Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
A few leftovers from Kansas City, where the ballgames were not as good as the barbeque:
GAVE THEM A CHANCE: Chalk up another quality start for Kevin Correia. The Twins' righthander brought his ERA back under five and recorded his 12th quality start (six innings, three or fewer runs) by holding the Royals to a 2-2 tie through six innings Thursday. Correia is tied with Phil Hughes for most quality starts on the Twins, and his ERA is 4.96. It was a positive sign for the veteran, who gave up 11 runs in eight innings during his last two starts. Those two rough outings probably ended any chance of him being traded by the non-waiver deadline, he admitted after the game, but he said he's not worried about his future. He's been in the league for more than a decade and has never been traded, after all. "He battled. He had a few good innings, but he battled through it, which is normal," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He gets himself in and out of trouble here and there, but he gave us an opportunity to win."
HURTING HAND: Brian Dozier had his batting gloves on in the ninth inning and a bat in his hand, but Gardenhire, clearly worried after the second baseman's hand swelled up Thursday, said he was determined to keep Dozier out of the game if possible. "We don't need him to get beaten up," Gardenhire said of Dozier, who jammed his left thumb while stealing third base on Wednesday. That's why Gardenhire didn't use Kennys Vargas to pinch-hit for Eduardo Nunez in the ninth inning -- he didn't want to have to use Dozier if the Twins tied the score. The Twins face Chris Sale and his 1.88 ERA on Friday, and Gardenhire would like to get Dozier back in the lineup for that.
A LONG O-FER: Rough series for Trevor Plouffe. The Twins' third baseman went 0-for-5 on Thursday, 0-for-12 in the three games here, and struck out three times. He's actually 0-for-16 if you count Sunday, and has batted .138 in the last three series combined. What's most unusual is that he's not driving the ball lately; he's still fourth in the AL in doubles, but hasn't had one in a week and a half. Fortunately, U.S. Cellular Field, the Twins' next stop, is usually a good park for him; he's batting .281 there for his career, although without a home run -- odd for such a home-run park.
WHAT SIZE? Phil Hughes set the record straight today -- he's no "Bochy head," and he doesn't wear a size 8 cap. He's a 7 3/4, the righthander said, and the only reason he wears a size 8 batting helmet is because they're sized large with so much padding. So stop comparing him to Giants manager Bruce Bochy, he of the freakishly large head.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Twins made a second long-term move at the trade deadline Thursday, but this one isn't part of a roster shakeup: It's for roster stability.
Minnesota has signed catcher Kurt Suzuki to a $12 million contract extension, a source with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed Thursday, choosing to keep their 30-year-old catcher rather than trade him away. Suzuki signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract during the winter, then earned an All-Star berth with one of the best offensive seasons of his career.
Suzuki is guaranteed $6 million in each of the next two seasons, and can earn a third $6 million paycheck for 2017 if he receives enough plate appearances in 2016. The Twins won't disclose the level required for vesting, but assistant general manager Rob Antony said it's "reachable if he stays healthy and productive."
Suzuki's signing is certain to be popular in the Twins' clubhouse, where the pitching staff has repeatedly complimented the job the eight-year veteran has done behind the plate. It's likely also a reflection of the Twins' increasingly unhappiness with the defensive progress of top catching prospect Josmil Pinto, who was sent to Class AAA Rochester in April to work on his deficiencies behind the plate.
Suzuki is not in the Twins' lineup tonight, getting a previously planned day off. And new first baseman Kennys Vargas isn't expected to arrive at Kauffman Stadium until game time. Here are tonight's lineups for the finale of this three-game series:
E. Escobar SS
A. Escobar SS
The Twins are indeed sellers at Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline, but they have acquired a pitcher with major-league experience, not a minor-league prospect, in the deal.
Tommy Milone, who has a 3.55 ERA in 16 major-league starts this season, has been acquired from the Oakland A's, the Twins announced Thursday morning, about five hours before the 3 p.m. deadline. In exchange, the Twins will return outfielder Sam Fuld to Oakland, where he started this season before being waived in April.
To fill Fuld's spot on the roster, the Twins have summoned Class AA first baseman Kennys Vargas from New Britain. Vargas, a switch-hitter who played on the international team in the Futures Game at Target Field earlier this month, has 17 home runs and 63 RBIs for the Rock Cats. He'll wear uniform No. 19.
