Fans who arrived early this afternoon saw a heartening sign for the Twins: Joe Mauer was on the field, playing catch and taking a few ground balls. The Twins' first baseman, who strained an oblique muscle in his side on July 1, had not done any baseball activities since then, so this is a significant step. But Mauer still feels the muscle strain when he yawns or sneezes, manager Ron Gardenhire said, so he's still a few days away from being able to swing a bat.
Meanwhile, for the third time in two seasons, Phil Hughes will face David Price tonight, but this time, Hughes has a new team behind him. The Hughes-Price matchup occurred twice last season, with Hughes, then a Yankee, getting no decision in a 4-3 win on April 23, then absorbing the loss in an 8-3 Rays victory on Sept. 25, his last start for New York.
Hughes is a different pitcher this year, the premier control artist in the AL, with just 11 walks allowed in 121 2/3 innings. Price, who is 3-2 with a 2.72 ERA in eight career starts against the Twins, is reportedly winding up his Tampa Bay career; most baseball observers expect him to be dealt before the July 31 trade deadline.
Price and Hughes both have reverse splits this season, meaning they have been hit harder by like-handed hitters -- the opposite of most pitchers. Hughes is the most extreme example, allowing right-hander to hit .335 against him, while lefties hit just .231. Which is why Rays manager Joe Madden has loaded his lineup with righthanders, even sitting outfielder Matt Joyce, who is 7-for-15 lifetime against Hughes, with two home runs. First baseman James Loney is the lone left-hander that Hughes will face.
The Twins' lineup isn't quite as extreme, but Josh Willingham won't face the left-handed Price, though Chris Parmelee will. Chris Colabello is at first base, his first activity since a pinch-hitting appearance last Sunday.
Here are the lineups for today's 6:10 p.m. start: