TORONTO – Hector Santiago displayed his left thumb, the one he uses to dig his thumbnail into the seams of a ball in order to get the tightest possible grip.
The side of the thumb was bright red, the skin worn down in the middle. The thumbnail was dark purple along the bottom third, with blood trapped underneath.
“It’s calmed down a lot the last few days. It definitely feels better,” the Twins lefthander said. But before that? “You know when you hit your thumb with a hammer and you feel that tingling going through it? That’s what it felt like for two months.”
Yes, the bruised thumb that caused the Twins to postpone Santiago’s next start by three days — he will pitch Monday in Cleveland — actually predates his Aug. 1 trade from the Angels by several weeks. “I went back and watched a [July 2] start against Boston. I threw a pitch and you can see me [grimace] from the pain,” Santiago said. “That was almost two months ago, so it’s not like this just came up. But it got really bad about 10 days ago.”
The extra time off has paid off, he believes. Santiago played catch Friday for the first time in a week, then threw a bullpen session Saturday, and believes the bruise has healed enough to allow him to grip like he needs to. “There were days when it was throbbing before I even got to the park, but that’s over,” he said.
Did the thumb cause his four-game streak of ineffectiveness with the Twins, a month that has resulted in a 10.89 ERA with his new team? It’s not that simple, he said; he was pitching with the soreness during his six-win July, too. “But not having that throbbing in there anymore has to help,” he said.
With Alex Wimmers’ debut Friday, the Twins have used a franchise-record 29 pitchers, and 47 players overall, just one off the team record, in 2016.
It’s hard on players, with so many being sent to the minors or going on the disabled list, but it’s difficult for coaches, too.
“It’s kind of had a spring training feel lately,” pitching coach Neil Allen said. “It’s hard to establish relationships with guys who are coming and going all the time, but it’s my job to help these young men who come up here to be as comfortable as I can and not put any pressure on them.”
He wasn’t able to do it enough for Jose Berrios, Allen said, and that’s frustrating.
“His last side session up here was the most impressive side I’ve had since I’ve been here. But when you’re 22 years old, it’s still hard to retain what you were doing when the seats were empty and repeat it when they’re full,” Allen said. “He gets back to slinging the ball. He’s got to understand there’s a reason we work on the things we do. And he will. He knows that he’s being touted very highly, and so he puts a lot of pressure on himself. It’s hard for him to relax.”
• The quad muscles in Joe Mauer’s legs are still sore, but three days of idling were enough, he decided Saturday. “He’s doing better,” manager Paul Molitor said. “I don’t think [the mild pain] has completely disappeared, but he’s at the point where he just wants to play.” Mauer went 0-for-5, extending his slump to 1-for-21 since Aug. 18.
• Tyler Duffey will start for Class AAA Rochester on Monday vs. Scranton-Wilkes Barre and Berrios will start against Syracuse on Wednesday. With the International League season ending Labor Day, that allows both righthanders to get a second minor league start in, too.