MINNEAPOLIS — For Kyle Waldrop, this day should have happened months ago.
The right-handed reliever seemed like a sure bet to make the Minnesota Twins’ 25-man roster out of spring training. But a right elbow strain landed him on the disabled list to start the season, and his opportunity for a spot on the opening-day roster was gone.
Finally, after a lengthy rehab process that began with a minor league rehab assignment in Fort Myers, Fla., and eventually finished in Triple-A Rochester, Waldrop made his 2012 debut Friday for the Twins.
Waldrop entered Friday’s game against Kansas City in the top of the seventh inning with a runner on first and two outs. His day was done after 1 1/3 innings, one hit and one walk.
While Waldrop had a shaky start — he allowed the first three hitters he faced to reach base — it was a relief for him just to be back on a major league mound.
“It felt good to be back out in a competitive game like that,” Waldrop said after the Twins fell 4-3 to the Royals. “The adrenaline was going pretty good there, especially that first inning. I felt great. It was tough being up here at the start of the season just rehabbing. To be actually out there tonight, it was definitely exciting.”
Waldrop began his 2012 debut by walking Royals designated hitter Billy Butler in a 10-pitch at-bat. He then hit Jeff Francoeur two pitches later to load the bases.
That brought Eric Hosmer to the plate to face Waldrop. Hosmer hit a ball up the middle that deflected off Waldrop’s glove and bounced to second baseman Jamey Carroll. Carroll had no play, allowing Yuniesky Betancourt to score the Royals’ fourth and final run of the game.
“If I didn’t touch it, Carroll probably makes a play,” Waldrop said. “I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t get out of that inning and gave up that run that ended up being a huge run.”
But Waldrop calmed down from there. He got Salvador Perez to ground out for the final out of the inning, and then retired all three batters he faced in the eighth inning — all on ground ball outs.
“The second inning was really good. The ball was sinking and moving,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Waldrop. “He threw some nice breaking balls, first pitch. It looked like he relaxed a little bit the second inning out there.”
Waldrop made his major league debut in 2011, pitching in seven games out of the Twins’ bullpen as a September call-up last year. In 11 innings, he allowed seven runs on 10 hits while striking out five and walking six.
Waldrop pitched 14 1/3 innings with Rochester during his rehab assignment, allowing just two earned runs on 11 hits. He added five strikeouts and five walks. During his time with the Red Wings, Waldrop said his full mix of pitches started coming together, something that wasn’t happening earlier in the year.
It was also during his time in Rochester that his mind was eased in regards to his problematic elbow.
“It’s feeling good,” he said of the elbow. “It was the third or fourth game in Rochester when I started to turn the corner. There was a stretch where I threw four out of six days. That was kind of turning the corner mentally, because I knew I could do it. And getting out there as much as I was helped me get my feel back for pitches. I was a little sharper those days, even the second and third day I was throwing I was starting to feel better.”
Finally back with Minnesota, Waldrop joins a bullpen that has been one of the few bright spots for the 30-45 Twins. Waldrop was one of four relievers Minnesota used in Friday’s loss as the bullpen combined for just one run in six innings.
The Twins are hoping Waldrop can be another solid addition to what has been a good bullpen.
“You know, I’m really happy the way the guys have thrown,” Waldrop said. “There’s always competition between the guys. I’m glad to see them because they are a group of good guys and a lot of hard work has paid off.”