OAKLAND, CALIF. – It's too bad the Twins starting rotation isn't sponsored by a cryptocurrency. The wild swings between abundance and scarcity would make more sense.
The Twins started the season with more starting pitchers than could fit in a five-man rotation, and manager Rocco Baldelli made room for six for a couple of weeks. Then injuries removed Sonny Gray, Bailey Ober and Chris Paddack, and COVID-19 sidelined Dylan Bundy, and suddenly Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson were coping with a shortage of available arms.
They survived, even thrived, while everyone (except Paddack, who will miss most or all of the rest of the season) got healthy, and now some more decisions are necessary.
The first one, Baldelli said, is easy: Bundy will start Tuesday night's game against the Athletics, his first activity since testing positive for the virus 12 days earlier in Baltimore.
"He's feeling a lot better, throwing the ball well," Baldelli said.
Gray is set to pitch in his longtime home here Wednesday afternoon, but the Twins' plans for Kansas City this weekend remain under discussion, the manager said.
Will righthander Josh Winder, stellar in his first two starts but roughed up a bit by the Astros last Thursday, return to his original role in the bullpen? Will Devin Smeltzer, who pitched five strong innings against the Guardians on Saturday, remain in the rotation? Out of minor league options, the lefthanded Smeltzer would almost certainly be claimed by another team if the Twins tried to return him to Class AAA St. Paul.
And will the Twins return to a six-man rotation when Ober is restored to the roster this weekend, limiting each pitcher to once-a-week usage and costing the Twins an extra roster spot?
Even Baldelli isn't certain yet.
"I literally spent much of the afternoon looking at that, some of it with Wes," he said. "There are a lot of different options. There are at least six, and I think there are seven names that are kind of lined up, where we're just trying to decide where they're pitching next."
After Monday's win over Oakland, the Twins informed righthander Jharel Cotton that he is being designated for assignment in order to make room on the roster for Bundy. Cotton has allowed one earned run in 6 2/3 innings, a 1.35 ERA, so the Twins would like to keep him.
"He's done nice work. I hope we can keep him in the organization," Baldelli said, though that will require Cotton to pass through waivers unclaimed, and his agreement to report to St. Paul. "I think there are going to be plenty of opportunities, if we are able to keep him, at the big-league level."
Plenty of ground to cover
Joe Ryan has never pitched at Oakland Coliseum, and won't this week. Imagine the money that random circumstance is costing him.
Ryan is the Twins pitcher who on Sunday revealed the existence of the "bonus" system the team's rotation has undertaken, whereby catching a foul ball is worth a $100 payoff from each of his fellow starters. Ryan caught a foul ball next to the visitors' dugout at Target Field, and flashed a "500" signal at Gray across the diamond, the amount he figured to pocket.
"I'm glad he caught the ball. That's all I'm really concerned about," Baldelli said, though he was not aware of the arrangement before Ryan's catch. "I'm not afraid of a little bit of extra incentive on certain plays."
Especially in this era of extreme shifts, Baldelli pointed out, pitchers showing a little range and making some plays becomes more important, because they have created popups that infielders and catchers can't reach in time.
And nowhere is the potential for bonus plays bigger than in Oakland, where the round playing field creates foul territory twice the size of almost any other park.
Some of those plays are actually hard," Baldelli said.
- Kyle Garlick, 3-for-9 with a double and a home run in a two-game rehab stint with the Saints, was activated from the injured list Monday — he missed two weeks with a sore calf — and batted third against A's lefthander Zack Logue. Outfielder Mark Contreras, 0-for-2 in two appearances with the Twins, was optioned back to St. Paul.
- Outfielder Trevor Larnach is traveling with the Twins on this road trip, a sign that he will be activated soon. "His groin strain is something he still feels at times, but he's able to do a lot of things he couldn't do soon after the injury," Baldelli said. "Improving, but not quite there yet."