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.
With six days remaining, Ron Gardenhire sees a little "youngness" beginning to affect his rookie players.
"Maybe seeing the end of the season coming up, they've got a lot of things going on -- packing, thinking about home. They all come into play this time of year," the manager said of Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas, both of whom are out of tonight's lineup. "Maybe giving him a little mental break here might help him out. They've both played a lot, and sometimes you lose a little focus."
Maybe so. Santana is 2-for-18 over his last four games with nine strikeouts, while Vargas is 1-for-11 in the past three. They'll sit tonight, allowing Eduardo Escobar to return to shortstop, his first start since jamming his shoulder one week ago, and Trevor Plouffe to act as the designated hitter, with Eduardo Nunez taking third base for a night.
Here are the lineups for tonight's final night game at Target Field:
Say this for Twins fans, they keep turning out. I had expected attendance to fall through the floor once the last-place Diamondbacks came to town, but there was a respectable crowd to watch the Twins clinch their fourth straight 90-loss season. Here are a few leftovers:
RUNNING ARIZONA: Kurt Suzuki has thrown out 25 percent of would-be basestealers this season, and he's only given up (along with the pitchers he's caught) 56 steals. So the Diamondbacks' speed was certainly noticeable on Monday night. Arizona became the first team all season to steal three bases in a game that Suzuki has caught. But not every base-stealing attempt was successful. For one thing, Suzuki threw out Jake Lamb in the sixth inning. In the Diamondbacks' five-run fifth inning, A.J. Pollock took off for second base with David Peralta at the plate. He was safe, but Peralta got in the way of the catcher as he threw. "The bat came back through the zone. It's automatic -- the hitter is out, and you've got to send the runner back," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, and home plate ump Gary Cederstrom ordered exactly that. "Suzuki took it right off the finger pretty good." Pollock didn't wait long for another chance, though; he stole second again on Ricky Nolasco's next pitch. And he trotted home one pitch after that, since Mark Trumbo belted it into the flower pots in right field.
RUNNING ON EMPTY: The rookies have been so good over the past two months, it's really noticeable when they're off their game. So it was Monday night, when Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia combined to go 0-for-12 with four strikeouts. Santana is now 2-for-18 over the past four games, with nine strikeouts. Vargas is 1-for-11 over his past three games, with four strikeouts. And Arcia is 0-for-11 with five strikeouts. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a feeling of school's-almost-out for that threesome, considering what a rush it's all been for them. They've got to be exhausted.
NEW ARMS, GOOD RESULTS: Some good work tonight by both bullpens, and the Twins have to be excited about what they saw. A.J. Achter, Lester Oliveros, Michael Tonkin and Ryan Pressly all pitched at least an inning, and while only Pressly had a 1-2-3 inning, all looked reasonably good. And only Pressly has any meaningful major-league experience, so this is the sort of work that could help the young pitchers develop. Achter gave up two hits, but pitched out of trouble. Oliveros gave up a leadoff double, but struck out Mark Trumbo and Miguel Montero to keep the run from scoring. And while Michael Tonkin gave up a run, the Twins conceded it on a ground out to short. All in all, the group of three September rookies and Pressly combined for 4 1/3 innings, and just one run, while striking out four.
With the pennant contenders gone, the Twins will take on a different look for the next three days. Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier are out of the lineup tonight, Kurt Suzuki will get Tuesday off, and it's pretty likely that Trevor Plouffe and Oswaldo Arcia are due for a breather, too.
Mauer, after all, has been in the starting lineup for every game but one since he returned from a quad injury on Aug. 11, and Dozier has sat out just twice since July 1. Manager Ron Gardenhire said he felt an obligation to play his regulars every day when the games could affect the pennant races. But with Arizona, a last-place team that has five more losses than the Twins' 89, making its first visit to Target Field, the way is clear for some of the rookies and reserves to play a little more. I'm sure the regulars will all be back in the lineup for the season-ending four-game series in Detroit.
That's why Chris Herrmann is batting second tonight despite his .193 batting average, and why Plouffe has moved up to third. Chris Parmelee will man first base, and Doug Bernier gets just his second big-league start of the season, and his first one at second base.
Figure on the bullpen usage to be shuffled a bit, too, although Gardenhire said Jared Burton will remain the Twins' closer if there is a save situation.
It's a beautiful night at Target Field, but with such an unappetizing matchup between last-place teams, it will be interesting to see how many fans show up for tonight's matchup between Ricky Nolasco and Josh Collmenter.
Here are tonight's lineups:
Kennys Vargas and Jose Berrios grew up about 10 miles apart in the busy suburbs of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Now they're lifting the hopes of baseball fans in Minnesota.
Vargas, who has settled in to the cleanup spot in the Twins' lineup, and Berrios, who rose from Class A to AAA in five months, are Minnesota's Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, the team announced Monday.
