Twins send prospect Alex Kirilloff out, leave LF wide open

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins optioned prized prospect Alex Kirilloff to their alternate training site, leaving a wide-open competition for playing time in left field while giving the 2016 first-round draft pick more time to develop.

Jake Cave, Kyle Garlick and Brent Rooker are the primary candidates at that position, vacated when Eddie Rosario was not tendered a contract during the offseason. Luis Arraez, a natural infielder who has moved into a super-sub role this year, has also been in the mix in left field.

Kirilloff made his major league debut in last year’s postseason but has yet to appear in a regular season game. Excluding him from the major league roster to start the year will allow the Twins to keep his service time clock from running and potentially delay his eligibility for free agency by a year. This issue has become increasingly tense between clubs and players following the union’s loss of a grievance against the Chicago Cubs for holding back third baseman Kris Bryant as a rookie in 2015.

Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey told reporters Sunday that service time wouldn’t factor into decisions about the roster.

“Our goal is to figure out a way to put the best roster together that we think can impact us over the course of a season. We’re out there trying to compete, we’re trying to win, and we’re going to figure out a way to do that,” Falvey said.

Kirilloff has four hits in 31 at-bats with one home run and eight strikeouts in spring training exhibitions, which didn’t help his cause to make the team out of camp. The COVID-19 pandemic that eliminated minor league competition last year didn’t help, either.

Kirilloff, who finished 2019 in Double-A, performed so well at the team’s alternate training site last summer that he was included on the roster for the playoffs and achieved the rarity of making his debut in a postseason game. When Rosario was released, Kirilloff was widely viewed as the natural replacement, but the Twins obviously are not in a rush.

“What we really want is for Alex to start his career off at the major league level on a good note where he’s feeling good, and he’s locked in, and he’s ready to go and then never look back,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And I have no doubt that we’re going to find that point.”

Kirilloff is ranked as the 26th-best prospect in the game on this year’s MLB pipeline list, with only Royce Lewis (17th) ahead of him in the Twins organization. Lewis, a shortstop who was drafted with the first overall pick in 2017, will miss the 2021 season because of a torn ACL in his right knee.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.