Tuesday marked the 23rd day that the Twins have been without a true starting rotation, more than three weeks since Adalberto Mejia was demoted to Class AAA Rochester, and manager Paul Molitor admits he sort of misses the steadiness that having five reliable starting pitchers brings.
“It would be nice to get into a little bit of a rhythm that way,” he said. “It hasn’t hurt us a ton that we haven’t had a set five to this point. But if we get there, and feel like from top to bottom we’re in good shape, it would be a settling thing.”
Instead, uncertainty has surrounded the identity of the Twins’ starter on each of the first two Saturdays of May, and this Saturday will make it three in a row. Nick Tepesch (it didn’t go well) and Jose Berrios (it went spectacularly well) made their 2017 debuts the past two weekends, and now Molitor must choose another starter, who may or may not be on the current roster, for Saturday’s matchup with Kansas City.
Well, unless bad weather intervenes. Rain is in the forecast for Wednesday, making a Thursday doubleheader a distinct, staff-scrambling possibility.
That’s why, when asked Tuesday about this weekend’s plans, Molitor played it coy.
“I know who it might be,” the manager told reporters. “No need to put it out there until we decide to make it final.”
Still, the candidates appear obvious: Mejia, the lefthander who posted a 5.79 ERA in three starts before being jettisoned; Kyle Gibson, who had an 8.20 ERA in six starts before being demoted; and Tepesch, who gave up seven runs, albeit six unearned, and retired only five batters in his lone audition on the last homestand. Because 10 days have not lapsed since Tepesch’s demotion, it would require the Twins putting another player on the disabled list for him to be eligible to return.
The Twins might have tipped their plans in Rochester, however. Mejia, who returned to the Red Wings after the weekend birth of his child, allowed one hit and no runs in three innings against Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, and was removed after throwing only 33 pitches. That could be an indication that Mejia, who has a 3.48 ERA in four minor-league starts, will be called back up to the Twins this weekend.
Eddie Rosario had batted ninth in five games this season, and Byron Buxton was eighth three times. But they never had been in that order in the same lineup until Tuesday, when Molitor deployed his 31st lineup of the season in the team’s 35th game.
Both of them went 1-for-3 Tuesday, with Buxton hitting his second homer of the season.
The reason for this specific move was Rosario’s relative lack of power against lefthanders, with Kyle Freeland on the mound for Colorado. But in general, Molitor said, he’s learned to be more flexible in his lineups this season, and more aware of alignments suggested by data.
“I’ve tried to use more information to [determine] not only who plays, but where they might hit,” he said. “Sometimes you get hunches about who’s swinging well, but there’s more [data] to look at in pretty much every area that you get on a day-to-day basis.”
That includes additional advance scouting reports, but also new information developed in-house.
“Coach Jeff Pickler has been doing a lot of research on some things that might help,” Molitor said. Making out the lineup card has become more time-consuming, he said, “because we have such extended resources, but it’s also kind of fun to sift through some of those things. The personal aspect still comes into play, but you still try to use the information that you can.”
• LaTroy Hawkins made his broadcast debut Tuesday, working with Dick Bremer on the Fox Sports North telecast. The pairing was appropriate, because the Twins and Rockies are the two teams for whom he played more than 100 games during his major league career.