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.
Three leftovers from a packed house on Independence Day:
ONE BASE AT A TIME, PLEASE: Kyle Gibson had given up hits before, as many as 10 back in April against the Rays. But Friday's outing was different. These weren't hits, they were big hits. Gibson gave up a triple to the first batter he faced, then four doubles over the next two innings, a total of five extra-base hits, for a pitcher who had never given up more than three before. "That really hurt. I'll give up singles -- I'm a sinker ball guy, I'm going to give up singles, ground balls are going to get through," Gibson said. "But you could just tell, they were elevating the ball well. On top of giving up hits, if they're going to be extra base hits, that's how you give up two and three runs an inning." Maybe it's a Yankee thing: Gibson's worst outing last year was a Fourth of July drubbing by the Yankees in Target Field, when he gave up eight runs in 5 1/3 innings.
DEDUNO IS GOOD AGAIN: As bad as Gibson was, that's how good Samuel Deduno was. Just as he did in Gibson's disastrous June 24 start in Anaheim, Deduno came in and dominated hitters. Those same batters who clobbered Gibson managed just three hits over 4 2/3 innings against Deduno's mix of fastballs and sinkers, thus keeping the game close so the Twins could try to rally. Deduno has not pitched 9 2/3 scoreless innings of relief since losing his spot in the starting rotation two weeks ago. He claims the difference -- Deduno has a 1.91 ERA in the bullpen, but 6.52 in the rotation -- doesn't frustrate him, but he definitely wishes he was a starter again.
THE STREAK IS OVER: Tough way for Chris Parmelee to lose his 13-game hitting streak -- with the tying run on second base, he took strike three to end the game. Parmelee has been terrific lately, basically the Twins' only hitter not in a slump, so he was the guy they wanted up there. And the pitch, a 92-mph cutter from David Robertson was close, obviously too close to take. But the consensus in the Twins' clubhouse afterward was that it was also four inches outside, a Joe West special. Parmelee took his first 0-for-5 in two weeks.
The Yankees are wearing red caps today, which is a nicely patriotic holiday touch -- but looks awfully jarring on such a tradition-bound uniform. But that's modern baseball, where every occasion is a chance for a little extra marketing. In this case, all proceeds from the caps -- and yes, you can buy your Twins version at mlb.com -- will be donated to an organization that helps veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
And that's not the only medical condition that baseball is raising awareness of today. The Twins and Yankees will take part in a pregame ceremony to honor Lou Gehrig on the 75th anniversary of his farewell speech, an occasion that will include the first pitch being thrown out by the sons of a Twins fan and ALS victim who died in January.
On the field, the Twins are still trying to shake out of an offensive slump, and today have dropped Josh Willingham from the batting order. After going 11-for-32 with eight walks in his first 10 games back from a wrist injury, Willingham has batted .184 since June 4, and he's 2-for-21 in his last seven games. Willingham still walks more frequently than any other Twin, and he gets hit with pitches, too, so his on-base percentage remains strong at .377. But the Twins are clearly concerned about his slump.
Chris Colabello will fill his spot today, acting as the designated hitter with Chris Parmelee moving to left field and Kendrys Morales playing first base. It's Colabello's first appearance since replacing Joe Mauer on the roster earlier this week.
Here are today's lineups for the unusual 2:10 start:
Three leftovers from the Twins' eighth loss in 10 games:
GET HIM TO PETCO: It's a shame the Yankees don't visit San Diego this year, because Carlos Beltran has a collection he'd like to complete. In his first game ever at Target Field on Thursday, the veteran slugger rocketed a Phil Hughes pitch into the right-field stands, meaning he has now homered in all 15 American League ballparks. He's got 14 of the National League parks, too, but never connected in 23 games at Petco Park. If the 37-year-old Puerto Rican can homer in San Diego before he retires -- or stick around three years until the Braves move to Cobb County -- he can tie Adrian Beltre's major-league record of homering in 39 different stadiums.
WELCOME TO THE BIGS: New York third baseman Zelous Wheeler did something he'll remember the rest of his life on Thursday -- he homered in his first major-league game. He's the first Yankee to do that since Andy Phillips on Sept. 26, 2004, and the first player to do it against the Twins since Cardinals first baseman Chris Richards in 2000. Nine Twins have accomplished the feat, but only one since 1984: Luke Hughes, who connected on April 28, 2010, against Detroit.
HIS WORST IS PRETTY GREAT: Masahiro Tanaka struck out only three on Thursday, his fewest all year. He gave up nine hits, most he's surrendered in his 17 big-league starts. He allowed four runs, tying the most he's given up. If you're going to beat the Yankees' ace, tonight seemed like the night. "Unfortunately for us," manager Ron Gardenhire said, "we just didn't pitch well enough tonight." Too bad, because Tanaka is impressive in person. He appears totally in control, never gets flustered, and gets amazingly sharp break on his pitches. "He's not afraid to step off and gather himself. He handles himself very well," Gardenhire said. "With the stuff he's got, he's a very good pitcher."
As the Twins' pregame news release optimistically notes, "four Twins recorded hits off Masahiro Tanaka earlier this season." So it can be done.
