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.
A handful of leftovers from the Twins' sixth straight loss:
-- Caleb Thielbar's father Calvin was at the family's cabin in northern Minnesota on Monday, when his son called around noon. That ended the fishing trip.
"That's at least a four-hour drive home," the Randolph, Minn., native said after making his major-league debut for the Twins. "I think they're trying [to fly to Atlanta], but I don't know if it's going to happen."
Too bad they couldn't have been at Turner Field on Monday, because Thielbar was the same pitcher who was working on a streak of 11 1/3 scoreless innings in Rochester, a streak dating back to April 27. He threw eight pitches, all strikes, in the seventh inning, then followed up with 12 strikes in 17 pitches as he went strikeout-popup-strikeout in the eighth. His fastball topped out at 93 mph, to three different batters.
His secret? "Just pounding the [strike] zone, throwing strikes with all my pitches, and trusting the defense behind me that they're going to make plays," the 26-year-old rookie said. "Really, nothing new. It's just reminding yourself that's what you need to do every outing."
Now that he's accomplished one huge goal, he faces a new challenge: Responding to all the text messages that poured in once news of his promotion got out. His phone had received 81 and counting by the time he showered after the game.
-- Thielbar wasn't the only reliever to have a strong night. Ryan Pressly retired all six hitters he faced, driving his ERA down to 1.66.
-- Nice save for Cory Gearrin. The rookie righthander needed two pitches to retire pinch-hitter Oswaldo Arcia on a foul fly ball to end the game, an out recorded when left fielder Justin Upon made a nice backhanded running catch in foul territory. Two pitches, one save.
-- Aaron Hicks had a third-inning single on Monday, and raised his batting average to .144 -- or one point higher than Atlanta's center fielder, B.J. Upton, who also batted eighth. Upton has played 40 games this season, and has been horrible; he has six RBIs, three of them himself on home runs. And while Hicks is earning the major-league minimum, Upton, who signed as a free agent after six seasons with the Rays, is earning $12.45 million in the first year of a five-year, $75 million contract.
-- The Twins believed their run-scoring was emerging two weeks ago, when they went through a streak of six straight games of scoring five runs or more. But while the weather has warmed up, the bats have gone once more; they have scored five runs just once in the past week, and have averaged just 2.5 runs in that time.
For the moment, Thielbar makes history, once he makes his major-league debut, as the first member of the St. Paul Saints independent league team to play for the local big league team. The Twins optioned left-hander Pedro Hernandez, who had a 5.85 ERA in six starts, to AAA Rochester to make room on the roster.
Thielbar, who is from Randolph, Minn., had a 3.76 ERA in 17 relief appearances at Rochester. The 26-year-old was signed by Minnesota as a minor league free agent on Aug. 18, 2011, after pitching most of the seaso with the St. Paul Saints. The lefty had 34 strikeouts and eight walks in 26 1/3 innings for the Red Wings.
"He's throwing the ball very, very well," said manager Ron Gardenhire. "He's put together a nice string here. Not giving up too much of anything."
The move was prompted, Gardenhire said, by the series in a National League park, where he may be forced to pinch-hit for a pitcher a few times, and especially the lack of innings pitched by Twins' starters in the weekend series with Boston.
"We've used our bullpen up. In our last three games, we've had a six-inning start, [then] 4 1/3 [and] 4 1/3," Gardehire said. "There's just too much pressure on these guys."
The eight-man bullpen is just temporary, though; the team will likely send a reliever, perhaps Thielbar, to the minors in favor of a starting pitcher before Friday’s game at Detroit. Hernandez was scheduled to start Friday.
Gibson may be the leading candidate to get called up for his own big-league debut. Gibson (3-5, 3.25 in nine starts for Rochester) pitched a complete-game shutout on Sunday, his second of the season, and Friday would be his next day to pitch. Cole De Vries is scheduled to pitch for the Red Wings tonight and Samuel Deduno is Tuesday's scheduled starter. Both have been rehabbing from injuries. P.J. Walters has also pitched very well lately, though he is not currently on the 40-man roster.
