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.
BOSTON -- There’s an entry in today’s Twins press notes that nobody would have expected to see two weeks ago.
“How About Those Twins Starters,” the headline says, and the item goes on to say that, in their past nine games, Twins starting pitchers have posted a 2.20 ERA, with just three home runs allowed, and an opponents batting average of .204.
They’ve pitched at least six innings in eight of those nine starts, and not coincidentally, the Twins are 7-2 in that stretch.
Today, Nick Blackburn will face the Red Sox, completing the second turn through the rotation since this streak began. He held the White Sox to two runs on five hits over eight innings last Tuesday, but wound up with a no-decision in a 4-3 loss.
With Josh Beckett missing a start, Boston counters with lefthander Franklin Morales, who has posted a 3.32 ERA in 33 appearances this year, including five starts.
The Red Sox are reeling. Their clubhouse is filled with turmoil, and media members are on alert, wondering if Bobby Valentine will get fired. The Twins hadn’t won three straight games in Boston since 1994, and today, Minnesota can get its first four-game sweep at Fenway since 1991.
Stat of the day: Morales has a 6.08 ERA at Fenwary Park with the Red Sox, and a 1.28 ERA on the road. Hat tip to the Boston's Globe's Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe on Twitter).
Update: Just a standard day off for Denard Span. Ben Revere slides into the leadoff spot, and this keeps Darin Mastroianni in the lineup.
1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Darin Mastroianni, RF
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Josh Willingham, LF
5. Justin Morneau, 1B
6. Ryan Doumit, DH
7. Brian Dozier, SS
8. Alexi Casilla, 2B
9. Jamey Carroll, 3B
Starting pitcher: RH Nick Blackburn (4-6, 7.43 ERA)
RED SOX (53-55)
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Carl Crawford, LF
3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
5. Cody Ross, DH
6. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
7. Will Middlebooks, 3B
8. Ryan Kalish, RF
9. Mike Aviles, SS
Starting pitcher: LH Franklin Morales (2-2, 3.32 ERA)
Fenway Park. First pitch: 12:35 p.m. (Central). TV: FSN. Twins Radio Network
Follow along on Twitter: @JoeCStrib
The Twins have Carl Pavano lined up to pitch Wednesday’s season finale, and they really hope he has a chance to help the team avoid 100 losses.
A win Monday would have been nice, but they squandered a 3-1, sixth-inning lead in an eventual 7-3 loss against the Royals.
So they’re 61-99 with two to play. It’ll be Anthony Swarzak vs. Kansas City’s Sean O’Sullivan on Tuesday.
“It’s extremely important,” Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. “As I said the other day, pride factor. You don’t want to have a triple digit in the loss column. You don’t want to lose 99 either; I guess we don’t have a choice for that one.”
Before the bottom fell out in August and September, the Twins had climbed back to respectability. They were 20 games under .500 before reeling off a 15-2 stretch in June.
“Think of where we’d be if it weren’t for that run,” Cuddyer said.
That’s a staggering thought.
“I just know we haven’t played very well this year,” said Cuddyer, whose two-run homer Monday gave him 20 homers and 70 RBI. “You can’t fault our effort. We’ve given effort, we’ve run balls out, we’ve tried. We just haven’t been very good.”
Update: The Brewers rallied to beat the Twins 4-3 on a two-run double by Prince Fielder with two outs in the seventh inning. The hit came off reliever Jose Mijares, who fell behind Fielder 3-and-0 and then threw an inside fastball on a full-count pitch.
Come back to startribune.com later for more details.
MILWAUKEE -- Twins first baseman Justin Morneau will have surgery next Wednesday to relieve a pinched nerve in his neck, and is expected to be out until August the team said today.
Morneau, 30, was dealing with the neck issue before going on the DL with a strained left wrist. He was scheduled to have the cast removed today, and since he wasn't regaining strength as the Twins had hoped, they advised him to see a neck specialist who recommended the surgery.
