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.

Posts about On the road

Morneau closer to a return; Twins sign first-round pick

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: August 6, 2010 - 6:00 PM

CLEVELAND -- The Twins have six games remaining on this road trip and Francisco Liriano will start two of them -- tonight against the Indians and next Thursday against the White Sox.

Liriano has pitched 21 consecutive scoreless innings after having a 23-inning scoreless streak earlier this season. He might be the hottest pitcher in baseball, at 4-0 with a 0.63 ERA and 33 strikeouts in his past four starts.

The Indians will counter with Jeanmar Gomez, who is making his third major league start. I'm told he's one of Cleveland's top pitching prospects. Fastball will range from 90-92 with good movement. He threw a perfect game last year in Class AA but was 8-8 with a 5.20 ERA this year in Class AAA.

Joe Mauer is getting another DH assignment and likely won't catch Saturday, since Carl Pavano is starting. Drew Butera keeps getting starts behind the plate.

Update: Orlando Hudson (strained right oblique) had no problem swinging from both sides of the plate today and is expected to come off the DL on Sunday, as scheduled.

Justin Morneau (concussion) had another good day working out at Target Field. Plan is to have him take BP with the Twins on Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago and, if all goes well, head out on a minor-league rehab stint. Gardy says he's champing at the bit, but team wants to make sure he can make it through a full day's activities. It will be a step for Morneau just to take BP and then watch the entire game on the bench.

The plan for Mauer (right shoulder tendinitis) now is to have him catch Sunday, allowing him a day of rest with Monday's off day, and then resume catching against the White Sox.

Jon Rauch (skin issue) is available to pitch tonight. Jesse Crain is getting the night off. Twins also would like to avoid using closer Matt Capps.

Update: The Twins announced that they have signed first-round draft pick Alex Wimmers to a $1,332,000 bonus. Wimmers was the 21st overall pick in the June draft. He went 9-0 with a 1.60 ERA for Ohio State and was named the National Pitcher of the Year by the College Baseball Foundation.

The Twins assigned Wimmers to the Class A Fort Myers Miracle.

"I just wanted to get this on the road," Wimmers said. "I've had the summer, but I miss pitching too much."

TWINS (61-48)

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Alexi Casilla, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, DH
4. Delmon Young, LF
5. Jason Kubel, RF
6. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
7. Danny Valencia, 3B
8. J.J. Hardy, SS
9. Drew Butera, C

Starting pitcher: LH Francisco Liriano (10-7, 3.18 ERA)

INDIANS (46-63)

1. Michael Brantley, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4. Shelley Duncan, DH
5. Matt LaPorta, 1B
6. Jason Nix, 3B
7. Trevor Crowe, LF
8. Jason Donald, 2B
9. Lou Marson, C

Starting pitcher: RH Jeanmar Gomez (2-0, 1.50 ERA)

Progressive Field. First pitch: 6:05 p.m. TV: FSN. Twins Radio Network

Liriano looks to extend Twins seven-game winning streak

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: August 1, 2010 - 12:14 PM

Justin Morneau took batting practice in the indoor batting cage, instead of on the field, mostly because the Twins didn't want to make a spectacle of it, and they have a family game this morning. Regardless of where he's hitting, Morneau is finally making notable progress in his recovery from a July 7 concussion.

The Rays altered their rotation for this week's series in Tampa Bay, slotting Jeremy Hellickson to pitch Monday, and moving their other starters back. So Matt Garza will not get the chance to face his former team.

Those matchups will be: Pavano vs. Hellickson on Monday, Duensing vs. Niemann on Tuesday, Baker vs. Price on Wednesday and Slowey vs. Davis on Sunday.

First things first. The Twins will put their seven-game winning streak on the line today against Seattle, with Francisco Liriano opposing Luke French in a battle of lefthanders.

Update: Nick Blackburn is scheduled to make his first start for Class AAA Rochester on Monday.

Gardenhire said Morneau won't travel with the team to Tampa after the game and will remain in Minnesota, working out daily at Target Field. Orlando Hudson (strained oblique) will travel on the road trip. He is eligible to come off the DL on Aug. 8.

