FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins cut four players from camp Saturday — including Aaron Hicks and Trevor May — but the most emotional person at Hammond Stadium was someone who is still on the team.
Righthander Mike Pelfrey, who has pitched well this spring, was told that he was going to start the season in the bullpen. That didn’t sit well with him.
When asked if he would be open to a trade if a team wanted him as a starter, Pelfrey said, “Yes, it’s frustrating after all the hard work I put in.”
He then offered assurances that he was going to be professional and not have problems with the coaching staff.
Pelfrey’s reaction was the strongest at a time when much is at stake and roster decisions can wear on emotions. Hicks, May and Eddie Rosario were optioned to Class AAA Rochester while reliever Mark Hamburger and catcher Dan Rohlfing were reassigned to the minor league camp. That leaves the Twins with 30 players, meaning five more have to be cut before Opening Day.
With May sent to Rochester and Pelfrey pitching out of the bullpen, Tommy Milone won the battle for the No. 5 starter’s role after the lefthander went 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four appearances in major league spring training games. Pelfrey, trying to revive his career following two ineffective and injury-plagued seasons, is 0-2 with a 1.32 ERA over four appearances. In his eyes, he shouldn’t be in the bullpen.
“I know what I was told during the offseason about my opportunity,” Pelfrey said. “I know I didn’t get outpitched. Obviously, they did it for another reason I don’t understand and, I guess, don’t have to. I’m going to go to the pen.”
Pelfrey, 5-16 with a 5.56 ERA in two seasons with the Twins, has never been a reliever and will have to adjust to getting ready in a hurry. Twins manager Paul Molitor told Pelfrey he will use him to start innings to avoid him being rushed to the mound in the middle of an inning. The manager was surprised to learn of Pelfrey’s comments.
“I tried to be as transparent and forthcoming as I could, and truthful,” Molitor said.
Pelfrey, 31, wonders if he got a fair shot.
“My question to them was if [the competition] was really open,” Pelfrey said. “I don’t know if it was. They claim it was. We can agree to disagree, I guess. Because I didn’t get outpitched.”
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan twice said, “We’ve been good to Mike,” while expressing hope he would accept the role.
“As we know, we’re going to go through a number of starting pitchers here,” Ryan said. “Historically it’s just the way it is. I would like to think he would go in the pen and get some guys out. And if an opening occurs he would be a guy we would consider.”
Hicks could have been the frustrated one Saturday, as his career is at a crossroads after sporadic displays of his talents. The No. 14 overall pick in the 2008 draft batted .206 in 13 games, and his spring will be remembered for the March 10 game against Toronto in which he was benched for not remembering how many were out.
“The bottom line was that he didn’t perform particularly well,” Molitor said.
Hicks, 25, felt his swing was coming around and thought his defense was fine, but he just didn’t put up the numbers. And he didn’t think Saturday was that much of a setback.
“I don’t want this to set me back, because I don’t think it is,” He said. “I feel like this is a chance for me to get to Triple-A and do what I need to do to get back to the big leagues and go from there.”
The big winners are Jordan Schafer and nonroster invitee Shane Robinson, who will split time in center field, though they could be in the outfield together based on matchups. At least for now, as Ryan said the club could bring in a center fielder from outside the organization.
“Don’t put that in stone,” Ryan said of a Schafer-Robinson pairing.
Eduardo Escobar also will be used in the outfield as well as infield.
The remaining camp battles center around the bullpen, where one spot appears to be available and Caleb Thielbar and Aaron Thompson are in contention.
Chris Herrmann, Eric Fryer and Josmil Pinto remain in contention for the backup catcher spot. Pinto, coming back from a concussion, could be cleared to play Monday.
The happiest player on Saturday was Milone, who looked awful last season when called up during the second half, then had a benign tumor removed from his neck during the offseason.
“The job is not over, though,” Milone said. “The next job is to keep it.”