Reliever to make statement before game Tuesday
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins pitcher Juan Rincon, who emerged last season as one of baseball's top setup men, became the highest-profile violator of Major League Baseball's new policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Rincon was suspended Monday for 10 days after testing positive for an undisclosed substance, the fifth player to be suspended this season. Rincon will make a brief statement to the media before Tuesday night's game against Cleveland at the Metrodome.
Rincon's 10-day suspension will last until May 11 and cause him to miss nine games. He is allowed to work out with the team before games but must leave the park once the games begin. Rincon, who has a base salary of $400,000 this season, stands to lose around $24,000 because of the suspension.
Michael Weiner, general counsel of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said a grievance would be filed Tuesday. But unlike other penalties, such as for fighting, suspensions under this policy take effect immediately and are not delayed pending a hearing.
"Suffice it to say, he was devastated and stunned by the result," Rincon's agent, Ed Setlik, said after speaking with Rincon, who is 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 12 appearances this season.
Last October, a dejected Rincon lamented giving up a four-run lead late in a season-ending playoff loss to the Yankees. On Monday, the 26-year-old Venezuelan had a similar feeling.
"He feels like he's let the team down," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
According to Setlik and Gardenhire, Rincon is allowed to work out with the team but must leave the stadium once games begin. He'll miss nine of them, with eligibility restored May 13 against Texas.
Rincon, who is making $440,000 this season under terms of a two-year contract he signed during spring training, will forfeit $24,044 in salary. The penalty will also hurt Rincon's chances to earn bonuses of $10,000 for appearing in 68 games, $20,000 for 73 games and $30,000 for 78 games.
Last season, he went 11-6 with two saves and a 2.63 ERA in 77 appearances, emerging as one of baseball's best relievers.
Four lesser-known players previously received 10-day bans -- Tampa Bay outfielder Alex Sanchez, Colorado outfielder Jorge Piedra, Texas minor-league pitcher Agustin Montero and Seattle minor-league outfielder Jamal Strong.
Under the new policy that began last month, steroids and other performance-enhancing substances are the only drugs to draw a 10-day suspension. Baseball officials and the players' union agreed they would not disclose the exact substance for which a player tests positive.
"I think they need to tell people what the suspension is for," Boston slugger David Ortiz said, "because people see a name on the screen and think he must be doing the same things as [Jose] Canseco when he really took some ephedra instead of andro. Those aren't the same thing."
Under baseball's new plan, ephedra is listed as a drug of abuse, which draws a different kind of penalty than the one Rincon got.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia -- whose team played against Rincon when the right-hander helped preserve Minnesota's 4-2 victory over Los Angeles on Saturday -- said he isn't satisfied with the reliever's punishment.
"He's still going to have the benefits," Scioscia said Monday night in Seattle. "In 10 days, I guarantee you Juan Rincon doesn't become a mere mortal."
Last week, commissioner Bud Selig proposed much tougher penalties for players caught using steroids. He sent a letter to the union calling for a 50-game suspension for first-time steroid offenders, a 100-game penalty for a second offense and a lifetime ban for a third violation under what he called a "three strikes and you are out approach" to doping. Union head Donald Fehr sent a letter to Selig on Monday saying the players' association was willing to discuss it.
With three straight AL Central titles, the Twins have been lauded for their success in a small market and have received several organization of the year awards from various publications. For a franchise proud of its positive image, it was a bad way to start the week. Though publicly offering support for Rincon, the Twins weren't happy to hear it, either.
"It's a tough day," Gardenhire said. "I think we're all surprised, but hopefully we'll get through this thing. We'll let the process take its place and do the best we can.
"We're on his side. We've always stood by our players. They make mistakes. They're humans. It's a learning process for everybody," he continued.
Right-hander Scott Baker, one of the team's top minor-league prospects, was brought up from Triple-A Rochester to fill Rincon's roster spot. The bullpen responsibilities of lefty J.C. Romero and righty Jesse Crain will increase, as will the pressure on the starters to last longer in games.
"Obviously that's going to put a little strain on the staff," said right-hander Kyle Lohse, who is the team's union representative.
Lohse said he called Rincon to hear his teammate's side of the story. Because of the pending grievance, everyone was reluctant to divulge details.
"He doesn't want to affect the team like that," Lohse said. "It's surprising to have a teammate come up positive. Hopefully we can clear it up and move along."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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