BRADENTON, FLA. – An already shorthanded starting rotation, missing Jose Berrios and Hector Santiago because of the World Baseball Classic and Trevor May because of injury, might get positively threadbare this week. Ervin Santana, the Twins’ Opening Day starter, could join the Dominican Republic’s WBC team this week.
“We’re doing some dancing here a little bit,” manager Paul Molitor said of his pitching plans. “We’re still trying to sort it all out.”
Santana’s possible absence comes as a surprise, since the 34-year-old righthander had said he preferred to stay with the Twins rather than take part in the WBC. But Santana came to Molitor on Saturday and said he’s been contacted about the possibility of joining the Dominican team for the next round, which begins in San Diego on Tuesday.
By Sunday, Santana had not been told definitively that he’s needed.
Molitor said he and Twins CBO Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine discussed Santana’s participation, “and we won’t stand in his way,” Molitor said from Bradenton.
Kepler throws out Flaherty at second
Offense ruled in the game at Fort Myers, but there were a few strong defensive plays — including one in the second inning by Max Kepler.
Ryan Flaherty lined a hit down the right field line that looked like a double. Kepler, however, raced to the ball and got off a quick throw that bounced a few times but was accurate enough for Jorge Polanco to tag Flaherty out as he tried to advance to second.
A year ago, Kepler might not have made the play. Poor footwork after running down balls cost Kepler time to throw some runners out, but he’s been working on it during camp.
“He got to the ball and got rid of it,” said bench coach Joe Vavra, who ran the team while Molitor was in Bradenton. “He threw a strike. The pace of the game, the speed of the game has really [slowed down].”
Matt Hague doubled three times in the Twins’ split-squad game in Bradenton, bringing his spring total to a Grapefruit League-leading six doubles. “We didn’t know a lot about him,” Molitor said of the 31-year-old first baseman, “but the at-bats he’s gotten here, he’s taken advantage.”
Daniel Palka and Travis Harrison homered for the Twins in Bradenton. “That was good to see,” Molitor said of Palka’s first spring homer, a two-run, opposite-field blast off a changeup from Trevor Williams. “I’ve been watching him, because he’s coming off an impressive year. We’re trying to improve his hitting skills; we know he’s got impressive power skills.”
Byron Buxton led off the first inning in Fort Myers with a long home run to left, the ball landing under the new scoreboard. “He’s in attack mode,” Vavra said. “He’s seeing the ball well. That’s encouraging.”
Rule 5 pick Justin Haley will get the start Monday when the Twins play host to Tampa Bay. Righthander Jose De Leon will start for the Rays.
La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller