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.

Twins-Royals: Trying to avoid a sweep

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 20, 2014 - 11:55 AM

Hello from Kauffman Stadium, where the Twins will have their hands full in trying to avoid a reverse facial sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals.

Reverse facial comes from Al Newman, who used the term to describe putting up crooked numbers the next inning after the opponent did the same to you. I'm extending it to series. The Twins swept the Royals at Target Field a week ago but face the same fate today. And they are facing Yordano Ventura, whose fastballs  average 97 on the gun. Averages.

Win or lose, the Twins will be disappointed leaving here. They had a chance to establish some momentum coming off the doubleheader sweep on Thursday but failed. Yesterday, they faced a lefty for the second straight day and failed. Now they get Future Ace Ventura.

Rough game for the outfield yesterday, which I mentioned in my Three Thoughts blog. That led to some interesting comments from readers. I agree, the Twins will have some tough decisions to make when Willingham and Arcia are healthy. Jason Kubel and Chris Colabello have provided some punch to this lineup and they don't deserve to be kicked to the curb when the others are ready to play.

There was a lot of talk about Aaron Hicks' catch over Chris Colabello on Saturday, but the kid is struggling. Gardy pointed out that Hicks was slow to back up Jason Kubel when Kubel lost Alex Gordon's fly ball in the sun in the second inning as well as Gordon's pop up that Brian Dozier caught in the fifth. And Hicks struck out twice in four plate appearances as his batting average dipped to .179. But they are committed to letting Hicks play through it - although there were a lot of coaches on his case yesterday about outfield hustle.

But Gardy said it was like Hicks was in, ``a fog,'' yesterday.

I'm starting to get questions about Hicks giving up left-handed hitting. I have not heard anything about the Twins considering that, and I would be stunned if they did that during the season.

One small news item. It looks like Kyle Gibson is getting a promotion. The pitching matchups for the series against Tampa Bay are out, and Gibson has moved ahead of Mike Pelfrey in the order. This was made possible by the rainout on Wednesday (snowout? freezeout?) that pushed Pelfrey back into a doubleheader with Gibson. So the Twins had the option of picking one to open the series, and it's Gibson.

Twins (8-9)

Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer. C
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Chris Colabello, RF
Jason Kubel, LF
Josmil Pinto, DH
Kurt Suzuki, C
Aaron Hicks, CF
Eduardo Escobar, SS

Pitching: Phil Hughes, RHP

Royals (9-7)

Nori Aoki, RF
Omar Infante, 2B
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Salvador Perez, C
Alex Gordon, LF
Billy Butler, DH
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Jason Maxwell, CF
Alcides Escobar, SS

Pitching: Yordano Ventura, RHP

Three Twins postgame thoughts from LEN3: Colabello, Kubel, Hicks, Mauer, Tonkin

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 19, 2014 - 7:16 PM

Here are three thoughts following a bad loss at Kauffman Stadium


1. THIS WON'T BE THE FIRST TIME....: .....we have a game with shaky outfield play because it is not a team strength. Aaron Hicks can run it down in center. but remember that the projected corner outfielders were Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia, but they are out with wrist injuries. Jason Kubel and Chris Colabello are Option B. Kubel can throw some but doesn't have the range he used to, especially before tearing his knee up before the 2005 season. Colabello is more suited for first base. And I will take this time to make this simple, declarative statement: JOE MAUER'S ATHLETIC ABILITY IS BEING WASTED AT FIRST BASE.

2. WHO'S GOT GAME?: Hicks came roaring in from center field in the fifth inning to make a leaping grab of Mike Moustakas' drive to the wall - although it looked like Colabello was about to make a play for the ball. With the crowd roaring, communication was impossible until they got close to each other. ``You can't hear anything,'' Colabello said. ``My focus was to try to get underneath the baseball. By the time I got under it, we were about three feet away from each other. That's when he jumped and tried to let me know he was there.'' Hicks caught the ball, collided with Colabello and both players fell down. ``Hicks dunked on Colabello,'' Gardy said, noting how high off the ground Hicks was when he caught the ball. Colabello agreed. ``I guess I was posterized,'' he said.

3. TONKIN GETTING THE HANG OF IT: Reliever Michael Tonkin pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, getting two strikeouts. He's getting the hang of mixing his pitches. The Twins will have an interesting decision when they decide which reliever goes down when they are ready to return to a 12-man pitching staff.

Twins look for another big day against Chen

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 19, 2014 - 11:50 AM


The Twins knocked Bruce Chen out in the fourth inning last week at Target Field and look to do the same today when the teams meet at 1:10 p.m. Gardy is using the same lineup from that game, but has Josmil Pinto catching and Kurt Suzuki as DH.

One reason is that it's a day game after a night game. Another: Gardy believes that righthander Kevin Correia, who starts today, is a good pairing with Pinto, whose catching skills are developing. Correia knows what he wants to do on the mound and doesn't have the nastiest of stuff to handle. Suzuki, meanwhile, is 5-for-13 against Chen. There could be some hitting in this game, as both teams have a few players with good numbers against these starters.

This is somewhat of a big game in this series. Flamethrower Yordano Ventura is starting tomorrow, and Royals fans already have that game chalked up as a win. The Twins need today's to have a shot at winning the series before they head to Tampa Bay to play the Rays.

Gardy isn't looking to pair Pinto with one starter, but he will look for spots to get him behind the plate. He definitely will try to keep Pinto's bat in the lineup. Pinto is batting just .243 but has a .404 on base percentage. He's seeing 4.47 pitchers per plate appearance, second most among Twins players who have appeared in at least 12 games.