"I like them all. They've all thrown the ball well for us at various times," Gardenhire said. "We haven't had Gibson up at all. He had a good start, but he also had a really bad one before that. We know what Deduno does. Walters has been throwing very well -- there's three options right there. ... I don't have a problem with any of them."
Thielbar is on a flight right now, and is scheduled to arrive in Atlanta about 30 minutes before first pitch. The Twins expect him to be at Turner Field by the middle innings, in time to pitch if he's needed.
Tonight's lineup lacks Oswaldo Arcia and Ryan Doumit, but restores Brian Dozier to the top of the order. Pedro Florimon bats above ninth -- and above Aaron Hicks -- for the first time this year. Kevin Correia is a .116 lifetime hitter.
Tonight's lineups as the Twins try to snap a five-game losing streak:
Andrelton Simmons SS
Jason Heyward RF
Justin Upton LF
Freddie Freeman 1B
Gerald Laird C
Dan Uggla 2B
Juan Francisco 3B
B.J. Upton CF
Julio Teheran RHP
A couple of leftovers from the Twins' fourth straight loss:
-- Ryan Doumit was behind the plate for Scott Diamond's seventh start on Saturday, just as he has been for five of the first six. And while the frequency of that battery wasn't planned ahead of time, manager Ron Gardenhire said he doesn't mind it, either.
"It's not a bad pairing. They work fine together," Gardenhire said. "Scotty has a good plan. He gets together with [Doumit] and they work it out."
Doumit has started 14 games at catcher, six of them with Diamond and three with Mike Pelfrey. He also caught both of Liam Hendriks' starts, and one apiece by Pedro Hernandez, Kevin Correia and Vance Worley.
The past couple of seasons, Carl Pavano expressed a preference for Drew Butera catching his games, and Gardenhire frequently obliged. Butera, in fact, caught 48 of Pavano's 88 starts over four seasons in Minnesota, with Joe Mauer catching only 34.
"Pavano just felt really comfortable with Butera, because he had a really, really low target. He felt that small target made him get the ball to a small area," Gardenhire said. "Carl had his theories, and as a veteran, you kind of go, "OK ... "
-- Red Sox manager John Farrell gave Ryan Dempster every chance to earn his third win, even as the righthander gave up three runs in the fifth inning to turn a 7-2 lead into 7-5. But after his 127th pitch, the most thrown by a Red Sox pitcher since May 2011, Farrell pulled Dempster one out short of qualification for the victory.
Clayton Mortenson relieved Demptster, but since Boston never relinquished the lead, the decision over who got the victory was left to official scorer Stew Thornley, who ruled that Craig Breslow had been the more effective reliever in the most challenging circumstance. Breslow entered the game with two runners on in the sixth, and ended the inning without surrendering a run.
-- Daniel Nava also smacked a long home run for Boston, greeting reliever Casey Fien with a two-run blast to right. Nava now has 27 RBIs on the season.
-- Joe Mauer had two hits and one strikeout, to extend both his hitting streak and strikeout streak to 15 consecutive games. He can tie his career-high streak of consecutive games with a hit when the Twins try to avert their second sweep of the season on Sunday.
-- Dustin Pedroia said he intended to throw to the plate just in case, and didn't know -- but wasn't especially surprised -- that Doumit would be trying to score on Aaron Hicks' sixth-inning pop fly.
"My back's to the play, so it's kind of a hard throw," said Pedroia, whose throw was perfect and in plenty of time for catcher Ryan Lavarnway to brace himself. "[Doumit] gets down the line pretty good -- he runs well for a catcher. ... I just turned and threw. The pitcher's backing up the play, expecting me to throw it, so even if I launched it, we've got guys back there."
