Once it became clear that Josh Donaldson, the walking symbol of the Twins’ urgency to finally win in the postseason, could not play third base this week, Rocco Baldelli did what any championship-hungry manager would do: He tried to find something else for the former MVP to do.
“The question we had to answer was [whether] we were going to have Josh on the roster as a pinch hitter,” Baldelli said of Donaldson, who on Friday reinjured his right calf, the same one that kept him on the sidelines throughout August. “We weren’t going to be able to play him at third, we weren’t going to be able to let him run the bases. So it was, ‘Are we going to use him once a game to take an important at-bat for us?’ ”
The Twins clearly wanted the answer to be yes, and Donaldson was willing, Baldelli said, but their instincts toward caution prevailed.
“We didn’t want him to push it if he was feeling something that he could potentially do some long-term damage to,” said Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey, who signed the third baseman through 2023 for $94 million in January.
“Hopefully we’re talking about it again after this series if we’re lucky enough to move on.”
Jettisoning Donaldson from the 28-man roster meant Marwin Gonzalez would play third base against the Astros, and the Twins added the pinch-hit bat Baldelli craved by promoting 2016 first-round pick Alex Kirilloff from their taxi squad.
The Twins also left Rich Hill, who threw 93 pitches Sunday and wouldn’t be available anyway, off the roster, along with righthanded relievers Jorge Alcala and Sean Poppen. In addition to Kirilloff, they added a fourth catcher in Willians Astudillo and a pair of starting pitchers, Jake Odorizzi and Randy Dobnak, who will be available in the bullpen.
Odorizzi warmed up in the ninth inning Tuesday, but he did not appear in the game.
Kirilloff called up
Baldelli called Kirilloff on Monday night, but didn’t give away the Twins’ plans for him right away. Then he casually mentioned that, hey, we’re calling you up to the majors for the first time, and for the playoffs, no less.
“I think he said, ‘Oh yeah? That’s awesome,’ ” Baldelli said, mildly incredulous. “The tone on the other end of the line did not change a ton.”
That’s Kirilloff, with a pulse rate that’s as flat as a major league outfield.
“Sometimes my emotions don’t match up with real reaction,” the 22-year-old outfielder, ranked by Baseball America as the 27th-best prospect in the minor leagues. “I was really surprised, definitely happy, and excited for the opportunity.”
Only two players have ever debuted in the postseason, Oakland pitcher Mark Kiger in the 2006 ALCS, and Kansas City infielder Adalberto Mondesi in the 2015 World Series. But Baldelli said he’s certain Kirilloff can handle being the third.
“He doesn’t ride emotional waves. He just takes things as they come,” Baldelli said of the rookie, whose wife and daughter went home to Florida last month. “I would imagine once he gets out there and takes his first at-bat, he’s going to treat it like every other at-bat he’s ever had.”
He also was a hitting machine in the Twins’ St. Paul camp this summer, Falvey said, dominating several games though few statistics were kept to document it.
“He could potentially help both in the infield [at first base] and the outfield,” Falvey said, though Kirilloff didn’t get into Game 1. “We felt Alex matched up really well and would be a good fit within this group.”
• The Twins invited their employees to attend Tuesday’s game, socially distanced and masked, so along with players’ families, roughly 300 “fans” were cheering for the team at Target Field. The piped-in simulated crowd noise was still used to augment the sound, but actual cheering could be heard at big moments of the game. Among those in attendance: former Twins catcher Joe Mauer and Baldelli’s predecessor as manager, Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.
• Byron Buxton passed all of MLB’s concussion protocols and was cleared to play, four days after being beaned by a pitch Friday, a relief to the team that feared being without its most dynamic fielder. Buxton singled in the first inning and stole second base, but he struck out in his other three at-bats.
• The Astros have not announced their starting pitcher for Wednesday’s Game 2, but rookie righthander Jose Urquidy, who owns a 2.73 ERA and did not allow more than two runs in any of his five starts, is expected to be on the mound.