La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.
White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing interviewed with the Twins on Friday, the seventh known candidate to replace Ron Gardenhire.
McEwing also has interviewed for vacancies in Arizona and Texas.
McEwing retired after the 2007 season and became a minor league coach in the White Sox system. He rocketed up the ladder, joining Robin Ventura's staff in 2012.
One of his Twins connections is that McEwing managed Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier for Mesa of the Arizona Fall League in 2011.
Other known candidates include Oakland bench coach Chip Hale, Boston bench coach Torey Lovullo, Cleveland bench coach Sandy Alomar, Jr and in-house candidates Paul Molitor, Doug Mientkiewicz and Gene Glynn.
For the third straight year, the Twins have announced changes to its coaching staff the day after the final out of the regular season.
But not as sweeping as this.
Ron Gardenhire is out as manager of the Twins (notice that it's not officially a firing) and his coaching staff is not being brought back also. That will allow the new manager to build his own staff. That means some members of the current staff could be part of the new staff.
If the Twins don't hire from within, who could they bring in from outside the organization?
Two names the Twins could be interested in, according to someone with knowledge of the Twins' thinking: Tory Lovullo and Joe McEwing.
Lovullo currently is Boston's bench coach and is considered a hot commodity. He recently met with the Houston Astros about their vacancy.
McEwing is the third base coach for the Chicago White Sox. He has a relationship with Brian Dozier from the time Dozier spent in the Arizona Fall League. And he's well-respected in the game.
Other names could surface, like Jose Oquendo and Dave Martinez. Former Twin Chip Hale, the A's bench coach, is another popular candidate/ Twins GM Terry Ryan will be very thorough.
It will be interesting to see where former Twins coaches land. Paul Molitor and Terry Steinbach are local guys who could be part of the next staff here. But both could be lured by other teams. Tony LaRussa's arrival in Arizona - and hiring of Dave Stewart as GM - could mean the old A's are getting back together in Arizona. Steinbach could be a fit there.
Just a few notes on glorious Friday in September.
Phil Hughes is the man. The Twins offered him a chance to get one more out and trigger the $500,000 bonus he was to receive for pitching 210 innings, but Hughes declined, saying it didn't feel right.
Many players would have jumped at the chance to possibly throw one pitch and earn some more cash. Hughes has been nothing but a classy, level-headed fellow since he's joined the Twins.
Props to the Twins, too, for offering the chance. They did not have to do that, because it sets a precedent.
Hughes already has earned $500,000 in bonuses this season, so he buy a new dining room set this offseason.
Byron Buxton, whose injury-plagued season ended with a concussion, has been cleared to take part in all baseball activities. He's down in Fort Myers, Fla., working out before he heads to the Arizona Fall League.
In addition to minor league hitting coordinator Bill Springman being let go, the Twins also have parted ways with pitching coach Gary Lucas, who was at Class A Fort Myers.
Lefthander Mason Melotakis has a possible torn ulnar collateral ligament. The Twins will decide in a couple of weeks if surgery is needed. Melotakis throws in the mid 90's and has a chance to debut sometime next season.
O.K. the talk after the game was about Phil Hughes falling just shy - one stinking out - of reaching 210 innings on the season. That would have triggered a $500,000 bonus. But a rain delay at the end of the eighth lasted 1 hour, 6 minutes, too long for Hughes to go back out there.
So he fell one out shy. And fans on twitter are demanding that the Twins pay him the bonus away - which is unrealistic.
``After pitching eight innings, that something that's not worth the risk,'' Hughes said. ``So that was not an option.''
Should you get the bounds anyway?
``It wasn't 2092/3, it was 210,'' Hughes said. ``That's the way it goes sometimes.''
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was prepared to break his protocol - bringing in his closer with one run lead in the ninth - and allow Hughes to pitch the ninth. But the rain wash away those plans. Jared Burton gave up one hit in the ninth but earned the save.
``It's unfortunate,'' Gardenhire said. ``but it is what it is.''
Gardenhire was then asked about using Hughes out of the bullpen in Detroit.
``You're really trying to get my fired, aren't you,'' he said. ``He's done for the year and that was his last start.''
I sent a text message to an agent I know, and asked him if a club has paid out a bonus when a player gets close. ``No chance of that happening,'' was the response.
Teams aren't obligated to do that. And that's opening up a serious precedent if a team does. Doubt it will happen.
Mauer sits out
First baseman Joe Mauer has some soreness in his right elbow after being hit with a pitch there on Tuesday, but he could have played in the series finale against Arizona.
Gardenhire, eyeing four games in Detroit against a team fighting for the playoffs, decided to rest Mauer on Wednesday so he can use him in all four games at Comerica Park.
``I didn't even ask him,'' Gardenhire said. ``Just played the other guys. I want him to be ready for (Thursday).''
