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.
Lots going on at Turner Field today. Here are a bunch of things that didn't make the paper:
-- Chris Colabello swung at the first big-league pitch he ever saw. But first, he asked permission.
"I asked Bruno [hitting coach Tom Brunansky] if it would be all right if I let it go," Colabello said after his first big-league game. Lefthander Paul Maholm "threw a pretty good pitch to hit, and I put a pretty good swing on it."
But he lined it directly at right fielder Jason Heyward, the first out in an 0-for-4 debut. "I didn't really get any fastballs to hit," he said afterward, "but that's part of the game."
Colabello also made a nice running catch of a shallow fly ball to end the fourth inning.
-- As the trucks were loaded equipment after the game, Colabello's bat bag was easy to pick out. Only one Twin has a bag that says, "Italia," from his two-week stint playing in the World Baseball Classic.
-- I felt bad for Vance Worley, who is a real positive presence in the Twins' quiet clubhouse, but who seemed absolutely mystified by his terrible start this year. His numbers weren't especially strong last year with the Phillies, either -- 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA -- but he obviously expected to be doing much better here, and he's only two years removed from an 11-3, 3.01 season.
"I went out there, and left the ball up just a bit. My ERA is killing me and it's hard to win a game if you get behind," he said. "This whole spring and up to this point, I haven't been consistent whatsoever."
He thought he had solved his problem last week, making a change to his mechanics that helped produce a six-inning, no-earned-runs performance against Boston. But now "I'll just have to figure it out down there," he said.
-- Both team's center fielders have had a rough year at the plate, but both homered on Wednesday. B.J. Upton hit a solo shot off Worley to lead off the fourth inning, producing just his seventh RBI of the season -- and considering he has four home runs, that means he's only batted in three teammates. Upton, who has a $75 million, five-year contract, is batting .155.
Aaron Hicks is at .157, and he had been slumping again; after his two-home run game against the White Sox on May 13, a game the Twins hoped would jump-start his bat, the rookie had gone 2-for-25.
But he too homered Wednesday, part of his first career three-hit game. Most encouraging of all: Hicks' homer came swinging left-handed, the first one (of his four on the season, second-most behind Josh Willingham's six) that he's hit from that side this year. Sure, it came off a pitcher making his major-league debut -- Cory Rasmus, brother of Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus -- but it's a great sign for Hicks. "He's been working really hard at it," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "For him to drive that ball like he did today, that was nice."
-- Caleb Thielbar walked the first two hitters he faced, then mowed down the next six Braves he faced. That's four innings in three days, and only one hit allowed, to the first hitter he faced in his debut.
"A little jumpy there early," Gardenhire said, "but he did well." The manager doesn't like having to use him this much, however. "Four innings in two days, that's not what we're looking for. We're looking for him to be used right, but with the way our starters are going, it's a hard thing to do," he said.
And a couple of leftovers from Tuesday night:
-- Gardenhire said as a bank of lights came back on slowly Tuesday night, after going out during a rain delay, the umpires came to him with a proposal. "The lights were not completely on, and they said, '[The Braves] are ready to go if you are,' " the manager said. "Well, we're hitting. Yeah, I guess they would be ready to go -- we're the ones have to hit in the shadows. I said, 'Nah, that ain't going to work.' " And the teams waited another 15 minutes until the light was completely restored.
-- Mike Pelfrey tried to convince Gardenhire to let him return to the game after the delays, but once it became clear it would be almost 90 minutes between pitches, he was told no. "He said, 'Well, you're going to have two pitchers on the mound,' " Gardenhire said. "I said, 'No I'm not. I'll tackle you.' "
That's it from Atlanta. Having failed to break the losing streak, I'm turning the team over to La Velle E. Neal III for the rest of the road trip. Follow the team at his blog, Twins Insider, and follow him on Twitter: @lavelleneal. (I'm @MillerStrib, if you haven't followed yet.)
Have a happy and safe holiday weekend, everyone.
ATLANTA -- Righthander Vance Worley was optioned to Class AAA Rochester on Wednesday, shortly after giving up eight runs, including three home runs, in the Twins' 8-3 loss to the Braves.
