HOUSTON – Jake Cave was always going to have trouble getting playing time with the Twins, considering he was backing up three outfielders whose average age is 26. But his combination of versatility in the outfield and power at the plate helped him overcome the odds and make the 25-man roster.
But in the end, Cave was no match for the voracious need for relief pitchers in the modern game.
With 27 games scheduled over 27 days beginning Friday, the Twins decided Wednesday to expand their bullpen to eight pitchers for the foreseeable future, and Cave’s fourth outfielder spot was the casualty. Last year’s team Rookie of the Year was sent to Class AAA Rochester, and righthanded reliever Fernando Romero was brought back.
“We’ve been going a pitcher short in the bullpen for awhile, and we’re probably in a stretch right now where it makes sense for us to carry another arm,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “For some protection reasons, and to take care of the other guys that are out there and have been pitching a lot, we needed to carry that arm.”
With five days off in the season’s first two weeks, the Twins started with a six-man bullpen, and they expanded to seven relievers on April 6, jettisoning first baseman Tyler Austin. Now they will go with eight pitchers in the bullpen to get through their heavy May schedule, and only three players — Willians Astudillo, Ehire Adrianza and Mitch Garver — on the bench.
The Twins are averaging 3.5 innings of relief pitching per game, and Baldelli said he is concerned about the workload on his relief corps, especially given the schedule ahead.
“We ask a lot of our starters, and when they give you six good innings, that’s a good start,” Baldelli said. “[But] you have to find a way to cover three innings, and if you have to do that three days in a row, and then you have one start that’s a little shorter, it helps to have that extra arm.”
Romero had a 4.32 ERA in Rochester this year, his first as a relief pitcher. Called up for Game 2 of Saturday’s doubleheader at Baltimore, he gave up three runs over two innings.
Cave, who homered 13 times in 91 games in 2018, was batting .233 this year and had received only 34 plate appearances in the season’s first month.
“He’s a good player that is in a situation right now where he’s not getting the at-bats as a young player that he needs,” Baldelli said. “He needs to play.”
Astudillo starts in right
One immediate consequence of Cave’s demotion: With Byron Buxton getting a night off vs. Justin Verlander, Astudillo made his first big-league start in right field. It is the sixth position, counting designated hitter, that he has started at and comes only four days after his first experience at the position in any inning.
“We’re going to need some of our guys to get comfortable enough to go out there, and this is a good opportunity for Willians,” Baldelli said. “The good thing, and we all know this already, is that he is not afraid to go out there and play a position he has not played much.”
Round trip to Rochester
Tyler Duffey was also optioned back to Rochester, after a rough outing Tuesday in which he gave up four runs, including a long home run by Jose Altuve. The move was made to open a roster spot for Kohl Stewart, with the Twins needing a starting pitcher following Saturday’s doubleheader.
Stewart then was sent back to Rochester after Wednesday’s 7-1 loss to call up a reliever. Among the candidates to be promoted: Righthander Matt Magill, who opened the season on the injured list (strained right shoulder). Magill has pitched 5⅓ scoreless innings for Rochester during his rehab assignment, giving up two hits while striking out eight.