Reusse: Not much Varland can't do — but can he start for Twins?

FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins have added five relief pitchers and one starter from outside the organization to the 40-player roster this winter. The starter is Anthony DeSclafani, 33, coming off two years of injury.

The major loss in free agency was Sonny Gray, a starter who pitched 184 innings with a 2.79 ERA last season.

A logical look at the situation would demand that Louie Varland, 26, a righthander with a big fastball and a promising mix of pitches, spend his time in the upcoming exhibitions working toward being a starter when the season opens — either with the Twins or the St. Paul Saints.

Yes, we were all impressed (particularly manager Rocco Baldelli) when Varland came back to the 2023 Twins as a reliever in September and was blowing away hitters for a seven-game stretch.

What must be remembered is that the No. 1 reason the Twins dominated the American League Central was effective starting pitchers providing a large number of innings.

You go back to the glory days in 2022 with Chris Archer and 3⅓ innings, and you're going to fight to finish .500, which wouldn't even win the 2024 Central.

Varland right now stands as the best option when the projected rotation behind Pablo López — namely Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, two-time Tommy John surgery patient Chris Paddack and DeSclafani — needs help, which figures to be around March 20.

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Plus, Varland spent his youth as a dedicated and winning wrestler, and I'll always put my faith in those crazy son-of-a-guns, no matter what other athletic challenge they are facing.

"I started in the third grade and loved it right away," Varland said. "Wrestling builds character and discipline."

Do you still have the most wins for the North St. Paul Polars as a wrestler? Varland: "Yes."

How many of your baseball teammates were also wrestlers? Varland: "None."

Pause. "They don't blend," Varland said, meaning wrestling and baseball.

Unless you come out of that Varland collection in North St. Paul, where the schedule can be football in the fall, wrestling in the winter, baseball in the spring and summer, and drywalling for father Wade when sports schedules permitted.

"Hot summer days, drywalling can be as tough as wrestling," Louie said. "The difference is, you get paid to drywall."

Wade and Kim Varland have three kids. Louie and older brother Gus are on big-league rosters — Louie with the homestate team, and Gus a pitcher with the magnificent money machine, the L.A. Dodgers.

Sister Georgi was a gymnast. Now she's a partner with her father in the drywall company. "On stilts, on the scaffolding, Georgi does it all," Louie said.

Wade had a pair of sisters, Sue and Denise, who were legendary softball pitchers. He was an all-around athlete, and also a legend in softball, the slow-pitch variety.

"Dad was called 'The Dude' in softball," Louie said. "He was known for playing in the field with a cigar in his lips, a chew of tobacco in his mouth, and a beer sitting in the grass next to him."

After a hot day of drywalling, who could blame him?

The Varland connection to North St. Paul remains strong, including this example:

Louie spent the winter working on a second slider option, one with more of a dive than the sweeper type he had been featuring. The breaking pitches go with a fastball that averages a tick below 96 mph, a cutter and a changeup.

To refine his arsenal, he worked not here at the Twins' Florida headquarters, but at the Take the Field Baseball training center, run by one of his former high school coaches, Cole Hutchens, and located behind the VFW club in North St. Paul.

It was late in August last season when the Twins sent Saints manager Toby Gardenhire a directive to not start Varland, but to use an "opener" and bring in Louie in relief.

Legend has it, this did not go well with Varland. Hey, he's a wrestler, he doesn't want someone else doing the work for him.

Varland expects to be ramped up like a starter in exhibitions. You can do that and then put a pitcher in the bullpen; you can't be pitching two innings at the end of spring training and then jump into the rotation.

He's in a rented house for spring training with three other pitchers: Matt Canterino, Brent Headrick and Cody Laweryson. Louie's close with these guys, including Canterino, who has pitched only 85 official innings in five pro years because of arm injuries.

"Matt's going to be OK," Varland said. "And when he's healthy, he's the best pitcher I've seen."

Wow, Louie. We could all use a friend like you.