ATLANTA – The Twins went 33 consecutive days utilizing the same 25-man roster this season, a stretch of stability that’s as rare in modern Major League Baseball as a triple play.
Sticking with the status quo was easy when the Twins were outpacing expectations, when they were winning series despite some iffy starting pitching and an offense frozen by cold weather, when they were sitting with a winning record (18-17) only 10 days ago.
But things have changed, and the team’s response to Wednesday’s 8-3 drubbing by the Braves was the most vivid example yet. Vance Worley, acquired from Philadelphia in the offseason and installed as a pillar of the starting rotation, was demoted only minutes after the final out, given a plane ticket to Class AAA Rochester and instructions to fix what’s wrong.
“We’re just searching for the guy we got in a trade,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of the righthander, who allowed eight runs over 3 ⅔ innings, ballooning his ERA to 7.21. “He’s got the stuff — now he’s got to put it out on the field.”
Worley was the second member of the Twins’ rotation to get that ultimatum during Atlanta’s three-game sweep at Turner Field; Pedro Hernandez was sent out on Monday after his own subpar performance a day earlier. And that’s a strong sign that the Twins, slogging through an eight-game losing streak that has dropped them into the basement of the AL Central for a third consecutive season, are ready to make changes in hopes of changing their results.
Samuel Deduno will take Hernandez’s spot on Friday, in hopes he can harness his electric fastball, and the Twins now must find a replacement for Worley on Monday in Milwaukee. They need to determine whether to keep their current eight-man bullpen, necessary at the moment because their starters have failed to complete five innings in six of the past seven games.
And might there be a bigger shakeup ahead? Second baseman Brian Dozier is batting .206 and right fielder Chris Parmelee is at .198; both have lost playing time lately as Gardenhire has tried to reignite his team’s fits-and-starts offense. Center fielder Aaron Hicks, despite his first career three-hit day and his first home run from the left side, is batting .157 and has begun striking out more often. Rookie outfielder Oswaldo Arcia was in an 0-for-15 slump before hitting a pinch-hit home run Wednesday.
Figuring out the position players, however, including how to fill Trevor Plouffe’s spot while he recovers from a concussion, “is the least of my concerns right now,” Gardenhire said. “Our pitching staff is more of a concern than anything else.”
As it should be. The starters’ combined ERA is 5.69, and opposing batters are hitting .333 against them. They’ve struck out only 57 hitters in 43 games, allowed 32 home runs, and made some odd choices — such as Worley’s down-the-middle fastball to Evan Gattis with a 3-0 count and the bases loaded in the fourth inning.
“I didn’t think he’d have the green light, personally,” Worley said, even though Gattis — “a monster, a strong young man,” Gardenhire called him — had two home runs in his past four at-bats.
The slugging catcher crushed Worley’s pitch to the opposite field, a grand slam that put the Twins in an 8-0 hole, secured Atlanta’s sweep — and the pitcher’s ticket to Rochester.
“They haven’t seen what I’m capable of doing. Ever since I got here, it’s been a battle, and I’ve just got to figure it out,” Worley said.
“[Worley] can put people away. Just too many mistakes over the middle, [and they] end up in the seats,” Gardenhire said. “You can say we’ve been patient, but we need performances here.”
In other words: This move isn’t likely to be the last.