Twins pitching prospect Festa makes eagerly awaited spring debut

FORT MYERS, FLA. – The first big-leaguer David Festa ever faced in a Twins uniform got a hit Sunday, and the second walked. One hitter later, and Festa's debut was over.

Wait, it was a far bigger success than it sounds.

"It was fantastic to see him out there," manager Rocco Baldelli said of Festa, generally regarded as the Twins' best pitching prospect. "Getting through that outing was good."

That's because Festa threw three different pitches for strikes to Luis Garcia Jr. before the Nationals infielder grounded a single through the hole into right field. And two pitches later, the righthander whirled and froze Garcia with his pickoff move, an easy out.

"I've been working on the pickoff move the last few years, and I've been able to get a few guys," said Festa, who turned 24 Friday. "To do that, it kind of gets you settled back in."

And though his 3-2 changeup to former Twin Ildemaro Vargas dropped out of the strike zone, the walk didn't hurt, either, not when Riley Adams hit the next pitch on the ground to Carlos Correa. The easy double play ended the inning, and Festa's debut, after 11 pitches and a zero on the scoreboard.

"He showed a nice pickoff move, gets a ground ball — little bit of everything today. It's a nice day, to see one of your good young players out there," Baldelli said. "I'm sure he'll be thinking about the outing, analyzing it, but more than anything, it was good to get out there in the big stadium and throw some pitches."

It took a while because the 6-foot-6 Festa, a 13th-round pick from Seton Hall in 2021, experienced arm soreness at the end of the 2023 season. With his lean frame, the Twins have slowed his pace as he prepares for 2024. Festa's history thus far — 239 strikeouts in 204 innings over three seasons, with a 3.30 ERA and only 15 home runs — will make it worth the wait, the Twins believe.

"I'm still a little behind, but I feel like I'm in a really good spot for March," said Festa, who figures to report to Class AAA St. Paul when his arm is ready. "Just have to recover, and hopefully next week, it will be two innings, and then go from there."

A dirty reminder

Watch Pablo López prepare for a start in the Twins bullpen, and you might be left wondering: Why is he carrying that dirty sock around?

It's actually a towel with one end wadded into a ball, but López knows that people "make fun of how dirty it is. I've been using it for the last four years, so it's quite dirty," the All-Star and Opening Day starter said. "That's what people make fun of, not the fact that I use it, but how nasty it is."

The towel was given to him by Marlins pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr, as a way to double-check his mechanics before he starts throwing with maximum effort. He practices his windup, pitching from the stretch, and even his pickoff move, with the towel, which comes out of his hand looking like a sock with a ball in it.

"It's not as taxing on my arm. It allows me to get good reps on the mound, feeling the motion without putting too much stress on my arm," López said. "It also helps me with my arm speed, so by the time I pick up the baseball, I feel that I can make some better throws early on."