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.
BALTIMORE -- The Twins' bullpen is one short on Saturday, after Samuel Deduno was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros.
The 31-year-old righthander, who twice failed to hold a spot in Minnesota's starting rotation, finishes his Twins career with a 16-18 record and 4.26 ERA. He started 41 games, pitched in long relief another 22 times, and tantalized fans with his sometimes-dominating fastball.
But his lack of control was a persistent problem, and ultimately, the Twins decided to let him go for nothing but the $25,000 waiver fee. Placed on revocable waivers, the Twins could have retained him had they chosen, but instead they allowed the Astros to take on the final month of his $520,000 contract.
"He was sad to leave Minnesota," said manager Ron Gardenhire, who broke the news to the veteran righthander in the lobby of the team's hotel here. "He definitely liked it here. But I told him, it's always a good thing when somebody wants you."
To replace Deduno, the Twins added lefthander Aaron Thompson to the 40-man roster and summoned him from Class AAA Rochester, where he had posted a 3.59 ERA in 52 innings this season. "We wanted to bring in a lefty who's getting lefties out," Gardenhire said of the decision. Thompson, 27, was originally drafted by the Marlins in 2005 and has been in the Twins system since 2012. He appeared in four games with the Pirates in 2011, making one start, and posting a 7.04 ERA.
An eventful night at Orioles Park at Camden Yards. Here are a few leftovers:
ILLUSTRATING HIS POINT: Buck Showalter has been very public this season about his unhappiness with baseball's replay-challenge system, his disbelief that even with an elaborate video system in place, calls are being botched by the crews issuing rulings from New York. He had more ammunition on Friday, but he let his counterpart do the complaining this time. That's because Delmon Young's fifth-inning home run, on the last of Trevor May's 84 pitches, appeared an open-and-shut case of a call that should be overturned. But the Orioles got the benefit of a call that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire fumed about after the game. Showalter, who said he couldn't wait to discuss the call with Gardenhire, sounded as though he was prepared for the home run to be overruled. He said he was prepared to argue that Adam Jones, on first base at the time with two outs, should be awarded home plate, and not be forced to stop at third base as he would on a ground-rule double. "I'm not quite sure how they saw it, but I liked the end game on that," the Orioles manager said. "At the very least, Delmon would have had a double and the run would have scored, I think." Gardenhire, well aware of Showalter's lobbying for more accountability in the replay system, ended his angry comments on the matter by saying, "I agree with Buck."
SAY YOUR PIECE: Gardenhire complimented the umpiring crew, and especially crew chief Mike Winters, for not ejecting him after the ruling came back from New York. The manager vented about the call for 20 seconds or so, which is supposed to be an automatic ejection. "Mike Winters actually went above and beyond, because he let me say my piece, and he didn't have to do that. I told him how disappointing it is for that to happen, and he said, 'I'm not even supposed to be talking with you in this situation. I'm giving you a little slack here.' He understood totally. The crew here did what they were supposed to do. Here."
ALL IN HIS HEAD? The fact that a player who had not hit a batter in 115 innings of major- and minor-league baseball suddenly hit back-to-back hitters in the fourth inning would suggest that the problem is in Trevor May's head. But both May and Gardenhire said they're not so sure. "That's what we're all saying -- it's mental. But is it? I don't know," Gardenhire said. "I don't know if he just loses his mechanics or whatever. It could be a physical thing, where he gets a little out of whack with his mechanics. ... We're not so much frustrated as, we're trying to figure it out." And May insisted that nerves is no longer a problem, not like it was in his first appearance or two. It all comes down to execution in big spots, something that he hasn't been able to do.
DRAFTEE HEADED TO AFL: Jake Reed was drafted by the Twins out of the University of Oregon in the fifth round last June. It hasn't taken the 21-year-old righthander long to make an impression. Reed, who has allowed only one earned run in 30 innings as a professional, has been added to the roster of the Salt River Rafters in this year's Arizona Fall League, the Twins announced Friday. The team had originally considered assigning second-round pick Nick Burdi to the AFL, but decided instead to send Reed. The southern California native, who currently owns a 21 2/3-inning scoreless streak at Class A Cedar Rapids, will join fellow Twins prospects Taylor Rogers, Jason Adam, Mason Melotakis, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, and Byron Buxton in the Arizona Fall League.
