Preview: Twins at Rangers
Minnesota will use the “opener” strategy with its pitchers for the first time this season when left-handed reliever Gabriel Moya is expected to start for the Twins against the Texas Rangers on Sunday, following a practice began in May by Tampa Bay and utilized by a handful of other major league teams this year.
Right-hander Zack Littell will be recalled from Triple-A Rochester to serve as what Minnesota manager Paul Molitor has dubbed the Twins’ “primary pitcher” after Moya.
The Rangers will counter with left-hander Yohander Mendez (0-1, 14.73 ERA) as their starter in the rubber game of the series at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.
Texas hit four homers to beat Minnesota 7-4 on Saturday to snap a five-game losing streak. Rookie Ronald Guzman hit a three-run homer while Nomar Marzara, Adrian Beltre and Rougned Odor hit solo homers.
The Twins have been utilizing the “opener” strategy for months at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Minnesota decided to push back right-hander Kyle Gibson’s start to Monday in Houston to try the strategy because the Rangers have a left-handed top of their batting order.
The “opener” is employed to keep the game’s primary pitcher from facing the top of the lineup early and to be limited to two times through the order.
“You don’t want to do it on a whim,” Twins manager Paul Molitor told MLB.com. “There’s always going to be a risk, and then you try to decide in the game when it’s worthwhile to try to find out if this is something that’s going to be helpful to help your team win. You’re looking for an advantage.”
The Rangers activated pitcher Bartolo Colon off the disabled list Saturday, but then scratched him from Sunday’s start against the Twins because of a stomach virus. Colon hasn’t pitched since Aug. 20 because of stiffness in his back. The 45-year-old is a free agent after this season.
The 23-year-old Mendez is set to be recalled Sunday to make his second start and third appearance of 2018. He has never faced Minnesota.
Mendez is being brought back to the big leagues for the first time since June 19, when he was demoted to Class A after violating team rules in Kansas City.
“He took the challenges with the right attitude, went back down, and he’s going to get an opportunity to come back up tomorrow and start for us,” Texas manager Jeff Banister said of Mendez.
The Rangers are satisfied that Mendez has done everything asked of him since the demotion.
“Reports I got were that he worked his rear end off, physically and mentally, and took all the challenges and met all of them, even when they were a little bit tough,” Banister said. “The thing that I like about our coaching staff and this organization is that things like that happen. (But if) you go do your work, you’re given that opportunity to clean that slate, go do what you need to do.”
Mendez exited his last start for Triple-A Round Rock on Tuesday at home against Memphis after two innings when he was struck on his left arm by a batted ball. He is expected to be fully healthy for Sunday’s start.