Worley's ERA rose to 7.21 after lasting just 3 2/3 innings in Turner Field, and the Twins, hopeful that he had solved his problems after allowing no earned runs in six innings last week against Boston, decided to replace him in the rotation, the second starter to lose his spot this week.
"Ultimately, he misfires too much over the middle of the plate, and you see the ball flying," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's what happened today -- he get the ball up and they whack it pretty good. When he's got the ball down, he does a really nice job."
The Twins will fill Worley's roster spot on Friday, presumably with righthander Samuel Deduno, who is replacing Pedro Hernandez in the rotation. They won't need a pitcher to start in Worley's place until Monday, allowing them to keep an eight-man bullpen at least through this weekend's four-game series in Detroit.
Worley was acquired, along with Class AA pitcher Trevor May, in a December trade with Philadelphia for outfielder Ben Revere.
ATLANTA -- Sleep is overrated, Chris Colabello said this morning, and I guess we're about to find out if he's right. The newest Twin was on Rochester's team bus late last night, playing cards with his teammates while they traveled from Allentown, Pa., back to Rochester, when Red Wings manager Gene Glynn broke up the game with some big news: Colabello had been called up to the major leagues -- if he could get there.
He arrived at the Rochester airport at 5:45 for a 6:25 a.m. flight to Atlanta, and the security line was moving slowly, he said. But he was pulled to the front of the line and just made his flight.
He's here and in the lineup, albeit at an unusual position: Right field. Colabello, a natural first baseman, played some outfield during his seven seasons in the Can-Am League, and began taking fly balls three weeks ago, so he feels comfortable there.
Trevor Plouffe has been placed on the seven-day disabled list for concussions, making room for Colabello, but says he's feeling OK today. Eduardo Escobar takes his place today, and Jamey Carroll will likely fill in as well during the next week, as the Twins try to snap their seven-game losing streak.
Today's lineups, with Joe Mauer on the bench after catching a couple of extra-long games the past few days:
B.J. Upton CF
ATLANTA -- Chris Colabello's baseball journey from independent baseball has reached the major leagues.
The Twins have added Colabello, veteran of seven seasons in the Can-Am League, to their roster for Wednesday's game with the Braves, calling him up from Class AAA Rochester to replace Trevor Plouffe, who has been placed on MLB's new 7-day concussion disabled list.
Plouffe was kneed in the head by Braves second baseman Dan Uggla during the 10th inning of the Twins' 5-4 loss. To add Colabello to the 40-man roster, the Twins transferred Darin Mastroianni, scheduled for ankle surgery today, to the 60-day disabled list.
Colabello, 29, was batting .358 with 12 home runs and 39 RBIs at Rochester.
Wednesday's first pitch is less than 12 hours away, so this is in leiu of the normal postgame blog. But I wanted to pass on this:
Nick Blackburn drove to the Oklahoma City airport on Tuesday to catch a flight to the Twins' training camp in Florida. The route didn't seem nearly as familiar as usual.
"It's unbelievable how devastating this [tornado] was," the Twins' righthander said. "We drove by all these places we're used to seeing, and some of them are gone."
Blackburn, working to come back from offseason wrist surgery, was home in Oklahoma, roughly 20 miles south of Moore, where 24 people were killed by half-mile-wide twister. He had returned earlier this month for the birth of he and wife Alicia's twin sons on May 14, and "I'm so thankful I was home" during the storm, the father of four said. "I couldn't take watching it on TV from Florida, wondering" if his family was OK.
He actually was supposed to return to Fort Myers on Sunday, but his flight was cancelled by the impending storm. "And we had to take a different way home, because there was a tornado coming the way we normally go," he said. At one point during Monday's storm, there were active tornadoes a short distance away both north and south of their home.
"But we came through it all right. No damage to our house, nobody hurt," Blackburn said. He and his family spent the day watching coverage of the storm on TV, waiting to lock themselves in their "safe room" if one came to close -- none ever did -- and "seeing all these places we drive through all the time just get ripped apart."
