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Updated: May 9th, 2012 10:22pm
Twins option Danny Valencia, demote Francisco Liriano to bullpen

Twins option Danny Valencia, demote Francisco Liriano to bullpen

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins' latest roster shakeup cost two starters their jobs -- and one his spot on the roster.

The Twins optioned third baseman Danny Valencia to Triple-A Rochester after Wednesday's loss to the Angels. They also moved Francisco Liriano to the bullpen.

In place of Valencia and left-hander Matt Maloney, who was designated for assignment, the Twins recalled outfielder Darin Mastroianni from Rochester and selected the contract of right-hander P.J. Walters, who will start in place of Liriano on Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

An 0-for-4 night on Wednesday extended Valencia's hitless streak to 0-for-25 and dropped his batting line to .190/.204/.290. Valencia has been a fixture on the Twins' 25-man roster since June of 2010, but since the beginning of last season he is hitting just .239/.283/.371 in 707 plate appearances.

"He's gotta get some swings. Gotta get some confidence," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He needs to get some hits. He hit a couple of balls pretty decent tonight, but he needs hits. He's worked his tail off on his defense and he's played pretty damn good over there, but right now he needs to get some confidence going with his swing and get some hits.

"He asked me the question, 'What's it take for me to get back up here?' I told him the same thing it took for you got get here the first time. Go down there, be successful, get some hits, play the game and get back up here."

Valencia took the news well and stood by his locker for several minutes talking with reporters.

"Obviously nobody wants to get sent down, but it's hard not to say I didn't see it coming because I haven't been hitting very well," Valencia said.

"Performance trumps all up here, and I haven't been doing that offensively."

Valencia's absence likely means Jamey Carroll will see action at third base, with Alexi Casilla moving back to second base. Trevor Plouffe could also see some time in the infield.

Liriano owns a 9.45 ERA in six starts this season and hasn't posted a quality start since Aug. 20. The Twins hope a temporary move to the bullpen will help spark him.

"We just gotta get him right," Gardenhire said. "We've got to get him into some situations to try and get him some success. We've talked about it. Maybe a couple innings here, a couple innings there, he blows some people away and gets some kind of mojo going. Then we see if we can get him back in there.

"We need him as a starter. We told him that. He has the best arm on this team and we need to get him some confidence going, get some quality innings out of him, maybe help us win a few ballgames out of the bullpen right now. Eventually we're going to need him as a starter."

The 26-year-old Mastroianni, who was claimed off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason, has been Rochester's best hitter with a .365/.405/.446 batting line and 10 stolen bases in 80 plate appearances. This came on the heels of a horrible start to the season at Double-A New Britain in which Mastroianni hit just .143/.231/.171 in 40 trips.

"This is just something that we've got to do right now," Gardenhire said. "We need to make some changes. We need some hits. We need some new life in here, the whole package. Mastroianni's been playing the living fire out of the game down there. They told me he's the most exciting player down there.

"Terry's been down there watching that team for a week or so. I talked to the manager down there, Gene Glynn. He told me this kid has been playing really well, swinging the bat really well. Probably the most exciting player they have on that baseball team right now, running bases, stealing bases. He can fly. We'll see. We'll see how he does."

Walters was "the best pitcher available right now" at Triple-A behind Scott Diamond," Gardenhire said. He owns a 2.70 ERA with 25 strikeouts and six walks in 33 1/3 innings. Walters, 27, was signed as a minor league free agent this offseason, and he owns a 4.51 career Triple-A ERA in 517 1/3 innings (all of them in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League).

Walters has spent parts of the last three seasons in the major leagues with the Cardinals and Blue Jays, posting a 7.24 ERA and 5.86 FIP with 40 strikeouts and 22 walks issued in 51 innings.

His average fastball sits mostly around 89 mph, and he also throws a 77 mph changeup and an upper-70's slider with a decent amount of downward bite. His fastballs do have some solid downward movement.

Maloney pitched extremely well in spring training, but he has allowed 10 earned runs on 17 hits and a walk in 11 innings while striking out only five.

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