Twins call up former first-rounder Kohl Stewart to start vs. Tigers
DETROIT—Kohl Stewart is the forgotten pitching prospect no more.
The resurgent right-hander, still just 23, is getting the call to make his big-league debut for the Twins this weekend at Comerica Park, a person with direct knowledge said. Originally slated to start for Triple-A Rochester on Friday, Aug. 10, Stewart was scratched during the afternoon in order to take injured left-hander Adalberto Mejia's start on Sunday afternoon against the Detroit Tigers.
Drafted fourth overall in 2013 out of a Houston high school, Stewart was given a $4.54 million signing bonus and climbed as high as No. 4 in the Twins' prospect rankings, according to Baseball America. Last winter, however, he slid from No. 7 all the way down to No. 30 after being left off the 40-man roster and passed over in the Rule 5 draft.
Stewart, a former star prep quarterback who shot down rumors of a return to football in February, struggled to a 6.59 earned run average through his first 10 starts at Double-A Chattanooga this season. He turned his season around, however, with a 1.48 ERA in four June starts to earn a promotion to Rochester.
After giving up a combined 10 earned runs in 11 innings through his first two starts there, he locked it in and posted a 2.43 ERA over his past five starts. In 29 2/3 innings, he had 20 strikeouts with just one homer and nine walks allowed.
Stewart is getting the call over left-hander Stephen Gonsalves and right-hander Fernando Romero, who threw eight shutout innings on Sunday for the Red Wings. Romero is 3-3 with a 4.69 earned run average in 11 big-league starts this season, but the Twins will satisfy their curiosity about Stewart.
Gonsalves pitched on Thursday, while Stewart last pitched on Saturday at Pawtucket.
The Twins had an open spot on their 40-man roster after trading closer Fernando Rodney to the Oakland A's for minor-league pitcher Dakota Chalmers on Thursday.
Mejia sent home
Mejia (strained left wrist) had shown initial improvement in the wake of Tuesday's scare against the Cleveland Indians. Throwing a one-hit shutout through five innings, he was removed after just 68 pitches when he felt "a stinging effect in the lower left forearm—closer to the wrist—that radiated up through the elbow," according to manager Paul Molitor.
Mejia, who missed a month late last season with a strain in his upper arm, had been scheduled to throw a bullpen on Friday at Comerica Park. However, he experienced some discomfort while throwing sliders in a flat-ground session on Thursday in Cleveland and was sent back to the Twin Cities for further tests on his biceps area.
"The symptoms are a little strange in that it's not just the forearm," Molitor said.
The Twins had already checked into their Detroit hotel on Thursday night when the Rodney trade went through. Molitor, who said Rodney was available to him in Thursday's walk-off loss to the Indians, was able to track Rodney down to give him the news in person.
"He was very gracious," Molitor said of the active saves leader. "I think he enjoyed his time here. He was a pleasure to be around. He was good for the guys, he did his job. We'll miss having him around but we wish him well."
As for who takes over the closer role, Molitor said he would use a committee for now and possibly through season's end. While veteran Matt Belisle seized the role last August in the wake of all-star Brandon Kintzler's trade, the Twins are more inclined now to get as many looks as possible at candidates for various roles in 2019.
"I talked to the (relievers) just to let them know what I was thinking," Molitor said. If someone seems to have the hot hand, most likely I would think it would be prudent to try to ride that. But it might be a little different in that we're not necessarily pushing to the playoffs, at least not today. You might want to see somebody else even if somebody might be hot."
In addition to reliever Tyler Duffey, the Twins promoted slugging first baseman Tyler Austin from Triple-A Rochester.
Austin, 26, has 15 home runs in 85 career big-league games with the New York Yankees. Acquired on July 30 along with Class A pitcher Luis Rijo for right-hander Lance Lynn, Austin has hit 17 homers in 258 combined at-bats this season between Triple-A and the majors.
Austin has a career strikeout rate of 39.6 percent in the majors, but his numbers are markedly better overall against lefties. The Twins are set to face a pair of lefty starters this weekend in ex-Twin Francisco Liriano and Matthew Boyd.
- Hall of Fame right-hander and Twins TV analyst Jack Morris will have his No. 47 retired by the Tigers before Sunday afternoon's series finale.
- Former Twins right-hander Phil Hughes, traded to the San Diego Padres in June, was designated for assignment. Hughes still has more than $16.8 million left on his contract through next season, of which the Twins are reportedly paying $5.95 million in 2019.
- Chalmers, like most of the 11 other prospects the Twins acquired in their recent spate of deals, doesn't need to be added to the 40-man roster after next season.
- Outfielder Robbie Grossman (hamstring) joined the Twins as expected to continue his rehab with Target Field set up for Friday's Zac Brown Band concert.
- Retired former Vikings offensive tackle Jake Long threw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday on University of Michigan Night. Long is a former Wolverines all-America.