Still, that 3-1 loss in Yankee Stadium on May 31 was one of the dominating pitching performances the Twins have absorbed this year. They scored an unearned run in the first inning, then managed to get only one baserunner as far as third base the rest of the game. Tanaka, 11-3 with a 2.10 ERA in his rookie season with the Yankees, pitched eight innings, struck out nine and walked two.
The Twins get another chance against the Japanese star tonight, in the opener of a four-game holiday weekend series with the Yankees. It's Derek Jeter's final visit as a player, other than the All-Star Game later this month, and it also features Phil Hughes' second start against his old teammates. Hughes beat New York in Yankee Stadium the day after Tanaka's gem, and manager Ron Gardenhire said he knows that Hughes is pumped up a little bit for tonight. Hughes has allowed five runs in three of his last five starts, though he gave up just two in the first seven innings last week in Texas. Still, after giving up 19 hits and 10 runs in his last two starts, the Twins are looking for a bounce-back performance.
Here are tonight's lineups, with New York third baseman Zelous Wheeler making his major-league debut after eight years in the minors:
A trio of final thoughts after the Twins' first 10-run romp since April 11:
MAUER'S PROBABLY OUT: Players usually try to stay optimistic about injuries, a stiff-upper-lip approach that insists that "maybe it'll feel better tomorrow," and "I might miss a game or two." But Joe Mauer didn't try to hide how stiff he felt after suffering a strained oblique on Tuesday (you can watch him on video here), and while he noted that he's never had this injury before, there didn't seem to be much doubt about where the three-time batting champion is headed now: The disabled list. "It felt like somebody hit me right there," was how Mauer described the pain. Maybe it's not as serious as it sounds, but Mauer said the injury has been bothering him for a week, so it's hard to imagine the Twins risking further damage by rushing him back, especially since the All-Star break would extend his recovery time by another four days. Unless he makes a fast recovery, expect a roster move on Wednesday.
WHO'S COMING? But what would that roster move be? One easy swap is to recall Chris Colabello, who didn't hit well at Class AAA Rochester after the Twins sent him down in May, but who has batted .319 with three homers (and 14 strikeouts) in his last 12 games. The Twins thought Colabello loses his swing when he doesn't play for several days, so I'm not certain they'd bring him back to be a part-time player. (By the way: Colabello STILL has more major-league RBIs this year than Mauer, not to mention Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia.) Another possibility is an outfielder, since Chris Parmelee -- the backup center fielder until Danny Santana is healthy again -- figures to play first base with Mauer out. But the only other outfielders on the 40-man roster are Max Kepler, who's been hurt and who's at Class A, Chris Herrmann, who's also been hurt lately, and Aaron Hicks, who's batting .190 at New Britain. One other possibility? How about Kennys Vargas, who has 14 home runs at New Britain? I'd normally say that it's not like the Twins to take such a raw player, but they haven't been shy about giving Santana and Jorge Polanco a look, and this one would only be temporary. We'll see what the Twins decide.
DOUBLY GOOD: Trevor Plouffe went only 1-for-5 on Tuesday, but the hit was a double, continuing a remarkable season for him. The season is only half over, Plouffe has played 66 games of it, and he's already collected 23 doubles this year, tied with Eduardo Escobar (who's also having a strong year) for fourth in the AL, despite missing the past two weeks with a rib injury. The team record is 47 doubles in a season, set by Justin Morneau in 2008, so it's possible one of the two infielders could challenge that team record. On the other hand, as @Very_Well_Then pointed out on Twitter, Chuck Knoblauch had 45 in 1994, fifth most in franchise history, and he did it in just 109 games, because the season was called off by a strike on Aug. 11. Who knows how far out Knoblauch might have put that record.
A night after managing only one run off Danny Duffy, the Twins now face the ace, or at least the top winner, on the Royals' staff, James Shields. And that means, Ron Gardenhire said, trying to get as many left-handed hitters into his lineup as possible. So six left-handers or switch-hitters are in the batting order tonight behind Ricky Nolasco.
Shields has allowed left-handers to his .292 against him this season, as opposed to just .255 vs. righthanders. (Oddly, though, his career platoon split is slightly reversed; righthanders bat about 10 points better overall.)
It comes at a good time, though, for Gardenhire, because he wanted to get Brian Dozier a day off anyway. "He's been playing every game, every inning, [and] we all see him scuffling a little bit," Gardenhire said of Dozier, who batted only .185 with no homers over the last half of June. "He just missed a home run last night, [and] you can see a little frustration in the dugout with him. He's a little worn out, you can see that too."
Getting Trevor Plouffe and Eduardo Nunez back from the disabled list makes it easier for Gardenhire to give Dozier a break. And for good measure, Josh Willingham is sitting out tonight, too, so Oswaldo Arcia and Chris Parmelee can play in the outfield. Willingham is batting .136 over his last 14 games, too. I asked him if he's hurt; he laughed and said, "I think I'm being benched."
Nolasco gets the start, with hopes of improving upon his June ERA of 5.83. Gardenhire said Nolasco had a good bullpen workout in Texas, and is optimistic he's spotting his fastball better.
Tonight's lineups, with Raul Ibanez in a Royals uniform for the first time since 2003:
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