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.
Say this for Twins fans, they keep turning out. I had expected attendance to fall through the floor once the last-place Diamondbacks came to town, but there was a respectable crowd to watch the Twins clinch their fourth straight 90-loss season. Here are a few leftovers:
RUNNING ARIZONA: Kurt Suzuki has thrown out 25 percent of would-be basestealers this season, and he's only given up (along with the pitchers he's caught) 56 steals. So the Diamondbacks' speed was certainly noticeable on Monday night. Arizona became the first team all season to steal three bases in a game that Suzuki has caught. But not every base-stealing attempt was successful. For one thing, Suzuki threw out Jake Lamb in the sixth inning. In the Diamondbacks' five-run fifth inning, A.J. Pollock took off for second base with David Peralta at the plate. He was safe, but Peralta got in the way of the catcher as he threw. "The bat came back through the zone. It's automatic -- the hitter is out, and you've got to send the runner back," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, and home plate ump Gary Cederstrom ordered exactly that. "Suzuki took it right off the finger pretty good." Pollock didn't wait long for another chance, though; he stole second again on Ricky Nolasco's next pitch. And he trotted home one pitch after that, since Mark Trumbo belted it into the flower pots in right field.
RUNNING ON EMPTY: The rookies have been so good over the past two months, it's really noticeable when they're off their game. So it was Monday night, when Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia combined to go 0-for-12 with four strikeouts. Santana is now 2-for-18 over the past four games, with nine strikeouts. Vargas is 1-for-11 over his past three games, with four strikeouts. And Arcia is 0-for-11 with five strikeouts. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a feeling of school's-almost-out for that threesome, considering what a rush it's all been for them. They've got to be exhausted.
NEW ARMS, GOOD RESULTS: Some good work tonight by both bullpens, and the Twins have to be excited about what they saw. A.J. Achter, Lester Oliveros, Michael Tonkin and Ryan Pressly all pitched at least an inning, and while only Pressly had a 1-2-3 inning, all looked reasonably good. And only Pressly has any meaningful major-league experience, so this is the sort of work that could help the young pitchers develop. Achter gave up two hits, but pitched out of trouble. Oliveros gave up a leadoff double, but struck out Mark Trumbo and Miguel Montero to keep the run from scoring. And while Michael Tonkin gave up a run, the Twins conceded it on a ground out to short. All in all, the group of three September rookies and Pressly combined for 4 1/3 innings, and just one run, while striking out four.
Three leftovers from a sweaty afternoon in Baltimore:
WHOSE POPUP IS IT? Ron Gardenhire said Trevor Plouffe needed to field David Lough's sixth-inning bunt, an odd play that might have had major consequences on the outcome of Sunday's game. Maybe he meant that Plouffe should have been playing further in and charging harder. But Plouffe might also be right that the Twins were just unlucky, and the ball landed at the perfect spot. The Orioles led 4-2 at the time, but had two runners on base and no outs. Lough squared to bunt -- he also sacrificed in the first inning -- but popped the ball up about 15 feet from home plate. Everyone sort of stopped when the ball popped in the air, figuring it was a major break for the Twins, but nobody ran after it. When it fell, catcher Eric Fryer got to it too late to throw Lough out, and the big inning was on. Adam Jones followed with a two-run double, Nolasco was removed from the game, and J.J. Hardy launched a grand slam shortly thereafter. It was probably Plouffe's play, but I'm not sure he could have got an out, either.
ROOKIES ON A ROLL: Danny Santana had another hit on Sunday, a two-run home run. Kennys Vargas had, of all things, an infield hit in five at-bats. That brings the rookies' total to 79 hits in August, the most by rookie teammates in one month since 1962, when Bernie Allen (44) and Rich Rollins (40) set the Twins' record with 84. Santana, with 41 hits, and Vargas, with 38, passed Fred Lynn and Jim Rice on Sunday; the Twins can only hope these rookies have as successful careers as those former Red Sox.
GOOD MONTH, BAD MONTH: All 18 batters in the two starting lineups had hits on Sunday, the first time that's happened in more than a year -- since May 17, 2013, in a Tampa Bay-Baltimore game had the same outcome. Impressive, but it didn't make the Twins feel any better. They've been hitting all month, for all the good it's done them -- they finished August with an 11-18 record. The Twins finished August with 159 runs, more than any team in the major leagues, and the most since 2009, when they scored 168 in May. But the pitching, particularly the past two weeks, has been abysmal.
