The Twins have agreed to a minor league contract with starter Aaron Sanchez, reports Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press (Twitter link). Minnesota also signed reliever Tyler Thornburg to a non-roster deal over the weekend, assigning him to Triple-A St. Paul.
Sanchez began the season in the Nationals’ organization after signing a minor league deal in March. He opened the year in Triple-A but was selected to the majors in mid-April. The 29-year-old made seven starts with the Nats but was tagged for an 8.33 ERA as he struck out a career-low 11.3% of opposing hitters. Sanchez threw a fair amount of strikes and induced grounders on over the half the batted balls against him, but he surrendered six home runs in 31 1/3 innings while struggling to miss bats.
Washington designated Sanchez for assignment and outrighted him off their roster late last month, at which point he elected free agency. The Southern California native once looked like a potential rotation building block for the Blue Jays, making an All-Star appearance and leading American League qualifiers in ERA in 2016. Sanchez has assumed more of a journeyman role in the last few seasons, though, particularly since undergoing shoulder surgery in September 2019. After working in the mid-upper 90s at peak, he averaged just north of 90 MPH on his fastball with the Giants last year and a pedestrian 92 MPH for Washington this season.
Thornburg has also spent time in the NL East this year, as he began the season with the Braves. Atlanta had signed the veteran reliever to a $900K contract during Spring Training, and he opened the season in the big league bullpen. Thornburg allowed six runs (four earned) in 9 1/3 frames, striking out ten while issuing five walks. His early-season velocity was right in line with career norms, but Thornburg’s swing-and-miss rate was underwhelming and the Braves had consigned him to lower-leverage work. Atlanta designated him for assignment and released him in late May.
The 33-year-old has appeared in parts of nine MLB seasons, suiting up with the Brewers, Red Sox, Reds and Braves. Thornburg was quietly one of the league’s more effective late-game weapons in Milwaukee between 2013-16, but he’s struggled with injuries and underperformance in the years since then. Thornburg, who made his organizational debut with St. Paul yesterday, will try to pitch his way into a Minnesota bullpen that has been middle-of-the-pack thus far.
The rotation was generally expected to be a weakness, but Twins’ starters enter play Monday with the 7th-lowest collective ERA (3.54). That’s a big reason the club is currently sitting 32-24 and four and a half games clear of the competition in the AL Central, but they’ve been hit by a series of injuries over the past month.
Minnesota lost another rotation member this evening, announcing that right-hander Bailey Ober has been placed on the 15-day injured list, retroactive to June 3, due to a right groin strain. That’s the same issue that already resulted in an IL stint earlier in the season, as he was on the shelf for the first three weeks of May.
Ober made it back to the mound on May 22, and he’s made three starts since returning. The 26-year-old has allowed nine runs in 14 innings over that time, and he’ll apparently need some more time to recover. Ober earned himself a season-opening rotation spot with a solid 4.19 ERA showing across 20 starts as a rookie last year. He’d allowed only eight runs in 19 2/3 innings through four April outings prior to his first IL stint.
Minnesota is also without Joe Ryan — currently on the COVID-19 IL — and Sonny Gray, who hit the IL late last week due to a pectoral strain. Josh Winder has been out since mid-May dealing with a shoulder impingement, and the team lost Chris Paddack to Tommy John surgery last month. Dylan Bundy, Devin Smeltzer and Chris Archer are rotation locks, with Cole Sands probably the top depth option on the 40-man roster. Prospects Jordan Balazovic and Ronny Henriquez are already on the 40-man and starting games with St. Paul, but both have struggled mightily this year. Sanchez joins Chi Chi González as experienced, non-roster depth options with the Saints.
In additional procedural moves, the Twins reinstated four players — Max Kepler, Emilio Pagán, Trevor Megill and Caleb Thielbar — from the restricted list. Jharel Cotton and Ian Hamilton, both of whom had been selected to the roster as designated COVID-19 substitutes before the club’s weekend series in Toronto, have been removed from the 40-man and returned to St. Paul. That’s also true of González, who started Friday’s game but was returned over the weekend.