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 go for series win, .500 road trip vs Rays

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 24, 2014 - 12:04 PM

The Colabellos are back at Tropicana Field today watch their son one more time before the Twins head back to the Twin Cities. Last night was quite a night for Chris Colabello and his parents, Lou and Silvana, as he drove in four runs, including a two-run home run in the fourth that occurred while his mother was being interviewed by FSN's Marney Gellner. The moment made SportsCenter's Top Ten.

``We walked around Tropicana Field for about 25 minutes after the game,'' Colabello said. ``My dad was so frazzled he forgot where he parked. We had a lovely walk around Tropicana.

``But it was awesome. I sent my Mom a text after I saw the SportsCenter thing. They said it was the coolest moment on the show. That was awesome. My parents have been there for me through everything. To have a moment like that is really special.

When asked how many times have his parents watched him play, he said. ``You're better off asking me how many games they haven't seen me play.''

Oswaldo Arcia will take some swings today and if his wrist responds well, he will take batting practice with the rest of the team before tomorrow's game against Detroit. There's a chance he could head out to Fort Myers for a rehab assignment early next week.

Alex Meyer was on fire last night for Class AAA Rochester. In 62/3 scoreless innings, he gave up three hits and walked three while striking out 11. The key, assistant GM Rob Antony said, is a new grip on his change up that he's comfortable with.

Twins (10-10)

Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B  .273 v Bedard
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Chris Colabello, RF
Josmil Pinto, DH
Kurt Suzuki, C  0-for-10 v Bedard
Sam Fuld, LF
Aaron Hicks, CF
Pedro Florimon, SS

Ricky Nolasco, RHP

Rays (10-11)

Ben Zobrist, 2B
Desmond Jennings, CF
Matt Joyce, LF
Evan Longoria, 3B
James Loney, 1B
Wil Myers, RF
David DeJesus, DH
Yunel Escobar, SS .345, HR v Nolasco
Jose Molina, C

Erik Bedard 0-0, 6.35

Three quick Twins postgame thoughts from LEN3: Colabello, Bullpen, Pelfrey

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 24, 2014 - 12:16 AM

Three quick thoughts after the Twins beat the Rays in 12:

1. Colabello: His 26 RBI are the most through the first 20 games of the season for the Twins. He's about to break Kirby Puckett's club record for RBI in March-April. His transformation has been stunning, I'm still waiting to see how teams adjust to him. But he's spraying the ball everywhere. And he's hitting fastballs, cutters, splitters, everything.

2. Bully for the bullpen: Twins relievers are on a run of 25 consecutive scoreless innings that goes back to April 15. The strength of the team last season is still a strength this season. Antony Swarzak and Casey Fien are really looking good right now.

3. Pelfrey: He pitched better. But he gave up a 4-2 lead and walked three batters. He was happy the team won, but not pleased with how he pitched. The walks are bothering him.

The Twins version of the Legend of Sam Fuld begins tonight vs Rays

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 23, 2014 - 2:30 PM

Today is a throwback to the Dome era, when I would leave home on a glorious afternoon and begin my journey to cover indoor baseball.

No clouds here, 75 degrees. Can't be any nicer...outside. I'm now inside Tropicana Field, one of the worst ideas for a sports stadium in American history. The Rays have done just about everything they can do to dress this place up but you still feel that, eventually, a door is going to open and grain is going to start piling in.

Tom Brunanasky has Sam Fuld and Aaron Hicks out for early hitting. It's a good idea for Hicks, who was 1-for-3 yesterday but still looks like he's in a fog at the plate. One of them is starting in center field tonight.

Mike Pelfrey is on the mound for the Twins today, and he'll have an altered Twins lineup behind him

Twins (9-10)

Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Chris Colabello, DH
Jason Kubel, LF
Josmil Pinto, C
Chris Herrmann, RF
Eduardo Escobar, SS
"Super" Sam Fuld, CF

Pitching: Mike Pelfrey, RHP

Three Twins postgame thoughts from LEN3: Strike zone, replay, Hicks

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 22, 2014 - 11:37 PM


Here are three thoughts following the Twins' loss to the Rays

1. STRIKE ZONE JUDGMENT: Many believed that David Price received strike calls on pitches that were called balls when Kyle Gibson threw them. ``Some pretty close pitches that didn't go our way,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.  Gibson blamed himself, saying his mechanics were a bit off on Tuesday and when you're missing the plate you're not going to get the borderline calls. But don't underestimate the role the catcher plays here. Jose Molina, of the catching Molina brothers, is one of the best pitch-framers in the game. ``Molina was getting him a little bit extra,'' said former catcher Joe Mauer, ``and he was hitting his spots.''

2. REPLAY.....UGH. How do you look at the replay and still make the wrong decision? The fact that they missed the initial call on the ball believed to be foul was the first mistake, but replay was right there for them to use to correct the call, and they missed it. The league office already has acknowledged that there was a screw up. Made for a crazy fifth inning. There will be plenty of discussion at the end of the year about what worked and what didn't in the first year of expanded replay. It's here to stay but should also be tweaked.

3. HICKS. Some of you thought that Aaron Hicks was late getting to James Loney's two-run single in the first. The problem, Gardenhire said, was that Hicks was in the wrong position. Until he learns the hitters he needs to keep looking into the dugout to make sure he's in the right spot. Gardenhire said there were two times on Tuesday that Hicks was out of position.

