Notebook: Walters 'learned a little bit'; Will Plouffe stick at 3B?
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MINNEAPOLIS -- All five starters from the Minnesota Twins spring training rotation have either spent time on the disabled list (Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano), were demoted to the bullpen (Francisco Liriano), or were released (Jason Marquis).
Now that P.J. Walters has been placed on the 15-day disabled list, the second line of starting pitchers is experiencing erosion as well, leaving manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson searching for capable bodies.
The Twins currently have three healthy starters in the rotation -- left-handers Liriano and Diamond and right-hander Blackburn.
Right-hander Liam Hendriks will almost certainly be recalled to start on Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers. Because the Twins have an off day on Monday they can reset the rotation starting with Diamond again on Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
In that scenario the Twins wouldn't need a fifth starter until Saturday, June 23 at Cincinnati.
"Pavano's just doing his thing. He's building up the strength in his shoulder, so he's nowhere near (starting)," Gardenhire said. "We've got in-house candidates with (Jeff) Manship and guys like that, and we'll just kind of figure out how to go."
Anthony Swarzak is another candidate. As is Cole De Vries, although he was rocked for six earned runs in two innings in his first start back with Triple-A Rochester.
Walters 'learned a little bit'
Walters, diagnosed with shoulder inflammation, will be out until at least the beginning of July, and it's possible he'll need a rehab stint upon returning.
By trying to grind his way through shoulder soreness and low velocity on Wednesday Walters put his team in a deep hole. Gardenhire and Anderson noticed the lack of life on his stuff after just two batters and called for Jeff Manship to warm up, but the groundwork was already in place for a big inning.
"You have to think about your arm and your career, the whole package when you get into these situations," Gardenhire said. "That's why we have trainers here. If you tell them you're barking a little bit it's not like we're going to shut you down, we're going to let them treat you and go from there. They can put you on medication and try to get away from some of this stuff, so that's the mistake. You've got to trust the people back in that room back there and let them do their job and maybe they can take care of some injuries like that before they get to the point where you're throwing 80 mile per hour and can't get loose, and are starting a game. They need to know these things, that's why they're there. They're very good at what they do and they've had plenty of work. Believe me.
"He just needs to know, we like people playing hurt, it happens in this game and always is. But if you're barking out there and you can't throw the ball, you've got to let them know those things. And when it started back then, we would've done that and we could've made an adjustment in the rotation and given him extra time here. But we didn't have that option because we didn't know anything about this. There's a lot of different parts of it.
"I like a guy that wants to take a ball and go out there not matter what's going on, he doesn't want to miss a start, wants to save the bullpen. You like all those thoughts, but sometimes common sense has got to come in there. 'I'm barking, I can't throw the ball right now,' and if they can do some things to help you out and keep you pitching then that's better than having to go on the DL and the result is the DL. Which is not what we want."
In his first three starts for the Twins, Walters posted a 2.95 ERA in 21 1/3 innings, striking out 15 and walking only five -- a stretch that included a complete-game effort against the White Sox on May 22.
But he sputtered in three subsequent starts before finally succumbing to the shoulder soreness on Wednesday.
Walters said after the game he has never missed a start due to injury in his professional career.
"Yeah he's been throwing really well. Like I said, the kid tried," Gardenhire said. "He wanted to go out there and didn't want to miss a start, but as we always talk about around here, you've got to get that Superman off your chest. Get those things taken care of. We start that in spring training. If you've got something going on get to the training room, get it taken care of so it doesn't become something major. And now he ends up on the DL because of this thing. So I think he'll be okay from here on out. I think he's learned a little bit and we'll go from there."
Will Plouffe stick at 3B?
Nothing is set in stone at the moment, but Trevor Plouffe's offensive outburst over the past month appears to have earned him the starting job at third base.
Plouffe, who has played six different defensive positions this season, has started 18 of his last 25 games at third base, including every game on the current homestand. Prior to 2012 Plouffe had not played third base in a major league game.
As a third baseman this season he is hitting .310/.347/.676 with seven home runs in 75 plate appearances. While something can certainly be said for finding a routine and getting comfortable on defense, it's likely his hot streak would have arrived no matter where he played in the field.
Plouffe's throwing woes at shortstop from 2011 have not carried over to the hot corner. He has exhibited a strong and mostly accurate throwing arm and has yet to commit a throwing error at third.
Range might be a work in progress. Not necessarily the athletic portion of range, because Plouffe did play shortstop for most of his professional career until this year, but the instincts and reaction time.
"He got caught (Wednesday) night on one ball backing up. He wasn't quite set," Gardenhire said. "(The batter) showed him in for the bunt, (Plouffe) was backing up, and the ball got ripped down the line. ... And he wasn't quite set on that ball. ...
"There's times when (his first step) is really good. It's a timing thing. The more he plays there the better he'll get at it and the more comfortable he'll get at it. You've just got to leave him out there and let him go get it. He's swinging the bat good enough to do that."
Playing third base requires quick reaction time and a different approach prior to the pitch being thrown. Twins coaches spent two years preaching to Danny Valencia the importance of staying lower and developing a quicker first step.
For Plouffe, groundballs he fielded at shortstop will arrive much quicker at third base.
"When you're in the middle of the field a lot of times you watch the pitch coming out of a guy's hand, you follow the pitch," Gardenhire said. "A lot of times on the corners you're looking at the bat head coming through the zone. If you start trying to follow the pitch to home, you're not really quick enough at third base to do that. From the middle of the field you can watch the ball and get jumps on balls. ...
"That's an adjustment. Because from the middle, when you move over there, you watch the ball in the middle of the field. And when you get to the corners you watch the zone and see the bat head come through."