A trio of leftovers after a letdown of a night for Trevor May:
CATCHER CAN HIT: Both of them came after the Royals already had a lead, but Erik Kratz hit a pair of home runs Monday, one off Andrew Swarzak and one off Ryan Pressly. The first one, a seventh-inning line drive, amazed bench coach Terry Steinback. "I tip my hat to him. [It was a] broken bat," Steinbach said. "I don't think I've ever seen that in my career." It was a pinch-hit home run; Kratz was replacing Salvador Perez, who tweaked his right knee while running the bases. The injury to KC's all-star catcher was the story of the night for the Royals, but it appears he'll be OK; the removal was mostly precautionary. Kratz wasn't done, though, launching a towering home run in the ninth inning. The backup catcher has a Twins' tie, too, sort of: He was traded to the Royals, along with ex-Twin Liam Hendriks, by the Blue Jays a few weeks ago for another ex-Twin, infielder Danny Valencia.
HOME RUN HITTERS: Maybe it was the language barrier, but Oswaldo Arcia seemed to think I was serious when I asked him if he was aiming for the flag pole in right field. No, he said, just hit it out there anywhere. OK, but it was still an impressive shot, clanging off the pole and ricocheting to the left. Trevor Plouffe hit a long one, too, in the ninth inning, a three-run shot that closed the gap to 6-4 and briefly offered Twins fans some hope. But Royals manager Ned Yost responded by calling on closer Greg Holland, and he only needed seven pitches to finish off the Twins. The Twins have now hit 19 home runs in August, and 12 in the past eight games. They haven't hit more than 22 home runs in any month this season, and they have 13 games left to pass that mark.
A PAIR OF ROOKIES? Saturday's doubleheader figures to feature an odd juxtaposition in the Twins' pitching staff, if Yohan Pino is recalled from Rochester as the 26th man. If the Twins stay on rotation, Pino would pitch one game, and the pitcher who took his job will pitch the other. Pino pitched seven shutout innings Monday against Syracuse, while May was working his way through the Royals' lineup, giving up three runs in the fifth inning. The Twins are committed to the 24-year-old righthander and helping him develop into a major-league winner, but it would nevertheless be awkward if Pino outpitches May on Saturday.
Tony Oliva cornered me in the Twins' clubhouse today, and had a clipping from today's paper in his hand. I knew what he was going to say before he even started.
He corrected my error, in no uncertain terms. But there's a 49-year-old error that he can't get fixed.
In searching for context for Oswaldo Arcia's 11th home run of the season on Tuesday night, I did a computer search for home runs by a Twin in his first season, which showed that Arcia ranked sixth -- or so I thought. But in searching for "first" season instead of "rookie" season, I slighted Tony O, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunanski, Justin Morneau, and every other Twin who spent a few days in the big leagues before their official "rookie" season.
Jimmie Hall, I wrote in Wednesday's Star Tribune, holds the Twins' rookie record for home runs with 33, with Marty Cordova second. In reality, Hall is the record holder, but Oliva's 32 in 1964 is second-most; my search credited Oliva with zero, since he had nine at-bats in 1962, his "first" season.
But Oliva had another tidbit: He should be tied with Hall for the Twins' rookie record. "They missed one in Anaheim," he told me of that 1964 season. "I hit a ball high, and it came down behind the fence, but [the umpires] said it bounced over it." He was awarded a ground-rule double, he said, and was robbed of what would have been his 33rd homer.
So for the record, Arcia's 11 homers puts him in a tie for 18th place among rookies in Twins' history. Here's the complete, and correct, top 10. And my apologies to Tony Oliva; I never meant to slight No. 6.
33 - Jimmie Hall, 1963
32 -- Tony Oliva, 1964
25 -- Gary Gaetti, 1982
24 -- Marty Cordova, 1995
23 -- Kent Hrbek, 1982
22 -- Bobby Darwin, 1972
20 -- Tom Brunansky, 1982
19 -- Justin Morneau, 2004
16 -- Rich Rolllins, 1962
15 -- Lew Ford, 2004
15 -- Dan Ford, 1975
On to tonight's game. The Twins' base stealers were on the field before batting practice, working with coaches Joe Vavra, Scott Ullger and Cedar Rapids hitting coach Tommy Watkins on taking good leadoffs and getting better jumps.
The Twins think Alex Presley seems a little hesitant about when to go, and they want their runners to be more aggressive. They rank 13th in stolen bases, and with some of the speed they have on the roster now, they'd like to be more successful at putting pressure on opposing pitchers. It's also a good message that, even with just 19 games remaining, they haven't stopped working.
