One day after he found himself so short of outfielders, he had to send an infielder to left field, Ron Gardenhire found himself confronting an unexpected problem: too many outfielders.
That’s because, with Darin Mastroianni on the disabled list for three weeks because of a stress reaction in his left ankle, 21-year-old Oswaldo Arcia returned to the Twins on Wednesday morning, less than 36 hours after he left. And while he will fill Mastroianni’s roster spot, Gardenhire doesn’t want him to fill Mastroianni’s part-time utility role.
“We’re going to get him as many games as we can,” Gardenhire said when Arcia was recalled from Class AAA Rochester, because it makes little sense to staple a young hitter to the bench when he needs at-bats to learn.
Trouble is, Josh Willingham plays every day in left field, and Chris Parmelee has started 11 of the Twins’ 13 games in right. Aaron Hicks is batting only .044 in center field, but Arcia has played only four games in center the past two seasons. “I like Arcia in the corners,” Gardenhire said.
So how do you give all four regular playing time?
“People are going to need days off. You’re going to have to give guys some breaks,” Gardenhire said. “Willingham’s going to have his days [off]. Parmelee can use a day here. There’s [designated hitter]. We’ll just figure it out. It’s never a bad problem to have enough good hitters, and [Arcia] is a good hitter.”
Arcia was in Gardenhire’s lineup Wednesday before the series finale with the Angels was rained out, batting seventh and playing right field in place of Parmelee, who is 1-for-11 in his past three games. The Venezuelan outfielder, rated among the Twins’ top hitting prospects, could also take Ryan Doumit’s place as designated hitter every so often, as Gardenhire pointed out, or play right on a day when Parmelee moves to first base to give Justin Morneau a day off.
“We’ll find playing time,” Gardenhire vowed. “We’ve got a lot of options.”
Mastroianni’s injury — it’s an aggravation of the bruised shin he suffered in spring training, and will require him to wear a walking boot for 10-14 days, then do at least a week of rehab — means the Twins have far fewer options in center field. For one thing, they don’t have a natural backup at the position; Gardenhire said he would use Wilkin Ramirez in center if necessary, though he, too, has played there only four times in the past two seasons, or infielder Eduardo Escobar, who played left when Ramirez left the game because of a back bruise Tuesday.
The situation seems to be a reprieve for Hicks, who has only two hits in 45 at-bats this season and was removed from the leadoff spot Tuesday. Any thought of demoting him to Class AAA likely evaporated when Mastroianni went down. With Joe Benson batting .171 at Rochester and Clete Thomas not on the 40-man roster, the Twins have little choice but to stick with Hicks and hope his performance at the plate improves.
Or do they?
“If we had those decisions to make [about sending him down], maybe we might not be looking at some other options,” assistant general manager Rob Antony said Wednesday.
Antony didn’t elaborate on those options, but the Rangers put outfielder Julio Borbon, a career .283 hitter, on waivers earlier in the day, and the Twins, by virtue of their 66-96 record a year ago, are fourth in line behind the Astros, Cubs and Rockies if they want to claim him by noon Friday. Of course, if the Twins coveted Borbon, they could have worked out a trade with Texas for him.
And Antony said the Twins still have confidence in their 23-year-old rookie. “This guy is a big part of what we’re trying to do in our future. We want to try to do everything right by the kid,” Antony said, “and so we’re going to give the kid every opportunity to get out of this.”
It’s coming soon, Hicks said confidently. “I’ve been playing good defense, scoring some runs, had my first stolen base. As long as I’m doing that, I feel like I’m helping the team,” he said. “It’s a process. It’s only a matter of time until I get back to the leadoff spot.”