FORT MYERS, Fla. — Vance Worley walked into the Minnesota Twins locker room Sunday morning, his shirt soaked.
The clock hit 7:45 a.m. He had been running, biking and working his legs. After a break, followed by breakfast, he went back at it during the Twins’ batting practice as he worked his core while running some more.
“I don’t mess around,” Worley, 25, said, smiling.
Worley’s work ethic has caught the attention of teammates and Twins management, who have hinted but haven’t announced that the right-hander will be the team’s Opening Day Starter against the Detroit Tigers.
He, like some of the veteran starters, doesn’t have the best pitching stats to show for this spring, but their focus has been their work more than ERA.
As starter Mike Pelfrey said, “April is a lot different than March.”
Worley added, “It’s all about getting the kinks out and making sure everything is working.”
Thanks to offseason surgery, then strength and conditioning, Worley feels as good as he has in the past couple of years.
“Having an elbow that actually works,” Worley joked when asked about what has changed for him this spring. “Removing the bone chips maybe freed up more movement and extension on pitches. And there’s no pain, that’s the biggest thing.”
Worley’s fastball has been clocked as high as 94 mph, a level he said he hasn’t seen in a couple of years.
“All last season, I had to use everything I had to get 90 — and that’s not going to overpower hitters,” he said. “I couldn’t even get (good location). I couldn’t locate my fastball, I didn’t have the front-door sinker to lefties and the backdoor to righties. On cutters, I couldn’t front hip a righty and I couldn’t backdoor a lefty.”
After working out in New Jersey and Northern California in the offseason and eating less, Worley has gone from 256 to 246 pounds. His goal is to eat less at night so he can keep the weight off.
“His work ethic has caught my eye,” Twins pitcher Anthony Swarzak said. “Every day, he’s working on something to get better. That’s what it takes to be a successful starter.”
Twins pitcher Rich Harden said he’s noticed Worley has been real consistent with his full workout program while pitcher Liam Hendriks added, “He works his ass off. He’s always out doing something.”
With his next start scheduled for the Twins against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, Worley is on target to work on April 1 against the Tigers. Though he said he hasn’t been told that he’ll start, Worley is prepared if he gets that assignment. He’d likely oppose Detroit’s Justin Verlander.
“I’d be excited about it,” he said. “It says they think a little bit about me. I want to get the ball on Opening Day and get us a win. If I had my choice, I’d like to go up against tough guys every time.”
Backing Worley in the rotation are Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and Scott Diamond, who is projected for an April 12 return as he continues his recovery from surgery to replace bone chips in his left elbow. First-round pick Kyle Gibson has been sent to the minors, so that leaves Hendriks, Cole De Vries and Samuel Deduno competing for the final starting spot. DeVries has a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings this spring, Hendriks gave up just one hit to the New York Yankees in four innings on March 21 and Deduno, who shone in the World Baseball Classic, injured his hamstring and missed a March 23 start.
“Liam has looked good, and Cole De Vries has been amazing,” Pelfrey said. “Those guys have made it harder on the coaching staff.”
Pelfrey admitted his spring stats, as well as Worley’s and Correia’s, haven’t been that good. “If you look at my career spring training numbers, they’re atrocious,” he said. “When you’re younger and trying to earn a job, you’re trying to do everything you can to make it. When you’re an older guy, you’re allowed to work on things.”
However, he realizes there’s pressure on the starters to improve on the team’s overall numbers, which were among the worst in the majors last season.
“We’ve got some good hitters, and the relief pitching was pretty good last year,” he said. “I understand the defense was down a bit last year, but this spring, it’s been real good.