Twins fans who watched the bullpen give up 10 earned runs over 7⅔ innings in a pair of losses in Milwaukee on Tuesday and Wednesday can be forgiven if they were wondering when their team might start bolstering its bullpen with an arm or two from Class AAA St. Paul.
Specifically, if they wondered when Louie Varland, a hard-throwing right-hander from Maplewood who is 5-1 with a 2.88 earned-run average in his past 10 starts for the Saints, will return to the staff.
“It’s a good question,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said after Wednesday’s 8-7 extra-inning loss to the Brewers. “There is not one answer to that question.”
It’s been generally assumed Varland, 25, will return to the active roster toward the end of the regular season, and with a surfeit of starters — Joe Ryan (groin) is expected to return Saturday and join a six-man rotation with Sonny Gray, Pablo Lopez, Kenta Maeda, Bailey Over and Dallas Keuchel — a bullpen role seems mostly likely.
But the Twins started Thursday night’s series opener against Texas with 35 regular-season games remaining, and Baldelli said timing remains an issue if the team plans to shorten up Varland for the ’pen. Varland would be the Twins’ first callup option for a spot start, and they’re not wild about losing that option this early.
“You’re balancing keeping him built up as long as possible with getting him comfortable in a new role — if we were to ever do that,” Baldelli said. “I’m not saying we’re going to do that. I’m just saying, hypothetically, with any starter who is in Triple-A for you.”
Since being promoted to Class AA Wichita in 2022, Varland, a Concordia-St. Paul graduate, has made only two relief appearances — and has only started in 34 appearances with the Saints and Twins. In his past 260 professional innings, Varland has fanned 284 batters.
“(Relief) is actually a role that I think Louie could do,” Baldelli said, “but there is not a blueprint for doing that (on the fly).”
The Twins placed reliever Oliver Ortega on the 15-day injured list with a left lumbar strain Thursday and recalled Jordan Balazovic, a promising right-hander who has struggled with his command, giving up 16 hits and 10 walks in his past 13⅓ big league innings.
Baldelli said Balazovic was candid about his issues when he was optioned back to St. Paul last week, but the rookie also didn’t get to pitch for the Saints before being recalled.
“He knows there are adjustments he has to make, he just wasn’t able to test those out yet,” Baldelli said.
At least he’s rested. The Twins just finished an eight-day stretch that included three off days, which the team hoped would help the bullpen get some rest. But after using seven bullpen arms in Milwaukee, that isn’t the case.
The Twins’ next three off days will be scattered over 29 days.
“We’re going to be pitching whoever’s available, and that’s fine,” Baldelli said. “There’s really nothing we can do differently.”
If Byron Buxton is going to play defense for the first time this season when he returns from a hamstring injury, it will begin with the Saints. “He’s going to have to play outfield on a rehab assignment,” Baldelli said. … Utility man Willi Castro (oblique) will play a rehab assignment with the Saints in Omaha this week. … Edouard Julien wasn’t in the lineup on Thursday. “His (hamstring) is a little tight but I think he’ll be fine,” Baldelli said. … Alex Kirilloff appears to be nearing a rehab assignment. He said his right shoulder feels “a lot better” and that he has done everything but face live pitching.