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.
As cold as it will be today at Target Field, it could be a lot worse, according to Joe Mauer. The Twins' catcher said the coldest professional game he ever played was also a season opener, at Class A Quad Cities -- that would make it April 2002.
"It was opening night, and we ended up going 17 innings into the night," said Mauer, who remembers catching all 17 innings. "But we won. We were probably the first ones off the field. Shook everybody's hands and went inside."
Justin Morneau wasn't at that game, but he remembers the 2001 opener in Quad Cities also being the coldest game he's ever played. "I bet you it was in the teens, with the wind chill -- blowing snow and freezing cold," Morneau said. "But you know what? We survived."
The Twins hope to do that today against Justin Verlander, the Tigers' ace, a former MVP and Cy Young winner, who oddly enough has never won any of his five previous Opening Day starts. Verlander is 12-7 with a 3.21 ERA against the Twins in his career -- he's 7-1 with a 1.70 ERA over the past three seasons -- and has just signed a $180 million contract.
"If anybody has an advantage in the weather, it's the pitcher, because they control the tempo. They're moving, their heart is pumping, they're out there with the flow and staying loose every single pitch. Whether it affects him, I have no idea," Morneau said of Verlander. "We’ve seen over the last couple years, early, he won’t pitch as hard. Later in the game when he needs it, he’ll dial it up. Whether or not he’s able to do that, I guess we’ll find out."
And Morneau, who grew up in Canada, knows how to prepare for the low temperatures -- it's 26 as I write this, with the wind blowing toward right field.
"Sometimes you put too many layers on, you feel like you can't move," he said. "I'm just going to put hot sauce all over and throw some long sleeves on and some long johns and go out there and run around and enjoy it. We talked about it a little bit. We have all the cold weather gear now. It’s not really an issue, I don’t think.”
Ron Gardenhire and Scott Ullger are in the outfield at the moment, hitting fly balls (or trying to -- accuracy isn't easy) off the wall to give the outfielders some experience with the caroms. Here are the lineups for the first game of the 2013 season, which opens at 3:10 p.m.:
Austin Jackson, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Andy Dirks, LF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Omar Infante, 2B
Justin Verlander, P
Aaron Hicks, CF
Joe Mauer, C
Josh Willingham, LF
Justin Morneau, 1B
Ryan Doumit, DH
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Chris Parmelee, RF
Brian Dozier, 2B
Pedro Florimon, SS
Vance Worley, P
Well folks, the time has come to switch blogs. After eight years covering the Twins for the Star Tribune, I’ve moved to the Gophers football beat, swapping places with Phil Miller.
As much as I love baseball writing, I requested the change, so I could spend less time on the road and more time at home with Julie C and our two young kids. I’m excited for the chance to cover college football, and it’s nice knowing the Star Tribune’s baseball beat is in good hands with Phil and La Velle.
Before signing off here, I want to thank everyone who stopped by Around the Majors over the years. If you haven’t yet, please add Gridiron Gold to your bookmarks, and you can come along for the ride as I make the transition from Target Field to TCF Bank Stadium.
Twins pitchers and catchers will report to Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 12 with the first exhibition game slated for Feb. 23, the team announced today.
Those dates are earlier than most years, partly because the World Baseball Classic will be played during camp again next spring, and partly because the regular season opener comes April 1 against Detroit at Target Field.
The Twins will play 19 of their 34 spring training games at their home ballpark, Hammond Stadium, starting Feb. 24 against the Rays. Minnesota’s last Grapefruit League game will be played March 30 at Boston’s spring training site.
Here's a link to the Twins spring training schedule.
Rookie shortstop Pedro Florimon continues to get mixed reviews for the Twins.
Before Sunday’s game, Manager Ron Gardenhire said, “It’s really fun to watch Florimon play shortstop. I mean, that’s pretty exciting.”
General Manager Terry Ryan said, “Is he going to hit or not? That’s in question. Can he get a bunt down? Can he get a sac fly? Can he move the runners? Can he take a quality at-bat? Can he coax a walk? So you start looking at on-base percentage [.288].”
“Alright, he’s still young,” Ryan continued. “You can still project out on him. He did a pretty decent job at Triple-A, so there is some signs and hope that maybe he can get it. But we need to see it. He’s played well the last week in the field. Previous to that he wasn’t finishing plays. He’s got to finish plays.”
