Youngsters eager to impress Twins coaches

MINNEAPOLIS — Darin Mastroianni’s major-league career has been brief so far — one game, to be exact, prior to Thursday. It was a time he described as a “whirlwind of emotions.”

On Aug. 24 of last season, Mastroianni made his big-league debut with the Toronto Blue Jays against the Kansas City Royals. He went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a sacrifice bunt in his three at-bats. The next day, it was back to Triple-A Las Vegas for the rest of the season.

One game. That’s all he got.

Now, Mastroianni is getting his second shot at the majors. The Twins recalled him from Triple-A Rochester late Wednesday night. On Thursday, he was batting eighth in the lineup as Minnesota’s left fielder in his Target Field debut.

“Hopefully I’ll get past one day this time,” Mastroianni said.

The Twins are hoping so, too, and they’re hoping that he can provide a spark to a team that was 8-22 before opening a four-game series on Thursday against Toronto. The addition of Mastroianni was just one of several roster moves Minnesota made after Wednesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Angels. The Twins demoted third baseman Danny Valencia to Rochester and designated reliever Matt Maloney for assignment. Mastroianni took Valencia’s spot on the roster, while pitcher P.J. Walters was also called up to take Maloney’s spot.

In addition, the Twins moved struggling left-hander Francisco Liriano from the rotation to the bullpen. The moves were plentiful, but something had to be done after Minnesota fell 14 games under .500 on May 9.

“It’s just back to baseball. New guys up and get some other guys out and they need to go do some work and just getting back to baseball,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said before Thursday’s game, one day after his clubhouse saw a sizeable shakeup. “Same thing every day. You go do your work and prepare and hopefully we pitch well enough to keep us in the ballgame and get a chance to score some runs.”

Mastroianni was arguably the hottest Red Wings hitter prior to his call-up. He started the season with Double-A New Britain but quickly moved up to Rochester after just nine games. Once at Triple-A, Mastroianni batted .346/.393/.423 with 11 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 20 games.

He was playing well, but he still wasn’t sure if it was good enough to get the call up to the majors.

“The way I look at it, it was only 75 at-bats. Obviously I felt really comfortable at the plate the last three weeks,” Mastroianni said. “They know what they’re doing here. They know when they feel someone’s ready and when not. I have complete faith in our managers and hitting coaches in Triple-A as well as in the big leagues and the whole staff. When they felt that I was ready, it’s their call. I’m glad that they have that confidence in me, and I’m hoping to go out there and prove them right tonight and for as long as I’m here.”

Liriano accepts bullpen role: One day after his demotion to the bullpen, Francisco Liriano said he’ll do whatever the Twins need him to do, even if it means pitching in relief.

“I’ve been there before so I have to go out there and try to do my job,” Liriano said of the bullpen. “I’m happy to be here and try to do anything to help the team win some ballgames. From the bullpen, starting, whatever I have to do.”

Prior to being sent to the bullpen, Liriano was 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA in six starts. He walked 19 batters in 26 2/3 innings and had a WHIP of 2.10. He appeared in two games in relief last season and has come out of the bullpen 21 times in his seven-year career.

On Thursday, Gardenhire said it made more sense to move Liriano to the bullpen rather than send him to Triple-A to work out the kinks.

“We talked about him going to Rochester and starting, but that’s not the same hitters you’re going to see down there as you are up here,” Gardenhire said. “You can go down there and throw the ball over and you’re going to get people chasing the ball all over the place. You can dominate down there. We need him to face major league hitting and bear down and get some major league hitters out.”

Walters prepared for Saturday start: Like Mastroianni on Thursday, P.J. Walters will face a former team when he takes the hill for the Twins on Saturday. He’ll be pitching against the Blue Jays, a team he played one game for during the 2011 season. He also spent time with the Cardinals, appearing in 19 games with St. Louis from 2009-11.

Even thought he’s made a handful of big league starts, he’s expecting a few butterflies when he makes his Twins debut at Target Field.

“There’s nerves. Even in Triple-A, there’s nerves,” Walters said Thursday. “You care about what you’re doing, you try to win. It doesn’t matter where you’re pitching.”

In six starts at Rochester this season, Walters was 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA, including 25 strikeouts and just six walks in 33 1/3 innings.

“As I’ve said over and over again, we tell people when they go down there, be the guy that’s ready to come up here. And his name came up,” Gardenhire said of Walters. “(General manager Terry Ryan has) been down there watching him. We were looking for a pitcher. Terry said this guy will attack. He’s a bulldog out on the mound. He’s not afraid. He won’t back down. There you go. We’ll see what he does.”

Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.