MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Despite moving some 90 miles down I-94, the Minnesota Twins look drastically different on Monday than they did Sunday at Wrigley Field at the conclusion of the Chicago Cubs series — a three-game sweep under difficult weather conditions.
Here’s a look at the roster moves made to get the Twins to the 25-man roster they’ll use to tangle with the Milwaukee Brewers as the July 4 holiday approaches:
- Jorge Polanco activated from the restricted list
- Ehire Adrianza placed on the 10-day disabled list (left hamstring strain)
- Ryan LaMarre designated for assignment
- Byron Buxton activated from disabled list, optioned to Triple-A Rochester
- Adalberto Mejia sent to Triple-A Rochester
- Zack Littell recalled from Triple-A Rochester
For now, this means the roster spots of players like Willians Astudillo, Jake Cave and Matt Belisle are safe as the Twins experience roster churn amidst falling a season-high 10 games under .500.
Adrianza’s injury comes at a reasonable time for the Twins with Polanco returning, but certainly not a great time for him. The defensively-minded shortstop had rounded into form nicely at the plate in Polanco’s absence, hitting a career-best .261/.314/.410 on the season, including an excellent .296/.345/.506 since June 1.
Adrianza had been dealing with the hamstring for a while, and was disappointed to hit the disabled list with the injury.
“He’s been dealing with a little bit of a hamstring injury for a couple of weeks,” manager Paul Molitor said. “It’s been impressive to me he’s been able to stay in the lineup. I think it has inhibited him somewhat in terms of his ability to run the bases and maybe a little bit defensively. I think after the second day in Chicago, we felt that it was worsening a little bit. I think he was disappointed about the decision.
“Some of it had to do with timing, but more importantly I think we want to have a chance to play the game healthily. And to play through a hamstring, they’re just not going to go away if you keep trying to go out there and push yourself, so as much as it’s difficult to take 10 days we felt that the timing was right.”
Getting Polanco back certainly won’t hurt the offense, as Molitor has reinserted him into the lineup in the fifth spot against left-hander Brent Suter. Molitor doesn’t want to dump Polanco into the deep end of the pool right away, but simply be himself as he looks to reassert himself not only on the field, but as a presence in the clubhouse.
“It’s good to see him,” Molitor said of Polanco. “He had to pay a price for something that happened and he took it head on, took accountability, did his time, so to speak, and he’s put the work in. He’s been a great example for a lot of our young guys down in Florida the past three months or so.”
As one might expect, Polanco is champing at the bit to help the Twins in their search for consistency.
“He’s anxious to play,” Molitor said. “My only message for him, other than to tell him we were really happy to see him and welcome him back, was just be yourself. Don’t worry about trying to make an extreme impression or try to make up for lost time. Just be the player that we know that you can be and that will be plenty good enough.”
“I feel really good that I’m back,” Polanco said before Monday’s game. “(I’m) looking forward to going out there and play hard and help my team win games. (The suspension) was very difficult, but I’m glad that I’m back and I’m glad that I’m going to be able to play baseball, which is what I love to do.”
Polanco watched most of the Twins games while he was down in Fort Myers working his way back, and it ate at him to see the team struggle without him.
“All I wanted to do was come back,” he said. “Obviously, sitting at home and not being with my teammates was a difficult process, but that’s while I was away and I’m here now.”
Polanco said all he wants to do is earn the trust of his teammates again, and support them as they move forward.
He also provided a small update on Miguel Sano.
“His mindset is in the right place and he’s working hard down there.”
Littell’s return comes just under a month after his MLB debut against the Chicago White Sox on June 5 in game two of a doubleheader.
After a shaky first start in his return — four earned runs in four innings against Durham — Littell got back on track with three solid starts before Monday’s recall.
Overall, Littell had a 3.52 ERA after his return to Rochester.
“Pretty good,” Littell said about how his trip to Rochester went after a rough first MLB outing. “I had a tough one the first one back down. Same issues, not really trusting anything especially after up here. After talking to the guys down there who’ve been up and down, it’s kind of normal. Just getting back into the mindset of attacking every hitter and trying to go after guys right away. Getting them out of the box as quick as you can, whether it’s groundout, popup, strikeout or whatever it is. But really, just getting back to trusting my stuff.”
