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.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The non-waiver trade deadline is a day away, but it's been a topic in the Twins' dugout for days. "All the time," manager Ron Gardenhire said Wednesday. "[I'll say,] 'You still here?' "
But "they say the same to me, though," Gardenhire said with a laugh, "which is kind of a back-at-you."
That's about the extent of the visible nervousness in the Twins' clubhouse about being sent elsewhere. A CBSsports.com report Wednesday said the Yankees and Mariners have discussed acquiring Josh Willingham, who is batting cleanup tonight against Royals left-hander Danny Duffy, but mostly there has been little chatter about Twins' players at the deadline.
Meanwhile, the three-game series in Kauffman Stadium goes on, with Phil Hughes on the mound tonight, feeling no effects from the line drive he took of his leg last week. No, Hughes' biggest problem, Gardenhire said, cropped up last night. Concerned that the Twins were left with only two position players on the bench, Hughes approached Gardenhire in the dugout, the manager said, with some distressing news.
"His greatest concern was that he didn't have his batting helmet, and we don't have another helmet big enough to fit his head," Gardenhire said. "He came up to me and told me I couldn't use him as a pinch-hitter."
Whew. Bullet dodged. Gardenhire somehow got through the game without calliing upon a starting pitcher to pinch-hit, something he's done, what, maybe a half-dozen times in his career? Gardenhire jokingly ordered the equipment staff to have Hughes' helmet shipped to Chicago for the end of the road trip. But mostly, he was amused at the thought that Hughes' size 8 head is too big for normal helmets.
"It's a Bochy head," Gardenhire joked, referring to Giants manager Bruce Bochy's famous oversized head. Hughes needs "a tank helmet, put it that way."
Meanwhile, here are the lineups for tonight's game, as the Twins try to win their third straight:
A weird game to open a weeklong road trip. Here are four leftover examples:
COLLISION ON THE BASES: Ron Gardenhire was ejected over one strange play Tuesday night, but it wasn't the only odd happening. For one thing, Trevor Plouffe stole a base, the first time he's even tried since last August. But the weirdest play came in the fifth inning. After a one-out double by Danny Santana and a single by Sam Fuld, Brian Dozier lined another single at Alex Gordon in left, scoring Santana. But as Fuld rounded second base, he ran into Royals second baseman Omar Infante, and third-base umpire Alfonso Marquez quickly stopped play and awarded Fuld third base and Dozier second. K.C. manager Ned Yost came out to argue, saying that because Fuld stopped once the collision occurred, no more bases should be awarded. But part of the reason that Fuld stopped was that Infante had obstructed his view of Gordon making the play, so he was placed on third. It ultimately didn't matter; the next batter, Josh Willingham, was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Chris Parmelee grounded into a double play, ending the inning before the Twins could capitalize further.
WEB GEM FOR HAMMER: Speaking of Willingham, he made a couple of unusual contributions, too. In the first inning, with three infielders on the left side, Willingham defied the shift and grounded a single to right -- just his second hit to the opposite field all season. And in the ninth inning, after Glen Perkins gave up two sharp hits to open the inning, Willingham came racing in to make a shoestring catch of Salvador Perez's sinking liner, perhaps the defensive play of the night. Had Perez's hit fallen, the Royals would have had three shots at tying the game.
FOUR PITCHES TOO MANY: Kyle Gibson's retired the side in the seventh by getting Perez to fly out on the first pitch, Gordon to ground out on an 0-and-1 count, and Billy Butler to ground out on the first pitch. That gave him 95 pitches on the night -- and hopes of going another inning. "that was exactly what was going through my head. I was like, all right, perfect -- walking off the field after seven, had a quick seventh, hopefully they'll let me go back out," Gibson said. "But being on the 10 days of rest, they just wanted to make sure I didn't go out for an extra inning and get tighter." So his night was over, a contrast to his opponent's. Royals starter James Shields needed 124 pitches to get through six innings, the most pitches he's ever thrown in his two seasons in Kansas City. He also failed on his fourth attempt at his 10th win.
IT'S ALL ON THE VIDEO: Gibson ended the third inning by picking off Alcides Escobar, an out that happened because of something he noticed while watching video during his layoff. "I felt like I was getting a little predictable in my timing. I was doing the same things, going home," Gibson said. "I don't want to talk too much about what I saw on video, but that's what I thought about on the pickoff: 'OK, you just saw some video, do what you normally do going home, and keep that same timing.' " He did, then suddenly turned to first, and caught Escobar scrambling back to the bag.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Twins are playing short-handed tonight, but it has nothing to do with the trade deadline.
Oswaldo Arcia's wife Karla gave birth to Oswell Daniel Arcia early Tuesday morning, and the Twins' outfielder remained behind in Minneapolis to be with his wife and newborn son. But when the Twins offered to put Arcia on the three-day paternity list, the 23-year-old Venezuelan declined.
"He said he wanted to spend the day with his family, and will fly in tomorrow," assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "So we'll just play short for a day."
Arcia's absence allows manager Ron Gardenhire to get both Danny Santana and Sam Fuld into the lineup, with Fuld making his first start in right field since May 1. Considering Fuld is batting .361 with a .474 on-base percentage since July 1, it's not a bad tradeoff.
