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.
CHICAGO -- The new season is bringing a new member to Brian Duensing's family.
The left-handed relief pitcher, about to start his sixth season with the Twins, was placed on the three-day paternity list on Sunday, one day before Minnesota opens the season here against the White Sox. Duensing returned to his hometown of Omaha, Neb., to be with his wife Lisa for the birth of their second child. The couple has a two-year-old daughter, McKenna.
To replace Duensing, righthanded reliever Michael Tonkin was called up from Rochester. Tonkin flew to Chicago with the Twins on Saturday night and will be in uniform for the 3:10 p.m. first pitch at U.S. Cellular Field.
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was an emotional day at Twins camp, where the last cuts are always the most difficult, with players who expected to make the cut receiving some bad news. Chris Parmelee and Scott Diamond, both popular teammates in the clubhouse, were sent out, while Alex Presley was the lucky one, allowed to stay in the majors when Houston claimed him off waivers.
Presley frustrated the Twins because he never really flashed the speed he clearly possesses, never made himself a base-stealing threat. "The one thing we wanted Presley to do is be aggressive," Gardenhire said. "He's just not one of those big base-stealers. He can be. He can run." But it never happened with the Twins.
Aggressiveness is the problem with Parmelee, too, assistant general manager Rob Antony said, but at the plate, not on the bases. After a strong start to the spring, the Twins watched Parmelee revert back to his passive habits as a hitter.
"Taking pitches, taking first-pitch strikes, fastballs down the middle. He needs to go up there with the mentality that he can do some damage, he can be aggressive," Antony said. "We're just looking for him to swing at a strike. Try and hit it hard. Take your chances. Go down swinging."
But the most unusual part of the day was the admission by the Twins that Jason Bartlett made the team for his leadership off the field as much as his play on it. He's batting just .083 this spring, yet convinced the Twins that he could transform the attitude in the clubhouse. That such a makeover was necessary -- that's something teams don't often admit.
"If you're not down in that clubhouse every day, you probably don't get a sense of it. But those guys live together every day, all year," Antony said. "The last few years, some guys just haven't gone about it the way you'd hope. And sometimes that environment can get a little stale. And you need some people who know how that environment should be."
That's Bartlett, the shortstop on the Twins' division title team in 2006 and on the Rays' World Series team in 2008, and an All-Star in 2009. "He's only got a few hits, but I'll say that in the second half, he looks completely different than the first half. He's drawn some walks, he's hit some balls hard lately. From day 1, he's fielded the ball well, he runs the bases well, he does a lot of things you look for. And that can help some other players."
It's just a guess, but I wonder if Bartlett will be quietly steered toward Aaron Hicks, to help him develop and keep good habits as he gets older. Hicks didn't have much help around him when he failed as a rookie last year, and having a leader like Bartlett might prevent some of those deep slumps.
"Leadership can be a difficult thing for a guy who's not a starter, but he's got the ability and the traits," Antony said. "He's been on winning teams, and he can bring it home into the clubhouse. That can help us be a better team."
Jason Bartlett’s comeback attempt apparently will be successful, with the veteran infielder likely landing a spot on the Twins' Opening Day roster. The roster appears set after these moves: Scott Diamond cleared waivers Thursday, Alex Presley was claimed on waivers by Houston and Chris Parmelee has cleared waivers and been outrighted to AAA Rochester.
In addition, non-roster catcher Dan Rohlfing will likely be reassigned to the minors. But with just two catchers on the roster – starter Kurt Suzuki and rookie Josmil Pinto – Rohlfing remains in camp.
Diamond has 24 hours to decide between free agency or a minor-league demotion. He said he has not yet decided which course to take. Parmelee does not have the right to opt for free agency because this is the first time he has been waived while on the 40-man roster.
Diamond and Parmelee both can take no more than a 40 percent pay cut from what they earned a year ago, while spending time on the major league roster. That means if both wind up at Rochester, Diamond will earn $282,500 and Parmelee $242,200.
The cuts mean Bartlett, who last played in the majors in 2012, and fellow utility infielder Eduardo Escobar will also serve as backup outfielders now that Presley is gone. Chris Collabelo and Jason Kubel have also apparently made the team.
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Four players in the Twins' lineup Wednesday are batting .200 or less this spring. No Twin has reached double-digits in RBIs this spring, and the leader is utility man Eduardo Escobar, who won't play every day.
