Ten players batted for Rochester during the Red Wings’ 12-7 loss to Buffalo on Opening Day last April. Two of them will suit up Saturday night for the Red Wings.
Five different pitchers took the mound that day for Rochester. Only the starter, P.J. Walters, is in uniform today, and that’s after a six-week midseason detour with the Twins.
“It’s been a pretty fluid situation there all year,” said Brad Steil, Twins director of minor league operations. “They’ve done a good job with a lot of interchangeable parts.”
Counting rehab appearances by Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham, the Red Wings have used 60 different players this season, the most they’ve ever suited up at Class AAA since they became affiliated with Rochester in 2003.
But if the revolving door is affecting the Wings, they’re not showing it. With 10 games to play, Rochester is clinging to its first International League playoff berth since 2006, entering the weekend with a two-game lead over Norfolk for the wild-card spot, just a half-game behind Pawtucket for the North Division title. Rochester plays eight of its final 10 games at home, where the Red Wings are 38-25.
“It’s a tight race. Buffalo is still in it, Pawtucket’s been playing really well,” Steil said. “It’s going to be a fun last few days.”
Steil admits he hadn’t expected that, not after the Wings opened the season as cold as the upstate New York weather. Rochester lost 11 of its first 13 games, and over the last six games of that streak, got outscored 37-5. The Red Wings had eight pitchers on the disabled list, their third baseman (Deibinson Romero) was stuck in the Dominican Republic as a visa problem was ironed out, and their No. 3 hitter, Oswaldo Arcia, was whisked away to the major leagues after playing only nine Class AAA games.
For a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 2008 and endured back-to-back 90-loss seasons in 2010 and 2011, the dreadful start could easily have ruined their season.
“It could have. But Gene [Glynn, the second-year manager], Marty [Mason, the pitching coach] and Tim [Doherty, the hitting coach] did a great job of holding that team together. I mean, the middle of their lineup wasn’t there, the bullpen wasn’t very good, but they kept everybody focused and convinced they could turn it around,” said Steil — who admitted even he had his doubts. “I’ve been surprised they’ve won as many as they have. I’m not surprised they’ve played well, but it shows you what keeping everybody pulling for each other can do.”
First baseman Chris Colabello had an MVP-quality season, batting .352 with 24 homers. Shortstop Doug Bernier hit .295 and became a leader in the clubhouse. Outfielder Antoan Richardson stole 23 bases in 25 attempts, and Romero knocked in 46 runs once he finally arrived in the U.S. Andrew Albers posted a 2.86 ERA in 22 starts, and Shairon Martis and Michael Tonkin steadied the bullpen. When players were called up to Minnesota, new ones arrived from Class AA New Britain and kept things going.
Now the Twins would like to see the Red Wings get to the playoffs.
“The intensity is different. You have to execute when there’s something on the line,” Steil said. “It’s pretty important to get them that experience.”
But that doesn’t mean the Red Wings’ constant roster upheaval is necessarily over, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said.
“It depends on our needs up here. One thing me and [Twins manager Ron Gardenhire] take seriously is, when we play [teams in postseason contention like] Oakland and Tampa Bay, we need to field the most competitive team we can,” Ryan said. “If we have some pitching issues, question marks, we might have to fortify our roster. But we’ll try not to disturb them too much.”
Not much disturbs these Red Wings anymore.