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Twins send ByungHo Park to minors despite strong spring

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    Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Daniel Robertson forces Minnesota Twins’ Byung Ho Park (52) at second base on a fielder’s choice by Jorge Polanco during the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 28, 2017, in Fort Myers, Fla.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. >> The Minnesota Twins made slugger ByungHo Park one of their final roster cuts despite a strong performance at the plate throughout spring training, in favor of a 13-man pitching staff.

Park was among six players reassigned to minor league camp on Thursday before the Twins traveled to Port Charlotte for an exhibition game against Tampa Bay. With Kennys Vargas (left foot) injured and likely to be sent down or placed on the disabled list, backup outfielder Robbie Grossman is slated for now as the primary designated hitter.

Catcher John Ryan Murphy also was optioned to Triple-A Rochester, and utility infielder Ehire Adrianza (right oblique strain) and left-handed reliever Ryan O’Rourke (left forearm strain) were placed on the 10-day disabled list. Adrianza and O’Rourke are eligible for activation as early as April 9.

Also, the Twins chose rookie left-hander Adalberto Mejia as the fifth starter over right-hander Tyler Duffey.

“Not that Duffey didn’t pitch well, but we were more intrigued by what he can do to help us in the bullpen,” manager Paul Molitor said. “I’d be surprised if you didn’t see Duffey start a game for us at some point.”

The moves left outfielder Danny Santana, infielder Eduardo Escobar and catcher Chris Gimenez as the three-man bench, with Gimenez also able to back up Joe Mauer at first base.

After struggling badly through his major league debut upon arrival from South Korea last season, Park was removed from the organization’s 40-man roster and passed through waivers without being claimed by another club.

He hit .353 with a team-high six home runs and 13 RBIs in 19 spring games, by far the most impressive hitter in camp for the Twins. They already had to make room on the 40-man roster for Gimenez and left-handed reliever Craig Breslow, however, and keeping Park would have required exposure of another prospect, even with left-hander Glen Perkins (left shoulder) set to join right-hander Trevor May (right elbow) on the 60-day disabled list.

So Park was the odd man out for now, which Molitor acknowledged was an uncomfortable decision.

“We asked Park at the beginning of the spring to compete and show us that his second time was going to be bettered. It was, by leaps and bounds,” Molitor said. “We’ve talked a lot about his consistency and calmness in the box, and he showed us all of that.”

With right-hander Phil Hughes returning from surgery around his rib and shoulder, left-hander Hector Santiago limited in action by the World Baseball Classic and a rookie in Mejia, the Twins preferred to be cautious with their pitching by including an eighth reliever.

Duffey and rookie Justin Haley will be the long men, with Breslow, left-hander Taylor Rogers and right-hander Michael Tonkin in the middle, right-handers Matt Belisle and Ryan Pressly setting up, and Brandon Kintzler closing.

The Twins open the season at home against Kansas City on Monday.

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