Forty-year-old left-hander Rich Hill will make his Minnesota debut on Wednesday night as the Twins try to complete a two-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in Minneapolis.
Hill signed a one-year free agent contract with Minnesota on New Year's Eve after going 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 13 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He underwent left elbow surgery in October. Hill originally was penciled in to start Saturday afternoon against the White Sox in Chicago but had his debut pushed back to Wednesday due to what was termed minor soreness.
Hill has faced St. Louis eight times in his career, including seven starts. He is 3-1 with a 5.03 ERA against the Cardinals with his last start coming on Sept. 15, 2018, when he allowed four runs on two hits and four walks over five innings while striking out eight in a 17-4 victory with the Dodgers.
St. Louis, which will try to bounce back from a 6-3 loss to the Twins in the series opener on Tuesday night, will counter with right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon, who went 1-2 with a 3.70 ERA last season in the bullpen and as a spot starter.
Ponce de Leon is taking over the starting spot that originally belonged to Miles Mikolas, whom it was announced on Tuesday will miss the rest of the season with a flexor tendon injury in his right arm that will require surgery. Mikolas, coming off a 9-14 campaign in 2019, will not be able to pitch for four months but is expected to be ready for spring training in 2021.
St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said Ponce de Leon will get the first shot at taking Mikolas' spot. There was some speculation that the Cardinals might turn to left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim, who went 17-6 with a 2.51 ERA while earning Best Pitcher honors with the SK Wyverns in South Korea last season. But for now, Shildt said, the plan is to keep Kim -- who picked up a save Friday over Pittsburgh -- in the closer role for now.
"We made a move to put (Kim) in the back of the bullpen," Shildt said, according to MLB.com. "We did that because we have confidence in him, and Ponce is built up and ready to take that responsibility. So, there's a number of factors into it, but that's the way we went."
Ponce de Leon will now try to cool off a Minnesota offense that has scored 33 runs in 35 innings this season and set the major league record for home runs in a season last year (307). That lineup could be even more potent this year with the free agent signing of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 37 homers and drove in 94 runs last season with Atlanta.
The 2015 American League MVP hit his first home run with the Twins in the Tuesday night win over the Cardinals, an opposite-field drive off Carlos Martinez.
"Yeah, that's probably the first of many," Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Using the whole field at it, too. That right field porch can definitely be your friend if you stay on the ball and drive it that way, and that's what we get to see. It's nice."