Eddie Rosario didn’t play Friday. Robbie Grossman sat out Saturday. Byron Buxton wasn’t in Sunday’s lineup, because Danny Santana hadn’t played in a week. Max Kepler got to play all three games, and he reminded everyone why by lining a home run into Target Field’s right-field stands, the Twins’ only offense in their low-wattage 6-1 loss to the Indians at Target Field.
This is Paul Molitor’s new reality, and not just in the outfield: He has a roster full of players who expect to play, and who can make a pretty good case that these at-bats are critical to their development.
“It’s not like I have a set nine,” said Molitor, the manager who on Sunday used his 81st lineup in his team’s 91st game of the season. “I’ve got to find ways, at least for now, to try to win games and still try to get everyone an opportunity to play the best I can.”
The Twins opened the second half of a lost season this weekend with some mediocre baseball, the momentum of their pinball-score finish last week lost over the four-day All-Star break, and Sunday’s game way emblematic.
The pitching has been ordinary. Kyle Gibson gave up at least a hit in every inning Sunday and surrendered four runs, the seventh time in 11 starts he has done so. The defense has been problematic — Gibson’s start was sabotaged in part by a bobbled double-play ball and Santana’s ugly misread of a catchable fly ball that fell for a double. And the hitting has been vulnerable to strike-throwers — Josh Tomlin let only two Twins reach third base, competing a weekend in which Cleveland starters gave up a combined six earned runs.
“We didn’t come out swinging, the way we [did] down in Texas,” Molitor said. “So it’s a little disappointing not to win the series.”
Maybe so, but winning series becomes less and less important than finding out whether Santana has a future on this team, if Kepler’s astonishing newfound power is permanent, and whether Grossman or Rosario deserve to be everyday players. Then there’s Miguel Sano’s shaky transition to third base, Kennys Vargas’ latest and perhaps last opportunity, Buxton’s strikeout habit and the abrupt transition of Eduardo Nunez from utility guy to infield fixture.
Even Molitor doesn’t know what he’s got here anymore. He just wishes he had about 12 spots in his lineup, not nine.
“I can sit here and speculate about who I think might be [cornerstone] ‘guys,’ but I could be wrong. We’ve been wrong about other people,” Molitor said. “So am I going to take away playing time from certain people [in order] to try to get people who might be those guys at-bats?
“… There’s no black-and-white answer. It’s not a rotation [among his outfielders] as much as, I’d like to keep those at-bats somewhat balanced and see how it plays out.”
Trouble is, hitting and defense both might suffer if playing time is inconsistent. Grossman, Rosario, Kepler and Santana combined to go 2-for-14 Sunday, though admittedly Tomlin had a lot to do with it. Santana, who has started in center just twice in two weeks, made a costly gaffe with two outs in the sixth by taking three steps forward on Abraham Almonte’s deep fly ball, before suddenly sprinting back to the fence. By the time the ball arrived, Santana could only wave his glove as it bounced into the bullpen for a ground-rule double. Handed an extra out by the Twins defense, Cleveland catcher Chris Gimenez quickly cashed it in, lining a first-pitch single into left field, scoring both runs to put the Indians up 4-0.
Will Santana play Monday? Maybe, maybe not. There are a lot of mouths to feed here.
“It’s hard for these guys to believe that how they perform on a given day is not going to dictate whether they play the next day. I’ve tried to make that message heard, but obviously when you’re not playing, you probably do a little bit,” Molitor said. “I try to keep it fair, and try to find out about questions we’d like