The numbers from Louie Varland's last Class AAA start weren't good, giving up seven hits and five earned runs in five innings, but there is one pitch that invites more optimism.

Varland is throwing his changeup far more often with the Saints than he did in the major leagues. He threw 33 changeups Wednesday, which is five more than he threw across four starts for the Twins before his demotion.

The results from his changeup, according to Statcast, were seven swings-and-misses in 15 swings. Three of his six strikes came via his changeup. He's using a different grip than he did last year, and the Twins are hopeful it will become more of a weapon in two-strike counts.

"I'm very coachable," Varland said. "I always preach that to any younger pitcher or athlete in general that I encounter. Be coachable because you are never a finished product, so I have that going for me. I mean, I've thrown a changeup in the past. It's not brand new to me at all. It's just a different grip here and there, and I found one that's been working."

The Twins sent Varland to the St. Paul Saints with three main areas of emphasis: throw his changeup more often, improve the movement on his cutter and execute better in two-strike counts.

The 26-year-old North St. Paul native yielded 27 hits and 17 earned runs in 16⅔ innings with the Twins this season. In his last start, on April 21, he issued four walks and hit a batter while throwing fewer than half of his pitches for strikes. The Twins announced his demotion the next day.

"Everything I wanted was to break with the team as a starting pitcher," Varland said. "I got everything I worked for, asked for and dreamt of, but it just did not go my way. I mean, I kind of saw it coming. I for sure was in a bad spot. I was getting hit, and some outings, I walked a lot of people. I had to work on stuff and it's hard to work on stuff in the big leagues when your career is on the line."

Through four Class AAA starts, Varland owns a 4.57 ERA with 27 strikeouts and five walks in 21⅔ innings. There is a balance between focusing on results and working on development. He went from throwing his changeup four times in his first minor league outing to 16 times in his second start.

The Twins are committed to keeping Varland as a starter, at least for now. Simeon Woods Richardson filled his spot in the rotation, but the Twins will need more than five starters to make it through the final 4½ months of the season.

Was Varland worried he might lose his opportunity to remain as a starter?

"It hasn't crossed my mind," he said. "I try to take it day by day and start by start. At the end of the day, whatever happens, happens. I'm trying to help the big-league team win games no matter what the role is, whether I'm starter depth at AAA, a reliever at AAA, a reliever in the big leagues — it doesn't matter. I'm just trying to win games."

As frustrating as it is to be in the minor leagues after making the Opening Day roster, Varland says it's been productive.

"I can come out here, work on stuff, and when I do come up back up to the major leagues," Varland said, "I'll be a better pitcher."


• Major League Baseball announced former Twins All-Star Nelson Cruz joined the Commissioner's Office as a consultant, with a focus on Latin American topics. "Since I signed out of the Dominican Republic as a teenager, I've cared deeply about the issues affecting that country, and the game as a whole," Cruz said in a statement.

• The Saints' game against Omaha at CHS Field was suspended by rain in the fourth inning tied 2-2. The game will resume at 1:07 p.m. Saturday and be followed by a seven-inning game.