Nelson Cruz carried a bat as he walked purposefully through the Twins clubhouse Friday and toward the batting cages.
Was he late to get some swings in? Was it a sign he is champing at the bit to get back in the lineup? Or was he nervous that he might lose his job as designated hitter, since the fire-breathing Twins offense continues to blow baseballs out of parks without him?
His return is still up in the air, as Cruz wasn’t activated from the injured list Friday. That means Luis Arraez was guaranteed another day on the major league roster. That meant Max Kepler was the DH for Friday. That meant manager Rocco Baldelli had to be asked when he will get to write out a lineup with his Boomstick in it.
“As I sit here right now, I’m not prepared to make any definitive statements,” Baldelli said. “I would say today was a good day.”
Cruz, batting .270 with seven homers and 22 RBI, hasn’t played since May 14 because of a left wrist strain. He accompanied the team on its just-completed seven-game road trip, one in which it went 6-1 without him. But Cruz was able to train on the side and remain a presence in the dugout. He also made charity appearances in both Seattle and Los Angeles.
Cruz appears to be getting close, but Friday was not the day to activate him.
“We’ve been on the road,” Baldelli said. “We’re traveling back. He’s been on the [injured] list, but we’re to the point now where I think we can get a good read on him when he goes out there and takes some swings and see how he feels. I think we’ll have a pretty good idea in the next day or two where we sit.”
The Twins did make a roster move Friday, calling up Zack Littell from Class AAA Rochester to add another arm to the bullpen. He replaced fellow righthander Austin Adams, who was designated for assignment.
Littell has started seven of the eight games he has pitched for the Red Wings, going 2-4 with a 4.19 ERA. But he can eat up innings or pitch to one or two batters as needed.
“We are in a spot where we definitely could add a good arm to the bullpen,” Baldelli said. “That would be helpful. It would certainly allow us to go into today’s game, tomorrow’s game, a little bit more comfortably. But like we’ve seen with a bunch of our guys already, that doesn’t mean he’s just here to prepare to pitch in length. He could find himself in different spots for sure.”
Littell, who was 0-2 with a 6.20 ERA in eight games with the Twins last year, has been working on his changeup at Rochester. It was borne out of conversations he had with pitching coach Wes Johnson in spring training. He said it’s similar to the one Jake Odorizzi throws, but with a slightly different grip.
“It’s more of a splitter now,” Littell said. “I wouldn’t call it a true splitter, but it’s a split change for sure, and all that has to do with some mechanical changes I’ve been making, trying to improve all these pitches.”
Arraez was not in the lineup Friday. But the rookie’s 7-for-15 start while Cruz has been out has helped the offense continue to hum right along.
Arraez hasn’t been overwhelmed by major league pitching and is showing why he’s a career .331 hitter in the minors. Even his outs are interesting.
One example came Tuesday. Arraez expected a breaking ball from Angels pitcher Trevor Cahill and moved up in the batter’s box as Cahill delivered the pitch, hoping to get to hit before it broke out of the strike zone. He grounded out on the play, but it’s something you don’t see happen anymore. Especially by a rookie.
“I’ve seen guys do it for different reasons, and I’ve seen it work well,” Baldelli said. “And you just don’t see it often. It shows you what kind of confidence he has and what he’s doing and how he handles himself.”