BALTIMORE -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has in interesting theory about Joe Mauer's awful first half, when the three-time batting champion hit just .271 and struck out more than he ever had before. The problem, Gardenhire believes, was holding the All-Star Game at Target Field.
"He was pressing. There's no doubt, before the All-Star game, I think he was pressing," Gardenhire said. "It's the first time my career as manager here, [that I've] seen Joe Mauer really want something bad -- that was the All-Star Game, and I think it played a part in it. I don't think he would ever admit to it, but in my opinion, it definitely did."
Gardenhire is right about one thing: his first baseman doesn't buy the theory. Back spasms and minor injuries were to blame, Mauer said. "I definitely wanted to make the [All-Star] team, but I don't know if that had anything to do with my first half. It's news to me," Mauer siad. "I had back spasms early, and when I started swinging well, something like that always popped up. I don't think it was any added pressure."
I'll have more on Gardenhire's reasoning in tomorrow's Star Tribune, but there's little doubt that Mauer his closer to his old self again. Even amid a 1-for-15 slump, Mauer has cut way back on his strikeouts since returning from an oblique injury that would have kept him out of the All-Star Game anyway, and his on-base percentage this month is .400.
The Twins arrived at their hotel at 4:15 a.m., and they have eased into the day's activities, skipping early batting practice. But if they're tired, maybe the electricity of the city will pick them up today, because Baltimore is buzzing. A new casino, the Horseshoe, opened this week just on the other side of M&T Bank Stadium right next door, so there are crowds of people here for that. And the football stadium will be full tomorrow, too, when Ohio State opens its football season in the afternoon against Navy. Plenty of Buckeyes at the car-rental facility when I arrived this morning.
The Twins sometimes send the next day's starting pitcher ahead of the team when they expect difficult travel days, but Trevor May was on the team charter last night, I'm told. I imagine he spent the day resting for tonight's start, the fourth of his career.
On the field, the Twins will try to hit a little better than they did in Kansas City, where their 13-13 scoring standoff with the Royals is a little deceiving, since 11 runs came in last night's game. Kurt Suzuki gets the night off, so Eric Fryer can catch May, his former Rochester teammate. One other benefit, too, manager Ron Gardenhire said: "It gives Suzuki a chance to chill out in the dugout with me and drive me crazy." Kennys Vargas is playing first base for the fifth time since joining the team, and first time since last Sunday, but the lineups are otherwise the usual.
After facing ex-Twins Liam Hendriks and Josh Willingham in Kansas City, the Twins see a couple more of their former players here, in outfielder Delmon Young and shortstop J.J. Hardy. There's one other, lesser-known connection: Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce, who spent spring training with the Twins in 2012, but was cut before the season started.
Here are the lineups for tonight's game against the first-place Orioles:
Some quick postgame thoughts after a late-night getaway game:
MORE WORK FOR THE PEN: The Royals chose to rest their best relief pitcher on Thursday, and it cost them. The Twins all but emptied their bullpen, and they're worried it may cost them this weekend. Wade Davis, who hasn't allowed a run since June 25, had pitched in the first two games of this series, and manager Ned Yost was not going to risk overusing him, especially with the Indians coming to town this weekend. So Bruce Chen was called upon to pitch the 10th inning, and the Twins jumped on the soft-tossing veteran, pounding him for six runs on five hits to claim the victory. Meanwhile, when Tommy Milone didn't get through the sixth inning, the Twins used six relief pitchers, including Casey Fien, who they had not intended to use. Manager Ron Gardenhire said he's got a weary bullpen as the team heads to Baltimore, though when I asked whether they planned a transaction to give them a breather -- they could easily option Tommy Milone to the minors, bring him back on Tuesday when minor-league seasons end, and add another arm for the weekend -- he said they were probably just going to try to manage with what they've got.
AN IMPORTANT WALK: Joe Mauer's line in the box score doesn't look like much -- no at-bats, just a pinch-hit walk in the 10th -- but it was a much more critical, and successful, plate appearance than it looks. Pinch-hitting for Chris Parmelee with one out and runners on first and third, Mauer took a pair of strikes from Chen and looked like a sure second out. But he fouled off three pitches, laid off some close ones, and ended up drawing a walk that loaded the bases. That set the stage for four hits from the next five hitters, breaking open the game.
