A year ago, the Twins were 6-15 in their first 21 games compared with a 11-10 mark this year after shutting out the Rangers 5-0 on Sunday at Target Field.
Asked the reason for the better start, manager Ron Gardenhire said the pitching staff is healthy compared with a year ago, when the entire pitching staff had one physical problem after another only two weeks into the season.
“We came out of spring training healthy,” he said. “We’re healthy right now and have a bunch of healthy players. That makes a big difference.”
Gardenhire pointed to how well the pitching held up in the recent four-game series against a good-hitting Rangers team that had beaten the Twins in 10 of their past 13 meetings. The starters had a 1.85 ERA over 24 ⅓ innings, and the bullpen posted a 2.31 ERA over 11 ⅔ innings.
“A nice win for us today, another well-pitched game by Kevin Correia,” said Gardenhire, after the righthander blanked the Rangers for eight innings and allowed only six hits Sunday. “His success is all about throwing it over and working ahead in the count, and I think we saw him do that pretty much all day. He was getting ground balls, pop flies, we made some nice defensive plays out there again. A big home run by Justin [Morneau, who hit a two-run shot in the sixth inning] kind of added on there. A good comeback in this series against a very good team and some really good pitching.”
The Twins now go on a 10-game road trip, with their first game in Detroit on Monday.
Did the Twins gain any confidence from winning two out of three against the Tigers to open the season?
“Well, I think you know just knowing we can compete with them, we pitched very well,” Gardenhire said. “They have a heck of a lineup. When they get going and swinging they’re like the Rangers, they can really tear you up and put up big innings. We have to continue to pitch well and catch the ball well.”
Pitching turns corner
Through 21 games last season, Twins starters had posted a 6.87 ERA while allowing 24 home runs in 111 ⅓ innings. Through 21 games this year, Twins starters have a 4.51 ERA and have allowed only seven home runs in 113 ⅔ innings. The Twins starters this year have a combined 7-9 record, compared with 3-11 last year.
The relievers also have shown quite a bit of overall improvement. Last year the team’s bullpen posted a 3.82 ERA through 21 games and had a 3-4 record. The Twins had given up 30 earned runs in 70 ⅔ innings while striking out 46. This year the bullpen has a 2.49 ERA, a 4-1 record and has struck out 64 batters in 72 ⅓ innings.
Coming into the season, most people in the organization thought the Twins would score runs, but the improved pitching has stood out.
Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf were in town to watch General Manager Rick Spielman and his staff conduct the 2013 NFL draft last weekend, but there also was an important meeting at Winter Park discussing progress on the new football stadium.
In addition to the Wilfs, also at the meeting were team Vice President Lester Bagley; Ted Mondale, the executive director of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority; and Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the authority.
The unveiling of the preliminary design of the new stadium is scheduled to be at 7 p.m. May 13 at the Guthrie Theater.
Still to be decided is whether the budget will be large enough to include a retractable roof. One person who doesn’t believe the stadium needs a retractable roof is Mondale, who believes the roof would have limited use and is not worth the cost.
Some $6 million was spent to make the stadium playable for baseball and this was an unexpected cost.
Asked about the progress, and some concern in the Legislature about raising the money to pay for the stadium, Mark Wilf was optimistic everything will work out.
“I think we’re working through things with the stadium authority and there are going to be ups and downs to the process,” he said. “But I think as a whole, the public is going to be very pleased. Our Vikings fans and Minnesota, it’s going to be a great facility and one that will be used for many years to come. I think we’re making good progress. I can’t speak for the authority, but I can tell you that we’re working very hard to get the building designed, completed and on budget and on time. We’re looking forward to 2016 [and] moving into a great building.”
Mark Wilf also was asked if signing three first-round draft choices will cost the Vikings a lot of money.
“Doesn’t bother us at all,” he said. “We want to win, we want to win a Super Bowl, and we’ll do what it takes to get there. We have great faith in our football staff to put the right group together. We want talented players here that can make a difference for us.”
• It’s no secret Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and special teams coach Mike Priefer didn’t have the greatest of relationships last season, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Vikings drafted punter Jeff Locke of UCLA in the fifth round. The Vikings brought in punter Brian Stahovich for a tryout in late October.
• If you were at the Gophers spring football game Saturday, you saw something I have never seen before: the president of the University of Minnesota, Eric Kaler, watching the action from the TCF Bank Stadium sidelines wearing a Gophers hat and jacket. Incidentally, the crowd of 8,400 was the largest attendance for a spring game since the days of Lou Holtz.
• While Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks has struggled at the plate, Joe Benson — who is ranked with the team’s better prospects — is hitting .270 in his past 10 games after getting off to a bad start. But for the present, the Twins are going to stick with Hicks and see if he can regain the hitting stroke he displayed in spring training. Said Hicks, who extended his hitting streak to five games Sunday: “I’m sticking to what worked in spring training and what works for me as a hitter. I’m still attacking fastballs and getting good pitches to hit.”
• The Howard Pulley Panthers AAU squad went 5-0 this weekend at the Nike Elite Youth Basketball tournament in Hampton, Va. Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones and DeLaSalle’s Reid Travis continued their dominant play. Jones averaged 23.8 points on 51 percent shooting from the field and 5.3 assists. Travis averaged 18.8 points on 50 percent shooting and 8.2 rebounds, including a 34-point game on 11-for-17 shooting in their 85-75 victory Sunday over Nike Team Louisiana.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org