Joe Mauer is back in the lineup today, albeit at designated hitter for the 11th time this season. His back is decidedly better today, manager Ron Gardenhire said. For those who emailed and tweeted me about why Mauer didn't pinch-hit last night: Gardenhire said as the chilly night went on, it became clear that it wasn't worth risking making his back any worse. He got treatment, and it must have worked, because Gardenhire said he could catch tonight, but won't because he'll take the day game tomorrow.
Jamey Carroll is back atop the lineup, subbing for Brian Dozier, who is in a 3-for-30 slump since launching that ninth-inning home run over the Green Monster on May 6. Not much has gone right for the batter or pitcher since that moment; Dozier has lost 35 points off his batting average, and Red Sox closer Joel Hanrahan faced two more batters, then left with what turned out to be a season-ending elbow injury that required reconstruction surgery.
One other note about the lineup: It's the first time this season that Justin Morneau has batted in front of Josh Willingham. It's just a guess, but I imagine it has something to do with Ryan Dempster, the Red Sox starter today. Joe Mauer is 1-for-10 lifetime against Dempster, while Willingham is 1-for-14. Rather than putting that 2-for-24 combo together in the heart of the lineup, Gardenhire has split them with Morneau, whose 4-for-9 vs. Dempster includes a home run.
Scott Diamond vs. Ryan Dempster, by the way, is a rematch of their May 7 meeting in Fenway Park, in which Diamond and the Twins won 6-1, and also the 15th time in major-league history (since 1900; there were three in the 1880s American Association as well) that Canadian-born starting pitchers have faced each other, according to SportsNet Canada. It's the first to involve a Twin, too. Dempster is a part of six of those matchups, and is 2-2 with one no-decision in such games.
Tonight's lineups as the Twins try to snap a three-game losing streak:
A handful of leftovers from the Twins' 3-2 loss in 10 innings:
-- Against what American League team (not counting the Astros) does David Ortiz have his highest career batting average (.323) and highest OPS (1.223)? Yep, it's his old team the Twins. Shame he didn't stay, because Ortiz seems to love Target Field the way Joe Mauer loves Fenway Park. After putting on an upper-deck aerial show during batting practice, Big Papi lined three hits in his first three at-bats Friday, and drew a walk in the 10th inning. That brings Ortiz's career batting average in Target Field to an astonishing .471 (he's 16 for 34).
-- The Red Sox are legendary for playing long games, but this one would have ended in less than three hours if not for the extra innings. Wouldn't have believed that early on; the game was two hours old in the fifth inning. Of course, no Twin reached base after the fifth; Boston retired the last 17 Twins hitters in a row.
-- Pedro Florimon now has three career home runs; the two this year are both against the Red Sox.
-- The Twins are now 1-4 in extra innings, which is odd considering how well their bullpen has pitched up to this point. Tonight was also the third time this year they have been limited to four hits.
Joe Mauer woke up with a sore back this morning, Ron Gardenhire said, "just like we all have at one point or another."
It's nothing more serious than that, the Twins believe, and should go away on its own with a little rest. Gardenhire said his current plan is to play the three-time batting champ in Saturday's game.
But for today, the Twins are without their leading hitter -- and their hottest hitter, too. Mauer is on a 14-game hitting streak, just two games from the longest of his career, and is hitting .422 during the streak. He's also 5-for-13 lifetime against Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz.
It left a dilemma for the Twins' manager, since he doesn't have many natural No. 2 hitters on his roster. Gardenhire finally settled upon Chris Parmelee, who has never batted above fourth as a major leaguer, on the presumption that at least he sees a lot of pitches. Parmelee, who also gives the Twins a left-handed hitter between righthanders Brian Dozier and Josh Willingham, probably won't be called upon to bunt, Gardenhire said.
Vance Worley tries to win his second straight game tonight, and reverse an ugly trend: He has an 8.83 ERA at Target Field. Buchholz tries to become the major's third seven-game winner.
It's overcast and breezy at Target Field, but the rain seems to have passed, and the Twins -- but not Mauer -- are taking batting practice. The game doesn't appear to be in any danger.
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