"It’s a very non-invasive procedure that he’ll have to remove a herniated disk fragment from his neck, and he should be back playing full in six weeks," Twins trainer Rick McWane said.
"I want to emphasize this isn’t something [Morneau] was actively pursuing," McWane added. "It was his desire to try to fight through this, and as an organization -- our team doctors wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to jeopardize anything down the road.
"Even though the risk is small, there still is a risk that if he continued to play through this that his full strength would not come back, so we made the decision."
MAUER TO PLAY SOME FIRST BASE?
Manager Ron Gardenhire said he has advised Joe Mauer to get a first baseman's glove, to give the team another occasional option to fill in for Morneau. Gardenhire said Mauer is open to doing that.
"It’s just a casual conversation," Gardenhire said. "It was nothing in-depth, believe me, and he says he’ll do whatever it takes. That’s all I wanted."
* Jim Thome will take batting practice today and could be activated from the DL after the game. Gardenhire said he might want to keep three catchers, which led to the discussion about the possibility of giving Mauer some time at first base.
Denard Span (concussion) played catch and hit off the tee and felt no symptoms, so this was a good day for him. Also Jason Kubel had a good day running with his sprained left foot.
Quick fact: The Brewers are 26-11 at home and 15-24 on the road.
1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Alexi Casilla, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Michael Cuddyer, RF
5. Delmon Young, LF
6. Danny Valencia, 3B
7. Luke Hughes, 1B
8. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, SS
9. Scott Baker, RHP (5-4, 3.24 ERA)
1. Rickie Weeks, 2B
2. Nyjer Morgan, CF
3. Ryan Braun, LF
4. Prince Fielder, 1B
5. Casey McGehee, 3B
6. Corey Hart, RF
7. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS
8. George Kottaras, C
9. Randy Wolf, LHP (5-4, 3.15 ERA)
Miller Park. First pitch: 7:10 p.m. TV: FSN. Twins Radio Network
BOSTON -- The Twins had been outscored 30-9 over the first two innings this year, so Scott Baker couldn't help be thrilled to have a 4-0 lead in the second inning Friday.
"I think you’d hear any starter say ... it allows you to kind of attack guys and come right at them," Baker said.
That's what Baker did over eight innings, as the Twins cruised to a 9-2 victory. The Red Sox got home runs from J.D. Drew (second inning) and Adrian Gonzalez (fourth inning), but that was it, as Baker allowed seven hits with one walk and eight strikeouts.
"Bake was outstanding," Manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He attacked the strike zone and attacked their hitters, which is tough to do in this ballpark. They’ve got some great hitters."
After allowing four runs in each of his first two starts, Baker has quietly gone 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his past four starts. They've been fairly tough assignments, all on the road -- at Tampa Bay, at Baltimore, at Kansas City and at Boston -- and he's posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 25-to-4.
When a team rolls to an easy victory against Boston's Tim Wakefield, it's tough to read too much into it because his knuckleball is boom-or-bust. But Baker's success is a definite good sign moving forward.
The Jim Thome Experiment has turned into a Twins fairy tale.
Think of how the White Sox are feeling this morning after watching their guy turn the tables in the 10th inning Tuesday, taking a potential two-game separation between these teams and turning it to four with one swing.
What's unique about Thome is it's never about him. Listen to his postgame interviews and watch him spread credit around -- "What a game! What a game! ... Both teams played well. Give them credit, too. ... Let's face it, Matt Thornton is one of the best lefthanded relievers in the game," etc.
And it's never phony with Thome. He has 581 career home runs and needs three more to pass Mark McGwire for ninth on the all-time list. You'd think Thome had five homers after a 10-year wait to get to the major leagues.
Remember when the Twins wore those 1908 St. Paul Gophers throwback unis in Cleveland a couple weeks ago? Thome had an even bigger smile than usual that day. He got such a kick out of his get-up that he asked one of the Twins staffers if he'd mind snapping a quick cell phone photo.
