Twins get creative, expected to recall Varland for bullpen

Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS

ARLINGTON, TEXAS – The Twins informed righthander Cole Sands after Sunday's 6-5 loss to the Texas Rangers that he's being optioned back to Class AAA St. Paul. That's no surprise — in fact, it's practically routine after a long reliever throws 50 pitches in an outing, as Sands did Sunday, because he would be unavailable for the next several days.

What's unusual is how the Twins are planning to fill that spot. The team made no announcement after Sands' reassignment, but indications are that St. Paul native and Saints starter Louie Varland will be summoned back to the major leagues — but for the bullpen, not the starting rotation.

Varland has enjoyed a strong season with St. Paul, posting a 7-1 record with a 3.97 ERA for the Saints. But the Twins tipped their hand about their plans for the rookie righthander Thursday, when he was asked to pitch out of the bullpen for the first time this season. Varland pitched four innings in relief against Columbus, giving up one run and three hits.

He has started 15 games in the major leagues, including 10 this season. He had a stretch of five starts in May in which he allowed only nine runs over 30⅓ innings, a 2.67 ERA with a 25-5 strikeout/walk ratio. But he found trouble in June, giving up 17 runs in 15 innings over three starts before being returned to Class AAA.

Kirilloff building up

Alex Kirilloff singled and homered at CHS Field on Sunday, bringing his four-game totals to seven hits in 18 at-bats during his current rehab assignment with the Saints, a .388 average with two homers and a double.

But results aren't the important part of Kirilloff's rehab from a shoulder strain that has sidelined him for the past five weeks, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. That the oft-injured first baseman can handle an everyday workload with no setbacks is what the Twins are looking for.

That's why "we don't have any plans currently to travel AK" to Cleveland for this week's series, Baldelli said Sunday. "He's doing fine. He's building back up. But he does need some at-bats to prove to himself and to us that he's in a good physical state. He needs more than a couple of games for that."

Home of ex-Angels

The Twins will face Lucas Giolito on Monday, and they figure to see relievers Matt Moore and Reynaldo López sometime during this week's three-game series in Cleveland. Each of those three pitchers was an L.A. Angel when the Guardians left Target Field on Wednesday, but they were claimed off waivers by Cleveland a day later.

Does it seem fair that the Guardians can so thoroughly upgrade their pitching staff in the middle of a pennant race by taking advantage of a salary dump by a non-contender?

"I don't have any problem with it this year," Baldelli said, "because that was the way the rules were jotted down. I wouldn't be surprised if MLB amends some of the rules, but the Guardians probably made the right move to get some really good guys on their roster. It made total sense."

Giolito, the longtime White Sox starter, has already faced the Twins three times this year, and has allowed only two earned runs in 18 innings. Moore and López have each pitched dozens of innings against Minnesota.

"We've seen all these guys before, so it's not like we're having to face a bunch of pitchers we don't know," Baldelli said. "The Guardians always pitch good, so it's not like we're going to see anything unusual from them."


• As expected, the Twins put Michael A. Taylor on the injured list with a sore right hamstring. Baldelli said the injury is minor, and "I don't expect him to need more than 10 to 14 days to get himself ready." Utility player Willi Castro was activated off the IL.

• Brooks Lee hit a tying home run with two out in the ninth inning for his fourth hit of the game, but the Saints gave up eight runs in the 10th inning and lost 14-6 to Columbus.

• The visitors' clubhouse at Globe Life Field includes a ping-pong table, which was heavily used by the Twins this weekend. Who's the best player? Depends on who you ask. "Me, and it's not close," asserted rookie Edouard Julien, citing his expertise from college as the reason. "I beat him. I'm his daddy," scoffed veteran Kyle Farmer.