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.

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.

Five players already ruled out by flu today

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: March 2, 2015 - 8:39 AM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins took their mandatory preseason physicals this morning. For some, it didn’t go well.

    The Twins flu that has been circulating since before camp opened struck two new victims Monday, and will keep three others out of action for a second straight day. Kurt Suzuki and Oswaldo Arcia each took their turn with team doctors, who then sent them home for the day. Byron Buxton, Trevor May and Jordan Schafer also arrived, saw a doctor and left, their second day sidelined by the illness.

    A Twins official said there may be more to come, too, since a few players are starting to show symptoms of the virus.

    Trevor Plouffe, who has missed the past two workouts, is back, though he doesn’t appear to be 100 percent. He said he felt OK, good enough to play, “but I haven’t eaten yet.” He was anxious to get going, though, and said he figures he will stay — although he’s tempted to go home and resume binge-watching “House of Cards.” He got through six episodes on Netflix yesterday, he said.

    Besides the players, several members of the Twins’ staff say they have been afflicted, or were just before camp and are just starting to feel fine again. Manager Paul Molitor said he’s not too concerned yet. “At least it’s not the mumps,” he joked Sunday.

    The Twins have only two more long workouts, today and tomorrow, before the spring games begin. The Gophers will be here for the grand opening of renovated Hammond Stadium on Wednesday night, and the Red Sox visit from across town on Thursday. Then the Twins go three weeks without another night game (and only one day off) before a trio of late starts during their final week in Florida.

    Alex Meyer is on today’s schedule to throw live batting practice, so he is back on schedule after missing three days for his grandfather’s funeral.

Twins at full strength for second workout

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: March 1, 2015 - 8:39 AM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. — Looks like the Twins are back at full strength this morning, though they’re getting a slow start on their workouts. Trevor Plouffe was back in the batting cage shortly after sunrise, back from the illness that sidelined him yesterday.

    And Alex Meyer has returned to camp after spending the past three days in his hometown of Greensburg, Ind., for the funeral of his grandfather. Don Meyer, 76, died last Monday.

    The Twins held a team meeting at 8 a.m. to hear from representatives of B.A.T., a charitable organization that helps former players in difficult circumstances, financial and otherwise. Now the team is on the practice fields, waiting to start their second full-squad workout. It’s already 73 degrees just after 9 a.m., and it’s expected to reach the mid-80s by noon, when batting practice should be going on.

First weekend of camp includes meetings, too

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: February 28, 2015 - 3:51 PM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. — The first day of full workouts for the Twins was a long one, about twice as long as the sessions the pitchers have been putting in all week. And it was made even longer by a 90-minute meeting with some experts hired by Major League Baseball to discuss domestic abuse and how to avoid it.

    “That was good. It was good for us to hear that,” pitcher Trevor May said of the session. “We’re athletes, we’re trained to be the man on the field, and sometimes it’s hard for guys to turn that off. That’s something they want to help with, help us understand. It was a really good thing.”

    May’s day also involved a little extra work, under Paul Molitor’s new plan to reduce the amount of time pitchers spend standing around in the outfield, watching batting practice and occasionally chasing a baseball. Pitching coach Neil Allen designates two pitchers each day, two that aren’t scheduled to throw in the bullpen, and that pair is assigned to help shag batting-practice baseballs.

    “I was on the list for the first tay, me and J.R. Graham, and it was loooong,” he said. “But hopefully, you only have to do it once. It used to be every day, so I’ll take this over those days. I’ll wear it for the guys for one day.”

    The Twins have another morning meeting before Sunday’s workout, when representatives of the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) arrive to describe the program, which helps former players deal with difficult circumstances.

    Speaking of meetings, manager Paul Molitor, bench coach Joe Vavra, general manager Terry Ryan and assistant GM Rob Antony met on Friday with Peter Woodfork, MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations, and umpire supervisor Charlie Reliford to go over the rules on pace of play, catcher collisions and instant replay. (Joe Torre was supposed to conduct the meeting, but had a family matter to attend to.)

    “They wanted to hear our questions. There were a few issues regarding the collision rule that I had specific questions to ask,” Molitor said. “There’s not too much left in doubt about what their desires are with the pace of the game. They have information and statistics on all our pitchers — whether it’s coming in from the bullpen, or in an inning, after an inning, how many violations they have and how much time the average violation takes.”

    The Twins, for the most part, are not dawdlers, Molitor was happy to hear.

    “Overall, we finished at the top, or near the top, as far as the least amount of issues last year. That’s a good thing,” Molitor said. “We have [fewer] guys to try to address.”

Twins' pitchers try 'speed dating' with catchers

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: February 27, 2015 - 1:18 PM
Catcher Stuart Turner shakes hands with pitcher Taylor Rogers during communications exercise in Twins' bullpen on Friday.

