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La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller report on the Twins from wherever they make news

Twins add Wheeler, Rucinski to pen as Astros arrive for 3-game series

    The Twins couldn’t have picked a better day to send Ervin Santana to the mound. The 34-year-old righthander averages seven innings per start, and his team could really use an average-or-better one today, after using all seven relievers in Sunday’s 15-inning marathon.

    “He understands the circumstances,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “We’re hoping he goes out there and gives us a nice competitive outing.”

    That said, the Twins seem “fairly energized” this morning, Molitor pointed out, though “we’re going to be fairly limited on who is available in the regular rotation in the bullpen.” Don’t expect to see Tyler Duffey, Brandon Kintzler or Tayler Rogers, for instance, since they’ve pitched two straight days. Matt Belisle threw 30 pitches on Sunday, so he’s iffy, too.

    To ease the stress on the relief corps, the Twins have added Drew Rucinski and Jason Wheeler for today’s game, and don’t be surprised if both of them get into the game. Wheeler, who was drafted by the Twins in 2011 and would be making his major league debut, was scheduled to start today for Class AAA Rochester, so he’s obviously able to go as many innings as the Twins might need. Rucinski, who was here earlier this month, threw 31 pitches on Saturday, but “he’s a guy who seems very resilient,” Molitor said.

    To make room for the two additions, the Twins put Justin Haley back on the 10-day disabled list with what they’re calling shoulder stiffness, and returned Kennys Vargas to Rochester. You don’t often see a team demote its cleanup hitter, but the move had nothing to do with Vargas’ 0-for-8 in Sunday’s loss, Molitor said. It was just a matter of numbers. “He’s one of our few position players who has options,” Molitor said. “We just told him, sometimes the game doesn’t seem fair. But it was the right thing for our team to add pitching today. His job is to try to accept the best [he] can, go down there and have good at-bats, and when we get to that 10-day mark, hopefully he’s back in the mix.”

    The Houston Astros are across the field today, owners of the best record in baseball (35-16) and a four-game winning streak. They have scored the second-most runs in the American League, and have allowed the fewest, so it’s a considerable challenge. They Astros have never beaten Santana in four career starts, a trend the Twins hope continues today.

    Here are the lineups for the Memorial Day matinee at Target Field:

ASTROS

 

Springer CF

Reddick RF

Altuve 2B

Correa SS

Beltran DH

McCann C

Gonzalez 1B

Bregman 3B

Aoki LF

 

Peacock RHP

 

TWINS

 

Dozier 2B

Grossman DH

Mauer 1B

Sano 3B

Kepler RF

Polanco SS

Rosario LF

Gimenez C

Buxton CF

 

Santana RHP

Gibson gets another chance vs. Rays; Sano's 'mental break' lasts second day

    Not many pitchers get the opportunity Kyle Gibson has today. An awful April cost him his major league job, and when rainouts forced the Twins to call him back up, he managed to raise his ERA from 8.20 to 8.62 in Baltimore. But with Phil Hughes injured, Gibson is once again the recipient of a huge opportunity: He’ll start today against the Rays, and if he pitches well, it’s not hard to picture him remaining in the rotation awhile.

    He’s earned these opportunities with the flashes of effectiveness he’s shown in the past, particularly in a promising 2015 season and again in spring training this year. But those instances are two years ago, or were exhibition games, so patience is running out.

    Paul Molitor chose to put a positive gloss on Gibson’s six-run, five-inning outing against the Orioles, noting that the defense made mistakes behind him. “The good part of that game was that he regrouped, [and] found a way to finish on a positive note,” Molitor said. “This will be a good test for him against a good hitting team, a good low-ball hitting team, and he’s a low-ball guy. So he’s going to have to move it around, and execute, and hopefully pitch from ahead today.”

    That’s critical for most pitchers, but particularly Gibson. When he gets ahead in the count 0-1, hitters bat .281 against him, and .176 if they put the next pitch in play. If he’s behind 1-0, however, he’s being savaged: .441 from that point, and .538 if batters put the 1-0 pitch in play. His history against the Rays isn’t particularly promising, either; Gibson owns a 7.82 ERA in five starts against Tampa Bay, and 7.15 at Target Field.

    While Gibson is working to regain his standing with his team, Miguel Sano will be watching from the dugout for a second straight day. Molitor even called Sano this morning before he headed to the ballpark, just to let him know.

    There’s nothing wrong with Sano, health-wise, Molitor said, but the manager is trying to avoid having his best hitter spiral into a slump that lasts for weeks instead of a few days. With 42 games to play over the next 42 days, the numbers can pile up quickly, and Sano is already 0-for-14, with 11 strikeouts, since blasting a long home run in Baltimore last Monday.

    “I try to measure whether one day was a good mental recharger for him. He’s been grinding it pretty good all the way back to spring training. [It’s] just to back him off for a couple days,” Molitor said. “His swing’s been off, he’s been fouling off balls and all those things. [It’s] just to take the mental stress off for a couple days and come back strong tomorrow.”

    Both teams are wearing the green camouflage-themed uniforms and hats again today in honor of Memorial Day, and the Twins and Astros will wear them tomorrow, too. Here are the lineups for Sunday’s series finale with Tampa Bay:

RAYS

 

Dickerson DH

Kiermaier CF

Longoria 3B

Morrison 1B

Souza RF

Rasmus LF

Beckham SS

Martinez 2B

Sucre C

 

Cobb RHP

 

TWINS

 

Dozier 2B

Polanco SS

Mauer 1B

Vargas DH

Kepler RF

Escobar 3B

Rosario LF

Buxton CF

Castro C

 

Gibson RHP