Twins Thursday: Mastroianni grateful for return to big leagues

The 2013 season was what Darin Mastroianni called a "lost year." He had trouble staying healthy and played in just 30 games with the Twins while batting just .185 in 65 at-bats. He's healthy now, however, and confident as he returns to the big leagues.

Brad Rempel/Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — For most players, a demotion during spring training is a disappointment.

Not for Darin Mastroianni. He welcomed it.

The Twins outfielder was reassigned to minor-league camp on March 16, two weeks before the end of camp. He went down to Fort Myers hoping to win a spot on the 25-man roster as the fourth outfielder. But as he continued to work his way back from an ankle injury that required surgery, he embraced the opportunity to play every day.

"I was glad they sent me down when they did, to be honest with you," Mastroianni said Thursday, his first day with the Twins during the 2014 season. "I got a chance to go down to the minor-league camp and play every single day and get a lot of at-bats that I wouldn’t have if they kept me up another week or two weeks, or whatever."

After getting his at-bats in the minor-league camp, Mastroianni got off to a strong start with Triple-A Rochester. In his first four games with the Red Wings — who had trouble getting games in due to weather — Mastroianni was 9-for-20 (.450) with a pair of RBI. With Minnesota in need of an outfielder when Oswaldo Arcia was placed on the disabled list, Mastroianni was the obvious choice.

The Twins officially called up Mastroianni after Wednesday’s game against Oakland, and he was in the lineup Thursday as the right field and leadoff hitter.

"He’s moving around really good. He’s not favoring his ankle at all," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "He feels like he can do anything he needs to do now. That’s kind of where we wanted to get him to. We didn’t expect it to be this quick, but we need help. He’s a guy we like because he can do some things on the bases."

The 2013 season was what Mastroianni called a "lost year." He had trouble staying healthy and played in just 30 games with the Twins while batting just .185 in 65 at-bats. His 2012 season with Minnesota was much better and was his first extended time in the majors as he appeared in 77 games. He used his speed to steal 21 bases on 24 attempts.

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The Twins are hoping Mastroianni’s speed can again be an asset.

"He creates havoc. He can do all those things," Gardenhire said. "That’s his game. I told him when I sent him down, ‘Your game is a speed game and creating havoc. Right now you’re not there, but this will give you time to do some things here in spring training and get ready for that.’ The big thing for him is his leg’s healthy."

Mastroianni said he knew he was a long shot to make the 25-man roster out of camp, especially since he needed to prove in spring that he was healthy. He came into camp feeling fine physically, but didn’t feel like he was in baseball shape after missing so much time during the 2013 season.

"Baseball-skill wise, my instincts weren’t there. My timing wasn’t there. My approach to the plate wasn’t there. My swing wasn’t there," Mastroianni said. "I needed to get on the field playing baseball, not just taking BP, getting two at-bats. I had to play the game. It was nice to get sent down and go and get two weeks of playing every single day and getting three or four at-bats every day and playing defense every day."

It remains to be seen how long Mastroianni’s stint with the Twins will last. Arcia’s progress with his wrist injury has been slower than Minnesota had hoped for. Utility infielder/outfielder Jason Bartlett is also on the disabled list, and left fielder Josh Willingham hasn’t played since Sunday after getting hit on the hand by a pitch.

The Twins’ outfield options are thin; both Chris Herrmann and Chris Colabello have played the outfield so far this year, but they were both playing out of position as a natural catcher and first baseman, respectively. Mastroianni can play all three outfield positions and handles the bat well enough to be a leadoff hitter.

"When you’re called up for a guy who’s injured, it’s not ideal. But you are here," Mastroianni said. "That’s the thing. You see guys who come up for injuries and stick. Right now, they’re playing good baseball right now. I’m here to fill in and try and help them continue to win baseball games. If I stay, I stay. If I don’t, then I’ll work my way back up again."

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