ARLINGTON, TEXAS – Willians Astudillo spends most of his time at ballparks rooting on his teammates, joking with them and providing support.
On Saturday, those roles were reversed. When word spread that Astudillo had been optioned to Class AAA St. Paul in order to give Byron Buxton his roster spot, players came over to encourage their popular teammate.
“Definitely we talked. We’re really close,” Nelson Cruz said. “My advice was to keep on working. I told him, you go out there and support your teammates. You’ll be back.”
The ever-cheerful Astudillo wasn’t particularly cheerful, though.
“He took it hard,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of his pregame meeting with Astudillo. “[It was] not an easy thing to do.”
But it was not a particularly surprising choice, not with Astudillo, 29, hitting only .152 with one extra-base hit in 16 games over the past month, or with him carrying a .276 on base percentage. Mostly, he has lost his job to rookies.
The Twins have decided that Ben Rortvedt’s defense makes him a better backup catcher for Ryan Jeffers while Mitch Garver recuperates, and that Alex Kirilloff will back up Miguel Sano at first base. Though not a rookie, Luis Arraez will handle third base when Josh Donaldson isn’t available.
And mostly, they have decided Nick Gordon is worth keeping ahead of him, especially while they are uncertain about Max Kepler’s ability to cover center field so soon after recovering from a hamstring injury.
“He’s earned this opportunity,” Baldelli said of Gordon, who is 12-for-36 since being called up on June 2, and who has excelled at a new position, center field, in Buxton’s absence. “He basically taught himself how to play center field. It says a lot about his ability to play the game and make adjustments. He’ll continue to do that and potentially even bounce around the field a little bit more.”
Still, Baldelli acknowledged that the absence of the team’s top in-uniform cheerleader would make a difference in the clubhouse and especially the dugout, where under MLB rules, he was not allowed to be Saturday once the game began.
“Whether he’s playing or not, he truly does keep everybody going in several different ways. It’s not just energy, it’s personality, it’s encouragement,” Baldelli said. “He’s an emotional guy, and he wants to be here.”
Home plate umpire Cory Blaser approached Randy Dobnak after the fifth inning ended and made a humbling admission: He should have called the 3-and-2 sinker Dobnak threw to Charlie Culberson in the third inning a strike.
“I thought it was a good pitch,” Dobnak said, but he graciously accepted the apology. Still, that possibly missed call was more damaging than Blaser knew, thanks to a weird habit that the righthander has fallen into. Dobnak has walked just 12 batters this season, but after five of them — four in his past three starts — he has immediately given up a home run to the next batter.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa did the honors this time, hitting a long line drive that just cleared the fence in left field, his sixth home run of the season.
“I didn’t realize it was five times,” Dobnak said. “I knew it was way too many.”
Still, Saturday’s start was a big turnaround for Dobnak, battered with 17 runs in his past three starts. Kiner-Falefa’s homer was the only runs he allowed in five innings.
“Just attacking. I feel like this whole season’s been pretty rough for me, and it always starts with command, getting ahead of guys, locating my slider,” Dobnak said. “I kind of relied on the fastball tonight. Overall, this is a really good outing for me to build on.”
Michael Pineda did some jogging along the warning track before Saturday’s game, but that’s about the extent his rehab work so far as he tries to avoid the forearm tightness and elbow inflammation that have shortened two of his recent starts.
“Mike’s taking it very light,” Baldelli said. “We’re going to be doing mostly treatment right now. He’ll start throwing soon with [increased] tolerance.”