Kyle Gibson will be on the mound for the Twins, his first start since July 18, and manager Ron Gardenhire said the righthander is under no restrictions. The back pain that kept him from starting last Thursday is completely gone, and Gibson will operate under the usual 100-110-pitch limit -- a level he hasn't reached, actually, since June 18 in Boston.
Gibson, who allowed one run in 6 1/3 in his only start against the Royals this year, will be facing Kansas City righthander James Shields, who is 0-2 against the Twins. Shields, trying to become a 10-game winner for the eighth straight season, has allowed 12 runs in 10 2/3 innings against the Twins, but seven of the runs were unearned.
Here are the lineups for tonight's opener of a three-game series:
E Escobar SS
A Escobar SS
Three more leftovers after after the Twins fell behind Tampa Bay in the wild-card standings Saturday:
WHERE AM I THROWING? The Twins turned five groundballs into double plays for just the seventh time in team history on Saturday, and they could have tied the franchise record for DPs had Brian Dozier not bobbled Jose Molina's hard grounder in the sixth inning. Or so I thought. Turns out, Dozier wasn't planning to try for two outs during that first-and-third situation, not down by three runs. His plan originally was to throw the ball home and try to get Logan Forsythe at the plate. "That was the plan at first, but [Molina] hit it to my left, caught me in an in-between hop," Dozier said. "So I can't tell you if I was going to [throw home] or not. I saw [Forsythe] running in my peripheral, so I knew he was going, but when I had to step back, I didn't know if I was going that way, because it would have been a risky throw from my heels." Didn't matter anyway when he briefly juggled the ball. Dozier, with a disappointed look on his face, threw to first to retire Molina but concede the run.
DEFENSE HOLDING STEADY: The Twins strong defense doesn't end with the double plays, either. Their errorless streak was snapped at nine straight games on Saturday when center fielder Danny Santana overran Sean Rodriguez's single in the seventh inning, but their infield has been making all the plays lately. Nno matter how you feel about errors as a gauge of defense -- they're pretty worthless, true -- it's still remarkable given the fact that the Twins have been playing Kendrys Morales, Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello, not the most nimble fielders, at first base since Joe Mauer was hurt. Colabello even saved Trevor Plouffe from being charged with an error tonight, digging out a tough short-hop throw to end the fifth inning. The Twins may not have above-average range anywhere but in center field and second base, but they're making most of the plays, at least.
IT'S REAL RELIEF: It's getting lost in the disappointing series to open the second half, but the Twins' bullpen is on a roll. Jared Burton and Casey Fien pitched a scoreless inning apiece Saturday, meaning the Twins' pen has allowed only eight runs in its last 47 innings, a 1.53 ERA. Just three walks and 31 strikeouts in that time, too. But bullpens mean little if the starters aren't effective, just as good defense doesn't matter much if the offense collects only three runs in two games.
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:
The All-Star Game is over, so the postgame notes don't involve Derek Jeter, Adam Wainwright or Glen Perkins. But here are three:
SEEING THE WHOLE FIELD: Is it too late to put Brian Dozier on the All-Star team? The Twins' second baseman made a couple of outstanding defensive plays again on Friday, including a double play that started when he jumped up to take a bad-hop grounder off his chest, then flipped it to second base before he came down again. But even better than that was a heads-up play that prevented a run in the third inning. With Evan Longoria on second base, James Loney hit what looked like a ground-ball single to center. But Dozier came roaring over into short center field, knocked the ball down, then jumped to his feet and fired home. With two outs, Longoria was rounding third and heading home, and the throw easily beat him to the plate to end the inning. "He came out of nowhere and makes a nice play," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Plays like that, that's just seeing the whole field and seeing a play develop. That's kind of above what most guys can do out there."
HE'S NOT SUPERMAN: Oswaldo Arcia's night on defense wasn't quite so smooth. Longoria hit a bases-loaded drive to the warning track in right-center field, and the second-year outfielder hustled over to track the ball down. But as he reached the ball, Arcia took an awkward leap at it, and the ball got past him, untouched, for a three-run double. Gardenhire said it was too tough a play to expect Arcia to make. "I mean, we're not talking about Superman here," he said. "Can he catch it? I don't know, but that's not an easy play. A rocket hit to the wall, and you're on a dead sprint. He gave it an effort and tried for it, just didn't catch it."
SWINGS AND FEW MISSES: The numbers say Kyle Gibson got hit hard on Friday, and his ERA puffed up from 3.92 to 4.19 by giving up six runs in six innings. But actually, Gibson pitched pretty well, keeping the ball down and getting ground balls -- 15 outs on the ground, not too bad. He allowed nine hits, but only a handful were hit hard, and he was especially efficient, throwing only 88 pitches. Getting behind Evan Longoria 2-and-0, and Ben Zobrist 3-and-1 were the big mistakes, because he responded both times with fastballs over the middle. Gibson struck out the first batter of the game, then didn't record another whiff. He's got only eight strikeouts in his last five starts. Does that worry him? No, Gibson said, because if he gets quick outs, he can go deeper into games. His point is true, but one thing he might consider: With so many balls put into play, hits and runs are inevitable, even on weak contact, as Tampa Bay proved Friday. Mixing in a few more strikeouts might cut down on the number of scoring chances he faces.
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