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.
The Twins send their hottest pitcher to the mound tonight, as they open a four-game series with Tampa Bay. Carl Pavano is coming off back-to-back complete games, and a shutout in last start, Sunday against the Mets.
The Rays counter with 6-foot-9 righthander Jeff Niemann, whose is tied for fourth in the American League with a 2.72 ERA.
Both teams were anxious to flip the calendars to July. The Twins went 12-15 in June, while the Rays went 11-14. Both teams had been above .500 the first two months of the season.
The Twins are 25-14 at home, and Tampa Bay is an MLB best 25-13 on the road.
La Velle posted a minor-league update, including a note on Wilson Ramos returning to action for Class AAA Rochester.
Update: Kevin Slowey said his right ankle feels better than he thought it would. He's expected to make his next start, though Manager Ron Gardenhire said the Twins might juggle the rotation and use Monday's off day to give Slowey a little extra time.
Matt Tolbert injured his right middle finger trying to field a ball in the ninth inning Wednesday. Gardenhire said it's a possible DL situation. Tolbert is unavailable to hit tonight. It had looked like the Twins would send Danny Valencia to Rochester when J.J. Hardy is activated from the DL on Saturday, but Tolbert's injury might force him to the DL.
1. Ben Zobrist, CF
2. Carl Crawford, LF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Carlos Pena, 1B
5. Matt Joyce, RF
6. John Jaso, C
7. Willy Aybar, DH
8. Sean Rodriguez, 2B
9. Jason Bartlett, SS
Starting pitcher: RH Jeff Niemann (6-2, 2.72 ERA)
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Jason Kubel, RF
6. Michael Cuddyer, 3B
7. Jim Thome, DH
8. Delmon Young, LF
9. Nick Punto, SS
Starting pitcher: RH Carl Pavano (9-6, 3.33 ERA)
Target Field. First pitch: 7:10 p.m. TV: FSN. Twins Radio Network
NEW YORK -- Manager Ron Gardenhire hinted that the Twins will try a few subtle tricks to get into Johan Santana's head today. It won't be as obvious as it was this spring in Port St. Lucie, Fla., when the Twins coaches stepped into the on-deck circle, pretending they wanted an at-bat against their old friend.
"I'm sure there will be eye contact, which we always get with him," Gardenhire said. "We know all the lines that make him laugh. We know all the ones we said in the clubhouse. So, he'll hear them. But when it's all said and done, he's a competitor on the field."
The Twins are in their longest losing streak of the season, and they'll counter Santana with Carl Pavano, who is coming off an absolute gem last Sunday in Philadelphia, opposite Roy Halladay.
The Twins were still waiting to decide whether to activate Jose Mijares from the restricted list. He wasn't able to throw while in Venezuela, so they wanted to see how he looked in a pregame bullpen session.
Update: Gardenhire said the Twins hope Nick Blackburn can come out of his recent rut in his next start, Tuesday against the Tigers, since it falls at home. Blackburn is 4-0 with a 3.19 ERA at home, compared to 2-5 with a 9.40 ERA on the road.
Update: The Twins just announced that they have activated Mijares and optioned Jeff Manship to Rochester.
Update: With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, the Twins are viewed as one of the favorites to acquire Mariners lefthander Cliff Lee, and they've also explored a trade for Astros righthander Roy Oswalt. Lee can become a free agent after the season, and Oswalt is under contract through 2011, with an option for 2012.
Asked in general about the Twins trade philosophy now that they've moved into Target Field, Gardenhire said, "This organization’s pretty set in its ways about not ever giving up your system for a rental, as they say.
"We haven’t done that in the past, and I wouldn’t think they would be leaning that way now. But things happen, and because of the new ballpark, we’re finding a situation where we’re selling out every ballgame and there is probably a little more [money] than there has been in the past. But it still goes with the philosophy of the organization and that’s develop and bring these guys to the big leagues -- and that’s never going to change here, I don’t believe."
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Michael Cuddyer, 3B
6. Jason Kubel, RF
7. Delmon Young, LF
8. Nick Punto, SS
9. Carl Pavano, P (8-6, 3.64 ERA)
1. Jose Reyes, SS
2. Jesus Feliciano, CF
3. David Wright, 3B
4. Ike Davis, 1B
5. Jason Bay, LF
6. Rod Barajas, C
7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
8. Alex Cora, 2B (corrected)
9. Johan Santana, P (5-4, 3.31 ERA)
Citi Field. First pitch: 12:10 p.m. (Central). FSN. Twins Radio Network.
It's easy to assume the Tigers took a step back this offseason when they traded All-Star Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and let Placido Polanco return to the Phillies.
Earlier this week, I said the White Sox are the biggest threat to the Twins in the AL Central, and I still believe that. But the more I study the Tigers, the more dangerous they look.
The Johnny Damon signing changed everything. Yes, he's 36, and yes he posted a.915 OPS at the new Yankee Stadium last year, compared to .795 on the road, but he should solidify the top of Detroit's lineup. Now the Tigers can bat Damon leadoff, with rookie second baseman Scott Sizemore batting second.
The bottom of the batting order is suspect, but Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello give them a potent 1-2 punch atop the rotation, and AL hitters aren't going to like facing Scherzer, either. If the Tigers can get bounceback seasons from two other pitchers -- Jeremy Bonderman, Armando Galarraga, Dontrelle Willis or Nate Robertson -- they will definitely be contenders.
LOOOOONG GONE: Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Edwin Jackson, Fernando Rodney, Brandon Lyon.
WELCOME: Johnny Damon, Jose Valverde, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth, Austin Jackson
1. RH Justin Verlander
2. RH Rick Porcello
3. RH Max Scherzer
4. RH Jeremy Bonderman/RH Eddie Bonine
5. RH Armando Galarraga/LH Dontrelle Willis/RH Nate Robertson
1. LF Johnny Damon
2. 2B Scott Sizemore/Ramon Santiago
3. RF Magglio Ordonez
4. 1B Miguel Cabrera
5. DH Carlos Guillen
6. 3B Brandon Inge
7. C Gerald Laird
8. SS Adam Everett
9. CF Austin Jackson/Ryan Rayburn
RH Jose Valverde
RH Joel Zumaya
LH Phil Coke
RH Zach Miner
LH Bobby Seay/LH Fu-Te Ni
RH Daniel Schlereth/RH Ryan Perry
ON THE HORIZON
C Alex Avila (big league backup)
OF Wilkin Ramirez (AAA)
MY TWO CENTS
The Tigers looked broken after losing Game 163 to the Twins last October. They had blown a seven-game lead over the season's final month. Cabrera was battling alcoholism. Soon, they traded Granderson and Edwin Jackson, and Polanco signed with Philadelphia. But the Tigers didn't wilt after that Game 163 loss. There was a method to their offseason moves, even if the transactions seemed like head scratchers from afar. Cabrera has been through rehab. Right now, I'd pick this team third in the AL Central behind the Twins and White Sox, but it could easily be a three-team race.
(Photo above, by the Star Tribune's Brian Peterson, is of the controversial moment in Game 163 when Inge was hit by a pitch, but not awarded first base.)
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