Blackburn hopes to throw his first bullpen session this week, with a goal of facing hitters by mid-June. And when the season ends, he'll return to his home in Tornado Alley. "I know outsiders don't necessarily understand why we love living there," Blackburn said. "But it's home. I'll never leave."
Ron Gardenhire also has relatives in Oklahoma, about 70 miles north of Oklahoma City, who "have been in the storm cellar for two days," the Twins manager said. "But they're OK."
ATLANTA -- The decision about the Twins' starting-rotation vacancy hinged, at least in part, on the Detroit Tigers. That's who Minnesota's next starter will face on Friday, the major leagues' highest-scoring team on its home field, and that's why Samuel Deduno was the choice.
"I know for a fact [the Tigers] don't like facing him," manager Ron Gardenhire said of the team's consensus choice to promote the 29-year-old Dominican, rather than righthanders Kyle Gibson or P.J. Walters, or lefthander Andrew Albers. "They've got a great hitting lineup, but Deduno, he's pretty filthy. He can scare the living fire out of you because he's going to wing it."
Deduno held the Tigers to three runs over seven innings last Aug. 14, then was shelled for seven runs in 2 1/3 innings in Detroit last September. But "we were looking for a chance to compete and win a ballgame," Gardenhire said, "and we thought he gives us the best chance right now."
Deduno has struck out 17 batters over 16 2/3 innings for Rochester this year, posting a 2.70 ERA after recovering from a groin injury.
Gibson is close, but the Twins are still concerned about his good game/bad game pattern, Gardenhire said. "They're looking for him to hopefully put together a few [strong] starts before we bring him up, because once you bring that guy up, you want him to be here and stay here," he said. "And right now, he's not quite there. That's the belief."
Deduno's schedule start on Tuesday was cancelled, and he threw a long bullpen session instead. He will fly to Detroit on Thursday night and will be activated on Friday, setting up a weeklong competition in the Twins' bullpen to avoid being the pitcher sent to Class AAA to make room.
Caleb Thielbar, who made his major-league debut on Monday, is the most likely candidate to go, but assistant general manager Rob Antony made it clear that the Twins have not made a decision on who will go, so Thielbar's two shutout innings against the Braves give him a fighting chance to stay in the majors.
Another possibility, of course, is that the Twins keep all eight relievers and send down a position player, going with a 13-man bullpen.
Speaking of potential roster moves, Gardenhire and Antony said they are well aware of how Chris Colabello is hitting in Rochester, and "we're looking at all kinds of options [about] how to give this kid a chance," Gardenhire said. "All I can tell Chris is, keep swinging, and something will shake itself out."
Colabello has done plenty of swinging -- he's batting .360 for the season, and .541 with four homers and 15 RBIs over his last 10 games. This week the Red Wings' first baseman began playing right field for the Red Wings, because "he's not going to play first base here," Gardenhire said. "You better figure out someplace we can play him before we bring him up here."
Tonight's lineups include a new element, at least for this season: Backup catcher Ryan Doumit is playing right field, the first time he's done that since May 4, 2012. It limits Gardenhire's maneuverability, because the Twins carry only two catchers; the manager won't be able to replace Doumit with a better fielder, because he needs him in case something happens to Joe Mauer. But the tradeoff was worth it, Gardenhire said, to get Doumit's bat in the lineup against Braves righthander Tim Hudson.
The Twins have had very little luck batting against Hudson in the past. Josh Willingham is 1-for-20 with seven strikeouts, Jamey Carroll is 1-for-11, Joe Mauer is 1-for-7 and Trevor Plouffe is 0-for-4.
One other small tweak to Minnesota's lineup: a day after batting Pedro Florimon seventh and Aaron Hicks eighth, Gardenhire flipped them back to his more normal order. "It just didn't feel right" having them bat in the other order on Monday, the manager said.
Tonight's lineups as the Twins, who have fallen into last place in the A.L. Central, try to break their six-game losing streak:
J. Upton LF
B.J. Upton CF
Tim Hudson RHP
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