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.

Postgame: Hendriks finds a new home?

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: August 28, 2014 - 12:01 AM

    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."

Former Twin takes the mound against old team

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: August 27, 2014 - 5:47 PM

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Royals took their team picture before batting practice today, and I watched Liam Hendriks walk out somewhat sheepishly toward the risers in center field, having his picture taken with teammates he hasn't met yet. Hendriks was acquired by the Royals in a trade with Toronto on July 28, and the Aussie righthander is making his debut with his new team tonight.

    As Twins fans know well, Hendriks is one of the most extreme examples of what's commonly called a "Four-A" player in baseball today -- a guy who looks like a superstar in the minor leagues, but who cannot find success in the majors:

    -- Hendriks went 9-3 with a 2.20 ERA in Class AAA Rochester two years ago.

    --  When the Twins let him go last winter, the Blue Jays claimed him and he went 8-1 with a 2.33 ERA for their Triple-A team. 

    -- Since the trade last month, he's gone 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA for the Royals' top minor league team.

    Yet here are his ERAs the past four seasons in his various major-league opportunities: 6.17, 5.59, 6.85 and 6.08.

    "You never know with a pitcher. You never know when they're going to figure it out or find their niche," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who watched Hendriks start 17 games before finally earning his first victory. "We know he's got the fastball. In the minor leagues, it's different -- these guys can hit the fastball."

    We'll see if the Twins can, too. Hendriks has started 31 games in the majors, and has a 3-13 record. But he's never faced his former team.

    To make room, the Royals optioned Aaron Crow to Class AA Northwest Arkansas, but I'm not sure the righthanded reliever will actually go. Minor-league seasons end next Monday, so Kansas City is likely just giving Crow a five-day break before rosters expand next week.

    Here are the lineups for tonight's 7:10 game:

TWINS

 

Santana CF

Dozier 2B

Mauer 1B

Vargas DH

Arcia RF

Plouffe 3B

Suzuki C

E. Escobar SS

Schafer LF

 

Hughes RHP

 

ROYALS

 

Aoki RF

A. Escobar SS

Gordon LF

Butler 1B

Perez C

Ibanez DH

Moustakas 3B

Colon 2B

Dyson CF

 

Hendriks RHP

Postgame: Superstitious? Blame me for this loss

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: August 26, 2014 - 11:33 PM

    Three additional thoughts after the Twins' sixth walk-off loss of the season:

    WE WON'T SPEAK OF IT AGAIN: I'm not particularly superstitious, but when Alex Gordon's home run cleared the right-field wall Tuesday night, I somehow felt responsible. Before the game, I was chatting with Glen Perkins, who is about as accessible and accommodating a player as I've ever covered. The topic? Blown saves. I brought up an odd statistic that I discovered over the weekend: The Twins were 8-7 during his career in games in which he was charged with a blown save. He said he noticed the same thing, that he had a tendency to leave games tied when he had a bad one, but not put his team behind. In fact, Perkins said, he had only given up one walk-off hit in his career, a home run by Brandon Inge in 2011. (I looked it up: Sept. 10 in Detroit, when Inge connected in a 2-2 game.) He was laughing at the fact that he didn't realize it was a walk-off at the time; he was about to ask for a ball from the umpire and noticed his teammates heading for the dugout. It was a nice anecdote that I filed away for later -- though not much later, as it turned out. As reporters walked up to his locker after the game, Perkins was telling somebody that it was my fault. Fortunately, he was just kidding. "That's baseball," he said.

    THE PITCHER THEY EXPECTED: After all he's been through this summer, the elbow injury and probably the worst overall performance of his major-league career and a couple of rough starts since returning, I thought Ricky Nolasco might feel relieved about his seven shutout innings tonight. Even Ron Gardenhire called it the best outing he's seen from his Opening Day starter. But Nolasco said he's always made a point to be the same person in good times and bad, because "in this game, you know you're going to have ups and downs," he said. "Obviously, I haven't thrown the way I wanted to ... but everything happens for a reason. I take it all in stride." He might not be relieved, but it's a good bet that Gardenhire and the rest of the organization, which made Nolasco the highest-paid free agent in Twins history with a $49 million contract last winter, probably are. This was the pitcher they hoped they were getting.

    FLU BUGS AND AN OLD FRIEND: Ron Gardenhire is suffering from the flu, and so are a lot of other people in the clubhouse, apparently. Nolasco said he was so sick on the mound, he almost asked out of the game in the third inning, but got stronger as he went on. It will be interesting to see if the lineup, which has been so steady this month -- the top four hitters in the Twins' lineup have been identical for the past 15 games -- gets shaken up tomorrow. On the other hand, Brian Dozier had the big hit tonight, a double that produced Minnesota's only run, Joe Mauer extended his road hitting streak to 10 games with a clutch RBI single, and the rookies just keep hitting -- a single apiece tonight, giving Danny Santana a 10-game hitting streak of his own. The Twins face a familiar face tomorrow: righthander Liam Hendriks, lost on waivers last December. 

Buxton to play in Arizona Fall League

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: August 26, 2014 - 6:17 PM

Twins prospect Byron Buxton, who missed most of the 2014 regular season with two separate wrist injuries and then a concussion in his first game after being promoted to Class AA New Britain, is on the tentative roster the Twins have supplied of players they hope will participate in the Arizona Fall League.

