MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins got their veteran slugger back Monday, Aug. 19, but had to send their best reliever back to the minors to make room.
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz was taken off the injured list and immediately put into the lineup against the Chicago White Sox, but right-hander Zack Littell was optioned back to Triple-A Rochester to free the required space on the active roster.
Littell, 23, pitched in victories Saturday and Sunday at Texas and has minor league options.
“The way that bullpens work, especially in 2019, there is going to be movement in the bullpen and guys that have the ability to go up and down are going to go up and down because you have to cover those innings,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It doesn’t make it right in some ways. It doesn’t make it fun to have those conversations.”
Since a rough game in long relief May 30 at Tampa Bay, Littell is 2-0 with a 0.96 earned-run average in 18.2 big-league innings.
“In the short term, this is basically what we think we have to do to,” Baldelli said. “You’re getting by every day and finding out ways to get to the next game and give yourself the best chance to win.”
His back-to-back appearances essentially made Littell unavailable Monday. Outfielder Jake Cave might have been the odd man out, but Max Kepler was held out of the starting lineup Monday after leaving Sunday’s 6-3 victory over the Rangers because of heat-related illness, so the Twins needed a center fielder.
Kepler was available off the bench, Baldelli said.
Cruz, 38, returns after missing nine games because of an injury to his left wrist.
"I don’t feel any issues, or have any activities that I can’t do,” Cruz said. “I guess that’s what I need to do to be a hundred percent.
Out of whack?
Even an apparently broken Eddie Rosario is a productive hitter. The left fielder had three homers and six RBIs in his past 10 games heading into Monday despite a .179 batting average and a swing that appears seriously out of whack.
“Obviously, he’d like to have his results kind of pop out and be in his favor a little bit more, but I don’t think there’s anything going on that’s a concern,” batting coach James Rowson said.
Since returning from a high ankle sprain on July 16, Rosario is hitting .267 with seven homers, 22 RBIs and 23 runs scored in 30 games.
Before that, he had 20 homers and a team-high 60 RBIs in 75 games.
“It’s just a matter of being patient with him and his swing,” Rowson said. “I think he’ll get back to being himself.”
Graterol on radar
Those hoping to see top prospect Brusdar Graterol join the Twins’ bullpen for the final playoff push got good news Monday when the flame-throwing right-hander was promoted to Triple-A Rochester.
Graterol, 20, seems to have recovered will from a shoulder impingement that kept him from pitching for two months. He threw two hitless innings for Double-A Pensacola on Saturday, consistently hitting 100 mph on the radar gun.
Asked Monday if the Twins were looking at Graterol as possible help this season, Baldelli said, “To say we’re not looking at him or anyone else would be false.”
The Twins’ bullpen ranks in the middle of the MLB pack with a 4.42 ERA but opposing batters are hitting .261 against them, eighth-highest in baseball.
Graterol was a starter when he injured his right shoulder; after two hitless innings on Saturday, he’s 4-0 with a 1.71 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 33.1 innings this season at Pensacola. He threw three rehab innings in a Gulf Coast League game before Saturday.
“Of course, we’re paying attention to what he’s doing and how he’s feeling and throwing the ball,” Baldelli said. “I’ll remain noncommittal … but it has been fun to watch him come back and throw the ball the way he has.
“That has been a very positive turn of events. He’s an exciting young arm and we’ll see how he continues to go.”
Byron Buxton, out since separating his left shoulder while making a catch at the wall on Aug. 1, is taking “light swings” and the Twins are “cautiously optimistic” about his full recovery before the season ends, Baldelli said. “If everything goes well, which it has, we’ll probably have to truly test it out with game-like movement and maybe even some games,” he added.