The Twins' efforts to restore Alexander Colome's late-inning effectiveness by giving him some low-pressure appearances is showing results.
"He's looked sharp," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Colome, the Twins' most expensive free-agent signing last winter. Pitching coach Wes Johnson has been working with the former Rays and White Sox closer, and says he believes the righthander has made necessary adjustments.
"There are some kind of nuanced things that Wes has been noticing with his execution and the cutter in particular, the way he's throwing the ball that Wes really likes," Baldelli said. "Not just the results but some of the things that come in behind it."
Colome has pitched four times this month, three of them in the seventh inning, and he has yet to allow a run in five total innings. His strike percentage has risen, and he hasn't allowed a baserunner in the last two appearances.
That's a welcome change from a horrific April, in which Colome allowed runs to score in six of his nine appearances, nearly all of them with games at stake. His ERA has declined from 8.31 entering the month to 5.27 now, and Baldelli hinted that the veteran could work his way into the back end of the bullpen. Of course, the Twins, with only 12 wins all season, haven't faced a save opportunity since May 6. They are 5-for-12 in save opportunities this year.
"He may find himself in some different types of ballgames, as we've talked about," Baldelli said. "Our bullpen has been used and used a lot, where we've had to turn to any number of guys to get outs for us. So Alex will be continue to be asked to just be ready to pitch. He could find himself in a game where we're up two, tied, or down two, and he'll be ready to go."
Cave has back trouble
Jake Cave was unavailable Friday, and might be for awhile.
The outfielder was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his lower back, the Twins announced after Friday's 6-1 loss to Oakland, and will be re-evaluated Saturday. If the injury is enough to keep him out of the lineup for a few days, which seems likely, Cave probably will be placed on the injured list, because Max Kepler is the only other outfielder on the active roster with experience in center field.
With Byron Buxton and Alex Kirilloff already on the injured list, an injury to Cave, who is batting .167 in 31 games, could open an opportunity for veteran major leaguer Keon Broxton.
Meanwhile, Andrelton Simmons returned to the Twins' lineup on Friday, the inflammation in his right ankle having subsided.
Kirilloff gets ready
The ramp-up to Kirilloff's return has begun.
The Twins' top hitting prospect took ground balls at first base on Friday and hit off a tee in the indoor batting cage, a sign that his right wrist is improving.
"He's been out there playing catch, moving around. [He's been] on the field a few times over the last few days," Baldelli said. "It's been a nice progression for AK."
If this injury responds as other wrist injuries do, a couple of days of hitting in the cage will be followed by a couple of days of hitting in the outdoor cage, followed by a couple of days of hitting live pitching. Kirilloff has not played since May 3, so his return could require a few games with St. Paul before he is deemed ready.
The last time the Twins faced Oakland, back on April 21, Travis Blankenhorn booted a ground ball that would have ended a Twins' victory. Given a second chance, the A's rallied to victory instead.
By coincidence, Blankenhorn's career with the Twins ended on the day the A's arrived in Minnesota. The Dodgers claimed the 2015 third-round pick off waivers, adding the utility infielder to their roster three days after the Twins designated him for assignment to make room for reliever Derek Law.
Blankenhorn appeared in two games with the Twins, going 1-for-3 with a double in his lone start last September in Chicago.
The Twins had their largest crowd of the season at Target Field, which raised its allowable capacity to 23,000 for the remainder of May. And along with the increased capacity came a new mask policy, too.
Fans are encouraged to wear masks, the Twins said in a statement, but they will no longer be mandatory in most seating areas. Following the new guidance by the Center for Disease Control, only in the ballpark's indoor bars and restaurants will masks be required.
"The more we can get back to returning to actual big-league ballgames, where the crowd becomes a factor in those games — that's the goal, that's what we're excited about seeing," Baldelli said. "So I think everyone on the field will have a smile on their face going out there and seeing all the other faces in the crowd."