If this was an audition, P.J. Walters may have earned the part. And not one he wants.
The righthander on Friday improved upon last weekend’s brief start in Cleveland, in the sense that “fiasco” is an upgrade on “disaster.” This time, it took him three innings to put the Twins in a 6-0 hole, in other words, not just nine batters.
But Friday’s 9-3 loss to the Royals was Walters’ third consecutive subpar start, and it comes at a particularly sensitive time. Kyle Gibson makes his major league debut Saturday, and the Twins have penciled in Mike Pelfrey’s return to the rotation for the July 6 game in Toronto. Barring injury, that means one week from now, the Twins will have one starting pitcher too many.
“I don’t make those calls,” Walters said. “My job is to pitch when they tell me to.”
True, but this isn’t what the Twins had in mind. And it’s not what Walters produced in his first four starts, either.
Two weeks ago, the notion that Walters might be vulnerable would have seemed ludicrous. His ERA stood at 2.49, and he had given up only one home run.
Then Walters lost command of his fastball. And he has been floundering ever since.
“It all starts with the fastball,” Walters (2-4) shrugged after ballooning his ERA to 6.03. “That’s basically what I’ve done all year, locate my fastball and work off that. And right now, it’s kind of been all over the place.”
On June 16 against Detroit, that meant home runs bit him. Last Saturday in Cleveland, it meant a career-high five walks and removal before the first inning was over. And Friday?
“He couldn’t get the ball where he wanted to,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after the Twins fell to 2-6 against Kansas City this year. “… It was one of those where you hope he finds it and you give him as much [time] as you possibly can, but we end up being in a 6-0 hole.”
The hole was built with three runs in the first inning on a Billy Butler blast; another in the second on an Alex Gordon single; and two more in the third, when Mike Moustakas knocked a flat changeup into the upper deck.
“I’m not off by much,” Walters said after falling to 0-4 in June. “It’s just enough where it’s not a strike, but it’s [a matter of] dialing it back in. My whole game plan is to attack the zone, get strike one, go from there. Get quick outs. [But if] you fall behind guys 2-1, 3-1, you have to come over the middle of the plate, and they’re going to hit it.”
Even the Royals, who entered the game with 43 home runs all year, fewest in the majors. After Walters left, Eric Hosmer belted two homers off Anthony Swarzak.
Kevin Correia, Samuel Deduno and Pelfrey are safe in the rotation, and the Twins figure to give Gibson plenty of time. That leaves Scott Diamond and Walters.
Diamond hasn’t been good lately; he has posted a 7.40 ERA in his past four starts, and didn’t last six innings in any of them. But Walters, who starts Wednesday against the Yankees, might be making the Twins’ decision much tougher.
“I expect to pitch better than I did when I first got here, every time,” Walters said. “Obviously, I’ve got some things to work on right now.”