SEATTLE – Paul Molitor was standing in the dugout in the fifth inning Wednesday when someone in a Twins uniform walked up and introduced himself. I’m Chris Heston, the newcomer said, nice to meet you.
“Then I headed to the bullpen,” Heston said. “Everyone out there was really nice, too.”
So ended one of the more hectic days in the life of a ballplayer. Heston was relaxing in a hotel in Des Moines in the morning, expecting to start that night for the Oklahoma City Dodgers, when his cellphone buzzed with the news that he had been claimed by the Twins. He rushed to the airport, flew to Chicago, then caught a flight west to Seattle, arriving at the ballpark halfway through the game.
“It happened very fast,” he said of his sudden career change.
The timing of the Twins’ claim was especially favorable for the 29-year-old sinkerballer, who has pitched for two major league teams: the Giants and Mariners. Naturally, he joined the Twins in Seattle, on their way to San Francisco for the weekend.
“I’ve pitched in these ballparks before. And seeing some of my buddies — I have an idea how to pitch them,” Heston said. “I think it’ll be good.”
Especially on Friday, the two-year anniversary of his career highlight: The day he no-hit the Mets in Citi Field. His wife was there, as was his high school coach, and they witnessed him throwing the most effective sinkers he’s ever had.
“I was able to command the sinker on both sides of the plate, and my breaking ball was keeping guys off balance all night,” Heston said of that memorable night, which included 11 strikeouts and no walks. Only three hit batters prevented a perfect game. “I wasn’t really sure it had happened [after the last out]. But my teammates made it awesome for me.”
Heston, who can be optioned to the minors without passing through waivers if the Twins choose, has not pitched in a game since June 1, but he threw a get-acquainted bullpen session for pitching coach Neil Allen on Thursday.
Hector Santiago was examined by Dr. John Steubs in the Twin Cities on Thursday, and the diagnosis was as mild as the Twins had hoped: He has a muscle strain in the back of his pitching shoulder, but no serious damage. Santiago will be eligible to pitch again June 17, when the Twins play a doubleheader against Cleveland.
But that leaves the matter of Sunday’s start in San Francisco unsettled.
Molitor has been consulting with General Manager Thad Levine in Minneapolis, “and we’re looking at the options within, on the club,” Molitor said, “and what options might be out there.”
Heston is one possibility, since he has 33 major league starts to his name, including 16 at AT&T Park, where his ERA is 3.97. Or the Twins could call up someone from the minor leagues, though Class AA righthander Felix Jorge is the only starter on the 40-man roster, and he threw 104 pitches Wednesday.
“I’m pretty familiar with what most of our guys are doing at Triple-A and Double-A,” Molitor said.
Polanco back Monday
Jorge Polanco attended the funeral of his grandfather, Maximo Polanco, in the Dominican Republic on Thursday, and the Twins shortstop will return from the bereavement list Monday, when the Mariners come to Target Field.
“I know today was going to be a hard day for him,” Molitor said. “I’m sure we’ll find out how he’s doing.”
Given that the Twins will be 3,500 miles from Polanco’s homeland this weekend, the manager said has no objection to Polanco rejoining the team in Minnesota. Especially since he’s not certain he would play the shortstop immediately if he flew to the West Coast.
“It’s not only when he might return, but also the toll it might take on him, between the emotional toll and physically not playing a game since Sunday,” Molitor said. “He hasn’t swung a bat in a week, [so] I’m not sure about jumping right back in after four or five days.”