Hitting prospect Eddie Rosario reported to spring training last week, is working out and is eligible to play in extended spring training games. Rosario, along with pitcher Mark Hamburger, is serving a 50-game suspension for violating drug policy. That suspension is set to run out around May 25 (weather permitting). Once he's ready, Rosario will play second base and the outfield for New Britain.

Hearing that General Manager Terry Ryan could hit the road sometime in May to check in on minor league teams or scout for the draft. He should be through with radiation treatments by the end of this month but probably will need a couple weeks after that to build strength.

Twins (8-8)

Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, C
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Chris Colabello, RF
Jason Kubel, LF
Josmil Pinto, C
Kurt Suzuki, DH
Aaron Hicks, CF
Pedro Florimon, SS

Pitching: Kevin Correia, RHP

Royals (8-7)

Nori Aoki, RF
Omar Infante, 2B
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Salvador Perez, C
Tom Gordon, LF
Billy Butler, DH
Moose, 3B
Jason Maxwell, CF
Eduardo Escobar, SS

Pitching: Bruce Chen, RHP

Three Twins postgame thoughts from LEN3: Gordon, Nolasco, Bartlett

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 19, 2014 - 12:06 AM

Here are three thoughts following the Twins' 5-0 loss to Kansas City

1. DON'T MESS WITH ALEX GORDON: Seriously, why even think about taking an extra base with this guy and THAT arm in left field. Since he became an outfielder in 2011, his 57 assists lead the majors. Josmil Pinto stumbled around first and then had to adjust his helmet, or he might have beaten the throw, But it was a beautiful throw.

2. NOLASCO TO HOME: I initially thought Ricky Nolasco made a bad decision to throw home in the third inning but he might have been in no-man's land. He picked up Omar Infante's dribbler between home and third base, and his throw skipped in front of home plate and was late as Alcides Escobar scored the first run of the game. ``It was tough because I was falling off the other side on the mound so I didn't think I had a play on Infante,'' he said. ``He was running out of the box It was one of those things where you hang with em try to put the ball in the right place.''

3. JASON BARTLETT: Too bad Jason Bartlett has decided to hang up the spikes. I figure if you come this far you might as well let things play out a little while longer. But Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had a very telling comment about the situation: ``He doesn't have that little drive he needs to get back in it. He told me he appreciated everything. He was good for us in spring training. We're going to miss him. But he's one of the greatest kids you'll meet in your life.'' The Twins aren't upset that Bartlett is quitting less than a month after they gave him a spot on the roster. I think he's too well-liked for them to have thoughts like that. No, he wasn't hitting. But how many 25th men do? He was supposed to be chemistry guy. The Twins' move for Eduardo Nunez looks a lot better now from a depth standpoint. James Beresford and Doug Bernier have been playing well at Class AAA Rochester, too, but aren't projected to be starters in the majors at this point.

The comeback is over for Jason Bartlett

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 18, 2014 - 6:37 PM

Infielder Jason Bartlett has decided to retire.

Bartlett was supposed to be in Class A Fort Myers' lineup on Thursday but, about an hour before gametime, had his agent, Ryan Ware, call assistant GM Rob Antony and inform him of his decision. Antony has given Bartlett a couple more days to think about his decision, but admitted that Bartlett, ``had made up his mind that this is what he wanted to do.''

Bartlett, on the 15-day disabled list with a left ankle sprain, was on a rehabilitation stint at Fort Myers.

The Twins don't appear to be upset by Bartlett's decision. The gave him a roster spot a the end of camp, plus a contract that would have earned him a $1 million salary. He had two hits all spring, but the Twins wanted him to the intangibles he brings to a clubhouse.

In the end, intangibles weren't enough for Bartlett to continue his comeback after missing the previous one-and-a-half years.

In other news:

Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia are still days away from taking batting practice as they recover from wrist injuries.

Nothing wrong with Jason Kubel. Gardy wanted to give him a break after the doubleheader on Thursday. Plus he wanted to employ his beat-the-lefty lineup.

There will be a moment of silence before the game for the victims of the shootings on Sunday at a suburban Kansas City Jewish community center.


Twins

Darin Mastroianni, LF
Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B
Chris Colabello, RF
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Josmil Pinto, DH
Kurt Suzuki, C
Aaron Hicks, CF
Pedro Florimon, SS

Pitching: Ricky Nolasco, RHP

Royals

Nori Aoki, RF
Omar Infante, 2B
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Salvador Perez, C
Alex Gordon, LF
Billy Butler, DH
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Justin Maxwell, CF
Alcides Escobar, SS

Three Twins postgame thoughts from LEN3: Nolasco, Mauer, Dozier

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 12, 2014 - 6:53 PM


1. NOLASCO STRONG: After making a mechanical adjustment, Ricky Nolasco resembled the pitcher the Twins hoped they bought on the free agent market. Nolasco racked up 12 ground ball outs as Royals hitters had trouble squaring up pitches for the second straight game.

2. MAUER POWER: Someone wanted to know when was the last time Joe Mauer hit a three-run home run. In terms of runs scored, it was his biggest since the grand slam he hit off of Luke Hochevar on Sept. 1, 2012. His last three-run homer was Aug. 4, 2012 off of Alfredo Aceves. I thought Mauer had missed his chance when James Shields threw a meatball over the plate on 3-1, and Mauer fouled it back. The next one, however, was a meatball with mashed potatoes and gravy, and Mauer didn't miss that one.

3. DOZIER SHOULD JUST MASH: Yes, Brian Dozier squared to bunt in the second inning on Saturday. No, it was not called by the bench. ``He kind of bunted on his own,'' interim manager Terry Steinbach said. ``We'll discuss that a little bit. I prefer to get four there.'' Dozier said Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas usually plays way in against him but had dropped back and looked vulnerable.  Dozier leads the Twins with four home runs. He should be looking to drive a ball there.

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