Twins veteran Mastroianni making most of chances, working at each outfield spot

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Everything you needed to know about Darin Mastroianni as a ballplayer, as a competitor, as a teammate or as a person was all right there in a single 30-second answer.Now 30 years old and back with the Minnesota Twins on a minor...

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Minnesota Twins infielder Darin Mastroianni rounds the bases during their spring training at Hammond Field/CenturyLink Sports Complex on Feb. 29 in Ft. Myers, Fla. (Pioneer Press Photo by John Autey)

BRADENTON, Fla. - Everything you needed to know about Darin Mastroianni as a ballplayer, as a competitor, as a teammate or as a person was all right there in a single 30-second answer.
Now 30 years old and back with the Minnesota Twins on a minor-league deal, the high-energy outfielder had come off the bench in Sarasota to make a perfect one-hop throw from right field to nab Korean rookie Hyun Soo Kim trying to go from first to third.
So, Mastro, tell us about that throw, would you?
“I got a little help from that grass there,” he began with a smile. “It was a little wet, but I got a pretty good skip off of it. Once I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get to it I was able to get around it just enough where I could get my body turned and not have to waste a whole lot of time getting in position to throw it.”
Normally a center fielder, Mastroianni has seen time at all three outfield spots this spring with little drop-off. His fundamentals remain textbook quality.
“When you don’t have a (Miguel) Sano or (Eddie) Rosario-like arm out there, you have to get rid of that thing,” he said. “That’s kind of what I try and do: Get that ball in and out of my glove and through that cutoff man as hard as I can, as quick as possible. We did a nice job, the infielders, lining up there.”
“I was able to see (Wilfredo) Tovar was there at short,” he explained. “I knew I could give it a shot because if it was a little off and they didn’t think there was a play, he could cut it off and keep that guy from going to second. They really gave me a chance to let that ball eat a little bit. It took a nice skip for me and wound up being right on the bag, and Bucky (Britton) did a nice job of being there and putting that tag on him.”
And you wonder why Mastroianni’s teammates are pulling for him to make it back to the majors after spending all of last year in Triple-A with the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals?
He had to overcome a concussion that cost him two weeks last August. In May 2013, just as it appeared he was ready to supplant struggling rookie Aaron Hicks as the Twins’ starting center fielder, a stress fracture in his left ankle that he tried to play through required surgery.
Mastroianni has hit just .212 in 273 big-league at-bats over parts of four seasons (2011-14), but his body seems healthy again, and he is in great spirits.
There has been a lot of talk about Carlos Quentin and Ryan Sweeney, both of whom are trying to come back after sitting out the bulk of 2015, but the Mastro Story is just as compelling.
He’s also showing he can still play a little bit, hitting .300 through 20 at-bats and providing a potential bench alternative (or more) if Byron Buxton’s illness and Danny Santana’s wrist flare up again.
“He’s had a good camp,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He’s been around a bit. His at-bats have been good. He’s kind of played around out there, and he’s responded. He’s very studious about his base-running.”
Now married to a Hopkins High School graduate named Bridget and living in St. Louis Park with the couple’s 6-month-old daughter, Sloane Marie, Mastroianni plans to stay in the Twin Cities after his playing days are over. But he still seems to have plenty of life left in his body as he tries to make the most of his opportunities while remaining ever gracious and self-effacing.
Coming in for the late innings and trying to impress isn’t easy. Facing a knuckleballer like Steven Wright twice one night and a submariner like Darren O’Day the next is tough duty.
But you’ll never catch Mastroianni complaining.
“This has been fantastic,” he said. “I think I’ve played in just about every game. To me, I don’t really care: Start, back up, it doesn’t matter. I know at-bats are at-bats, playing time is playing time. Even if you go in for the back half of the game, you’re still facing big-league arms. It doesn’t matter to me when I go in.”
While fellow reunion candidate Joe Benson was reassigned to minor-league camp on Friday after going
2 for 16 this spring, Mastroianni remains on the radar. He is one of nine outfielders still in camp; the original number was 12.
“There’s so many of us, I think we all stopped counting after a while,” Mastroianni said. “Mollie’s been great about getting all of us in. I know it can’t be easy on him to try and get all of us as many at-bats as he has. Considering how many outfielders are here, I consider myself fortunate.”
He’s also been opportunistic.
Monday against the St. Louis Cardinals, he crashed into the left-center wall running down a long drive. He also stole second off a lefty with a quick move.
Molitor made a point of mentioning both plays in his postgame comments.
“I’m not trying to do too much,” Mastroianni said. “I am who I am. This is how I play baseball. I’m going to make mistakes. I’m not going to catch every fly ball. I’m not going to make every throw. I’m just trying to give the best I can with the opportunities I get and play the game the right way.”

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