MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins placed reliever Zack Littell on the 10-day injured list on Saturday with a left hamstring strain and recalled right-hander Jorge Alcala to take his place in the bullpen.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said that Littell felt tightness in the hamstring as he came off the mound following his outing on Thursday. It's not a major injury, and Baldelli doesn't expect that Littell will require the full 10 days to recover. Still, considering that Littell would have been unavailable for several days, Baldelli and the Twins preferred to get a fresh arm on the roster in his place.
"To have a spot in the bullpen where you're not going to pitch a guy for a handful of days right now is also not a place where we really want to be," Baldelli said. "I know he was disappointed to have to go on the IL. I don't blame him, but we needed to get Alcala in here, someone that's able to give us an inning or two whenever necessary over the next few days."
Littell, 24, settled into consistent success for the first time last season as a member of Minnesota's bullpen with a 2.68 ERA in 37 innings, including only three earned runs allowed in his final 27 appearances of the season. He was hit hard by the White Sox in his 2020 debut last Saturday, when he allowed three homers in one inning, but he bounced back with two scoreless yet wild frames in Thursday's series opener against Cleveland.
Alcala is ranked the No. 25 prospect in the Twins' organization, per MLB Pipeline. He was elevated from Minnesota's taxi squad to the active roster. The hard-throwing right-hander appeared in two games as a September callup last season and impressed in Summer Camp with his big fastball and plus slider. The 25-year-old was initially acquired in the 2018 deal that sent Ryan Pressly to the Astros.
Though Alcala averaged only 94 mph with his fastball in his short MLB stint last season, he averaged 98.5 mph with the pitch and touched 99.3 mph in a 1-2-3 inning of relief in the Twins' exhibition against the Cubs last Wednesday. His touted slider, by the way, averaged 88.9 mph in that outing.
"He's still a young guy," Baldelli said. "He's still progressing and growing, but when you see that confidence and you see a guy that knows what he's doing when he steps out there and he's feeling a lot better about what he has to do, you can see it. It's visible. You see it in his mannerisms and his actions, and I think he's a guy that's taking that step in his career right now."
Sanó to remain at first in Donaldson's absence
It's natural to feel some degree of concern when Josh Donaldson has a calf issue, since the former American League Most Valuable Player Award winner dealt with strains to each of his calves that cost him considerable time in both 2017 and '18. But Baldelli reiterated on Saturday that the Twins consider the third baseman's right calf tightness to be a day-to-day issue.
He expects to have a better idea of Donaldson's condition and exact timeline in the next 24-48 hours.
"It's something that he's familiar with," Baldelli said. "He's definitely dealt with things like this before. He definitely knows the difference between something major and something much more minor. I think this is one of those situations where we're going to treat it today and we're going to keep an eye on him in the training room getting his stuff done."
With Donaldson sidelined, the Twins expect to use some combination of Marwin González, Ehire Adrianza and Luis Arraez at the hot corner, with González earning the start in Saturday night's game against Cleveland. Though González had a tremendous defensive night at first base on Friday, Baldelli said the Twins aren't giving any thought to keeping him there and temporarily moving Miguel Sanó back to third base.
"We’re going to let Miguel get comfortable with everything going on at first base right now, as opposed to splitting his attention in any way," Baldelli said. "We want to make sure he continues to get his work in and he stays focused over there, which he has been."
Buxton working to jump off both feet at outfield wall
Twins fans were likely holding their breath on Tuesday night when the newly healthy Byron Buxton drifted back to the center-field wall and made a leaping attempt on a deep fly ball off the bat of Cardinals infielder Tommy Edman. Fortunately for everyone involved, Buxton emerged from that encounter no worse for the wear -- except for maybe a bruised ego after the ball caromed off the heel of his glove and over the wall for a homer.
It was a tougher play for Buxton than it would normally have been, because he's being more conscious of his body positioning as he approaches the wall in part by focusing on jumping off both feet instead of making off-balance leaps off one foot, as was his custom.
"After the other night, it put into perspective how much harder that is than when I practice," Buxton said. "The other night, I kind of overjumped in a way, I felt like I jumped too early. A lot of things that go through my head when, if I think the other way and I jump off of one leg and just go after the ball, I don’t really have too much hesitation. It’s more that mental battle with believing that process and trusting them."
That appears to be one of the adjustments Buxton has made to his defensive game as he and the Twins work to change both his mentality and technique in some ways to mitigate his risk of injury and keep him on the field. Buxton said his left foot -- healed from a sprain -- is still not at 100 percent, but the pain is tolerable. The Twins are easing him into action for now by mixing in occasional starts for Jake Cave.
"I feel pretty good at the plate," Buxton said. "I'm in a good spot, mentally and physically. It's one of those things you feel really good about what's going on, the team that we've got. And it’s something you want to be a part of. It's one of those things where you take it one day at a time and do what I can to get back out there on the field every day."