Former Twins manager Tom Kelly is convinced this year’s team can compete with anybody, as long as it continues to pitch like it has recently.
The two-time World Series champion, who did television commentary on Twins home games last week, also said he is convinced that Joe Mauer, who hit .187 during a 22-game stretch recently, will break out of his recent slump and hit .300 this season.
“He got three hits [Wednesday] so let’s hope he’s on the upside here, going up,” Kelly said Thursday. “It’s hard to believe he’s not going to hit .300. He has always been that. So he has had a little rough go but getting the three hits yesterday, that certainly bodes well. Let’s hope he keeps going forward.
“I would be surprised if he doesn’t [turn it around].”
Kelly, who worked with Mauer on his first base defense this spring, was asked to evaluate the three-time batting champion’s play at his new position.
“How many errors does he have over there?” Kelly asked rhetorically, since the number is zero. “He must be doing all right then.”
On the topic of the Twins pitching, Kelly said: “I think we’re very, very competitive, especially when we pitch good. When we pitch good, I believe we can beat anybody. But that’s always the question, whether we’re going to pitch good enough, or any ballclub for a matter of fact. If you don’t pitch good you’re going to have a hard time.
“So I think that they’re certainly going to be in every ballgame that, when they pitch good, they certainly have a good chance to win. We’ll see how that goes throughout the remainder of the first half here, and then obviously into the second half. The bottom line is you have to pitch good, and when we do that we certainly can win.”
Impressed by offense
The thing that has impressed Kelly the most with manager Ron Gardenhire’s club is the offense.
“The lineup is terrific,” he said. “I would match them fellas up with just about anybody, don’t you think? That’s a pretty good lineup.”
That lineup received a big boost this week with the signing of veteran switch hitter Kendrys Morales, who after not playing all year went 6-for-13 with three doubles in the three-game series at Toronto.
“He has always been a free swinger and has a good idea what he wants to do,” Kelly said. “I always felt that he was very dangerous when he walked up there. I had a lot of respect for that fella. I think he is a pretty good hitter.”
In a season full of surprises on offense, perhaps none has been bigger than rookie Danny Santana, who is hitting .372 with five doubles, two home runs, 12 RBI, 12 runs scored and four stolen bases through 25 games. He has solidified the leadoff spot in the lineup, reaching base and scoring in the first inning of each game against the Blue Jays.
“He’s a very exciting player, and he always has been,” Kelly said. “It’s just a matter of, when he was trying to learn shortstop he was error-prone, had some throwing problems, and finishing plays made a lot of errors. This past spring I thought he improved immensely with his defense at shortstop, and he was very close to being a big-leaguer. So Gardy has him playing center field out of necessity, and he has done a good job out there for the most part. He’s learning on the job, but I think in the future he’s going to be a shortstop.”
Is that center field position a problem?
“Right now it is not, but we don’t have a true center fielder right now,” Kelly said, adding he wants to see what Gardenhire does when Sam Fuld returns from his concussion. As for Santana, Kelly said: “Santana is not hurting them out there, so I don’t know what [Gardenhire’s] going to do, but Santana has filled in really well.”
Fuld has hit .429 in his rehab assignment with Class AA New Britain and could return to the Twins on Friday.
Another big addition to the team recently was the return of left fielder Josh Willingham, who is finally feeling healthy and hitting .316 with five home runs, 17 RBI, 11 runs scored, one double and one triple since returning from a wrist injury May 26.
“Oh my goodness gracious, he is an impact player that can impact the game with one swing,” Kelly said of Willingham. “He can hit a home run at a moment’s notice. He certainly can impact a game, that’s for sure. You mix him in the middle there and things look very dangerous, absolutely.”
Kelly also said he likes what he has seen from catcher Kurt Suzuki, another free-agent addition this season.
“Suzuki has done a terrific job,” he said. “He is catching well, and he certainly has gotten his share of timely hits throughout this first part of the season. Let’s see if he keeps it up and keeps contributing. But he has been a major contributor, certainly on the offensive side.”
• Former Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon will team with former Timberwolves play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan on CBS football games this year. Gannon had been paired with either Marv Albert or Spero Dedes each of the past three years.
• Former Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, playing with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan for the second year in a row, has been sidelined because of a back injury and was set to begin a rehab assignment Friday.
• Righthander Mark Hamburger, the Mounds View High School alum suspended by Major League Baseball 50 games because of a drug violation, is back with New Britain in the Twins farm system. He has a 2.25 ERA over eight innings with eight strikeouts in four relief outings. Hamburger, 27, pitched in five games for the Texas Rangers in 2011.
• Chris Colabello, who at one time was hitting .359 for the Twins this season before slumping to .232, is hitting .230 at Class AAA Rochester with one homer and 12 RBI over 17 games. Shortstop Pedro Florimon is hitting .223 through 31 games for the Red Wings after hitting .108 in 25 games with the Twins.
• Target Field will be home to the Minnesota State High School Baseball championship games for the fifth consecutive year Saturday. The Class 1A game is scheduled for noon, the 2A game at 3 p.m. and the 3A game at 6 p.m.
• The Twins are also working in partnership with the Philadelphia Phillies to create a facility for a new player development academy in the Dominican Republic.
• Travis Morin, an Osseo High School and Minnesota State Mankato product, scored an overtime winner on a tip-in Wednesday to give the Texas Stars a 2-1 victory and a 2-1 series lead over the St. John’s IceCaps in the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup finals. Morin, 30, leads the AHL in playoff scoring with seven goals and 12 assists in 19 games for the Stars, a Dallas affiliate. The IceCaps, a Winnipeg Jets affiliate, are led by former St. Cloud State standout Andrew Gordon, who has eight goals and nine assists in 19 games.
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