Josh Willingham remains in the sixth spot in the lineup, where he homered twice last night. Eduardo Escobar is in the lineup for the first time since the All-Star break, playing third base. But manager Ron Gardenhire didn't want Trevor Plouffe's bat out of the lineup, so he's the designated hitter.
Here are tonight's lineups as the Twins try to win their third straight game:
The Twins, like all major-league teams, are wearing white caps today with red, white and blue stars in the logo. The Twins' version has a red bill, the Yankees' navy blue, and honestly, they look like something you'd find in the bargain rack of a sporting-good store. But that's a quibble -- conditions are just about perfect otherwise on a beautiful afternoon at Target Field.
Minnesota will try to avoid a four-game sweep to the Yankees, with Kyle Gibson on the mound, facing David Phelps. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire complimented the rookie's composure before the game, and says he has no worries about Gibson's ability to handle the pressure, not after his terrific debut last Saturday.
Gardenhire also believes in the composure of Oswaldo Arcia, another rookie who is No. 3 in the batting order today. Arcia already leads all rookies in RBIs, doubles and extra-base hits, and he's tied with Aaron Hicks and Conor Gillaspie for the rookie home-run lead.
The Twins' usual No. 3 hitter lately, Ryan Doumit, is recovering from a sprained ankle and was the catcher last night, so Gardenhire said he decided to give him a day to recover, rather than put him in right field. That left Arcia as a natural for the No. 3 spot, a position he has occupied only once before, in the second game of the Twins' doubleheader against Miami on April 23.
"Arcia's a swinger. He's not afraid to let it fly," Gardenhire said. "He's not going to worry about where he's hitting. So put him in there and let him hack."
Here are the lineups for the windup of the Twins' eight-game homestand (they're 2-5 so far):
I enjoyed the look on Mike Pelfrey's face this morning when Twins communications director Dustin Morse pointed out the huge media contingent -- there were four of us -- there to cover the team.
He couldn't believe it, and I understand why. Pelfrey spent seven seasons in New York, where a single newspaper might send four writers to cover a team.
"It's overwhelming there. It's every day after day after day -- there are 30 (media members) in the clubhouse, always," said the former Mets right-hander. "There are some great guys, but I think some try to write negatively. That's what people expect there, and it makes for a bad environment."
Pelfrey said he's impressed with the Twins' clubhouse, even though he's still learning some of the names. "It's a lot more relaxed here," he said. "(The Twins) do a good job of making things simple for the players."
Same thing on the fields surrounding Hammond Stadium, where the Twins held their first workout in preparation for the 2013 season. There were all the usual drills -- catchers settling under popups, pitchers covering first base, hitters using the right footwork to round the bases -- but they were being done by a lot of players unfamiliar to me. So like Pelfrey, I was spending a lot of time matching names to faces.
A couple of quick observations: The Twins have a lot of tall and/or beefy pitchers, but Rich Harden has that smaller, wiry frame (sort of like Billy Wagner) that makes you wonder where his velocity comes from. When he stands next to Vance Worley or Kyle Gibson, big guys who both threw well Wednesday, the effect is heightened.
-- The half-field where the infielders work every day has been named Tom Kelly Field, in honor of the former Twins manager who absolutely revels in lecturing rookies on fundamentals on it. I joked with Kelly that they named a diamond with no outfield after him, but he shot right back: Someone once brought up the fact that he hit only .181 in the majors, until he pointed out that he'd rather have hit .181 than never play in the majors at all. "Most people don't have a field named for them," he said. "So half a field is better than none, isn't it?"
-- Joe Mauer made it clear he doesn't consider himself close to being ready for the regular season yet, but he sure looked ready to me. Mauer was slashing baseballs all over the diamond during batting practice, and launched the last pitch he saw 40 feet beyond the right-field fence.
-- Some of the players received, unsolicited, new gloves with their names embroidered on them from a sporting-goods company after practice. None was very impressed. "It looks like a kid's glove," Glen Perkins said. "What an awful glove." Guess he won't be switching.
-- I was standing near Terry Ryan as the Twins' general manager shook hands with some fans near where the position players were taking batting practice. "It's good to meet you, Terry," said one fan. "I've heard a lot about you, all of it good." His friend standing next to him then piped up: "No, it wasn't all good." Ryan laughed pretty hard at that.
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