Notes: Jax called up; Pineda scratched

Twins' starting depth thinned by injury concerns

June 5th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- 's wife, Savannah, earned a promotion to the rank of captain in the United States Air Force on May 24. If he'd remained on active duty, he'd have been on schedule to earn his promotion to captain at that point, too.

But Jax's promotion schedule was disrupted by his transfer to the Air Force Reserve in 2019 to facilitate his professional baseball career, meaning that he's still 1st Lt. Griffin Jax as he awaits the email informing him of his promotion.

In the meantime, he got a call about another promotion first.

The Twins selected Jax to their active roster on Saturday in Kansas City, making him the first Air Force Academy graduate to join a Major League roster. In doing so, Jax also completed a unique journey that involved sudden changes in military policy that disrupted his baseball trajectory, Minor League ball while on leave from his military obligations and an active duty assignment in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

"The path I took to this point has really been unique and it sort of helped formulate and mold me into a different type of person," Jax said. "Going through the service academy is not for everybody. It takes a different kid out of high school growing up, one that really understands more about themselves and one that's more mentally mature, I would say, from that standpoint.

"But in that sense, I'm truly grateful and excited to represent the Air Force in this capacity and in this way."

In a corresponding move, the Twins designated right-hander Juan Minaya for assignment.

Following his third-round selection in the 2016 MLB Draft by the Twins -- the highest ever by an Air Force player -- and his active duty assignment in 2017, Jax has more or less lived a normal baseball life since April 2018, when he was accepted to the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, which allowed him to pitch in the Minors (technically in preparation for the Tokyo Olympic Games) without receiving pay from the Twins.

Through all of the chaos and uncertainty, the 26-year-old posted a 3.20 ERA across 52 appearances in the Minors, including a 3.33 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 27 innings for Triple-A St. Paul this season.

He wasn't included in the Twins' alternate training site last season with the Minor League campaign shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he worked with his pitching coordinators and pitching coaches throughout the organization -- weekly, and sometimes even daily -- to put himself in the best position for success when play resumed.

"I think a lot of it stems from the entire Twins’ pitching strategy of just attacking the zone with more offspeed [pitches], using our analytics and our data to put us in the best position moving forward," Jax said.

That work has now paid off, and his college coach, Mike Kazlausky, will be in attendance at Kauffman Stadium alongside Jax's family for his debut, whether that comes out of the bullpen on Saturday or, possibly, as the Twins' starter on Sunday, though the club has not yet announced such plans.

Kazlausky would often message Jax during his Minor League career, to the tune of: "You have to do this for us; you have to get us on the map."

He now has -- and though his wife now outranks him, Jax has plenty of bragging rights of his own.

"It’s truly unbelievable," Jax said. "I’m still sort of shocked. I wouldn’t even necessarily say that it’s hit me so far. Being with all these guys up here just puts a smile on my face and I’m definitely excited to see what the day and night holds."

Pineda scratched from Sunday start

Michael Pineda will not make his scheduled start in Sunday's series finale against Kansas City, with the Twins opting to give him a few more days to recover from the sore right forearm that bothered him during his last start in Baltimore.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Pineda will throw a bullpen session on Sunday and could pitch as soon as Tuesday.

"It's just to give Mike an extra couple of days to make sure he's feeling OK," Baldelli said. "We sat him down, had a good conversation with him yesterday about how he was feeling. He said he was feeling good, but it would be good to have a day out in the bullpen to make sure he's fine and ready to go and nothing changes."

The Twins have not yet named a Sunday starter, but Jax indicated that he was preparing for Sunday's start if he wasn't needed out of the bullpen as a long reliever in Saturday's game.

Minnesota's rotation is still in rough shape, with underperformance from J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker coupled with minor injuries to Kenta Maeda and Pineda. The depth is also banged up, with Devin Smeltzer sidelined for the foreseeable future with left elbow inflammation and Lewis Thorpe also dealing with a potential issue that has limited the quality of his stuff with Triple-A St. Paul.

And though Shoemaker's performance could eventually bring his role into question, there's little wiggle room to make any changes at this time -- especially this early into an injury-marred season.

"There's a lot of moving parts at the moment, but as of right now there are no changes and we just want our guys to get ready for their next starts," Baldelli said.