MINNEAPOLIS — Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony was at Safeco Field in Seattle on Saturday as right-hander Trevor May pitched in front of his hometown fans. May was given an opportunity in Minnesota’s rotation thanks to a few circumstances out of his own control — the suspension of Ervin Santana and an injury to Ricky Nolasco.
As Antony watched May during his third start of the year, another Twins employee asked Antony what the team was going to do when Nolasco came back from the disabled list. May had pitched well to that point, as had right-hander Mike Pelfrey. Minnesota was going to have a decision to make on the odd man out.
In the very same inning the question was asked to Antony, May took a comebacker off his right arm near his elbow, forcing him from the game. Though the injury likely won’t force May to miss any time, it was a reminder that things can change in a hurry in the game of baseball.
"You never know," Antony said Monday, two days after May’s start and one day after Nolasco pitched with Low-A Cedar Rapids on his rehab assignment. "You start planning too far ahead, hypotheticals and everything else, half the time they don’t even come into play unfortunately. . . .
"I hope all five guys continue to pitch well and we’ve got six choices."
It remains to be seen when Nolasco will be ready to come off the 15-day disabled list, a place he ended up after suffering inflammation in his elbow in his first start of the year. The Twins still aren’t sure whether or not Nolasco will need another rehab start before he’s activated from the DL.
When that time does come, one pitcher will be the odd man out. Though left-hander Tommy Milone’s name could be added alongside Pelfrey and May after giving up five runs in Monday’s loss to Detroit, Milone’s previous three starts — 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA — were solid enough to make a case to stay in the rotation.
After missing most of last season with an injury, Pelfrey has gotten stronger in each of his first three starts. His last outing was his best, as he tossed seven scoreless innings against Kansas City to earn his first win since 2013.
May, meanwhile, bounced back from a rough season debut with a good start against Cleveland in which he allowed just one run in six innings. It’s hard to take much away from Saturday’s start that was cut short in the fourth inning, but May feels as if he’s been markedly better than the pitcher that made his major-league debut in 2014 with less than stellar results.
"I feel like I’m starting to kind of figure out how my stuff plays here," May said. "I think I can be a very successful pitcher at this level. I’m starting to gain confidence. It’s all about just getting back on the rubber and throwing."
Nolasco’s placement on the disabled list was retroactive to April 9, meaning he is already eligible to come off of it. He said Monday that everything felt good in Sunday’s rehab start and that he was able to throw his curveball with no issues, a sign that his elbow is indeed back to normal.
The Twins have options when the time comes to activate Nolasco. They could demote May to Triple-A Rochester, where he spent most of the 2014 season before his big league call-up. They could also move Pelfrey to the bullpen, which was Minnesota’s original plan in spring training before the Santana situation unfolded.
May’s biggest problem last season was his command; he walked seven batters in two innings in his major league debut and had two other outings with four walks each. That issue seems to be a thing of the past now, as May walked just two total batters in 14 2/3 innings over the course of his first three starts of 2015.
The decision on the rotation obviously isn’t up to May, but he feels as if he’s done his part to state his case for staying in it.
"At this point it’s not even about trying to stay or trying to have a spot, because if you take care of your job then there will be a spot for you somewhere at some point. It might be later, it might be sooner, it doesn’t matter. The job is the same," May said. "I’m just trying to be aggressive and attack and don’t let anyone be comfortable against you and just keep going after them. That’s what I’m trying to do."