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Updated: May 10th, 2012 6:52pm
Notebook: Twins considered Liriano to AAA, 'but that's not the same'

Notebook: Twins considered Liriano to AAA, 'but that's not the same'

by Phil Mackey
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The notion of P.J. Walters replacing Francisco Liriano in the starting rotation midway through May would have been laughable at the end of a spring training in which Liriano struck out 32 and walked only five.

But that's exactly the scenario that has played out for the Minnesota Twins with Liriano stumbling to the worst start of his major league career -- in a contract season, no less.

Prior to making this move the Twins actually discussed the idea of sending Liriano to Triple-A Rochester -- a demotion that would have required Liriano's approval due to his veteran status.

Ultimately the idea was nixed, because Triple-A hitters are "not the same hitters you're going to see down there as you are up here," manager Ron Gardenhire said.

"You can go down there and throw the ball over and you're going to get people chasing the ball all over the place. You can dominate down there. We need him to face major league hitting and bear down and get some major league hitters out. ...

"He needs to face major league hitters. He needs to get through that. That's how we'll know how he's throwing, not down (in Triple-A). We need to see him. If he goes down there, I won't see him."

Liriano will likely be available to pitch out of the bullpen beginning Friday night, and Gardenhire is hoping to put him in some low-pressure situations in an effort to build his confidence back up.

"I've been there before so I have to go out there and try to do my job. I'm happy to be here and try to do anything to help the team win some ballgames. From the bullpen, starting, whatever I have to do. ...

"It's been tough, to be honest. Having the spring that I had and coming into the season then walking so many guys and getting behind in the count it's kinda tough for me. It has been up and down but I gotta find a way to get back to pitching better."

Walters 'not afraid'

Walters arrived to Target Field on Thursday after Rochester manager Gene Glynn broke the news to him via phone at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday night.

Walters will start Saturday against the Blue Jays, and according to Gardenhire, "Terry (Ryan) said this guy will attack. He's a bulldog out on the mound. He's not afraid. He won't back down."
Walters throws a fastball (upper-80's), cutter, changeup and breaking ball, and despite not having overpowering stuff he is known to pump the strike zone.

"There's nerves, even in Triple-A, there's nerves," Walters said. "You care about what you're doing, you try to win. It doesn't matter where you're pitching."

Pleasant surprise for Mastroianni

With the addition of outfielder Darin Mastraionni the Twins featured perhaps their fastest outfield of the season on Thursday night -- Mastraionni in left field, Denard Span in center and Erik Komatsu in right.

Span joked before the game that he might be the slowest of all three.

For Mastraionni, who was hitting .283/.341/.345 in 125 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A, the phone call came as a pleasant surprise late Wednesday night.

"I was actually out at dinner with my girlfriend and her family," Mastroianni said. "It was like 11:30. The game had been over for a couple hours. Usually you find out after the game. All of a sudden my phone rings and it was our manager. I was kind of hoping, but didn't really want to get my hopes up too much.

"He kind of was like, 'I want to meet your girlfriend.' I said, 'Well she'll be here next week.' He goes, 'Good. You won't.' It was a nice surprise. I kind of choked up. I was like, 'Where am I going? Am I going to Minnesota?' He's like, 'Yeah.' It was a real fun surprise."

The Twins rank 23rd in the majors with only 15 stolen bases this season. But Mastroianni has already swiped 14 in the minors this year, and he stole 70 in 2009. If he gets on base, he hopes to run.

"I like to steal, and if they give me that chance I'm going to go," Mastroianni said. "I'm going to try to go first to third, score on a single from second, and score on doubles from first. I'm going to play good defense and not try to go overboard."

Mastroianni, 26, said he was able to learn quite a bit from Ben Revere during his brief time with Rochester this year.

"I think over the last year I've really understood what I can and can't do on the baseball field. Last year I tried to do too much with my swing. I tried to drive the ball and hit home runs but that's not going to work.

"So getting time to play at Triple-A with Ben Revere the last couple weeks was great. We fed off each other. I learned what I can and can't do. How far I can push the envelope. He helped me a lot with that. We play a very similar game. So obviously there are some nerves here but I expect to bring that same game to Triple-A. So I'll try to do the same thing."

Plouffe in for Valencia

Trevor Plouffe was penciled in to make his second career start at third base on Thursday night. He and Carroll each took grounders at third before the game, and it's likely each will see playing time at the position.

Plouffe's throwing issues were well-chronicled at shortstop in 2011, which is a large part of the reason the Twins moved him to the outfield. But with Danny Valencia temporarily out of the picture, third base gives Plouffe a better opportunity to see more playing time.

"Not going to sit and say he's every day there," Gardenhire said. "We're going to mix all these guys around. I've got to use them all. ...

"Shortstop is normally a lot more movement. You're catching the ball left and right. Third base is a lot more at 'em, with that position. (The throw) is still all the way across the diamond. Depends on whether you're out or back. But (the throw) is a little more flat-footed."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd