Catcher Heintz earns Twins' final spot

Catcher Heintz earns Twins' final spot

SARASOTA, Fla. -- This spring was the final test for right-hander J.D. Durbin. Out of options and battling back from injury, Durbin certainly had a lot riding on his performance.

It was the last opportunity the pitcher had to prove that the nickname he had bestowed upon himself during one of his first career starts, "The Real Deal," wasn't going to be an unfulfilled prophecy.

But now The Real Deal will have to emerge in another uniform. Durbin's seven-year career with the organization officially came to an end Thursday as he was claimed by the Diamondbacks off waivers.

"I think it's probably a good thing for both of us," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "He might have needed a change of scenery. We had him a long time. And sometimes it's a better situation for him more so maybe than us. "

The decision to put Durbin on waivers guaranteed the club would go with 11 pitchers. The Twins then made their final cut of the spring and officially set their 25-man roster as they reassigned outfielder Josh Rabe to Minor League camp. And that left the final roster spot open for third-string catcher Chris Heintz.

Keeping Heintz for the last bench spot was due, in large part, to recent injuries to both catcher Joe Mauer (stress reaction in left fibula) and third baseman Nick Punto (sore groin) over the past week. Heintz gives the Twins a player that can not only catch but also play multiple infield positions.

"With Punto coming off what he has, and Mauer with what he's been going through with his leg, it just makes sense to keep that spot free," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "If we have any issues where we need to DH Joe a few times early and have [Mike] Redmond catch, we've got that third catcher as a backup."

While having the flexibility with Heintz was a factor in the Twins keeping him on the roster, it was Durbin's inability to produce that cost him the chance.

There had been signs throughout the spring that Durbin might not have enough to stick with the club, but with the pitcher out of options, the team tried to give him every opportunity. It was a rough inning in last Friday's game against the Blue Jays that seemed to seal Durbin's fate. He gave up three runs on five hits over two innings and never truly appeared comfortable on the mound.

Ryan said the team explored trade possibilities, but nothing panned out.

"I was hoping he'd pitch well enough to make the club," Ryan said. "We exhausted the entire process here. We went right up until the other day and I thought, at that time, 'We'll search around a little bit.' Now it's a clean slate for J.D. The Diamondbacks had interest, and it's his home team, his home city. This might be a good situation for him."

Durbin, 25, had been touted as one of the Twins' top pitching prospects as recently as a few years ago. But his big-league career was limited to just four games with the Twins in 2004, when he went 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA.

The injury kept Durbin off the mound until after the start of camp this spring. He never really emerged with the same type of stuff he had before.

"He started off slow because of the injury coming back from that, and when he was out there he never really got comfortable," Gardenhire said. "Obviously, we were going to have to send him down. ... You'd love to keep him in the organization, let him get back to where he was at last year. Obviously, somebody else wanted a piece of him, too, so it's a good situation [for him]. He's got a chance to go to the big leagues, and hopefully, he'll stay with them."

As for the rest of the Minnesota roster, there really weren't many surprises. Aside from Heintz, the team ended up with essentially the same players expected to break camp with the club when the team arrived to camp in February.

The Twins set their rotation Wednesday when they optioned Matt Garza to Rochester, making way for a rotation featuring Johan Santana, Boof Bonser, Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson and Carlos Silva.

With only six pitchers in the bullpen, the team now goes with a bench that includes backup catcher Mike Redmond, utility outfielder Jason Tyner, utility infielders Luis Rodriguez and Jeff Cirillo and Heintz.

The one area seemingly not addressed this spring was the need for a true backup shortstop for Jason Bartlett. Rodriguez and Cirillo are options, although Rodriguez lacks range and Cirillo lacks experience at the position. Gardenhire has also indicated he could use Punto as an option at short if necessary. The skipper also knows infielder Alexi Casilla is just a phone call away in Rochester if the team needs a more permanent replacement.

"It's not the situation that you wanted going in, but it's OK," Gardenhire said. "I trust those guys. They can go out there for a day or two, and I always have my young man down in Triple-A that I know can come up and play if something were to happen to Barty."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.