Joe Smith has pitched in 866 games, more than any active major leaguer. He has played for eight different teams and been traded four times. But he has never been designated for assignment.
"That was a very difficult conversation," manager Rocco Baldelli said of informing Smith, one of the most popular players in the clubhouse, that he's no longer a Twin. "He's a beloved member of this group. There are a lot of people who will hold him very close forever. … He's consistently just a pretty awesome human being, a guy you love having" in the clubhouse.
The Twins loved having Smith on the mound, too, for the first couple months of the season. Smith didn't give up a run in his first 13⅔ innings with the Twins, issued only two walks in that time while striking out 10. He still hasn't allowed an inherited runner to score.
But in the 13⅔ innings he pitched since then, Smith has allowed 17 runs, 14 earned, with seven home runs, seven walks and seven strikeouts. When the Twins acquired relievers Michael Fulmer and Jorge Lopez on Tuesday, they needed roster spots, and Smith's, along with Jharel Cotton, who was designated for assignment a day earlier, were the choices they made.
Smith's Twins tenure ends with him having appeared in 866 games since his MLB debut in 2007, which ranks 35th all time.
The Twins also optioned catcher Caleb Hamilton back to Class AAA St. Paul before Wednesday's game, and called up 10-year veteran Sandy Leon from the Saints before he could appear in a game for them. And lefthander Caleb Thielbar, out exactly 15 days because of a hamstring injury, was reinstated from the injured list.
Righthander Tyler Mahle planned to throw a bullpen session upon his arrival in Minneapolis late Wednesday afternoon, and the former Reds starter is expected to be in uniform Thursday, with his debut as a Twin likely coming Friday against the Blue Jays. That means one more roster spot will be needed, and the Twins will free one up by optioning lefthanded reliever Jovani Moran back to St. Paul.
It will be the fourth time Moran, who owns a 1.93 ERA in 23⅓ innings, has been optioned to the minors this season, one short of the limit that players and owners agreed upon in their new collective bargaining agreement.
Byron Buxton shared a locker with Lopez in the cramped American League All-Stars clubhouse at Dodger Stadium two weeks ago. Shared a prediction with him, too.
"I was just messing around, like 'We're gonna get you,'" Buxton said. "I told him that, 'We're trying to get you.' He was on the radar. … It's something me and him get to laugh at now, because it was something we laughed at two weeks ago."
They each have reason to laugh — and a reason to lament — their pair of game-ending confrontations this year. Lopez struck out Buxton to end the Orioles' 5-3 win on May 5, and Buxton slugged a walkoff home run to beat the Orioles 3-2 on July 1.
"That's the first thing I talked about. He was like, 'You got my homer?'" Buxton said with a laugh. "And I was like, 'You got that strikeout ball?'"
"He's a fun dude," Lopez said of his new teammate. "He's fun to watch. We've been playing against each other since the minor leagues. Now, being here, I'm just so blessed."
- The cast on Ryan Jeffers' broken right thumb was removed Monday, and the Twins' starting catcher has begun doing strengthening exercises while wearing a special brace.
- The sight of Fulmer, a longtime Tiger, pitching to his former teammates was a jarring one for Detroit manager A.J. Hinch. "It's different to see the guy you've been in the trenches with on the other side right away. It's one thing to see him on TV in a different uniform, maybe come across him a month or two later," Hinch said. "The immediate visual of him on the mound against us — we know how he's gonna pitch."