There are only six days left in Florida and the Twins are still trying to slop together a pitching staff. We can only hope they do not dupe themselves into the asinine proposition that 13 pitchers are required to open a season.
All of this stuff about "protecting the bullpen'' is claptrap. You rarely get to the 12th pitcher (5 starters, 7 relievers) on a staff. And there's only one reason to have an untrusted seventh reliever -- to abuse him, if necessary.
Manager Ron Gardenhire has stressed the importance of having better options on the bench. That's the main reason Drew Butera was sent to Class AAA Rochester on Monday morning: Gardy wants someone on the bench who has a chance to get a hit in the late innings.
To repeat: To waste that option in the name of an eighth reliever would be asinine.
Presuming the Twins go with 13 position players, the surprise addition to the bench will be outfielder Wilkin Ramirez. The others are outfielder Darin Mastroianni and infielders Eduardo Escobar and Jamey Carroll. Escobar would also have the duty of serving as the emergency catcher, since Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit will be the two catchers carried on the roster.
The lineup Gardenhire figures to use next Monday vs. Detroit's Justin Verlander will have Mauer hitting third as the catcher, and Doumit hitting sixth as the DH. They will flip-flop those duties on a regular basis, but my guess is Doumit will not be as permanent a presence in the lineup.
Two extra outfielders -- Ramirez and Mastroianni --tell me this: Josh Willingham is going to serve as the designated hitter in a good hunk of games this season, with Ramirez or Mastroianni in left field. And, it's probably going to be close to a platoon situation in right field, with Chris Parmelee against righthanders, and Ramirez or Mastroianni against lefties.
Ramirez is an interesting case. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic and made his professional debut as a 17-year-old in 2003. He's played 10 pro seasons with a total of 37 at-bats in the big leagues -- 11 for Detroit in 2009 and 26 for Atlanta in 2011.
The Twins signed him as a minor-league free agent for 2012. They had an early glut of outfielders at Rochester and he played early in the season at Class AA New Britain. He came to Rochester early and, by some accounts, Ramirez was the Red Wings' best player for much of the season. He wound up hitting 15 home runs and driving in 54 runs in 98 games.
Now, at age 27, he might get his first-ever real shot in the big leagues. That presumes the Twins aren't foolish enough to start the season with 13 pitchers.