Florimon had another good day defensively Sunday, and went 1-for-4 from the No. 9 spot. In the fifth inning, after Alexi Casilla got to third base with a single and two stolen bases with one out, Florimon took a big strikeout.
But Florimon came right back in the seventh inning and delivered an RBI single. That scored the game’s only run on a day when Justin Morneau went 0-for-4, stranding seven runners on base, extending his hitless streak to 15 consecutive at-bats.
In the eighth, Florimon came up in another big spot -- runners on second and third, two outs -- and lined out to left field.
“Short swing, took a deep breath,” Gardenhire said. “He really knocked the living fire out of it, and unfortunately the guy made a nice play on it. Those are the things you need to see. You need to see some nice, quality at-bats in some big situations, and he did.”
The Tigers won’t be spraying any champagne today at Target Field, but Detroit can clinch at least a tie for the American League Central title with a win over the Twins -- if the White Sox lose to the Rays. Detroit has a two-game lead over Chicago with four games remaining.
The Twins will send Liam Hendriks to the mound today, hoping to delay Detroit’s party even longer. The Tigers counter with righthander Anibal Sanchez, who showed everyone why Detroit traded for him this July, when he tossed a three-hit shutout Tuesday against the Royals.
The Tigers finish the regular season with a three-game this week in Kansas City, and the White Sox close with three games in Cleveland.
AL BATTING RACE
1. Miguel Cabrera .327
2. Mike Trout .321
3. Joe Mauer .320
1. Austin Jackson, CF
2. Quintin Berry, LF
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
4. Prince Fielder, 1B
5. Delmon Young, DH
6. Andy Dirks, RF
7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
8. Alex Avila, C
9. Omar Infante, 2B
Starting pitcher: RH Anibal Sanchez (4-6, 3.05 ERA)
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Ben Revere, RF
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, DH
5. Ryan Doumit, LF
6. Chris Parmelee, 1B
7. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
8. Alexi Casilla, 2B
9. Pedro Florimon, SS
Starting pitcher: RH Liam Hendriks (1-8, 6.09 ERA)
Target Field. First pitch: 1:10 p.m. TV: FSN. Twins Radio Network
Follow along on Twitter: @JoeCStrib
Twins lefthander Scott Diamond started the season strong. Now he’s finishing strong, too.
Over the past six days, Diamond has held the Tigers to three earned runs in 14 1/3 innings, throwing a wrench into Detroit’s postseason push.
Diamond opened the year with six starts for Class AAA Rochester, going 4-1 with a 2.60 ERA in 34 2/3 innings before the Twins promoted him on May 8. Adding those innings to the 168 he’s pitched for the Twins, he’s up to 202 2/3 for the season.
In 26 starts for the Twins, Diamond is 12-8 with a 3.54 ERA. He’ll get one more start, in Wednesday’s season finale in Toronto. Diamond hails from Guelph, Ontario, which is about 60 miles west of Rogers Centre.
“It’s going to be pretty exciting,” Diamond said. “I’ve never been able to pitch there. I’m definitely going to have some friends and family there, so it’s going to be kind of a homecoming. I’m pretty excited about it.”
RUN, MIGGY, RUN!
Miguel Cabrera went 2-for-4, raising his American League batting average to .327, while Joe Mauer went 0-for-2 with two walks, dropping his average to .322.
Cabrera might have cost the Tigers one run on the bases, however. With two outs in the sixth, he lined a ball high off the right-field wall, just missing his 43rd home run.
Cabrera was slow leaving the batter’s box and was held to a single, as the ball ricocheted quickly off the wall to Ben Revere. Prince Fielder followed with a single to center, and after plodding to second, Cabrera began slamming his helmet on the base in frustration.
Would Cabrera have made it to second base if he had run hard out of the batter’s box?
“You saw the game -- write what you saw,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters.
Delmon Young singled to right field, and third-base coach Gene Lamont waved Cabrera around third. Revere, who doesn't have a strong arm but leads the Twins with eight outfield assists, bounced his throw and catcher Joe Mauer applied the tag as Cabrera slid home, avoiding a collision between batting title candidates.
Mauer picked Cabrera up gratefully, before heading to the dugout.
"Ben’s throw was huge because it kept the game tied [0-0]," Diamond said. "Defense was just coming up big all game so it made my job a lot easier."
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