Littell said not much will change as far as how he’ll approach working as a reliever — which he’ll do for the Twins in the short term — but he’s ready for the challenge.
“Obviously the routine will be a little different,” he said. “Starters are generally creatures of routine. I think it’s going to be OK. I did it out of spring training some, and I’ve had three or four throughout my career. I don’t necessarily have to have that 30 minutes; it’s nice, obviously. You’d love to be able to get as much as you can. I think the adrenaline of getting your name called kind of makes up for all of that. I’ll kind of treat it like I’m going to be ready to go regardless and just stay loose down there as much as I can.
“It’s been a while since I’ve sat out in the bullpen,” Littell said with a smile when asked about having a little different vantage point than starters usually do.
“We talked postgame yesterday about guys who are throwing the ball well down there,” Molitor said of internal discussions that landed on bringing Littell back. “Our greatest risk would be not to have enough pitching if we ran into something similar today as we have the last couple of games about length. He’s the most likely candidate to give us the most innings today.”
Molitor said a lot depends on how Littell is used, but he could be a candidate to start Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles when Mejia’s spot comes up in the rotation.
“We’ll see how the day goes,” he said. “We’ll see if Littell gets a chance to pitch or not. We’re going to have to keep our options open moving forward.”
On the surface, the Buxton decision seemed like it might be an unusual one, but with around a week left on his rehab stint and him feeling fully healthy with the foot, Molitor said it made sense for the Twins to reinstate him and let him work out some kinks with the Red Wings.
“We didn’t put a timeline on Buxton from day one when we decided to put him on a rehab, which was the right thing,” Molitor said. “The move that was made to option him out was kind of just furthering that point that it’s not, ‘OK, well this calendar date comes, your time is up.’ And he knows that. Don’t know what’s going to happen. We could have waited another six or seven days and then if he decides he wasn’t ready then you’re looking at 10 more. You do it earlier than later. We’ll see if it pays off in the long run whether he actually gets back here quicker than if we would have optioned him out after the seven days.”
Molitor said Buxton understood the circumstances, and while he wants to be up with the big club contributing, he’s willing to do whatever the team feels is in his best interest.
Through 11 games with the Red Wings — where Buxton homered on Monday evening — Buxton was hitting just .214/.267/.300 with 15 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances.
Molitor said he felt the LaMarre DFA decision was a particularly difficult one. Derek Falvey had to make the call to LaMarre to notify him, but Molitor talked to him shortly afterward.
“We needed a 40-man spot and we talked about ways, different options we had to go in that scenario,” Molitor said. “That was a hard one, to be quite honest with you. You have to look at where your depth is and where you feel you’re most vulnerable and who can cover you in what areas if other people go down.
“He was disappointed, obviously. We’ll see what options come up for him. You always pull for guys who had major league jobs when that happens, and if they don’t, we’ll see if we have the opportunity to big him back. We just don’t know what is going to happen over the next couple of days. I really enjoy having LaMarre around the team. He’s just energy, he’s unselfish. He’s always willing to try to learn more to become better. He’s a great teammate. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
One thing the 2017 Twins came to be known as was a team that handled adversity well. It seemed like every time the team dropped a game in blowout fashion, it won the next day or at the very least kept it close.
At this point, it still seems like the 2018 team is searching for its identity — good, bad or otherwise.
“We did that a lot last year,” Molitor said. “We were counted out a few times; we came back. We had a couple stretches where we didn’t play well, yet we got back on track. We just haven’t hit that spurt. Coming out of this last latest run has been trying, including this trip to this point. I don’t think the confidence has wavered that much. I think guys still feel that there’s a lot of good things that are in store for us over the next three months.
“You just have to go out there and do it. We all know that. As long as your attitude is good. I told these guys you do the work, you prepare, you show up and then you go play. You can’t get too far ahead of yourself, you gotta win this series or that series. You have to try to win today and keep your vision in the short term and hopefully, it adds up over time. But you can only win one game today. That’s what we have to think about.”