Tommy Milone? Shoulder fatigue. Tyler Duffey? At his innings threshold, if not over. Phil Hughes? A bad back that could end his season at any time. At this point in time, the only two healthy and fully available Twins starters are Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey. For a team that's trying to build up enough velocity to get within range of the Wild Card spot, operating a functional starting rotation has to feel a bit like this:
To whom could the Twins turn, if they suddenly needed (and this isn't a stretch) another starting pitcher to match with Gibson and Pelfrey? Trevor May isn't stretched out, and is dealing with a sore back anyway. Jose Berrios has been shut down. Logan Darnell has pneumonia, J.R. Graham shouldn't be an option, Alex Meyer is done for the year.
Enter: Ricky Nolasco. Out since June 1 with a bad ankle, he's undergone surgery and has progressed well enough through his rehab that he's now back with the team. He should be activated this weekend, perhaps as early as Friday.
As things stand, the Twins are being pragmatic as to how they'll bring Nolasco into the fold. Paul Molitor said it's still possible that he doesn't pitch at all, although in an all-hands-on-deck situation it's hard to see that happening unless Nolasco still isn't fit to pitch at all. If he is activated and is allowed to pitch, it's also unclear as to whether or not the Twins would be willing to put him into a situation as a starter. He threw 49 pitches in an intrasquad game yesterday, but that's no guarantee of anything.
When the Twins activate Nolasco this weekend, they'll need to make a corresponding move on the 40-man roster. MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger speculates that Darnell could be moved to the 60-day disabled list, since it's unlikely he'll return this year.
Even with hurdles still to be cleared, Nolasco's return heralds unexpected good tidings. Maligned for his contract, his performance, and even at times his attitude since his arrival in Minnesota, it's plausible that he's coming back at just the right time. A Twins rotation that is being held together by patience, some sticky stuff Paul Molitor found underneath Kurt Suzuki's locker, and the good grace of the baseball gods is in need of a little bit of insurance. Imagine a world in which Ricky Nolasco is the cavalry we've been waiting for.
Imagine a world in which Ricky Nolasco is Gandalf.