Liriano moves to bullpen, Valencia demoted

MINNEAPOLIS — Sitting fourteen games under .500, the Minnesota Twins needed to do something, anything, to possibly light a fire under the team.

After Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to the Angels, they did just that.

Minnesota made a slew of roster moves Wednesday night with the hope of jump-starting a struggling club. Perhaps the most notable was third baseman Danny Valencia, who was optioned to Triple-A Rochester. Left-handed reliever Matt Maloney was designated for assignment, while outfielder Darin Mastroianni and right-hander P.J. Walters were called up from Rochester.

In addition, Minnesota also moved struggling left-hander Francisco Liriano from the rotation to the bullpen after he began the season 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA. Walters will start in Liriano’s place Saturday against Toronto.

At 8-22, the Twins are desperately searching for a way to right the ship.

“This is just something that we’ve got to do right now,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We need to make some changes. We need some hits. We need some new life in here, the whole package.”

Valencia, in his third season with the Twins, has struggled offensively through the first part of the season. After going 0-for-4 on Wednesday, Valencia is now batting just .190 with 11 RBI.

It’s Valencia’s first time back to the minors since he was called up during the 2010 season. During that year, he hit .311/.351/.448 in 85 games with the Twins. Last season, however, those numbers dipped to .246/.294/.383 in 154 games.

Valencia’s offensive slide continued into 2012, and the Twins are hoping a trip to Triple-A will help him straighten things out.

“He’s gotta get some swings, gotta get some confidence,” Gardenhire said. “He asked me the question, ‘What’s it take for me to get back up here?’ I told him the same thing it took for you got get here the first time. Go down there, be successful, get some hits, play the game and get back up here.”

Valencia is currently in the midst of an 0-for-25 slump in May after going 0-for-4 Wednesday. He seemed to take the news in stride, however, knowing he has some work to do in Rochester.

“Obviously nobody wants to get sent down, but it’s hard not to say I didn’t see it coming because I haven’t been hitting very well,” Valencia said. “I’ve been inconsistent. My defense has been good, but I’m a guy that needs to contribute offensively. … Performance trumps all up here, and I haven’t been doing that offensively.”

Valencia had been the Twins’ everyday third baseman prior to being sent down to the minors. In his place, Gardenhire said Minnesota will use a platoon of Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla and Trevor Plouffe at third base. Plouffe has played third base just once in his career, while Casilla has spent just two games there. Carroll, 38, has played 172 career games at third.

The Twins have tried all year to figure out how to get Liriano on track, but nothing seemed to work. His longest outing in six starts this year was just 5 1/3 innings on May 1 against the Angels. He allowed at least four earned runs in each of his six starts and walked 19 batters while striking out 21 in 26 2/3 innings.

A move to the bullpen seemed like a possibility for Liriano, but on Wednesday it became a reality.

“Frankie said, ‘Whatever you need me to do.’ He made sure that he told (pitching coach Rick Anderson) and I that he understood, and that he’s not upset about it, and he wants to help the baseball team any way he can,” Gardenhire said. “We just gotta get him right. We’ve got to get him into some situations to try and get him some success. …

“He has the best arm on this team and we need to get him some confidence going, get some quality innings out of him, maybe help us win a few ballgames out of the bullpen right now. Eventually we’re going to need him as a starter.”

Mastroianni, claimed by the Twins off waivers from Toronto in February, has been one of Rochester’s best hitters this season. Prior to Wednesday, he was batting .365/.405/.446 with 10 stolen bases and 11 RBI with the Red Wings. He’s played in just one game in the majors — last year with Toronto.

“Mastroianni’s been playing the living fire out of the game down there,” Gardenhire said. “Probably the most exciting player they have on that baseball team right now, running bases, stealing bases. He can fly. We’ll see. We’ll see how he does.”

The Twins signed Walters, 27, as a free agent in December. He’s appeared in 20 games in the majors with St. Louis and Toronto from 2009-11. Like Mastroianni, he played in just one game with the Blue Jays — who he’ll face Saturday.

In six starts for Rochester, Walters was 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA. He struck out 25 batters and walked just six in 33 1/3 innings.

“Strike-thrower, mixes all his pitches in,” Gardenhire said of Walters. “Velocity’s somewhere between 87 to 90. Very confident. They tell me he’s the best pitcher available right now. He’s throwing the ball very, very well.”

Maloney, 28, pitched in nine games out of the bullpen this season and posted an 8.18 ERA. He allowed 10 runs in 11 innings while striking out five and walking one.

After Wednesday’s moves, the Twins have six players on the 25-man roster that weren’t on the Opening Day roster.

“We’re just trying to get some performance out on the field, get some people right,” Gardenhire said. “You’ve got to remember, there’s a lot of players that have been up here a ways back and got sent back down. Torii Hunter got sent back down. Guys like that were up here for a little bit, had to go back down, get their mind straight, get their swing straight and get back up. We’ve done that with a few people in this organization, and it’s worked out.”

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