Oswaldo Arcia hit his second home run of the spring on Wednesday moving him into a tie for the team lead with Brandon Waring -- who was sent to the minors 10 days ago.
Yeah, it's a little glum around the batting cage at the moment. Minnesota scored just 614 runs last season, their fewest in a full season since 1968, but assistant general manager Rob Antony said he's been surprised, and a little disappointed, that they haven't hit any better in March.
"Who's had a great spring, of the position guys? I mean, has anybody really impressed? I read some of the clips on other teams: 'Guy hits his fifth homer of the spring.' We usually have a guy who does some of that too," Antony said. "We've been awfully quiet."
The Twins scored one run Wednesday, the fourth time in seven games they have managed only one. Jason Kubel's batting average has dipped below .200 again, new catcher Kurt Suzuki is right at that level, and cleanup hitter Josh Willingham is a remarkable 2-for-36 this spring.
"I wouldn't say [it's] discouraging. You'd like to see more. You'd like to see signs of life, to give you a little conviction and belief, even if it is just spring training," Antony said. "But I do believe when it counts and you have your nine regulars out there for nine innings, that things will be better."
If nothing else, the Twins were a little feisty on Wednesday, after Arcia was hit in the back by a Brandon Cumpton pitch in the fourth inning. Antony Swarzak retaliated (it appeared) by plunking Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez a half-inning later, and both benches were warned.
Swarzak's two-inning stint ended with a line drive that struck him in the forearm, but he grabbed the ricochet and threw the batter, Travis Snider, out. As he walked off the field, the Pirates were yelling at Swarzak, and he stopped to yell back. Things got tense before Swarzak was pulled away.
"There was a lot of chirping going on," Gardenhire said. "I thought their hitter should have been thrown out of the game for hitting my pitcher," he joked.
Seriously, though, Gardenhire thought it was inappropriate for the Pirates to be heckling Swarzak about a play in which it initially appeared he had been injured by the line drive. "That was a little disappointing. When a guy gets hurt, your concern is that he's hurt. We've seen pitchers get whacked pretty good, so I'm not big on that. Good intensity, though. We need it."
Swarzak had an icepack on his arm after the game, but said he was fine. "If it was the regular season, I'd have stayed in the game," he said.
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Byron Buxton remains sidelined with a sprained left wrist, and the Twins confirmed Wednesday that their top prospect may start the season on the disabled list.
The 20-year-old outfielder, projected to open the season with Class AA New Britain, injured his wrist while diving for a fly ball 10 days ago, and has not played since. He still feels soreness in the wrist when he swings a bat, though an MRI taken Saturday revealed no structural damage to the wrist.
He has been diagnosed with a sprain of the pisotriquetral joint, which can be slow to heal. Buxton will likely be sidelined for another couple of weeks, Twins doctors believe, meaning he would miss the start of the Eastern League season next Thursday.
"It is in jeopardy, yes," Brad Steil, the Twins' director of minor leagues, said of Buxton's status for Opening Day.
Buxton has been rated the No. 1 prospect in all of minor-league baseball by Baseball America, ESPN, and several other outlets. He batted a combined .334 with 12 home runs and 55 stolen bases at Class A Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers last season.
Miguel Sano, the Twins' other top hitting prospect, underwent elbow surgery last month and will miss the entire 2014 season.
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins are in meetings this morning, part of the standard human-resources informational meetings that employees in most professions are required to take part in. Not that it means much yet, but all of the players on the bubble for roster spots were in the clubhouse, so no moves -- cuts, trades, etc. -- have been made so far. Four players must be moved by the time the Twins fly to Chicago on Saturday.
Today's lineup for the noon CDT game with the Pirates has a couple of wrinkles to it, starting with the first appearance this spring of Joe Mauer in the No. 2 spot, where he spent most of last season. Ron Gardenhire has been trying a variety of lineups lately, searching for options at the top that don't include Aaron Hicks. Gardenhire's preference is to put the center fielder in the leadoff spot, but he's clearly trying to keep pressure off of Hicks, who flopped as the leadoff hitter last year. Also unusual: Jason Kubel is in left field, with Josh Willingham serving as the DH.
Ricky Nolasco makes his final start of the spring today, and the plan is for him to pitch 6-7 innings in preparation for his Opening Day start next Monday.
It's chilly and blustery in Fort Myers today, around 60 degrees with a persistent wind that may affect play. The Pirates are bringing most of their starters to Hammond Stadium today. Here are the lineups:
G. Sanchez DH
T. Sanchez C
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