The Minnesota Twins are among the league’s unlikeliest contenders and it might be fitting that the unlikeliest of rookies is beginning to excel for them in big innings.
Ryan O’Rourke, a 27-year-old rookie pitcher, has done everything the Twins have asked and more since getting called up in early July, not allowing a run in 13 of his 16 big league appearances. First-year manager Paul Molitor is beginning to hand him the ball in bigger situations, including a batter in both the seventh and eighth innings in last night’s 3-2 win against the Texas Rangers, and O’Rourke has been getting these big outs by attacking hitters, striking out 16 hitters in 13 innings of work.
With lefties Aaron Thompson and Brian Duensing both struggling, Minnesota desperately needed a guy who could get left-handed hitters out in big situations. After a strong April, Thompson had a 7.88 ERA over 29 appearances from May 4 to July 5, and Duensing’s 2015 ERA is still on the wrong side of five. O’Rourke has been excellent in the role of left-handed specialist, holding lefties to just a .115 batting average. But he’s been almost as effective against hitters from the other side of the plate as well, holding right-handed batters to a .118 clip.
As a franchise, the Twins entered the season with a large number of elite prospects, but O’Rourke was not one of them. He’s always been a long shot to make it at the big-league level. He was a 13th round pick in 2010 out of Merrimack College, a small Division II school in the Northeast-10 Conference, where he went 5-2 in 13 outings as a senior with a 1.25 ERA. O’Rourke hasn’t been anything special coming up through the Minnesota farm system, posting a 4.15 minor league ERA through six seasons, including a miserable 5.93 mark at the Triple-A level before getting called up this season. But he was always able to get lefties out, and that’s exactly why the organization never gave up on him and why he got called up a little over a month ago.
It’s not too often that a 27-year-old rookie is something to get excited about and the sample size isn’t that big yet for O’Rourke, but the Twins may have found somebody who can really help stretch out their bullpen for the next couple of years. He’s not the kind of player who is going to elevate his team to the next level, but it’s one less roster spot to worry about moving forward.