MINNEAPOLIS — There’s something unique about new Twins pitcher Vance Worley.
His thick-rimmed black glasses — which he trades for goggles when he pitches — and fauxhawk hairstyle set him apart from his Minnesota teammates. So does his strong following on Twitter (@VANIMAL_49). The right-hander has nearly 55,000 followers on the social media site, well ahead of third baseman Trevor Plouffe, who is next in line with around 21,000 followers.
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And of course, there’s Worley’s nickname: Vanimal. It was bestowed upon him by his college strength coach during his days at Long Beach State and has stuck with him through his time with the Phillies to his arrival in Minnesota.
“I was one of the only guys who actually showed up and wanted to work out at 6 o’clock in the morning,” Worley said of the nickname’s origin. “So as everybody else is called, ‘They’re just an animal,’ but my name’s Vance, so he put the ‘V’ in front of it.”
Call him whichever of the two names you prefer, but Worley can now officially be called a Twin, especially after going through his first TwinsFest experience this past weekend. It took a while for it to sink in for Worley that he was no longer a Phillie when he was traded on Dec. 6 along with minor leaguer Trevor May in exchange for Twins outfielder Ben Revere.
“That night I had to change a few things. I had to get rid of a lot of my Phillies stuff,” Worley said. “All my workout attire was all Phillies stuff. So I had to get new Dri-Fits for the gym. So it’s different seeing the colors, but I’m just happy to be here and start with a new club.”
The 25-year-old Worley was one of three veteran pitchers Minnesota acquired this offseason to help bolster the American League’s worst rotation. The Twins also signed free agents Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey, who will join Worley, Scott Diamond and a yet-to-be-determined fifth starter this year in the rotation.
Worley was a third-round pick by Philadelphia in 2008 and made his major league debut in 2010. He finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2011 after he went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 25 games (21 starts). Last season, he was 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA in 23 starts and logged 133 innings.
“All we ask is that you get us deep into the game,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of his starting pitchers earlier this month. “We’ve got guys that can hit. We can score runs. We just needed to stay in the games a little bit longer. Hopefully that’s what we’ve accomplished. We’ll see.”
Worley’s 2012 season was cut short when he had surgery on his right elbow to remove a bone chip, forcing him to miss all of September. But he said he’s “ready to go” this spring after the procedure.
With the Phillies, Worley played his home games at Citizens Bank Park, one of the more hitter-friendly stadiums in baseball. Still, he gave up an average of 0.8 home runs per nine innings, which would have been tops on the Twins’ staff in 2012. Now, Worley is making the transition to pitcher-friendly Target Field, so it’s possible his home runs allowed could go down even further.
“I’ve said it before: In Philadelphia, it was tough pitching there because the ball really flew. And here I know I’ve got a pitcher’s park to work with,” said Worley, who gave up eight of his 12 home runs last season at Citizens Bank Park. “I’m not going to be afraid to throw the ball in the strike zone. I’m not afraid anyway, but at least now I know don’t have to look and see it go 20 seats deep. Now it’s going to be just a regular pop-up.”
In Philadelphia, Worley was able to pitch in the same rotation as guys like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, an experience he hope he can take with him to Minnesota. Along with that, Worley — along with Correia and Pelfrey — will be making the switch from the National League to the American League, something he believes will pay dividends this season for the Twins.
“There won’t be as much strategy to the game. I think most of us will be able to go deeper in the game,” Worley said of the transition to the AL. “I felt like that was something that hurt my innings last year, too. It was an opportunity for a pinch hitter. You’re out of the game, and it’s only the sixth inning. When it’s something where the pitch count was down, you can maybe go seven or eight innings. I think we’ll all be able to log some innings.”