FORT MYERS, Fla. -- All spring long, the Twins have viewed right-hander J.D. Durbin as the club's "X" factor. The once highly touted prospect is out of options, and when it comes down to finalizing their 25-man roster, it's the decision on Durbin's status that seems as if it will determine how the rest of the roster shakes out. The feeling had been that the Twins' roster situation would become clearer on Tuesday following the team's latest set of cuts. And the Twins made five roster moves Tuesday morning as they reassigned the following players to Minor League camp: left-hander Mike Venafro, catchers Brad King and Matthew LeCroy and infielders Tommy Watkins and Glenn Williams.
But with Durbin still in camp, that leaves quite a bit for the club to figure out. Two key decisions remain for the Twins -- one for who will be the 25th man on the roster and the other being whether Matt Garza or Carlos Silva will earn the final spot in the rotation. In addition to Durbin, catcher Chris Heintz and outfielder Josh Rabe also remain in contention for the 25th spot on the roster. But keeping Durbin would mean that the team will go with 12 pitchers and eliminate the option of a fifth man off the bench. It was just a few years ago that Durbin was considered to be one of the club's top prospects. Injuries have plagued Durbin since that time, and so far this spring, he has struggled in his attempt to make the roster. The right-hander has gone 0-2 with a 12.38 ERA in eight innings of relief this spring as he's coming off an eight-month layoff due to nerve damage in his right biceps. But while Durbin's lack of options are an issue with the club hesitant to lose a power arm like his, manager Ron Gardenhire made clear his preference earlier this spring to keep 11 pitchers and go with an extra bench player. And considering the stress reaction that catcher Joe Mauer recently suffered in his left fibula, the idea of keeping a third catcher seems to have grown even more enticing to Gardenhire. "That would be a situation where we could DH Mauer a little more often early in the season and have that third catcher when [Mike] Redmond's catching on those day games after night games," Gardenhire said. "So those are the decisions that we're looking into now -- whether to go with 12 pitchers or have that third catcher off the bench."
Starting situation: The Twins' recent cuts also didn't shed any light on the final spot in the rotation.It remains a race between Silva and Garza to see who will get the nod, but there is a chance that both will be on the roster. That's because even if the Twins don't keep Durbin, they still could break camp with 12 pitchers. Gardenhire said Tuesday that if Garza is indeed named the team's fifth starter, Silva would start the year in the bullpen. Silva has had his share of struggles this spring as he's gone 0-3 with an 11.02 ERA in five outings, while Garza has delivered a strong spring with a 1.50 ERA over six appearances (12 innings). But there is some concern in the organization over whether the Garza is ready for the fifth spot, having barely pitched at Triple-A. Garza is expected to pitch on Friday and come out of the 'pen behind starter Ramon Ortiz. But one thing that Gardenhire made clear was that Garza will not make the club as a reliever. "If Garza stays here, it will not be out of the bullpen," Gardenhire said. Come again: One of the more surprising moves in Wednesday's round of roster cuts was the decision to send Venafro down. Venafro had delivered a stellar spring for the Twins, pitching 10 scoreless innings while issuing four walks and striking out six. The 33-year-old had been the team's best option for a second left-hander in the bullpen, so the decision to send him down means the Twins will rely on Dennys Reyes as their sole lefty. At least, that's the plan for the Twins for now. Sending down Venafro wasn't an easy decision for the Twins to make. But with so many things up in the air in regard to their pitching staff, like Durbin, the decision was to rely on just Reyes for now with the knowledge that the team will need another lefty at some point in the season -- preferably Venafro. "You're not going to be able to go with one lefty pretty much the whole year," Gardenhire said. "So we hope that he'd take the assignment down. We did it last year and wore [Reyes] down pretty good. But we have a big decision, obviously, to make on Durbin here." For Venafro, who is married with five children, the decision of whether to accept the assignment in Rochester will come down to what type of interest he receives from other clubs in the coming days. Getting offered a Major League deal is not necessarily a guarantee that Venafro will turn down the Twins assignment. This is not the first time that Venafro has been through the situation of getting cut late in camp, and he knows that taking any deal is not always the best option. "There will be opportunities, but will they be better than this opportunity?" Venafro said. "I don't know. Am I here waiting just for something to happen to Reyes and that's my only opportunity here? They can tell you anything, but you don't really know how it will play out. That's why I owe it to myself to shop around." Ready to roll: The uncertainty in regard to the rotation isn't just limited to those outside the organization. Just ask starter Boof Bonser. Bonser delivered another strong outing Tuesday when he pitched six innings, allowing two runs on four hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. Afterward he was asked if following the start he had been informed of what the future plans were for him. "Nope," he said. "We've got another five days left. Hopefully we'll get the word soon, but we'll see how it shakes out." Bonser may not know where he's starting, but one thing that's clear is he feels ready. Since suffering a rough outing his first time out, when he gave up three runs on seven hits in one inning, Bonser has been fairly steady. The right-hander admits that he took something from that early blip, using it as motivation. "I wasn't guaranteed a spot, and going that one inning and giving up three runs, that definitely wasn't where I wanted to start my spring off at," Bonser said. "I guess you could say that probably lit that fire a little higher. [I realized] that you're not guaranteed a spot, so you better lift your head out of your [behind] and do something." Game time: Mauer was cleared to run for the first time on Tuesday, and is now scheduled to take part in a Minor League game Wednesday. The plan is for Mauer to catch three innings and take as many at-bats as he would like in the game. Third baseman Nick Punto (sore groin) will make a similar start in a Minor League game on Friday. Twins Tidbits: Toby Gardenhire, son of the Twins skipper, was the player that delivered the grounder in the ninth inning that was misplayed and allowed the Twins to pull off the 4-3 win over the Yankees. Gardenhire seemed very pleased by the turn of events. "That was fun," he said. "I just wanted him to hit the ball somewhere, to give him a chance." ... The plan for the Twins is to pitch many of the relievers, including closer Joe Nathan, on back-to-back days over the final four days of spring. ... The Twins set a new Spring Training record with their attendance of 8,232 on Wednesday. It's the third time this spring that the team has set a new single-game attendance record. Coming up: The Twins will host the Red Sox on Wednesday in a 6:05 p.m. CT contest. It will feature yet another pitching duel between Twins ace Johan Santana and Boston's top hurler, Curt Schilling.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.