FORT MYERS, Fla. – And just like that, almost every question about the Twins’ 2018 roster was answered on Thursday.
Jake Odorizzi? Opening Day starter.
Tyler Duffey? In the minors.
Erick Aybar? Probably gone.
Add to that Mitch Garver’s ascension to the majors, Phil Hughes’ installment as the fifth starter, and Paul Molitor’s willingness to carry only one backup infielder, and the Twins, after a brisk day of decision-making, are left with only three questions to answer before next week’s season opener in Baltimore: Which two outfielders will be on the bench? Who will be the seventh member of the bullpen? And what will be Miguel Sano’s standing with the commissioner’s office?
That last one is a wild card, shrouded in secrecy as MLB’s investigation goes on. But there is a sense around camp that Commissioner Rob Manfred will probably announce his ruling on whether he believes Sano assaulted a woman in 2015, and what punishment if any that he should serve, before the opener.
Here’s a look at the rest of the roster, and the answers that became clear on Thursday:
Staying: Odorizzi will become the fifth pitcher to make his Twins debut as an Opening Day starter, having been awarded the honor, in Ervin Santana’s injury-induced absence, after allowing only one run and five hits in three Grapefruit League starts. Kyle Gibson, who will pitch the second game in Baltimore next week, will start the Target Field opener, too; Jose Berrios will be in line to pitch in the Twins’ first game in San Juan, Puerto Rico, later in the month; and Lance Lynn will start in Pittsburgh on April 2.
Phil Hughes is the fifth starter in a four-man rotation. With plenty of off days in April, Hughes won’t be needed until April 11, so he’ll be assigned to long relief in the interim.
Going: Tyler Duffey was optioned to Class AAA Rochester on Thursday morning, a victim of the Twins’ midcamp acquisition of Odorizzi and Lynn, and his own 7.11 spring ERA.
Question: Will Duffey remain a starter, or is a permanent home in the bullpen inevitable? Molitor said the Twins will have him stretched out at Rochester for now, though Duffey is wondering, too. “Consistency is all I’m really looking for. If that means pitching out of the ’pen, that’s great,” Duffey said. “I guess this season is going to tell where that is going to go.”
Staying: Hughes as a long reliever between starts helps Molitor stick to his plan for a 12-man pitching staff, giving him the room he craves for a fourth bench player. And Hughes said he’s OK with the hybrid role.
When he was a Yankee, “We’d go in with eight or nine guys battling for five spots, and by the end of April, we were looking for a fifth starter. I try to remind myself of that whenever I do have that thought, getting down on my self because I’m not sure if there’s going to be a role for me,” Hughes said. “It’s easier to focus on what I can do on the mound. There’s always going to be a need for pitching.”
Going: Alan Busenitz was optioned to Rochester, reducing the pitching staff to 13 players for 12 spots.
Question: Gabriel Moya and Tyler Kinley appear in competition for the final relief role, and it might not be an easy call. Moya has had a tremendous spring, and Thursday’s one-inning outing was his ninth in a row without allowing a run. But the Twins already have two other lefthanders in the bullpen, and Kinley, who has allowed earned runs in only two his nine appearances, would have to be offered back to the Marlins if he doesn’t make the team.
Staying: Mitch Garver, despite a 5-for-30 spring, won the job as backup to Jason Castro.
Going: The Twins reassigned veteran Bobby Wilson and rookie Willians Astudillo to minor league camp.
Staying: It appears only four infielders will remain to handle third base, shortstop and second base during Jorge Polanco’s suspension. “I would be fine with that,” Molitor said, even though it could limit his ability to use Sano as a designated hitter. “It makes it a little bit more difficult to navigate that, to protect your infielders and not have to worry about putting your DH in the game.” But having two utility infielders, he said, is “a luxury” that most teams don’t have.
Going: Aybar seemed a logical replacement in the event Sano is suspended, but the Twins decided not to wait any longer, since Aybar owns the right to ask for his release on Friday. The veteran infielder was told he will not make the 25-man roster, Molitor said, “so he’s going to reach out to his agent, and figure out what’s next for him.”
Question: If Sano is suspended, would the Twins keep Gregorio Petit or Taylor Featherston around to fill in? Or will Aybar accept a temporary assignment to Rochester?
Staying: For the moment, Ryan LaMarre remains in camp on the strength of a 1.339 OPS this spring; he leads the Twins in hits and RBI, and has shown he can play all three outfield spots. As a righthanded hitter, he could spell lefthanded hitters Eddie Rosario, who has been bothered by tendinitis in his throwing arm, and Max Kepler.
Going: Brock Stassi was assigned to minor league camp.
Question: Which two outfielders among LaMarre, Robbie Grossman and Zack Granite will make the team? Granite’s the better glove, Grossman the most patient hitter, and LaMarre a tempting combination of both.