BOSTON – For the first time since 2007, a Venezuelan pitcher named Johan (or something really close) will start for the Twins on Thursday. Maybe they’ll give him No. 57, just to see if the magic still works.
Yohan Pino — a righthander, not a lefty like two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana — will be promoted from Class AAA Rochester when the Twins return home, and will make his major league debut against the White Sox on Thursday night in place of Samuel Deduno.
“He’s been lights-out, pitching fantastic,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, who added that the decision came from the front office. “This is who they decided they want to give a shot to. He’s worked very hard, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s exciting for him, first time in the big leagues. Pretty cool.”
Pino, a 30-year-old breaking-ball specialist who has spent 10 years bouncing around the minor leagues, leads the International League in wins (9-1), is second in ERA (1.92), and allows hitters to bat only .187 against him.
On a Red Wings staff full of success stories, Pino’s is the best, the Twins decided.
“They’re all pitching well … but it’s time we find out about him,” said Rob Antony, assistant general manager. “He deserves an opportunity.”
It’s the same opportunity Deduno received when Mike Pelfrey went on the disabled list last month, an opportunity that Deduno fumbled away by giving up 18 runs in only 16 innings during his last four starts. The Dominican righthander will be sent back to the bullpen, where he posted a 2.89 ERA in seven appearances.
“I’m disappointed a little bit because I wanted the ball again,” Deduno said. “But I’m still happy because I’m still here. … I said thank you, because they’re keeping me here. I’ve just got to keep my head up and keep working hard.”
But if Deduno is staying, who is going? Antony said the Twins have made that decision preliminarily, but won’t announce anything until Thursday.
Would they send Pedro Florimon back to Rochester? Gardenhire said he doesn’t want to play with a short bench, as he is already while Eduardo Nunez tries to come back from a hamstring injury. Would they drop a reliever? The only relievers with ERAs above 4.00 are Jared Burton, who has pitched well in some critical situations lately, and Anthony Swarzak, a bullpen-saver who leads the Twins in relief innings pitched.
“We’ll make that call on Thursday,” Antony said.
A partnership between the Twins and the St. Paul Saints is conceivable, officials of both teams said Tuesday, but many hurdles would have to be cleared. For one thing, the Saints are not in an MLB-affiliated league at the moment, and the Twins have a contract with Class A Cedar Rapids, an affiliate they are happy with, through 2016.
“There are aspects that make sense,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. “It’s something that will require additional dialogue and I think those discussions will take place.”
Said Saints GM Derek Sharrer, whose team moves into a new downtown ballpark next summer, “There’s some excitement when you think about the possibility … but it is a lot of moving parts.”
• Aaron Hicks will report to Class AA New Britain on Wednesday to begin a rehab stint for his sore shoulder. He’ll also play right field part of the time, Antony said, to increase his versatility.
• Nunez ran some stairs Tuesday, but was unavailable again with a strained hamstring. He said he hopes to be available Wednesday and definitely by the time the Twins arrive home Thursday. His manager is getting impatient. “I don’t like playing with three guys on the bench. I said I don’t want to go too long here [without Nunez], and it’s longer than I’ve already wanted,” Gardenhire said. “He says he’ll be available tomorrow, we’ll see. But we’re playing short, and I don’t like that.”
• Outfielder Jason Kubel cleared release waivers and became a free agent Tuesday.
• Gardenhire said he switched back to a Brian Dozier-Joe Mauer alignment in the 2-3 spots in his lineup after reversing them Sunday in Detroit because “I really didn’t like it once we got out on the field. Once the game got going, I didn’t feel right with it. To me, [Danny] Santana-Dozier-Mauer is a natural progression. So I flipped it back.”