Vargas, a native of Canovanas, Puerto Rico, wasn't expected to reach the major leagues this season. But after batting .281 and belting 17 home runs in 97 games at Class AA New Britain, the Twins accelerated his schedule and called him up. Vargas has nine home runs and 38 RBIs since joining the Twins in early August, and has put himself in the middle of the team's plans.
Berrios, a skinny righthander from Bayamon, was assigned to Fort Myers out of spring training, but he quickly made it clear that Class A wasn't a big enough challenge, striking out 109 batters in 96 innings; the only pitchers with a better strikeout rate were three years older than Berrios, who didn't turn 20 until May. Berrios adapted quickly to Class AA New Britain, too, putting up a 3.54 ERA in eight starts, a mark that might have been even more impressive than his 1.96 at Fort Myers. He was called up to Class AAA for the season's final week, putting him in range of a major-league callup next season.
Both players represented the Twins at the Futures Game in Target Field last July, with Berrios chosen the starting pitcher for the International team.
A year ago, the Indians mowed down the Twins in September, en route to a wild-card berth. This year, the Twins have seriously damaged Cleveland's chances. A trio of leftovers from their 10-inning win:
HE OWNS HIM: Oswaldo Arcia's eyes lit up when I asked him about Trevor Bauer. "I don't know. I don't know," he said, anticipating the question. It's crazy, though -- four of his 19 home runs this season, better than one in five, have been hit off the Indians' righthander. And four of the 16 that Bauer has given up this year have been hit by Arcia. He said he remembered Bauer from Triple-A, because yes, he hit another homer off him in May, when Bauer was pitching for Columbus and Arcia was on the Rochester Red Wings. But "I've never seen him before this year," Arcia said. When he saw the pitch he recognized, "I saw it was changeup, and I got it," he said. Arcia has driven in eight runs that have been charged to Bauer. This stat amazes me: Bauer's ERA is 4.06 after Friday, but had he never faced Arcia this year, it would be 3.69.
A VALUABLE MILESTONE: What will Phil Hughes do with the extra $250,000 bonus he earned Friday, when he became the first Twins pitcher since Carl Pavano in 2011 to reach 200 innings? "Probably just put it in the bank," Hughes shrugged. "I won't play this game forever." Hughes says he's not even sure which side put the innings bonus in his contract, because he wasn't really sure he could reach it, not coming off a 4-14 season and 5.19 ERA last year, when he managed only 145 innings. "My thinking was more, 'Just pitch better,' " Hughes said. "And I pitched a lot better, and those things become achievable." In fact, he said, "it's a big deal to me. I grew up in a culture where, there's a lot of workhorses on that [Yankees] staff in New York, and being the guy who was never able to get to 200 innings before, it's a milestone. It's something you take pride in -- taking the ball every five days, getting your 30 starts, and approaching that number." Hughes does set a good example, it seems; he didn't walk a batter on Friday, which is normal. But neither did Bauer, for the first time all season.
DIDN'T FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS: Ron Gardenhire answered the question before anyone could ask it: Why was Danny Santana bunting with nobody out and Jordan Schafer on first base in the eighth inning? Santana's bunt was a poor one, Schafer was forced out at second, and the inning fizzled. "No, I didn't put the bunt on with Santana," Gardenhire announced after the game, unprompted. "I wanted him to hit a home run." Santana did the next best thing in the 10th inning, triggering the game-winning rally with a leadoff single, and eventually scoring the winning run.
Oswaldo Arcia's back pain is gone. Something about facing Trevor Bauer seems to make Arcia healthy.
The Twins' right fielder, who sat out two games after wrenching his back with an awkward swing on Monday, is back in the lineup tonight to face Bauer, perhaps Arcia's favorite pitcher. Arcia is 4-for-8 against the Cleveland righthander this season, with a single and three of his 18 home runs. Considering his last healthy at-bat on Monday also resulted in an upper-deck blast, it will be interesting to see if Arcia can keep from swinging for the fence again.
The game is critical to the Indians, who enter the day four games out of the final wild-card spot. Detroit and Kansas City open a three-game series in KC tonight, so they need one of those teams to sweep the other, then get some help against Oakland and Seattle. The Indians have a game in hand, sort of; they own a two-run lead over the Royals in the 10th inning of a game that will be completed in Cleveland on Monday. But losing ground in Minnesota would just about eliminate them.
Phil Hughes is on the mound for Minnesota, trying to become the Twins' first 16-game winner since Carl Pavano went 17-11 in 2010. Hughes allowed one run over seven innings in his only start against Cleveland this season.
Eduardo Escobar says his sore right shoulder is much better today, but the Twins aren't confident yet that he can safely dive on it, so he'll sit out another day or two. Escobar played catch today and reported no problems.
Anthony Swarzak has been told he's starting Sunday's finale of this series, his second straight start in place of Tommy Milone, who is still recovering from a sore neck. Speaking of sore necks, Glen Perkins saw a doctor this afternoon, but there are no reports yet about his condition.
Here are tonight's lineups:
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