Jason Bartlett will head Sunday to Fort Myers, Fla., on board with the plan to get him as many at-bats as he needs to get going at the plate.
Bartlett is on the disabled list because of a sprained left ankle and will begin a rehabilitation stint while with Class A Fort Myers, but the Twins see it as a chance to sharpen his swing after the veteran shortstop went 4-for-43 in spring training. Utility players are not expected to generate a lot of offense, but they are expected to at least be functional.
“I need it,” said Bartlett, who before the opening week of this season last played in the majors in May 2012, sitting out all of 2013. “I felt good coming out of spring and, obviously, when you sit there [on the bench] you lose it. I feel good in the cage, but it’s a matter of seeing something. I’m excited to get back out there and start playing every day and see if I can come back up here and help the team.”
Bartlett, who will work out with the Gulf Coast League Twins a few days before joining the Miracle, is expected to eventually rejoin the major league team. But what if he doesn’t find his groove?
“We haven’t talked about that,” assistant General Manager Rob Antony said. “We talked about him getting down there and getting at-bats.”
The plan is for Bartlett to end up with Class AAA Rochester before completing his rehab assignment, which can last up to 21 days.
Outfielder Josh Willingham had a magnetic resonance imaging exam on his left wrist Saturday. While leaving for his appointment, he expressed confidence, saying, “They aren’t going to find anything.”
The Twins ran out of patience in playing shorthanded, making the move to call up righthander Michael Tonkin. Willingham was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 6. There’s a chance that Willingham could also go down to Fort Myers to get some swings in.
Tonkin’s return gives the Twins 13 pitchers. With an off day every week in April, it appeared the last thing they would need would be an extra pitcher. But that was before the run of short starts.
So the Twins decided to beef up the bullpen with Tonkin’s fastball. He had thrown 4⅔ scoreless innings at Rochester with no walks and five strikeouts when he was called up to replace Willingham.
“You have to roll with the situation,” acting Twins manager Terry Steinbach said, “and our bullpen has been used a little more than we wanted it to because of our starting rotation situation. So if we can get a little help, a little bit of breathing room, we’ll see how this thing rolls on and get back to that four-person bench.”
That leaves the Twins with a three-man bench. Saturday, it consisted of Chris Herrmann, Eduardo Escobar and Darin Mastroianni. Herrmann’s presence is important because it makes it easier for the Twins to use catcher Josmil Pinto as a designated hitter.
Pinto homered Friday and was 1-for-4 in Saturday’s 7-1 victory over Kansas City. He will get his turns behind the plate as Kurt Suzuki’s backup, but the Twins want his bat in the lineup when he isn’t catching.
“Let’s face it,” Steinbach said. “To have pop in our lineup is something we have been striving for a long time. He showed us in the three weeks he was up last year what he can do to the offense. He had a nice spring for us, and we’re going to try to get him in there as much as we can, as well as try to get him behind the plate.”