By Phil Miller
CLEVELAND – Team Louie is holding another meeting Saturday. They are hoping for a better ending this time.
Louie Varland’s parents, girlfriend, and assorted friends and family members, a rowdy and vocal throng at Yankee Stadium last week, will assemble at Progressive Field, where the rookie righthander will make his second career start — in a game even more critical to the Twins than his first.
“It’s unreal,” said Varland, who gave up only two runs over 5⅓ innings and struck out seven Yankees in his Sept. 7 debut, though the Twins ultimately lost 5-4 in 12 innings in the first game of a doubleheader. “Growing up in Minnesota, being a Twins fan and then actually putting on the Twins jersey and playing for them, it’s just all that. It’s everything you would imagine.”
The Twins, who again will add the St. Paul native as their designated 29th player for the doubleheader, have had Varland in mind for Saturday’s first game ever since he wowed them in New York, which is why they didn’t return him to the Class AAA Saints afterward. To keep him on rotation with regular rest, he had to pitch again on Monday, an off day in the Pacific Coast League.
So Varland flew to the Twins’ Fort Myers, Fla., spring training base and pitched a simulated game against prospects and some rehabbing players, including Ryan Jeffers and Trevor Larnach. It went well, even without his booster club cheering him on.
“They wanted to [be there], I’ll tell you that,” Varland joked.
Another top Twins prospect from Minnesota will join Varland in Cleveland this weekend — but there’s no guarantee he’ll get to play.
Matt Wallner, a Forest Lake native and a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is being summoned from St. Paul just in case yet another Twins outfielder — specifically Max Kepler — is sidelined by injury.
“I don’t think there’s any downside in bringing Wallner here,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “If we need to make a move and add another bat, Wallner could be that guy. We don’t have anything stamped and ready to go with him. It’s a true taxi-squad situation.”
Wallner, perhaps the Twins’ best slugging prospect since Miguel Sano, has hit 27 home runs this year at Class AA Wichita and St. Paul, and his 97 walks and .412 on-base percentage are eye-catching as well.
Kepler’s sore right leg kept him out of the lineup again Friday, but Baldelli said “we’re going to see what the next couple of days look like. If we can ramp him up and get him going and he can come out and pinch-hit, that’d be great.”
Meanwhile, Kyle Garlick went on the injured list Friday because of a sprained left wrist that flared up in Thursday’s game. “He was out there yesterday and he shouldn’t have been swinging,” Baldelli said. “It hurts pretty bad. … I don’t know if it’s going to be a little longer than [10 days], or for the rest of the year.”
Mark Contreras was called up from St. Paul for the third time this season, and started in right field.
- Jorge Polanco, who has missed three weeks with inflammation in his left knee, played second base for the Saints on Friday, and likely will again on Saturday, Baldelli said. If he has fully recovered, he could rejoin the Twins in Cleveland this weekend.
- Righthander Randy Dobnak cleared waivers and was assigned to St. Paul.