Twins weigh options as Santana nears return

Righty set to rejoin rotation after suspension ends July 5

Twins weigh options as Santana nears return

MILWAUKEE -- With the return of starter Ervin Santana looming, the Twins have a decision to make when it comes to their starting rotation, and it isn't going to be an easy one.

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Santana's 80-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug prevention and treatment program will conclude on July 5. The right-hander will be plugged back into the rotation after signing the richest free agent deal in club history this past offseason.

However, there currently isn't an open spot in the Twins' five-man rotation due to the relative success each starter has had to this point in the season, causing manager Paul Molitor to consider his many options.

"I think about it a lot, but I'm not going to make [the decision] before I have to," Molitor said before Sunday's series finale against the Brewers. "No one stands out; it's not a no-brainer as far as what the solution would be."

Tommy Milone could be a potential candidate to lose his spot to Santana. The left-hander struggled in four April starts, posting a 4.76 ERA with 11 walks and 13 strikeouts and didn't pitch for the club in May. However, making the Twins' decision that more difficult, Milone is 2-0 in June with a 2.03 ERA and 22 strikeouts since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester. He pitched six shutout innings Sunday in the Twins' 5-3 loss to the Brewers.

"I don't think anybody's shocked or surprised that he can get himself into a pretty good groove," Molitor said of Milone. "For a guy who pitches around 88 mph, he knows how to use what he has. I hope it continues."

Twins starting pitchers have posted a stellar 2.77 ERA (61.2 IP, 19 ER) over their last 10 games. That's the fourth best mark in baseball and second best in the American League since June 17. Their 3.87 ERA for the season is fourth best in the A.L.

While the employment of a six-man rotation around the Major Leagues is starting to become a theme, Molitor doesn't appear to be intrigued by the idea.

"I think that some teams are showing that it can potentially be effective," Molitor said. "I think that's pretty unlikely that we'll go that direction, but it hasn't been totally eliminated."

Molitor is aware that removing one of the starters for Santana could make for an upset clubhouse. He wants to make sure he and his coaching staff make the decision transparent with the team.

"I'm aware of how it might affect the overall chemistry, particularly for the person involved if we have to remove somebody, which we most likely will," Molitor said. "Your job in leadership is to get your players to see the big picture. I think it's important for us to try to be thorough with our explanation and not have it be flippant."

Brandon Curry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.