s Grapefruit League opener, a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park. The possibility remains open that he could show up near the end of spring training.
“He’s still not here and won’t be joining us for the foreseeable future,” Baldelli said. “I can’t give you an exact date, because I don’t know when he is going to get here.”
While he is held up in the Dominican Republic, he has been occasionally working out at the Twins’ academy. The Twins go to the Dominican Republic for a spring training game on March 7, and it is possible he meets up with the team then for the day.
The customs issue is a big setback for Romero, who at one point was one of the team’s top pitching prospects. Romero was converted to a reliever last season, and while he primarily spent most season at Triple-A, he did pitch in 15 outings for the Twins. He had a 7.07 earned-run average in major league action.
“It’s definitely disappointing to not have him here in camp. He made some very nice adjustments, and we already know what kind of ability he has. When he gets here, I’m looking forward to watching him throw,” Baldelli said. “We’re going to make the best of a situation that’s imperfect. Hopefully he comes into camp ready to go and feeling good and building off of what he was doing at the end of last year, because he looked really good.”
Baldelli arrived to LECOM Park with a present for his longtime friend and former bench coach, Derek Shelton. Clutched in his hands, a big sign from Grapefruit League media day with the words, “Derek Shelton,” printed on it. In handwriting, it said, “Please welcome The Big Shooter,” and underneath “Auction this off.”
During batting practice, Shelton made sure to put Phish, Baldelli’s favorite band, on over the speakers. The two, who coached together in Tampa Bay before linking up again with the Twins last year, still keep in touch frequently.
“I think it was actually really nice that it was his first game of the spring. I think everyone was waiting to catch up with him and see him,” Baldelli said. “I think it meant a lot to people on this side and obviously a lot to him as well. He’s got stuff going on all day long and he’s busy, but I think he really wanted to take the time to see everyone and spend some time with the group knowing that things are going to speed up really quickly and he’s going to be plenty busy moving forward.
Lefty Devin Smeltzer was sharp in his spring debut, retiring all six Pirates he faced in his two-inning outing. He threw “40-something,” pitches between the game and a post-game bullpen session.
Smeltzer is competing for the fifth spot in the Twins’ rotation, along with Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe and non-roster invitee Jhoulys Chacin.
“Day one to four, that’s your day for work and adjustments and work the little things. But when day five comes around, they are trying to steal the bread off the table. So I’m trying to go out there and compete the best I can,” Smeltzer said.
Smeltzer, who pitched in 11 games — six starts — with the Twins last year, said he has been working on a new slider grip with bullpen coach Bob McClure to good results. He said he threw three of them in Saturday’s game.
“Believe it or not, Bob McClure kind of told me to stop thinking, told me to try this grip and throw it and I started to throw it last week. So it was one of those very rare occasions where it worked right away and it had confidence right away and it was doing what I wanted it to. The velocity is where I want it to be, so it was one of those rare occasions where I could just go right out with it.
Willians Astudillo went 2 for 3 with a run batted in in the game against the Pirates. The fan favorite also lost his helmet twice. … Second baseman Luis Arraez led off on Saturday in Bradenton. He is an option for the Twins in that role this season.