Rob Antony insisted Tuesday that he rather would keep Ervin Santana than trade him, a position, the Twins interim general manager was told, that sounded like an attempt to raise his asking price ahead of next Monday’s trade deadline. “Did it work?” Antony joked.
Maybe so. But the command Santana displayed a couple of hours later probably did far more to increase interest in the veteran righthander than any sales pitch. Santana needed only 97 pitches to retire the Braves, recording his second complete game of the month — and taking the loss anyway, 2-0 to Atlanta at Target Center in a matchup of the worst teams in each league.
On a night when the Twins celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 1991 World Series championship over the Braves, Santana stirred echoes of Jack Morris’ Game 7 masterpiece. “I asked [manager Paul Molitor] if I could pitch the 10th if we tied it,” Santana said. “He said, ‘You got it.’ ”
It remains to be seen if a contender will decide Santana should be pitching like that in a pennant race later this year. “He’s experienced, and he’s shown that he can go deep into a season,” Molitor said. “I’m sure that that would be an appealing starter to add to anyone’s rotation.”
Santana will turn 34 in December, and in mid-June, his record stood at 1-7 with a 5.10 ERA. Along with the $13.5 million salaries he is owed in 2017 and 2018, he is the sort of player a last-place team like the Twins might be expected to unload.
But the Twins clearly don’t expect to be a last-place team next year, and Antony said Santana is better than any pitcher they could find at that price in the free-agent market. “I’m not sure we’re looking to trade a starting pitcher we believe can help us. That would be spinning our wheels,” Antony said. “If he’s going, it’s going to be in a good baseball trade where we believe we got fair return. But I’ll be honest, I’m not calling anybody trying to move him.”
The Braves could offer a recommendation to anyone considering a deal. Adonis Garcia clobbered a second-inning slider that didn’t sink into the left-field stands, and A.J. Pierzynski threaded a line drive inches inside the foul line for a third-inning double, then scored on a double play. After that, however, Santana let only two Atlanta hitters reach second base, and he quickly quashed both “threats” with ground-ball outs.
Santana did more than enough to earn his fourth win of the season, but the Twins couldn’t support him against Lucas Harrell, who pitched six scoreless innings for the first time since June 9, 2013. Eduardo Nunez reached third base twice in the first three innings, but both times he was stranded there. The Twins went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and were shut out for the fifth time this season.
Working the phones
Antony said he is having regular discussions with other teams about potential trades, and “I’m encouraged” by the response. “We’ve gotten deeper into discussion and talked about some names, how they would fit into what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
Those names figure to be minor league prospects, though. “In most conversations about our players, we’re talking about younger players coming back,” Antony said. “I think it’s fair to say we’d like to bolster our pitching depth, particularly our starting pitching. I don’t think we have a lot of guys that are right on the cusp, so if we’re able to acquire starting pitching, I would like to do that.”
• Third baseman Trevor Plouffe could begin a rehab assignment as soon as next week, Molitor said, after making significant progress while the team was on the road last week. Plouffe, out since July 2 because of a fractured rib, hit 30-40 balls off a tee Monday and has been taking ground balls in the field. Molitor said Plouffe will take live batting practice Saturday, and if there are no setbacks, the team will establish a timeline for his return.
• Kurt Suzuki was back in the lineup, three days after the catcher required seven stitches to close a gash in his chin caused by a foul ball in Boston. “Kurt has been proven to be a warrior, time and time again,” Molitor said.