Decision to reduce from 13 to 12 pitchers comes with complications
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At some point over the next few days the Minnesota Twins will trim down from 13 pitchers to 12, while also adding an extra position player back to the 25-man roster.
The Twins have had 13 pitchers on the roster since Wednesday, when infielder Luke Hughes was designated for assignment to make room for Jason Marquis. At the time, Nick Blackburn (shoulder) had yet to throw a bullpen session, Glen Perkins was still in Minneapolis tending to arm inflammation, and Anthony Swarzak was preparing for a Thursday start.
The Twins needed all the bullpen help they could get -- thus, 13 pitchers. As it turned out, Hughes found himself in a tough spot.
"I've got Plouffe to play outfield and infield, and (Hughes) just kind of got stuck," manager Ron Gardenhire said in an interview with 1500 ESPN on Sunday.
Plouffe and Sean Burroughs were both out of minor league options. Chris Parmelee has minor league options, but "I need him to play first base with Morneau," Gardenhire said.
He added the Twins weren't going to DL Perkins, because he eventually returned later in the week. "And (Blackburn) said he felt great," Gardenhire said -- as evidenced by the fact that he's been slotted back into the rotation for Tuesday.
It's likely the Twins will carry 13 pitchers until at least the middle of the week -- or until Blackburn proves he's 100 percent healthy.
From there, the roster decisions get complicated. Here are the factors in play:
• Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll and Trevor Plouffe are currently the Twins' only three middle infielders, and Plouffe is considered only an emergency shortstop option at this point.
• The Twins have one empty 40-man roster slot.
• The Twins currently have seven total infielders on the 40-man roster, and only one of them is not on the 25-man roster -- Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who is currently sidelined with a sprained ankle. In 16 games, Nishioka owns a .203/.299/.237 batting line with one extra-base hit, but he is being paid $3 million this year. That price tag adds extra incentive to give him a second chance, but his injury currently squashes that notion.
• Brian Dozier is the most appealing middle-infield option, but Gardenhire told 1500 ESPN on Sunday that Dozier is still "working on coming in on balls. He's had a little trouble coming in... But we didn't see that in spring training."
Gardenhire and GM Terry Ryan have made it clear Dozier won't be called up unless there's a chance for him to play every day. "We're just trying to bide our time," Gardenhire said.
• Among non-40-man roster middle-infield options currently playing for Triple-A Rochester, Ray Chang is likely the most trustworthy. He can play all four infield positions, and he owns a minor league batting line of .278/.354/.396 in eight seasons. He has been in the Twins' major league spring training camp two years in a row and could be trusted to field a groundball and possibly slap a base hit somewhere in limited playing time.
• Gardenhire told reporters on the road trip this week that he's considering carrying a third catcher, which would help eliminate the (rare) possibility of running into a catcher emergency when Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit are both in the lineup at the same time. Drew Butera is hitting .290/.324/.452 with three extra-base hits in 35 plate appearances for Triple-A Rochester.
• Francisco Liriano threw out another clunker on Sunday, allowing five earned runs and issuing four walks in only five innings against the Rays.
Frustration internally is at an all-time high with Liriano, who was expected to come out firing during a contract season. Instead, his ERA is over 11.00, and there's a sense the Twins could shake things up, possibly moving Liriano to the bullpen.
• With Blackburn's return, Swarzak was going to move back to the bullpen (he pitched two innings in relief on Sunday). But if Liriano gets bumped, Swarzak might start again. This is all up in the air right now.
• Right-hander Jeff Gray has been horrible so far this season, walking seven and striking out only two in seven innings, and his track record at all levels suggests there isn't much hope for a dramatic turnaround. Gray is out of minor league options, but that might not stop the Twins from bumping him off the island when cutting down to 12 pitchers.