Milone, a 27-year-old lefthander who was optioned to Class AAA Sacramento on July 5, will be assigned to Class AAA Rochester for the time being. Milone was likely available, and Fuld coveted by Oakland, after the A's acquired left-hander Jon Lester from Boston on Thursday in a deal that sent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox.
The Twins are happy to accept the fallout from that deal, because Milone, drafted in the 10th round by the Nationals in 2010, has already had major-league success. He has a 3.84 ERA in 78 starts over four big-league seasons, winning 13 games in 2012 and 12 more last season.
He lost his starting job not because of poor pitching this season -- Milone's 3.55 ERA this year is better than any current Twins starter -- but because the A's, loading their pitching staff with veteran stars for a postseason run, acquired All-Star righthander Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs earlier this month. After starting the season 0-3, Milone won six consecutive decisions, and in his final start for Oakland, he shut out Toronto on four hits over six innings on July 4.
Milone hasn't been as good since being demoted to Sacramento, posting a 6.43 ERA in 21 innings over four starts, which is likely why he is being assigned to Rochester rather than joining the Twins right away.
Vargas, whose 24th birthday is Friday, is a David Ortiz lookalike, and views the Red Sox slugger as a mentor, having spent time with him during training camp in Fort Myers, Fla. He is capable of tape-measure home runs, but he's also never posted a on-base percentage lower than .344 in the minor leagues. Vargas served a 50-game suspension in 2012 after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Fuld spent a little more than three months with the Twins, including a stint on the concussion disabled list after a collision with the center field wall, and was the team's hottest hitter over the past three weeks. He reached base in 18 of his last 22 games with the Twins, batting .358 with a .476 on-base percentage over that span. In 56 total games with Minnesota, the 33-year-old Fuld, who was claimed by the Twins on April 20 after being waived by Oakland, batted .274 with one homer and 17 RBIs.
His departure leaves the Twins short on experienced center fielders. Danny Santana, a converted shortstop, has handled the position for most of the past two months, but with Fuld gone, none of the Twins' other options -- Chris Parmelee, Eduardo Nunez, Eduardo Escobar -- figure to be a reliable backup.
Some leftover impressions from the Twins' frustrating 3-2 loss Wednesday:
MORNEAU REDUX? If that was Josh Willingham's final game as a Twin -- rumors on Wednesday had the Mariners and Yankees still interested in the 35-year-old outfielder -- he made it a memorable one. And a familar one, too. Willingham led off the second inning with a blast that carried over the Royals' bullpen in left field, the sort of tape-measure home run that only he has provided since the Twins dealt away Justin Morneau last August. Morneau's final game included a home run, off Yu Darvish, in Texas, which would make for an odd coincidence if a trade happens Thursday. Willingham wasn't done, however; as if to drive his price tag even higher, the slow outfielder took off for second base in the fourth inning on the back end of a double-steal -- his first stolen base (and first attempt) since April 27, 2013. But given a chance to put the Twins back in the lead in the seventh inning, Willingham couldn't catch up to a Kelvin Herrera fastball that was timed at 101 mph.
FAST ATTACK: Phil Hughes was retiring the Royals with few problems through the fifth inning, but something changed in the sixth. The change was on the part of the Royals, not him, Hughes said. He was certain, he said, that the Royals had discussed changing their approach for their third time through the order. "They had seen that once I got ahead [in the count], I could do some other things, and I liked to get ahead with my fastball. So they made the adjustment to jump on first-pitch fastballs, and it ended up being a good decision." Sure did. Only one Royals hitter had put a first pitch in play over the first five innings, but four straight hitters took a cut at the first pitch of their at-bats in the sixth. Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas collected RBI doubles on first pitch fastballs, and Alex Gordon got one after fouling off a pitch.
OH, WON'T YOU STAY? Speaking of Hughes, the righthander made one more plea on behalf of the pitching staff in favor of keeping Kurt Suzuki on the roster. Suzuki may be the Twins' most tradeable asset, considering he's had an All-Star season and is on a cheap one-year contract. But "from my end, I want him here the rest of the year," Hughes said when asked about his catcher after the game. "He's a great game-caller. It's easy to go through sequences when your catcher knows you so well. There's not a lot of second-guessing or shaking off. I think that's been the biggest impact for me."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The non-waiver trade deadline is a day away, but it's been a topic in the Twins' dugout for days. "All the time," manager Ron Gardenhire said Wednesday. "[I'll say,] 'You still here?' "
But "they say the same to me, though," Gardenhire said with a laugh, "which is kind of a back-at-you."
