Rotation options in spotlight as Twins oppose Royals

With the 2022 season slipping away, both in terms of days remaining on the calendar for every team and in opportunities to extend it for teams like the Minnesota Twins, the focus turns toward the 2023 season.

With that in mind, the Twins and Kansas City Royals need to figure out who their future starting pitchers will be.

The Twins (73-76) and the Royals (60-89) will conclude their three-game series Thursday afternoon in Kansas City with a pair of rookies getting the start. Minnesota will turn to Josh Winder (4-4, 4.17 ERA), while Kansas City will hand the ball to Jonathan Heasley (3-8, 5.09).

After losing five of their previous six games, the Royals won their second straight over the Twins on Wednesday, 5-2. Salvador Perez drove in a run for the sixth straight game.

The Twins managed a pair of one-run innings on Wednesday but still fell for the sixth time in seven games.

“The runs are tough to come by right now and you just have to come up with a way,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We might have one guy that comes out and has a good night, but we need more than that.”

Minnesota saw its playoff hopes all but evaporate with the latest loss. The Twins slipped nine games back of the American League Central-leading Cleveland Guardians with 13 games remaining.

The Twins have a mix of veterans and young starters, though much of their difficulty this season has been because of injuries on their pitching staff. Starting pitchers Chris Archer, Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle, Kenta Maeda and Chris Paddack are on either the 15-day or 60-day injured list.

Winder has showed promise, though he has battled right shoulder impingement for the past two seasons. He has had two stints on the IL this season.

In his two starts (both against Cleveland) since returning from his second absence, Winder allowed six runs on 10 hits in 8 2/3 innings. He is still trying to build up his pitch count. Against the Guardians in the second game of a doubleheader on Sept. 17, he took a no-decision after surrendering four runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Winder has not faced the Royals in his debut season.

Heasley has been all over the place with outstanding outings mixed in with flops. He has given up two or fewer runs in eight of his 18 starts, including three with no runs allowed. However, he also has allowed seven runs twice. An example of each of those came in his past two starts.

Following a four-plus-inning start against the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 10, when he allowed seven runs on seven hits, he tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits against the Boston Red Sox.

“Best start we’ve seen from him in the big leagues without a doubt,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “He was attacking with everything. It was the best bite we’ve seen with the breaking ball. Changeup was plus. His base was good, his timing was right. Everything was right how we wanted it to be. You couldn’t ask him to do any more than what he did.”

Heasley will be facing the Twins for the second time in his career. He defeated Minnesota on Oct. 1, 2021, when he allowed four runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

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