Mauer is batting .276 with 4 home runs and 52 RBI, an offensive year no one expected from the three-time batting champion in his first year at first base. While things have soured at the plate, Gardenhire feels Mauer is becoming a good first baseman.
``I thought he got better and better defensively around first base,'' Gardenhire said. ``He was a little tentative early, which was expected. I think he's gotten now where he ventures away from the base on plays, diving for the ball, filling the holes down the line. He got comfortable catching the balls and taking it to first himself. I think he's learned an awful lot. He kinda got a feel for what he can get away with and what he can't.''
The four straight 90 loss seasons are reflected at the turnstiles.
The announced crowd on Wednesday was 29,445 (there wasn't that many actually there). That made the season attendance at 2,250,606 - the lowest season attendance in Target Field's five-year history. That still is an average of 27,785 a game, an average some clubs would love to have. Oakland, Seattle and Kansas City - three teams in the playoff picture this month - entered Wednesday averaging less.
BONUS: Milone ready
Tommy Milone has recovered enough from his sore neck to be available ouf of the bullpen during the season-ending series in Detroit.
Milone has not pitched since Sept. 2, missing one start because of a tired arm and now two starts because of the sore neck. But he threw in the bullpen on Monday and feels he can help out of the bullpen.
``I was a little rusty,'' Milone said of his bullpen session.
Milone is 0-1 with a 7.40 ERA in five outings for the Twins since arriving from Oakland in the Sam Fuld trade.
BONUS II: Rookies Get It
It's rookie dress up day, the annual event when rookies get their clothes stolen and are forced to wear crazy costumes. I think the rookies this season got off easy.
Michael Tonkin was dressed up as a really fat Super Mario. Logan Darnell was Batman. Danny Santana was Robin (he really liked the cape). But a bunch of rookies also had to wear one of those horse heads that a few fans showed up with during the season. I'd gladly wear one of those to conceal my true identity.
Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe has seen his season come to an abrupt end after suffering a fractured left forearm while trying to tag A,J. Pollack during a stolen base attempt in the sixth inning.
Plouffe came down hard with the tag, and his forearm struck Pollock's knee. Plouffe carefully pulled off his glove and motioned for assistance.
Plouffe finishes the season with a .258 average, 14 home runs and 80 RBI.
Back to pre-game programming...
We are gathered here today for the final home game of the Twins' disastrous season. Phil Hughes takes the mound with the chance to win his 16th game in his final start of 2014.
First baseman Joe Mauer does have a little soreness in his elbow after getting plunked last night, but can play. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire wants to play Mauer in all four games in Detroit, so decided to not start him today.
Boxes were seen in the clubhouse as players have started packing for the offseason. I was told about half of the team will take off from Detroit for their offseason destinations, the other half will be in the clubhouse next week to finish packing up.
Gardy, who wants to turn things around here,. did say before the game that he wants to return for the next season, his last under contract. Terry Ryan will be on the road trip to Detroit, during which the two are expected to sit down discuss the future.
The Twins have hit 67 home runs at Target Field this season, two shy from the most in a season in the stadium's five-year history.
Ender Inciarte, LF
A.J. Pollock, CF
Jake Lamb, 3B
Mark Trumbo, DH
David Peralta, RF
Jordan Pacheco, 1B
Didi Gregorious, SS
Bobby Wilson, C
Cliff Pennington, 2B
Danny Santana, CF
Brian Dozier, 2B
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Kennys Vargas, 1B
Kurt Suzuki, C
Oswaldo Arcia, RF
Josmil Pinto, DH
Aaron Hicks. LF
Eduardo Escobar, SS
Phil Hughes, RHP
Once Aaron Hicks gets over his sore back, it would smart of him to put his head down and grind through the rest of the regular season.
Hicks erred on Sunday when he arrived at Target Field shortly before 11 a.m. for the 1:10 p.m start. Just a half hour earlier, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire noted that Hicks hadn't arrived at the park yet and ruled him unavailable for the game.
Right before the game, Twins GM Terry Ryan was asked if Hicks would get into more trouble than missing Sunday's game.
``Gardy will handle that,'' Ryan said. ``I don't know if he was late or not. The big mistake is that he's coming off of a stiff lower back that led to him being scratched. You would like to think that he would be in for treatment, so in that regard, yes he made a mistake. But Gardy will handle that.''
Gardy said after the game that missing Sunday would be enough.
Just a few weeks ago, Gardenhire was saying how Hicks looked as focused as he's ever seen him, and the former No. 1 pick was showing off a shorter swing and collecting hits while batting lefthanded. Now this.
He's been on the fence about playing winter ball. That shouldn't be a tough decision. Playing just a half season in Venezuela would do him good and show the organization that he is serious about getting better. And it would help them forget about today's misstep.
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