PHOENIX – Fooled by a changeup, Jorge Polanco took a healthy swing at a low strike from Rays lefthander Jeffrey Springs in the first inning last Sunday.
He hasn’t been the same since.
Polanco wrenched an already sore lower back during that first-inning at-bat, and seven innings later was on the bench. That’s where he will remain until at least next Thursday, after the Twins, who delayed the decision as long as they could, put him on the injured list.
It’s the first time in the infielder’s career, at any level, that he’s been sidelined by injury, a remarkable streak considering he has twice required ankle surgery during the winter. Polanco, who played in 360 of the Twins’ 384 games from 2019-21, leads the Twins in innings played this season, as he has in each of the previous three years.
“He wasn’t able to swing, and if you can’t swing, you can’t play the game,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Pretty amazing, though, that he’s gotten to this number of games without having to do this.”
Polanco wasn’t thrilled about getting 10 days off this time, either, but acknowledged that, even though an MRI found no structural damage, his lower back hasn’t improved much over the past four days.
“I’ve been dealing with it before. It wasn’t that bad,” said Polanco, who has been ordered not to do any physical activity for at least the next two days. “But on Sunday, it got a little bit bad. It got worse, so that’s why I’ve got to go out.”
Winder feels good
Josh Winder felt good after his three-inning, 46-pitch start for the Class AAA St. Paul Saints, Baldelli said, but the team has not yet determined whether to activate him from the injured list or give him another rehab start.
It’s a decision that is complicated by MLB’s intention to begin enforcing the 13-pitcher roster limit on Monday. The Twins carry 14 pitchers, and Baldelli has made it clear they prefer to keep carrying 14.
But the necessity of subtracting someone as soon as they return home, even before considering how to make room for Winder, might cause the Twins to buy time by extending the righthander’s rehab assignment as they sort through their options.
Either way, the manager is clearly worried about reducing his bullpen to eight pitchers — more for the effect it will have on his starting pitchers.
“Starters will just have to throw more. Some of [our relievers] are throwing as much as they can throw,” Baldelli said. “You’re going to look up in certain situations, where you’re going to have to ride your starter. … You’re going to have to start seeing more outings that are closer to 102 pitcher than 82.”
Thielbar proud alumnus
Caleb Thielbar was wearing the smile of a champion in the Twins’ clubhouse on Friday, even though he was two time zones and 17 years removed from his own playing days. The Twins’ lefty beamed as he described his pride in tiny Randolph High’s first state championship in baseball.
“Beat the defending champions, too,” Thielbar said of his alma mater’s 2-1 victory over Hayfield. “I got some text messages about it, keeping me up to date.”
Elliot Soto, the 32-year-old middle infielder who spent one day with the Twins in Seattle but did not appear in a game, cleared waivers and agreed to return to St. Paul.