The Arizona League is a testing ground for prospects, and this fall will have 26 former first-round draft picks playing.

The Twins’ tentative roster for the Salt River Rafters includes three outfielders: Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario. Those three each played last year in the AFL. The Twins are also sending four pitchers: Jason Adam, Mason Melotakis and Taylor Rogers.

Meanwhile, in Kauffman Stadium, the Twins will try to tighten up the AL Central race by beating the Royals, something that hasn't been done much lately. K.C. lost a makeup game to the Yankees last night, the first time all month that it has lost back-to-back games. Danny Duffy, who limited the Twins to three runs, two of them earned, when he faced them 10 days ago, starts against Ricky Nolasco, whose last win came on July 1.

Here are the lineups for the first of three games in Kansas City:

TWINS

Santana CF / Dozier 2B / Mauer 1B / Vargas DH / Arcia RF / Plouffe 3B / Suzuki C / Escobar SS / Schafer LF.  Nolasco RHP

ROYALS

Dyson CF / A. Escobar SS / Gordon LF / Butler 1B / Perez C / Willingham DH / Moustakas 3B / Cain RF / Colon 2B.   Duffy LHP

Plouffe, Santana share AL co-player of week honor

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: August 25, 2014 - 3:14 PM

Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe and center fielder Danny Santana were named AL co-players of the week for the period ending Aug. 24. The only other Twins player to win a weekly honor this season was Chris Colabello, who won on April 7.
Plouffe batted .367 (11-for-30) for the week with five doubles, two homers, 10 RBI and six runs scored. Santana batted .378 (14-for-37) with two doubles, two triples, one homer, six RBI and seven runs scored. It was the first weekly honor for both players.
Plouffe has already established career highs this season in doubles (37), triples (two), RBI (65) and runs scored (57). Santana is tied for the AL rookie lead in triples (six), is third in runs scored (48), fifth in hits (93), tied for fifth in extra-base hits (29) and sixth in doubles (17) and RBI (34).

Postgame: Missed opportunities costly once again

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: August 24, 2014 - 9:27 PM

    Four spare thoughts from a soggy Sunday afternoon:

    THEY NEEDED MORE: As Max Scherzer's pitch count rose and rose, as he stood in the hot sun for 20 minutes or more at a time, it felt like it was only a matter of time before Scherzer would be gone and the Twins could feast on the Tigers' weary bullpen. That's what made Kyle Gibson's subpar outing so disappointing -- all they needed was for him to keep the game close and keep the Twins' own tired pen from being called upon. He couldn't do it, and was knocked out after getting 14 outs, his shortest start since July 4. Worst of all were the two walks he issued after Victor Martinez's impressive tie-breaking single. Gibson had thrown almost 40 fewer pitches than Scherzer at one point, but gave the advantage back and actually didn't go as deep into the game as the Tiger starter. The battle with Martinez was a classic, though; eight pitches, with the DH spoiling five of them to stay alive. But the game was there for the Twins, had Gibson given them just one or two more outs. (By the way, on paper, the series went about as expected: The Twins lost to Detroit's inexperienced starters, then lost to Justin Verlander and Scherzer. That overlooks how winnable both of the losses were, though.)

    LEAVING THEM ON: The score was 7-3 in the sixth when the Twins' problems with runners in scoring position struck again. A hit batter, a walk and Danny Santana's single loaded the bases with one out, but the Twins were coincidentally sending up two of their worst hitters in that situation. Brian Dozier, is 1-for-8 with the bases loaded; he hit a fly ball to left that was too shallow to advance any runners. Then came Joe Mauer, who somewhat strangely is 1-for-7 this season with the bases loaded and two outs. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus brought in left-hander Phil Coke to face Mauer, and the count got to 3-2 before Coke fooled the Twins' first baseman. Expecting something that would break toward the dirt, Mauer instead got a high fastball that seemed to rise as it neared the plate. Mauer swung and missed at the 95-mph pitch, and the Twins' best chance was gone.

    FLY BALLS AN ADVENTURE: I know Twins fans were spoiled by the consistent excellence of Denard Span and Ben Revere in the outfield, and Torii Hunter before them. It seems like there was a spectacular play at least once a series, and that's a lot to expect of outfielders. But it seems as though the Twins have gone through about as bad a stretch of outfielding as I can remember lately, with dropped fly balls, a consistent inability to catch balls at the fence, and the occasional terrible decision. Oswaldo Arcia was guilty of the latter on Sunday, choosing to make an awkward slide about 10 feet from where Torii Hunter's line drive came down. The slide allowed the ball to bounce past him to the wall, and turned a one-run single into a three-run triple. He's 23 and still learning, just as Danny Santana is 23 and playing center field for the first time; both should improve, and both provide enough offense to make it worth having them out there. But whew, there are times, and way too many of them lately, when you feel for the pitchers.

    IS IT OVER YET? I heard plenty of grumbling about home plate umpire Eric Cooper and his strike zone, but it wasn't the umpire who made Sunday's game last an interminable four hours. The pace was just excruciating, and I was wondering in the sixth and seventh innings -- already more than three hours into the game -- how many fans had nodded off in the 85-degree, humid weather. This is the sort of game that loses fans, that convinces young people used to instant entertainment, to look elsewhere. I commend the 23,983 who witnessed the longest nine-inning game in Twins history, especially the 7,000 or so who were there at the end.

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