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.
Pennant races make games better, because these two games with Detroit have been thrillers. A few leftovers:
"SOMETHING'S WORKING HERE": Ron Gardenhire see progress, and not just the kind that wins one game. He sees a team that's growing closer together, that's playing for each other. "These guys are a pretty special group here. We haven't won a lot, but god-dang, they're in the dugout standing up, rooting for each other," the manager said after Tuesday's ninth-inning rally. "We've got a little something working here, and you hope you can keep it, because it's going to get better. It's going to get a lot better around here. It's going to get better in a hurry because of that. And they're holding each other accountable, too. They're going to each other, they talk to each other. That's where you start making headway."
TRIPLE FOR A DUMP TRUCK: Which is more impressive, that Kennys Vargas hit a triple Tuesday night, or that he has eight infield hits this season? Either way, it's remarkable for such a large (and slow) man. "I don't hit a triple every day," Vargas understated after the game. He did this time thanks to that new padding on the outfield wall, which sprung his long drive past the Tigers' outfielders. Even so, Vargas might have been out had Rajai Davis not had difficultly picking up the ball when he finally reached it. "It's like going to a strip pit and watching dump trucks go all over the place, unload dirt and go back up the hill," Gardenhire said. "Long process." The dugout, Gardenhire said, was screaming "No!" when Vargas turned toward third, and "I'm just glad he didn't dive. ... But you know that's heart. ... It was fun, he had a huge smile."
EARLY WORK, LATE RESULTS: Speaking of Vargas, the rookie was at Target Field early on Tuesday to seek help with his 5-for-32 slump. "I came in early this afternoon to talk to Bruno [hitting coach Tom Brunansky] about that. I want to go back a little bit to my first games in major leagues -- quiet hands. Everything is because I try to do too much. ... I see the ball longer tonight, and I see the ball better." Guess so. He had three hits, including that triple off the wall and his eighth home run of the year."
WILL CLOSER MAKE IT TO CLOSING? Glen Perkins didn't speak to reporters after the game, but it will be interesting to see if he pitches again this year. The Twins are clearly concerned about his health, and with good reason. The closer has been awful in September, with a 13.50 ERA this month, and after giving up two home runs in his first 55 1/3 innings this season, he's given up five in the last 6 1/3 innings he's pitched. Gardenhire admitted he's worried about Perkins, and said "We just want him to be honest with us and not hurt himself." If he's shut down, it might be a chance for rookie Michael Tonkin to audition for a future late-inning role.
Oswaldo Arcia came in and said he's OK to play tonight, manager Ron Gardenhire said, but the team's athletic trainers said he still feels some discomfort in his lower back when he swings. Rather than aggravate the injury, the Twins have decided to keep him on the bench for a couple of days, especially since Thursday is an off day.
That creates an opening for Gardenhire to play the fastest outfield lineup that the Twins have used since ... when? I'll have to look that up, but this is just the second time this season that Jordan Schafer (LF), Danny Santana (CF) and Aaron Hicks (RF) have patrolled the outfield together, giving the Twins more coverage than they're used to out there.
Of course, it also subtracts Arcia's bat from the lineup, at a time when the 23-year-old Venezuelan has been crushing the ball. He's hit four home runs in his last nine games, and is just two behind Brian Dozier for the team lead with 12 games to play.
One other injury note: Twins coach Joe Vavra underwent hip-replacement surgery today, and all reportedly went well. There's a chance he might be able to rejoin the Twins for the season's final week.
The Tigers start Rick Porcello tonight, a righthander who will be making his 22nd career start against the Twins. He's 8-6 with a 3.84 ERA against Minnesota.
UPDATE: Detroit has scratched Nick Castellanos, moved Don Kelly from CF to 3B, and inserted Rajai Davis in the outfield. Corrected lineup is below.
Here are the lineups for tonight's game, a critical one for the Tigers:
V. Martinez DH
J.D. Martinez LF
Three leftovers from an interesting night at Target Field:
SWING AND A STRAIN: Oswaldo Arcia's fifth-inning home run off Max Scherzer was another tape-measure job, one of those that make you excited to see him do it again. Arcia must feel the same way, too, because he swung so hard an inning later, he hurt himself. Don't expect Arcia to be in the lineup on Tuesday, not after straining his back with what Ron Gardenhire described as "a pretty radical swing." Arcia came out of the game in the eighth, with Eduardo Nunez pinch-hitting for him. "Hopefully, it's not going to be too many days," Gardenhire said. "He said it's just a little strain. Obviously, we'll have to see how he is tomorrow."
'THERE'S NO STATEMENT': Torii Hunter is in his seventh post-Twins season, he left on good terms, and a championship is the most important thing on his mind these days. So he took no particular pleasure in victimizing his old team with his game-winning homer on Monday. "No, it means something because it's Septober," he said, using his new term for late-season baseball. "Septober baseball is awesome. There's no statement here. Every day, we're just trying to win." Same goes for the other side, where Ron Gardenhire remembers his All-Star outfielder fondly -- even when he beats the Twins. "He takes care of himself, he's in great shape, and he's gotten better and better over the years," Gardenhire said. "He's a lot smarter player now. He knows what he's looking for, and he's solid. Torii's always been that way. He's a winner, always has been a winner."
