DETROIT – The Twins didn’t add Matt Belisle to their bullpen Tuesday to be a symbol. But he is.
In signing the 38-year-old righthander, who served as their closer for the final two months of 2017, the Twins signaled that they believe they will remain in the AL Central race — they trail Cleveland by six games — and that it’s still worth adding, not subtracting, veterans to the roster.
“That’s the way we look at it. Matt is somebody who can help us, and we’re going to continue to try to push and put this team into [postseason] position,” said Derek Falvey, the Twins chief baseball officer. “We’ve got a decent chunk of time until the All-Star break, and then again until the trade deadline, so there’s a lot we’re still going to learn about our team. But our guys know they need to put forth a run to put themselves in good position to make decisions in July that will reflect where this team is.”
In Belisle, who exercised an opt-out clause in his contract with Cleveland, the Twins know they have acquired the clubhouse leader who inspired intense loyalty among his fellow relievers, and they hope they have acquired a two-inning pitcher who can still use his slider to tie up left-handed hitters. His ERA in eight games with the Indians in April was 5.06, and it was 4.22 in nine games with Class AAA Columbus in May and June. But the Twins believe he is still the pitcher who saved nine games during their charge to a wild-card berth last summer.
“We know about what type of person he is. What I don’t want to get lost in the shuffle is that, watching him pitch down there, the people who have seen him say he’s the same guy,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “We’re looking for him to supplement our bullpen first and foremost, but we all know that the presence that he can bring can be influential, as well.”
Certainly his teammates do.
“It’s awesome. He’s a really good guy to have around the clubhouse and in the bullpen,” said righthanded reliever Ryan Pressly. “It’s almost like he never left.”
He did, though, when the Twins chose to restructure their bullpen. Belisle said he has no animosity about that choice.
“They acquired some great bullpen guys, and this is a business. I’m the first to understand that,” said Belisle, who drove from Columbus to Detroit on Monday after agreeing to the contract. “Any transition can bring what you want with the right attitude. … We have work to do — that’s a fun challenge.”
To make room for Belisle, the Twins designated utility infielder Gregorio Petit for assignment, returning to their eight-man bullpen as they enter a stretch of 32 games in 34 days.
Mauer in rehab
• Joe Mauer went 0-for-6 as the designated hitter for Class AAA Rochester, which was swept in a pair of seven-inning games at Scranton-Wilkes Barre on Tuesday, the first day of his rehab assignment. Mauer will play first base Wednesday, and if there is no recurrence of his concussion-like symptoms, he could be activated as soon as Thursday, Molitor said.
• Byron Buxton will require a rehab assignment, Molitor said, and the team is discussing when that will begin. The pain has subsided in his fractured left big toe, but “the biggest concern is, [can he] swing normally and trust that he can drive into that front foot?”
• Molitor on Eddie Rosario, who ranked 14th in AL outfielders in the first results of All-Star balloting:
“He’s been our best player. As much as Esco has done and [Jose] Berríos deserves some consideration, Rosie has been our best player. For the fans that can get behind that, it would be an easy thing to do.”