Notes: Chacín released; Sanó halfway ready

July 20th, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins granted right-hander his release on Sunday in the first major move that clarified what the club's 30-man roster could look like on Opening Day.

The 32-year-old Chacín entered the original Spring Training period as part of the competition for the fifth spot in Minnesota's starting rotation, which was open at the time due to 's suspension and 's recovery from offseason surgery on his pitching elbow. That opportunity vanished for the most part in Summer Camp, during which a fully healthy Hill has demonstrated that he'll be ready for the Opening Day starting rotation.

With , , , and Hill seemingly in line to fill the rotation, Chacín would likely have been competing for a reserve starter role or a swingman/long-relief position in the bullpen against , and , all of whom have pitched well in camp.

"He was not on track to break with us on Opening Day, and because of that and the discussions that we’ve had with him, that’s probably the right move for him," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "But he’s a pleasure to be around and a guy that can still pitch, and that slider is still really good. I’ll have no doubt that we'll see him in the big leagues."

Chacín and veteran reliever were the two non-roster players in Twins camp with opt-out dates in their contracts scheduled for Sunday.

Chacín's departure likely leaves Dobnak, Smeltzer and Thorpe competing for the two or so swingman spots that should be open at the back end of the bullpen, depending on whether the Twins decide to take only 15 pitchers to Chicago for Opening Day or expand their pitching staff even more.

Dobnak and Thorpe were both mostly effective in their intrasquad starts on Sunday. Thorpe allowed seven hits over four innings but limited the damage to two runs, while Dobnak was uncharacteristically wild with four walks but held 's Team Navy lineup hitless over four shutout frames. Smeltzer has also had a solid spring while working to fully integrate his new slider into his arsenal.

Sanó's swing feels '50 percent' ready
's body feels good. The only question now is whether his eye at the plate can catch up before Opening Day.

Following an extended absence from camp due to testing positive for COVID-19, the slugger finally made it into game action on Sunday, when he played six innings at first base and went 0-for-2 with a walk and a pair of strikeouts. Sanó was originally supposed to play on Saturday, but the game was rained out and he had to settle for five plate appearances in live batting practice instead.

"You can't overwork a guy to get him back into game shape in the box," Baldelli said. "There's no real magic formula. You do need a little bit of time. You do need to see the pitches. You do need to put swings on the ball and feel out your body at the same time. Physically, he's moving really well. His body always holds up well. He's got a very resilient body."

There's still no guarantee that Sanó's swing and plate presence will be ready by Opening Day next Friday, but he's determined to continue ramping up against velocity and breaking pitches and hopes to feel more comfortable by then.

"As a matter of routine, I'd say halfway [ready]," Sanó said. "Tomorrow, I'm hitting the machine. We're still five days from Opening Day. Tomorrow, I might come and hit a couple of bombas and feel better. It's just a day-by-day thing, and hopefully, I'm ready for Opening Day."

Twins practice late-game scenarios
These new extra-inning rules with a runner starting on second base will absolutely require some acclimation for Baldelli and his players. In an effort to prepare for those game situations with some days to spare, the Twins practiced starting innings with runners on both first and second base during the sixth inning of Sunday's game.

"It's definitely odd," Baldelli said. "It's definitely something that I think you have to get used to."

The Twins began each half of the inning with Aaron Whitefield on second base and Zander Wiel on first. In both cases, the leadoff hitter laid down a bunt, perhaps an indication of the strategy the Twins could employ in such situations during the regular season. Minnesota didn't score in either half-inning due to strong pitching from prospects Jhoan Duran and Dakota Chalmers.

"I'm glad that we were able to do it," Baldelli said. "It definitely speeds you up in a lot of ways. It makes you consider a lot of different variables that, when you're scrimmaging intrasquad games, even Spring Training games, true Spring Training games in Florida, it doesn't happen a lot. It only happens in important situations, in real games, when there's a lot going on. And that's what we tried to mimic and put out there."