Matt Shoemaker out? Bailey Ober in, Luis Arraez on the way

The Twins apparently are making their first unforced tweak to their starting rotation, right around the same time they're getting some good news.

After a fun night and some great news Thursday, the Twins find themselves 13 games out of first place in the AL Central, sole owners of last place in the division, and they have their work cut out for them. Are they up to the massive challenge?

Their mission, as I laid out in my last 5 Thoughts column, is to take the rest of the season in one-series increments. One Series at a Time, if you will.

And after a 1-ton truckload of injuries at challenging positions, bad luck, bad play and perhaps most surprisingly, bad pitching, the Twins might be starting to shake things up to retake the wheel of the 2021 season.

The first evidence of that came this afternoon. The Twins on Friday made it clear that Matt Shoemaker would not make his scheduled start in the first game of a home series against the Houston Astros.

Bailey Ober will start in his place. The brief analysis is that I like what I’ve seen and I’m intrigued by what I’ve heard about Ober. And I wonder if this will put an end to reading Shoemaker’s name popping up in those Twins-as-sellers trade rumors. I found that puzzling.

I also must have gotten a little lucky with a guess this week. Here’s what I wrote Monday for 5 Thoughts:

Bailey Ober – From the outside looking in, Ober’s outing Sunday looks most likely to be just a spot start. Although you never know for sure. He pitched 4 innings of 1-run ball in Kansas City, albeit with some good fortune. The Twins turned a triple play to get him out of trouble, and a few hard-hit pitches found their way right at a well-placed fielder. In other words, not dominant but an effective outing followed by an encouraging day from a group of Twins relievers.

This change in the starting rotation comes after manager Rocco Baldelli publicly committed to Shoemaker remaining in the rotation following a disastrous outing that ended with one out recorded, 9 runs scored, a ballooned ERA, and two other pitchers’ jobs in a precarious place. Here’s part of what I wrote in 5 Thoughts on the decision:

Rather than dive into deep analysis of how the year has gone for the Twins’ free-agent signing, we can just say that he has a 7.28 ERA in his first 11 starts, covering a little more than 50 innings. Not great, in short. Nevertheless, he’ll hold his rotation spot, according to manager Rocco Baldelli. His latest outing was bad news for two guys asked to clean up the mess after the Royals scored 9 runs and knocked out Shoemaker in the first inning. Shaun Anderson threw 62 pitches and hit the 10-day Injured List with blisters; Juan Minaya also mopped up and he was designated for assignment after the outing.

Yes, it’s a reversal of the earlier decision to stick by Shoemaker despite his season-long struggles. And that to me seems significant in a stay-the-course clubhouse.

Alex Kirilloff hurt his ankle while jumping for a ball hit off the wall during Thursday’s otherwise thrilling victory. Early reports are that the Twins hope it’s a day-to-day injury and they won’t need to be without Kirilloff for too long. Well, that’s good, because they’re already without outfielders Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Jake Cave, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Garlick, Jake Cave, Luis Arraez, and on Thursday night resorted again to using career minor league middle infielder Nick Gordon as their centerfielder. (That would be interesting for Gordon if he can make that role work, but it underscores how strained the team is in the outfield.)

Speaking of Byron Buxton, Minnesota’s best player continues to track toward a possible return this weekend after a couple games with the St. Paul Saints to test out his hip and get his timing back at the plate. He’s missed more than a month, remember, so while I bet that he could physically return to play, I wouldn’t expect him to hit the ground running, figuratively speaking, if he were just to be inserted in the Twins’ lineup Friday or Saturday.

Kenta Maeda threw 54 official pitches in 4 innings of work with the Saints on Wednesday, as he tracks toward returning from his adductor strain and arm pain expressed a couple weeks ago. If you’re the Twins, you’re hoping that Maeda’s arm soreness goes the way of Michael Pineda’s, which is to say that it sounds scary at first and then he’s able to get back to the big league mound and pitching in short order.

Also, Luis Arraez (shoulder) begins his rehab assignment tonight for Triple-A St. Paul on his road back to the big leagues. How do we know that?

Good source. Let’s go with it.

Flash back:

To Thursday night’s game, as the Twins salvaged one game of the 3-game set following a couple of disappointing losses. The Twins entered the 9th trailing by 2 runs and facing Aroldis Chapman, the guy that Nelson Cruz would call the best closer in the game.

(The Twins had a chance to close that gap in the 8th inning, but rookie Gilberto Celestino was thrown out at second base trying to stretch a long single into a double, making the third out at second base, when a single would have brought the tying run to the plate.)

Anyway, Jorge Polanco took a pair of non-strike sliders for Ball 1 and Ball 2, and I was reminded of that famous Joe Mauer story. In 2012, when Chapman was the Reds’ flam-throwing closer, Mauer battled for 10 pitches, working the count full and eventually doubling off Chapman. Josh Willingham must have got his timing down pretty well watching all those pitches in the on-deck circle, because he then came up and drove in Mauer — and himself — with what turned out to be the winning homer against a guy throwing 100+ mph. After those two breaking pitches that missed the strike zone, Chapman began to attack with fastballs. He would not, I’m guessing, want to walk a hitter with power in Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz coming to the plate for the Twins with a chance to tie. No, the Yankees eyed the sweep at Target Field to help right their own adrift ship, and correct course from the one that had them stuck in 4th place in the AL East when the series began.

Polanco ripped a hit to the left side to get things started. Three minutes and thirteen seconds later, Josh Donaldson had tied it with a second-decker — to finally put a big swing next to his great defense in a series that was highlighted for his battle of words with Gerrit Cole over sticky substances giving MLB pitchers an edge — Willians afraid-of-none Astudillo got on base against the big fastball; and Cruz sent the fans home happy with a blast to dead center field.

“Back it goes, deep it goes…”

From getting swept and likely pronounced dead to dancing — and showing a pulse — in a matter of minutes.

That sets up a fun series with the Astros in town, their first time at Target Field with fans in it since it was revealed that they cheated on their way to winning the 2017 World Series.

Listen:

Check out this Sunday’s show if you’re in the metro area. Tune in to 830 WCCO (or listen on Audacy if you’re in greater Minnesota). “Twins Today” is expected to feature a slate of guests that includes 10 batting titles, 25 all-star appearances and a World Series winner. That’s every Sunday during the baseball season from 10a-noon on AM-830.

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