Thome is playing on a one-year, $1.5 million contract. He'll make another $200,000 or $300,000 in incentives for plate appearances. You get the feeling he'd pay the Twins if they could help him deliver his first World Series ring.
He has been a perfect fit and perhaps the missing piece. They miss Justin Morneau dearly, but having Thome's lefthanded bat in the lineup helps make up for it. And when other Twins grumble about Target Field being a tough home run park, the team can just refer them to Thome's splits:
Home: 124 PA 9 HR .275/.395/.618
Away: 129 PA 8 HR .271/.388/.570
Not to minimize it. The Twins and their opponents have combined to average 1.28 HR per game at Target Field, compared to 2.79 HR per game when the Twins have played on the road. Target Field simply plays bigger than most parks, but it matters less for Thome, who could turn Yellowstone into a hitter's park when he connects. As a team, the Twins have adapted, finding other ways to score. They've reeled off eight home victories in a row.
Thome acknowledges it's a tough home run park but adds, "I think that’s benefited us, to be honest. Let’s face it, as you get close later in the year to the postseason -- and if we’re fortunate to get there -- that’s what ultimately wins what you want to accomplish, is pitching. Our pitchers have been wonderful. They’ve been great, and maybe the ballpark has helped. As hitters, we have to adapt to that."
Didn't realize this before deadline last night, but Elias research has Thome tied for the all-time lead with 12 walk-off home runs. Tied with Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle and Jimmy Foxx (Double X). It's fitting that he'd have the first one in Target Field history, a shot many of us will never forget.
CLEVELAND -- Kevin Slowey has soreness in the back of his right elbow and won't make his start Wednesday in Chicago. Manager Ron Gardenhire hinted that Glen Perkins will come up from Class AAA Rochester and get that start, since that is his regular day to pitch.
Slowey's next start will likely be next Sunday. He said he's confidence that his issue is tendinitis. It flared up after Thursday's start at Tampa Bay. He was going to throw a bullpen session today but cancelled it because of the soreness.
The Twins considered keeping Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano on regular rest so they could pitch Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago, but both requested the extra day of rest. Gardenhire said Liriano is dealing with a little bit of "dead arm," which might explain why Liriano labored Friday night.
So the likely rotation when for the Chicago series will be: Scott Baker (Tuesday), Perkins (Wednesday) and Liriano (Thursday).
* The Twins need to make a roster move this morning, with Orlando Hudson set to come off the disabled list. The MRI exam on Alexi Casilla's left ankle looked good. The Twins think Casilla will be healthy in a couple days, so they are looking for someone else to clear from the roster, possibly a pitcher.
Update: The Twins optioned RHP Anthony Slama to Rochester to clear a spot for Hudson. This spares Trevor Plouffe, who will provide infield depth while Casilla heals.
* Joe Mauer returns to catcher for the first time since July 31. His right shoulder has been feeling better, and he's been on fire at the plate. Saturday's 4-for-5 effort left Mauer's average at .322, the highest it's been since May 30. Mauer has been gaining ground on AL batting leader Josh Hamilton, who is at .354, so a fourth batting title isn't out of the question.
* This is an important swing game for the Twins, who are 3-3 on the road trip. A series victory would put the Twins in a perfect frame of mind as they fly to Chicago, where they'll enjoy an off day Monday before starting their three-game showdown with the White Sox.
1. Jason Repko, CF
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Delmon Young, LF
5. Jason Kubel, RF
6. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
7. Jim Thome, DH
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. J.J. Hardy, SS
Starting pitcher: LH Brian Duensing (4-1, 2.10 ERA)
1. Michael Brantley, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4. Shelley Duncan, DH
5. Matt LaPorta, 1B
6. Andy Marte, 3B
7. Trevor Crowe, LF
8. Jason Donald, SS
9. Lou Marson, C
Starting pitcher: LH David Huff (2-10, 5.97 ERA)
Progressive Field. First pitch: 12:05 p.m (Central). TV: WFTC (Ch. 29). Twins Radio Network
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