Twins-Rays: Gibson vs Price a nice matchup. Warning: Buxton update below

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 22, 2014 - 4:38 PM

Nice day here in St. Petersburg as the Twins prepare to face the Rays in what should be a decent pitching matchup. Both Rays lefthander David Price and Twins righthander Kyle Gibson have started the the season well.

This comes on the day in which many of the "aces" in the league are on the mound. Verlander, Fernandez, Price, Bumgarner, Wainwright, Cueto, Lester, Tanaka, Shields are all starting today.

The Twins are 6-3 over their last nine games, outscoring opponents 52-32 during that time. Can the offense keep it up? The Twins are batting just .250 as a team but, thanks to a league-leading 96 walks, they have the best on base percentage in baseball at .354.

Four Twins players - Brian Dozier, Josmil Pinto, Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe - are among the top 10 in walks in the AL.

Will check back soon with updates and the Rays' lineup.

One more thing: Byron Buxton took batting practice on a field in Fort Myers today and is making progress in his comeback from a left wrist injury. He is on track to start playing in extended spring training games early next week.

UPDATES

Darin Mastroianni has been claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays, the team that drafted him in the 16th round in 2007. Ron Antony said he would have liked to have kept Mastroianni in the organization and had hoped to get him through waivers. But I know one Blue Jays scout who was upset they lost Mastroianni to the Twins in 2012. Toronto planned to move Mastroianni to second base before they lost him on waivers. Let's see if they revisit that now that he's back in the fold.

Antony spent most of Monday's off-day finalizing paperwork on Jason Bartlett's release and retirement. Officially, the Twins got Bartlett through release waivers Monday and he is now retired. The Twins now have 39 spots taken on their 40-man roster.

Sam Fuld was in the weight room on Tuesday when he stopped at a mirror to take a look at himself with Twins colors on. Fuld is here. and is available. He's just not starting because David Price, one of the top lefthanders in the game, is on the mound for the Rays tonight. Fuld said his goal for today was to meet everyone before the first pitch.

Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia, Antony said, are still 10 days to two weeks away from returning to action. Arcia is ahead of Willingham, who is still tender where the broken bone is. Willingham is swinging off a tee, though, he just can't start taking batting practice until all the pain is gone from the wrist.

For those of you watching at home, the Rays have changed a couple things in The Trop. That restaurant in center field is gone, so fans can know walk around the entire stadium. And some seats have been covered up. They say it's because of bad sight lines, which might be part of the reason. I think LOD is other problem - Lack Of Demand.

Twins (9-9)

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

Pitching: Kyle Gibson, RHP

Rays (9-10)

Ben Zobrist, 2B
Desmond Jennings, CF
Matt Joyce, DH
Evan Longoria, 3B
James Loney, 1B
Wil Myers, RF
David DeJesus, LF
Yunel Escobar, SS
Jose Molina, C

Pitching: David Price, LHP

Twins tweaking the roster earlier for a change

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: April 21, 2014 - 6:19 AM

Good morning! Headed to the airport to catch a flight to Tampa for the Twins-Rays series but wanted to check in with some thoughts on what's going on with recent Twins roster moves.

I'll check back in tomorrow from The Trop, where the Twins and Rays will meet for three games,


Sam Fuld is in the fold and will join the Twins before Tuesday's game against the Rays.

One move down.

Eduardo Nunez has a minor oblique strain but should be called up soon - although the injury can be nagging, and the Twins have underestimated of their. ``day-to-day" announcements in the past.

That's another move to come.

And there could be move adjustments to the roster as Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is looking for right combination of players. Assistant GM Rob Antony and other officials are all over the transaction wires, looking to see if a player discarded  by another team fits what they are looking for.

``We aren't finished,'' Gardenhire said. ``We're going to get better. We're going to continue to get better. We're going to keep changing around until we get what we want and get a feel for what we want off the bench. How we can move people around. And we are still working on it. People are falling through the cracks and were taking the guys we want and letting the others go.
``It's about getting better and winning games.''

Then Gardy dropped this one:

``This group right here can hit. If we keep getting better and get some bench strength where we can move some people around instead of the same thing every day, we can get better.''

My, how things have changed. The manager was seriously worried about the offense during spring training. But the season began, and the at-bats have improved. The Twins walked eight more times on Sunday and have 95 on the season. And they are scoring some runs while Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia mend sore wrists. There are legitimate signs (mainly the walks and quality at-bats) that the offense will be functional this season. But Gardenhire is like most managers. He likes options, and it looks like he's going to tinker with some things now and worry about Willingham and Arcia coming off the DL later.

The Twins hoped to avoid designating Darin Mastroianni for assignment. They hoped they could get Jason Bartlett's retirement paperwork done in time to get his 40-man roster spot back, but they ran out of time. They were awarded Fuld at 12:05 p.m. on Sunday and had to make a move then.

But it means that they will get that 40-man spot in the next few days. So they could use it to claim another player or call someone up from the minors who's not on the roster.

The Twins are making moves earlier in the season than they usually do, a sign of players being held more accountable. They feel that Fuld is an upgrade over Mastroianni and Nunez will be an offensive upgrade over Pedro Florimon. The shortstop position is a key defensive position, but you can't have people batting .214 - Florimon's career batting average -  in the daily lineup.

They are not sitting back and waiting like they have in recent seasons.

``We had three years to make adjustments,'' Gardenhire said. ``Now it's time. Everyone is tired of watching that other stuff. I'm tired of it. You're tired of it. The fans are tired of it. We see something we like, go get it.''

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