FIEN THE FILL-IN: Neither Glen Perkins nor Jared Burton were available in the Twins' bullpen Monday, Gardenhire said, after both pitched on Saturday and Sunday. So Casey Fien was the closer-du-jour, and while he never got a save situation, he was called upon to pitch the ninth inning of a tie game. Didn't work out so well. "It's frustrating. I wanted the ball, too," said Fien, a former Tiger. His downfall -- back-to-back homers to Hunter and Miguel Cabrera -- came because the sluggers capitalized on his strike-throwing tendencies. "They knew I was going to come in and attack, and it backfired on me here," said Fien, whose ERA is inching toward 4.00 after a solid first five months. "I'm not going to change my approach. I'm going to attack with my best stuff, throw strikes, and sometimes you're on the losing end."
Anthony Swarzak hasn't pitched since a two-inning relief stint during last Thursday's doubleheader in Cleveland, a outing that required 36 pitches. So he should be well-rested for tonight's start against the Tigers -- not that fatigue is ever a factor for the righthander, who just turned 29 last Wednesday.
"He loves getting the ball, and he likes to start. So he eats this up," manager Ron Gardenhire said of the Twins' fill-in pitcher, who makes his 30th career start -- and second of the season -- at Target Field. "We've used him [for] 50, 60 pitches, so I'm betting we could run him up there to 70 or 75 if we wanted to."
Actually, Swarzak threw 74, including 51 strikes, during his July 23 start against the Indians, a game in which he allowed one run over five innings and earned the victory. That's the Florida native's only start since 2012, but Gardenhire is right -- Swarzak makes no secret of his preference for the starting rotation. He's just pitched too well the past couple of seasons in a long-relief role for the Twins to move him back to a starting slot. But with Tommy Milone out of the rotation with a sore neck, the job was handed to Swarzak.
His task isn't an easy one tonight, since reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is on the mound for Detroit, a righthander who has won five straight starts against the Twins, dating back to April 29, 2013.
It's the first of seven games between the teams over the season's final two weeks, meaning the Twins have an opportunity to influence the AL Central race. Detroit enters tonight 1 1/2 game in front of the Royals, a team that beat the Twins six times in nine games last month. We'll see if the Twins are as accommodating to Detroit.
Here are tonight's lineups for the 7:10 p.m. start:
The Twins will play 76 games against the AL Central in 2015, and another 20 against the NL Central, the team and Major League Baseball announced Monday.
The 2015 season will open in Detroit on Monday, April 6, and the first game at Target Field will be one week later, on April 13 at 3:10 p.m. against the Royals, according to the Twins' preliminary schedule.
Minnesota's annual home-and-home series against Milwaukee will be three-game series played on weekends next season, rather than the midweek two-game sets that the natural rivals have played the past two years. The Brewers visit Target Field on June 5-7, while the Twins travel to Milwaukee on June 26-28.
The Twins will visit four of the five NL Central cities, missing only Wrigley Field in Chicago. In addition to Milwaukee, the Twins will play at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on May 19 and 20; at Busch Stadium in St. Louis (for the first time since 2009) on June 15 and 16; and at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park on June 29-July 1.
Besides the Brewers, NL Central teams coming to Target Field include the Cardinals on June 17-18; the Cubs on June 19-21; and the Pirates on July 28-29.
For the third straight season, the New York Yankees will visit Minnesota in July; in 2015, the dates are July 24-26. The Red Sox are at Target Field on May 25-27. The Twins close the 2015 regular season at home on Oct. 4 against the Royals.
For the complete 2015 Minnesota Twins' schedule, click here.
It was a gorgeous day at Target Field on Sunday -- for everyone but the Twins. Here are a trio of leftovers.
WILSON WHIFFS: Joe Mauer struck out twice against C.J. Wilson, the first one on a 3-and-2 cutter that Mauer thought was high. Plate ump John Tumpane disagreed. Mauer swung at a high fastball to end the fifth inning, a whiff that was his 10th against Wilson in his career. That made Wilson just the third pitcher ever to strike out the three-time batting champion 10 or more times, joining C.C. Sabathia (19) and Justin Verlander (11). Mauer is now 3-for-30 in his career against Wilson.
SMALL PROGRESS: It's a little hard to see, considering his ERA entering Sunday's game was 8.25 and actually rose, but Logan Darnell felt he made some small progress against the Angels, after two ugly starts against the White Sox earlier this season. He struck out Mike Trout and Albert Pujols back-to-back in the first inning, and had an easy fourth inning, too. He held a 3-1 lead at one point, and could feel his fastball command improving. "I thought I located my fastball better than I had in the past," the rookie left-hander said. "I made a lot of good pitches. ... But I made mistakes, and they seemed to make me pay for the ones I threw today." Especially Howie Kendrick, who blasted an upper-deck homer on a two-strike curveball. "He hit a good pitch, I thought. It was a two-strike curveball that I didn't get down enough." Darnell walked Trout in the fifth and was removed for A.J. Achter, who allowed the baserunner to score.
OFFICIALLY, THEY'RE DONE: It's been a mere formality for more than a month now, but the Twins were eliminated from the AL Central race on Sunday, and they could formally vanish from the wild-card chase by Tuesday. Minnesota's "magic number" for elimination remains at two, by the traditional formula, but as Steven Patent, developer of Pennant Solutions clinchings software points out, it's already impossible for the Twins to catch both Kansas City and Detroit due to the six games remaining between them. As for the wild card, only two more Seattle victories and one by Oakland, which could come by Tuesday, are required to lock Minnesota out of the postseason for a fourth straight season. More timely: The Twins are 2 1/2 games behind Chicago for fourth place, and headed to U.S. Cellular Park for three games this weekend, a pivotal series if they hope to avoid their third last-place finish in four years.
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