Who Will Be Pitching Staff's Odd Man Out?
Image courtesy of Kim Klement, USA TodayOperating with just three position backups, all of whom are more or less defensive specialists, has limited Molitor's ability to tweak and plug into the lineup.
When he wanted to give DH Robbie Grossman a day off Saturday, the uninspiring replacement was utility infielder Eduardo Escobar.
On Tuesday, when Molitor opted to sit first baseman Joe Mauer and right fielder Max Kepler against a left-hander, the fill-ins at two premium offensive positions were Chris Gimenez and Danny Santana – the two worst bats on the roster. Late in the game, the manager was unable to pinch-run for Jason Castro, standing on second as the tying run, because Joe Mauer had just singled him there after pinch-hitting for Castro's backup.
Meanwhile, the extra arms have yielded Molitor no benefit. Sure, Twins starters have surprisingly pitched deep into most games, but the eight-man bullpen would be extreme overkill regardless. In the first eight days of the season, Justin Haley, Tyler Duffey and Michael Tonkin got into games twice apiece. Craig Breslow recorded one single out.
In theory, the roster that Minnesota opened this season with was palatable for a brief period. In practice, it's a joke. The front office must realize that it's unfair and, frankly, ill-advised to keep this competitive handicap in play. Molitor emphasized at the conclusion of camp his belief that the unideal initial setup was "short-term." He is no doubt ready to move on and restore some balance.
The Twins have a few different options for doing so. The easy choice is calling up Kennys Vargas. He's healthy and made his fourth straight start in Rochester on Tuesday, slugging his first home run.
Choosing a pitcher to remove from the bullpen, which has been stunningly effective in the early going, is less easy.
We know the late-inning core of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly, Matt Belisle and Taylor Rogers will remain intact. After that, it gets a little trickier.
Rule 5 pick Justin Haley has more or less proven his worth, with a clean one-inning debut followed by a long relief outing in Chicago that was going swimmingly through three innings before a pair of homers knocked him out. He seems safe.
Tyler Duffey is the obvious pick if the team still views him as a starter. He could go to Triple-A, get stretched out and be ready to step into the rotation when needed. But are they still viewing him that way? Should they?
Though he was framed as a swingman coming out of camp, Duffey's usage has not been reflective of such. Instead, he's been a high-leverage crutch for Molitor. And unsurprisingly, the righty has looked excellent in short bursts, flashing the stuff of a legit setup man. Why mess with that after he put up a 6.43 ERA in the Twins rotation last year?
If Duffey will indeed accompany Pressly and Belisle as a late-inning weapon, it sort of marginalizes Michael Tonkin, who currently appears to have no real purpose on the roster. His two appearances have come in the two losses, both with the team down multiple runs. Once again, he is being used as a mop-up man, a role that suits him poorly.
It's not evident from the first handful of games that he's gained any additional trust from Molitor. Then again, the Twins went out of their way to keep Tonkin out of spring, and he hasn't really done anything to lose favor on his end.
Then there's Craig Breslow. He's made one appearance, relieving Kyle Gibson in the third game against the Royals. Molitor pulled him after three batters, and didn't turn to the veteran lefty in any of the next four contests.
In his lone outing, Breslow threw only four of 11 pitches for strikes. In spring training, he walked seven over nine innings. The reinvented southpaw might have impressive spin and movement on his pitches, but there's no evidence he can command them. Clearly he doesn't have the manager's faith.
So it seems there are three options at play if the Twins want to add a bat in short order. They can send out Duffey and get him back on a starting regimen in Rochester. They can expose Tonkin to waivers with hopes he'll have better odds of passing through now than at the end of spring. Or they can pull the plug on Breslow, whom they just handed a 40-man roster spot, after one outing.
I'm not sure what the best option is, though I'd probably lean toward Breslow. I do know that the Twins need to cut down on pitchers and bulk up their bench, and I'm guessing everyone reading this will agree. What's your move?
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