RUNNING ALL THE WAY: Speaking of that 10th inning, Oswaldo Arcia got the rally going with a one-out triple, one that was made possible by the fact that he was running at top speed the entire time. His long fly ball bounced off the center field fence and got behind Jarrod Dyson, who took a couple of seconds to find it. By that time, Arcia had rounded the bag and easily beat the relay to third. "He was running hard out of the box," manager Ron Gardenhire said; the subtext, of course, is that he doesn't always do so. But the Twins have been encouraged by Arcia's energy and attitude during his August hot streak, and tonight was another example.
IS THAT A FASTBALL? Best line of the night belonged to Eduardo Nunez, who drove in the tie-breaking run off Chen in the 10th. Asked what pitch he hit from Chen, Nunez shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "He throws so soft. The first two pitches were 84 and 81 -- is that a fastball?"
I'll have more tomorrow from Baltimore.
After 16 games with the same top four hitters atop his batting order, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has made a change for tonight's game. Joe Mauer will be in the dugout, while Chris Parmelee plays first base in his place.
"He's only missed like two innings [since he returned from an oblique injury on Aug. 11], so I told him, 'You're out,' " Gardenhire said. "He missed so much time, you say, 'Boy, we need him in there,' but you know, he's going to need a break. He's not as young as some of those other guys out there."
The 31-year-old Mauer said he's sore, but OK to play, but understands Gardenhire's desire to keep him fresh. "You always want to be in there, but I know it helps in the long run," Mauer said. "I'm just trying to stay healthy."
His bat could probably use a break, too. After a hot start upon his return, Mauer is has one hit in his last 15 at-bats.
The Twins head to the airport immediately after the game to catch a flight east. They're scheduled to arrive in Baltimore a little after 3 a.m.
Here are tonight's lineups for their last game against Kansas City this season (they're 7-11 against the Royals):
A. Escobar SS
Three final thoughts after yet another painful loss to the Royals, a habit the Twins just can't break:
MAYBE THIS TIME: Liam Hendriks didn't get the last laugh, exactly, but he got a pretty good one on Wednesday. We'll see if it lasts this time -- Twins fans have been fooled by the Aussie before -- but it had to feel great to make such a strong introduction to a new team. And against his old team to boot? "I was pretty excited," he said. "I liked seeing some of the guys, but it was a good feeling to beat them." Hendriks, who recorded a victory in only two of his 28 starts as a Twin, says he's gained a little velocity since he was waived by the Twins last December, and credits an adjustment to his windup that helps him pitch out of the set position for adding movement to his sinker. He destroyed Triple-A hitters again this year, as he once did in Rochester for the Twins: A combined 12-2 record and 2.45 ERA for the Jays' and Royals' Class AAA teams. "I feel like I can bring it with me this time" to the majors, Hendriks said. "It's mainly mindset for me -- I'm more confident now, and I don't try to overthink things. I've been keeping it simple, and it's working out really well."
TRYING TO THROW TOO HARD: Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn't sound too concerned about Casey Fien's out-of-the-blue blowup the past couple of outings, which have puffed up his ERA from 2.68 to 3.44 in two appearances. Fien, who had gone nine appearances without allowing a run, surrendered four against the Tigers on Sunday, throwing 34 pitches after not needing more than 24 all season. He got an extra day off to rest, but wasn't himself again Wednesday night. Fien gave up a bloop single to Billy Butler and a triple to Salvador Perez, allowing three runs to score, though only one charged to him. "Casey was overthrowing the ball. It looks like he's trying to throw the ball 100 miles an hour," Gardenhire said. "He might have been over-amped out there. He got a couple of balls up and they made him pay."
GOOD STUFF, BAD RESULT: It was hard not to feel bad for Phil Hughes, who may have pitched his best game yet on Wednesday, at least for seven innings. After a leadoff hit by Perez in the second inning, Hughes didn't allow another one until the eighth. He should have won his 15th game, he should be tied for the league lead, and he should have become the first Twin since Nick Blackburn in 2010 to win five games in one month. Hughes was sanguine about it, though. "I have to brush it off and be content with how well I'm throwing the ball right now," he said. "At least I don't have to go back to the drawing board."
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