1997: LaTroy Hawkins Returns

Tuesday June 17, 1997

The Twins made high school pitcher LaTroy Hawkins their seventh round draft pick in the 1991 draft. After spending four years in the minor league system, Hawkins made his major league debut on April 29, 1995 against the Baltimore Orioles. It was a disastrous debut for Hawkins, who allowed seven runs in less than two innings of work. He appeared in 13 more major league games over the course of the 1995 and 1996 seasons with results much the same as his debut. In 53.1 innings pitched in his first two major league seasons, Hawkins posted an ERA of 8.44.

After spending more than a calendar year in Salt Lake City, Hawkins returned to the Twins once again in mid-June 1997. He arrived just in time for an interleague game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. From Jim Souhan’s story in the Star Tribune:

LaTroy Hawkins spoke of newfound maturity. He bore evidence of what could be considered a rite of passage on his left pectoral – a tattoo reading “9-20-96,” the birthdate of his daughter, Karamy. This tattoo seemed more meaningful than the old one – the bulldog inscribed on his left biceps.

But maturity, in terms of major league pitching, is not measured in body art or familial responsibility. It is measured by the breadbasket-sized strike zone favored by American League umpires.

By that measure, Hawkins proved a resounding success Wednesday night. He pitched the Twins to a 13-1 victory over the Pirates at the Metrodome by taking a one-hit shutout into the seventh inning, and won his first start after being called up from Class AAA Salt Lake.

“I had to take a better mental approach than the other times I was up here,” Hawkins said. “I had to stop thinking about all the little things that can go wrong, and go out and throw strikes. It’s maturing, I guess, from last year to this year.”

Does that mean he won’t treat this victory as a milestone? “Oh, it’s still a big deal,” he said. “It’s my first win in ’97 in the big leagues. That’s still a big deal.”

Hawkins kept his fastball low in the strike zone, changed speeds, and darted purposeful pitches toward the hands of Pirates hitters whenever he felt they were too comfortable.

“I gave up a lot of hits in Salt Lake,” Hawkins said. “A lot of them were because hitters were saying, `LaTroy likes to stay around the plate, so I can get comfortable and get some swings.’ I wasn’t backing people off. I have to back them off.”

Twins manager Tom Kelly thought Hawkins’ other tendency – throwing low strikes – was more important. “He had a good angle to his pitches, and his ball moves when he keeps it down,” Kelly said. “In the past – and we don’t like to talk much about the past – he would get pitches up. You can’t pitch high in this league.”

Eighteen of Hawkins’ 21 outs were recorded on grounders and strikeouts. He induced two double-play grounders.

Hawkins remained with the team for the rest of the season and was a regular in the Twins’ starting rotation until he was moved to the bullpen prior to the 2000 season.

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