Varland reluctant but willing to rejoin Twins as a reliever

CLEVELAND — Louie Varland arrived at Progressive Field on Monday, willing and eager to fill any role the Twins ask of him as they chase an American League Central championship.


"I believe the best version of myself is a starter. Starters also get paid," the rookie righthander pointed out. "I want to stay a starter as long as I possibly can."

That's not the role he'll fill for the time being, though. Varland was promoted from Class AAA St. Paul on Monday to work out of the bullpen as the Twins search for more relievers they can trust with a lead.

Varland, who posted a 1.95 ERA in August for the Saints, is OK with that, though he said he was "stubborn" at first. "Basically, we're in the playoff hunt. All hands on deck," he said. "I'll do whatever it takes to make the Twins win. Whatever they need."

What they need is a young pitcher who has been throwing high-90s fastballs, and even touching 100 on occasion at St. Paul. Varland started 10 games for the Twins earlier this season but was sent down after giving up 17 runs in his final 15 innings. He returned Monday when the Twins optioned righthander Cole Sands back to Class AAA.

"I took the [demotion] as a chance to work on my stuff," the Twin Cities native said, including "a couple" of new pitches. "I'm a better pitcher than I was a couple months ago."

That's what the Twins are counting on.

"He's a guy that can come out of the pen throwing a high-90s fastball and go right at you. We'll see what he can do in that role," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "It could be for one hitter, or it could be three innings. He's built up to really give us anything."

Even a start?

"I think his best spot right now is in the bullpen. That could change," Baldelli said. "There are guys that have to do different things at different times of the year because the circumstances on our team … change."

Rehab pause for Buxton

Byron Buxton's rehabilitation assignment is being paused for now, Baldelli said, to let the patella tendinitis in Buxton's right knee subside. Buxton didn't accompany the Saints on Monday to Louisville, where they open a weeklong series Tuesday.

"Buck's going to stay back from going on the road right now [to] get treatment on his knee," Baldelli said. "When he's ready and feeling better, the plan is to get him back out there and get more at-bats."

Baldelli said the Twins don't know yet whether the knee soreness will end their hopes of allowing Buxton to play center field this year.

Meanwhile, Alex Kirilloff did travel to Kentucky with the Saints, for whom he has homered in back-to-back games while rehabbing from a shoulder strain.

"He's going to continue to get at-bats for at least a couple more days," Baldelli said. "And then we'll reassess."


* Injured relievers Brock Stewart and Jorge Alcala will throw bullpen sessions on Tuesday, Alcala in Fort Myers, Fla. Bailey Ober did the same over the weekend in St. Paul, and it's possible he could start a game in Louisville this week.