MINNEAPOLIS—It's rare enough for a pitcher to return from shoulder surgery with a sharper breaking ball. But how often is a broadcaster partly responsible?
That's what has happened to 21-year-old righthander Tom Stuifbergen, who sat out the 2008 season after having his pitching shoulder repaired.
Before being sidelined by an elbow strain, Stuifbergen had jumped out to fast start with low Class A Beloit this season, going 4-0, 1.13 and striking out 32 batters in 32 innings. His curveball was an especially effective complement to a low-90s sinker.
"We think Bert might have had a little something to do with that," vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff said.
"Bert" is Bert Blyleven, who is in his 15th season as the Twins' TV analyst. He has a couple other credentials, too, including 287 career big league wins, 60 shutouts and 3,701 strikeouts. He also was born in the Netherlands, like Stuifbergen, and served as pitching coach for the Dutch national team in last spring's World Baseball Classic.
"Tom has good command, so we just tried to tweak his breaking ball a little bit," Blyleven said. "He gets good break when he keeps his thumb on top of the ball. If he gets it underneath, it spins like a Frisbee, but when he gets on top of it, He gets a nice tumbling effect on it."
Blyleven still keeps in touch with Stuifbergen, who signed with the Twins in 2006, via text messages, most of which feature Blyleven's needling . . . er, coaching. "I make sure he doesn't get a big head when he has success," Blyleven said.
He had plenty of success in the WBC, where he pitched five shutout innings in an elimination game against the Dominican Republic.
"The whole experience, facing top-caliber hitters, was so good for him," Radcliff said. "And Bert's a good teacher."
• The Twins promoted two top righthanders in mid-May, sending 21-year-old Deolis Guerra to Triple-A Rochester and 2009 first-round pick Kyle Gibson to Double-A New Britain. "Safe to say he's on the fast track," Radcliff said of Gibson.
• Catcher Jose Morales returned to action on May 14, having recovered from surgery on his right wrist. The Twins sent him to Rochester, where he could refine his throwing mechanics and build arm strength.