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.

Twins pregame: Hicks out of the starting lineup again; Deduno will try to give hitters a chance

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III under Ron Gardenhire, Twins game coverage, Twins offense, Twins pitching Updated: May 29, 2014 - 12:05 PM

By AMELIA RAYNO, Star Tribune

With the Twins' hitting struggles well-documented and imminently visible after a 1-0 loss to Texas on Wednesday night, the pitching rotation is operating under a microscope of sorts.

The starter, on any given day, needs to be dang near perfect to hold a shot at getting the win, it seems.

"It all goes to our starters," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They give you a chance. And we had chances last night, we had plenty of chances to score. But it has to continue for you to be successful. These guys have to continue getting us deep into games."

Last night, Kyle Gibson was the hard-luck loser despite allowing just six hits and no earned runs. His team couldn't bail him out on the bases.

Now, right-hander Sam Deduno can only hope to do the same but with better results in order to ease Minnesota out of its five-losses-in-six-games funk. The Dominican Republic native has steadily improved with each outing, keeping hitters off-balance with his bizarre, slow-rotating, quick-sinking fastball, building a 3.96 ERA and adjusting nicely to life back in the starting rotation after starting out the year in the bullpen. 

"Over all my years of being here, to me he's the most improved," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "From day one when he was here, we were hoping he'd throw it in the area. Just no consistency with anything. But the more he's worked, he's finding consistency in the delivery. And now look, he's all over the strike zone."

There will be an extra focus today in keeping the speedy Rangers runners off the base paths, particularly with Josmil Pinto, who hasn't played since May 24, behind the plate. Throwing out potential base thieves hasn't been a strength for Pinto, who has a slow-than-average release, Gardenhire said. And Texas manager Ron Washington isn't shy in sending his players. Armed with quick options like Alex Rios (10 steals), Leonys Martin (11) and Elvis Andrus (13), the Rangers are quick off the bag. As a team, Texas has been caught 23 times, but especially with Pinto in the game, they won't be afraid to take chances.

"You can't give them free passes because [Washington] has them being very aggressive," Gardenhire said. "They don't have all their hitters in there and he's got these kids running."

** Gardenhire said centerfielder Aaron Hicks, who missed yesterday's game due to back spasms, told him this morning he was ready to play if needed, but the manager elected to hold him out of the starting lineup. He was listed as available. "We'll see how he's doing late game, once he starts really moving around," Gardenhire said.

**Danny Santana will start in center field for the second consecutive game and the sixth appearance of his major league career. The shortstop did play the position in 23 games in the minors.

"I feel a little comfortable there," he said. "Not like at shortstop, but I feel a little comfortable."

Said Gardenhire: "We'll see how he does out there today. Day game. Sun. Entertainment value."

Texas:

Shin-Soo Choo, DH
Luis Sardinas, SS
Mitch Moreland, 1B
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Alex Rios, RF
Michael Choice, LF
Leonys Martin, CF
Robinson Chirinos, C
Rougned Odor, 2B

RHP: Nick Martinez

Twins:

Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Oswaldo Arcia, RF
Josh Willingham, DH
Jason Kubel, LF
Josmil Pinto, C
Eduardo Escobar, SS
Danny Santana, CF

RHP: Sam Deduno

-- AMELIA RAYNO

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