That's about the extent of the visible nervousness in the Twins' clubhouse about being sent elsewhere. A CBSsports.com report Wednesday said the Yankees and Mariners have discussed acquiring Josh Willingham, who is batting cleanup tonight against Royals left-hander Danny Duffy, but mostly there has been little chatter about Twins' players at the deadline.
Meanwhile, the three-game series in Kauffman Stadium goes on, with Phil Hughes on the mound tonight, feeling no effects from the line drive he took of his leg last week. No, Hughes' biggest problem, Gardenhire said, cropped up last night. Concerned that the Twins were left with only two position players on the bench, Hughes approached Gardenhire in the dugout, the manager said, with some distressing news.
"His greatest concern was that he didn't have his batting helmet, and we don't have another helmet big enough to fit his head," Gardenhire said. "He came up to me and told me I couldn't use him as a pinch-hitter."
Whew. Bullet dodged. Gardenhire somehow got through the game without calliing upon a starting pitcher to pinch-hit, something he's done, what, maybe a half-dozen times in his career? Gardenhire jokingly ordered the equipment staff to have Hughes' helmet shipped to Chicago for the end of the road trip. But mostly, he was amused at the thought that Hughes' size 8 head is too big for normal helmets.
"It's a Bochy head," Gardenhire joked, referring to Giants manager Bruce Bochy's famous oversized head. Hughes needs "a tank helmet, put it that way."
Meanwhile, here are the lineups for tonight's game, as the Twins try to win their third straight:
A weird game to open a weeklong road trip. Here are four leftover examples:
COLLISION ON THE BASES: Ron Gardenhire was ejected over one strange play Tuesday night, but it wasn't the only odd happening. For one thing, Trevor Plouffe stole a base, the first time he's even tried since last August. But the weirdest play came in the fifth inning. After a one-out double by Danny Santana and a single by Sam Fuld, Brian Dozier lined another single at Alex Gordon in left, scoring Santana. But as Fuld rounded second base, he ran into Royals second baseman Omar Infante, and third-base umpire Alfonso Marquez quickly stopped play and awarded Fuld third base and Dozier second. K.C. manager Ned Yost came out to argue, saying that because Fuld stopped once the collision occurred, no more bases should be awarded. But part of the reason that Fuld stopped was that Infante had obstructed his view of Gordon making the play, so he was placed on third. It ultimately didn't matter; the next batter, Josh Willingham, was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Chris Parmelee grounded into a double play, ending the inning before the Twins could capitalize further.
WEB GEM FOR HAMMER: Speaking of Willingham, he made a couple of unusual contributions, too. In the first inning, with three infielders on the left side, Willingham defied the shift and grounded a single to right -- just his second hit to the opposite field all season. And in the ninth inning, after Glen Perkins gave up two sharp hits to open the inning, Willingham came racing in to make a shoestring catch of Salvador Perez's sinking liner, perhaps the defensive play of the night. Had Perez's hit fallen, the Royals would have had three shots at tying the game.
FOUR PITCHES TOO MANY: Kyle Gibson's retired the side in the seventh by getting Perez to fly out on the first pitch, Gordon to ground out on an 0-and-1 count, and Billy Butler to ground out on the first pitch. That gave him 95 pitches on the night -- and hopes of going another inning. "that was exactly what was going through my head. I was like, all right, perfect -- walking off the field after seven, had a quick seventh, hopefully they'll let me go back out," Gibson said. "But being on the 10 days of rest, they just wanted to make sure I didn't go out for an extra inning and get tighter." So his night was over, a contrast to his opponent's. Royals starter James Shields needed 124 pitches to get through six innings, the most pitches he's ever thrown in his two seasons in Kansas City. He also failed on his fourth attempt at his 10th win.
IT'S ALL ON THE VIDEO: Gibson ended the third inning by picking off Alcides Escobar, an out that happened because of something he noticed while watching video during his layoff. "I felt like I was getting a little predictable in my timing. I was doing the same things, going home," Gibson said. "I don't want to talk too much about what I saw on video, but that's what I thought about on the pickoff: 'OK, you just saw some video, do what you normally do going home, and keep that same timing.' " He did, then suddenly turned to first, and caught Escobar scrambling back to the bag.
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