Catcher Stuart Turner shakes hands with pitcher Taylor Rogers during communications exercise in Twins' bullpen on Friday.

    FORT MYERS, Fla. — They’ve been working together for a week, but formal introductions waited until Friday. One by one, each Twins pitcher shook hands with each Twins catcher in the Hammond Stadium bullpen, said hello, then talked pitching.

    “It was like speed dating,” manager Paul Molitor said with a laugh.

    But the goal was getting outs, not getting to second base. Each pitcher has his own habits and idiosyncrasies, and pitching coach Neil Allen figures it’s helpful to talk about them right at the start. Some pitchers might warn,  “My fastball has some late sink.” Others say “I want the target down, even on high pitches.” Or perhaps, “I like to use my breaking ball to get strike one.”

    The more you know, the more comfortable you will be, Allen explained in proposing the exercise to Molitor.

    “It was just kind of an interchange between pitchers and catchers,” Molitor said. “I don’t even know if everybody had even met each other, to be honest. So it was a good deal. [Allen] wanted the pitchers to communicate with the catchers, what they’d like to do and how they do it.”    

    No bullpen sessions were scheduled Friday, so Molitor told Allen to go ahead with it. So about a half-hour of Friday’s workout consisted of the 29 pitchers and eight catchers trading ideas and discussing preferences.

    “It seemed like it went pretty well,” Molitor said. “And the guys had fun doing it.”

Twins spring training: Speeches, no Johan, Mauer, Molly

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: February 27, 2015 - 8:09 AM

Once again, we're under overcast skies here at Hammond Stadium as the Twins begin a busy day at the park.

Manager Paul Molitor, GM Terry Ryan, PR maven Dustin Morse and director of team travel Mike Herman are taking turns making their annual speeches to the team. After 90 minutes of blah-blah-blah, the Twins will hit the field for their workout, which they hoped would be around 9:30 eastern.

The speeches usually take place the day of the first full squad workout, which actually is tomorrow. But MLB planned its domestic violence presentation tomorrow, so the Twins had to alter their plans.

No move on Santana

The Twins were keeping an eye on pitching targets right up until camp but didn't pull the trigger. One pitcher they kept tabs on was former Cy Young winner - and Twin - Johan Santana.

There was contact between the Twins and Santana's agents, but it ended up not being a good fit. Santana is on the comeback trail after blowing out his Achilles last year - during a comeback with the Orioles following shoulder surgery. The Twins were in on Santana right until the wire then, but as interested in him this time around, and Santana signed this week with Toronto.

It strange around here. The Twins usually bring in some reclamation project to camp. Rich Harden, Joel Zumaya, even a hitter like Sean Burroughs. They don't have such a player in this camp.

Mauer hits

Joe Mauer hit on the field Thursday and said he felt great. In fact, he resisted the urge to really let it loose until his final turn in the cage. Mauer has to stay healthy and prove he can regain his old form, but the Twins are encouraged that he's felling good - and in a great mood.

@NoMolitorTweets

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is now on twitter. With Ausmus and the Cubs' Joe Maddon as members of twitter nation, has Molitor considered opening an account? ``“I don’t see that happening right now. I’m learning the basics,'' he said. ``My computer skills have improved over the years. I don’t have time.”

Molitor ready for first day with entire team

Posted by: Phil Miller under Twins prospects Updated: February 26, 2015 - 2:01 PM

    Thursday was a quiet day at Twins camp, but that all changes tomorrow. The full squad will report for an 8 a.m. team meeting, and then camp will officially be under way.

    Terry Ryan will address the team first, and then Paul Molitor, for the first time as a manager, will explain what he expects out of his players. It’s safe to say he’s put quite a bit of thought into the speech; he’s been carrying around his notes scrawled on a pad all week.

    “It changes all the time,” Molitor said of his speech. “We’ll see how long Terry goes first.”

    The Twins will also hear some advice and instruction on dealing with the media from Dustin Morse, and will get a rundown on travel policies from Mike Herman. It all figures to take at least 90 minutes, so Friday’s workout will start around 9:30 a.m.

    It’s obvious that Molitor is looking forward to having the whole team on the field, after a week of observing pitchers and catchers. He’s got some ideas about the running game that he wants to put into practice, and he hopes to improve the defense over the next five weeks. As the players were walking off the field today, he pulled Oswaldo Arcia aside and, with coach Rudy Hernandez acting as interpreter, had a 10-minute conversation with the young outfielder.

    Many of those position players have been here awhile, working out informally on a back field. But several of them took advantage of their last day off to stay away completely. Still, Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter were on the field, and Kennys Vargas, who arrived yesterday, launched a tremendous home run during batting practice that was last seen bouncing through a parking lot far beyond the outfield fence.

    I asked coach Phil Roof, who has hauled the baseballs back and forth from the field, if anyone found that ball. “We decided to let that one go,” he said, shaking his head.

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