MARINERS (39-66)

1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
2. Chone Figgins, 2B
3. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
4. Russell Branyan, DH
5. Casey Kotchman, 1B
6. Josh Wilson, SS
7. Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B
8. Michael Saunders, LF
9. Rob Johnson, C

Starting pitcher: LH French (0-2, 6.39 ERA)

TWINS (58-46)

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Alexi Casilla, 2B
3. Delmon Young, LF
4. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
5. Jason Kubel, RF
6. Danny Valencia, 3B
7. Jason Repko, RF
8. J.J. Hardy, SS
9. Drew Butera, C

Starting pitcher: LH Francisco Liriano (9-7, 3.35 ERA)

Target Field. First pitch: 1:10 p.m. TV: WFTC (Ch. 29). Twins Radio Network

Morneau has setback, likely headed to DL

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: July 15, 2010 - 5:47 PM

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau tried working out today and felt woozy. He said he's probably headed to the 15-day disabled list.

Morneau, who has been out since July 7 with a concussion, said he has felt progressively better in recent days, so he's encouraged. He'll be eligible to come off the DL on July 23.

"Hopefully when it’s time to come off, we’ll be 100 percent ready to go without there being any questions -- what happens if I dive? what happens if I go in to break up a double play? --  you don’t want that," Morneau said. "You want to be able to go out there and play and not have those thoughts and be able to be aggressive."

The Twins plan to activate Matt Tolbert (bruised right middle finger) from the DL on Friday, so he'll likely swap spots with Morneau.

Morneau described what he's feeling as "Fogginess. Things aren’t working right. It’s not registering right, just walking around. When that’s not right, trying hit a 90-mph fastball makes it a little difficult. Just error on the side of caution. See what the plan is. The good thing is it’s been getting better every day, and I think we’ve been handling it the right way, and we’ve been pretty cautious with it."

Morneau said he'll likely use the new style of protective batting helmet players wore during Tuesday's All-Star Game.

"I don’t think it’s something that would have really made a difference in this case," he said. "You never really know, but for safety sake I guess we’ll try and use that new helmet. It didn’t look as bad in the All-Star Game so we’ll see how it goes."

NOTES

The White Sox are 25-5 in their past 30 games and riding an eight-game winning streak that has vaulted them into first place.

Kevin Slowey will try to cool down Chicago's offense tonight. Like most Twins starters, Slowey has been markedly better at home, going 5-3 with a 3.54 ERA at Target Field, compared to 3-2 with a 5.98 ERA on the road. Pitching coach Rick Anderson was encouraged by what he saw from Slowey in a two-inning relief appearance Saturday. Slowey retired all six batters he faced and did a good job changing speeds, Anderson said.

Brian Duensing has the flu, and Manager Ron Gardenhire said he'd have to see how he feels during the game.

Clay Condrey is having doctors check his injured right elbow. "Not good," Gardenhire said.

Alexi Casilla has moved up to Class AA New Britain in his rehab from right elbow surgery.

WHITE SOX (49-38)

1. Juan Pierre, LF
2. Omar Vizquel, 3B
3. Alex Rios, CF
4. Paul Konerko, 1B
5. Carlos Quentin, RF
6. Mark Kotsay, DH
7. A.J. Pierzynski, C
8. Alexei Ramirez, SS
9. Gordon Beckham, 2B

Starting pitcher: LH John Danks (8-7, 3.29 ERA)

TWINS (46-42)

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
5. Jason Kubel, RF
6. Delmon Young, LF
7. Jim Thome, DH
8. J.J. Hardy, SS
9. Nick Punto, 3B

Starting pitcher: RH Kevin Slowey (8-5, 4.74 ERA)

Target Field. First pitch: 7:10 p.m. TV: FSN. Twins Radio Network

Pavano faces Tampa Bay, coming off two complete game gems

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: July 1, 2010 - 5:25 PM

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.

RAYS (45-32)

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)

TWINS (43-35)

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

Twins set to face old friend Johan Santana

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: June 26, 2010 - 1:44 PM

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."

TWINS (40-33)

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)

METS (42-31)

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.

Detroit Tigers: At a glance

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: February 26, 2010 - 12:42 PM

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.

2009: 86-77

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

ROTATION
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

LINEUP
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

BULLPEN
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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