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.
A couple of leftovers from the Twins' fourth win in five nights:
-- Vance Worley seemed happy the Twins won, but not real impressed with himself after Saturday's 8-5 victory. Five earned runs over 5 1/3 innings will do that.
He'd have been a lot happier had he been able to pitch as well in the first inning as he does in the others, but that nagging problem recurred again. Four of the first five Orioles slapped hits, and three of them scored, a situation that might have been worse had Chris Davis not run into a mystifying out trying to tag up from first base.
"It's not the way you like to see a game start, knowing we're trying to get deep in the game with our starter, and we give up a field goal the first inning," manager Ron Gardenhire said of Worley, who has given up 15 first-inning runs and 18 in the other innings combined. Worley's ERA is 16.88 in the first inning, and 4.35 the rest of the way.
But to his credit, Worley got through the Orioles' tough lineup two more times with little trouble. He gave up a home run to Matt Weiters in the fourth, and had to escape a bases-loaded jam in the fifth (caused as much by an error on Trevor Plouffe as his own pitching) but he was certainly good enough to win. After the first.
-- I was amused before the game watching infielder Eduardo Escobar tell a Twins official he wanted "You're the One that I Want," the showtune from "Grease," played as his walkup music, specifically the part that goes, "I got chills, they're multiplyin'." I don't think the Twins believed him at first. Gardenhire got a big chuckle over that, too, though he said he was an Olivia Newton-John fan.
Sure enough, the song played Escobar to the plate, and it must have worked. The shortstop doubled to left his first time up, walked twice, and scored two runs.
The busy schedule is starting to take its toll on the Twins, and on Ron Gardenhire's lineup-making.
Josh Willingham has been playing with a sore wrist, but Gardenhire noticed it bothering him yesterday, and decided it's time to give it a break. Aaron Hicks came in today with a sore elbow, probably mildly hyperextended, the Twins think, during an at-bat yesterday. Glen Perkins is still sore on his left side, and won't be available in the bullpen tonight, so Monday's starter, Pedro Hernandez, will be.
It's left Gardenhire with an unusual lineup, and it could have been even more so had he decided to move Oswaldo Arcia up in the order. Gardenhire and his coaches considered the move, but decided that "he's doing fine just where he is," the manager said. Arcia batted third in the second game of a doubleheader against Miami two weeks ago, "and it didn't go too well," Gardenhire said of Arcia's 1-for-5 night.
So with all those changes to work around, here are tonight's lineups:
Pedro Hernandez almost made the Twins' roster as a reliever in the spring. He may wind up in that bullpen after all, at least for a few days. And that could present an interesting problem -- or opportunity -- for the Twins' rotation on Monday.
Ron Gardenhire, his bullpen down to four available arms on Friday, said Hernandez may have to pitch on Saturday, two days before his scheduled start against his former team, the White Sox. Brian Duensing worked three games in Boston, Ryan Pressly threw 66 pitches on Wednesday (in relief of Hernandez) and Glen Perkins was unavailable with some stiffness in his left side.
The four remaining relievers all pitched Friday, so it won't be a full bullpen again on Saturday. Hernandez, who only went two innings in Boston on Wednesday, may have to be pressed into service if Vance Worley doesn't go deep into the game.
So who would take his next start? Well, it's entirely speculation at this point. But it's worth pointing out, at least, that Kyle Gibson pitched a four-hit shutout against Toledo on Wednesday -- and so the former first-round pick would be in line to pitch again on Monday. Hmm.
It's also possible, of course, that the Twins, in order to avoid making a roster move, might simply ask Ryan Pressly or even Anthony Swarzak, both of whom have been starting pitchers in the past and who are stretched out now, to take the spot start.
A few other leftovers from Friday's loss:
-- The Twins came into Friday's game with a 2.63 bullpen ERA, which is second-best (behind Cleveland) in the major leagues. The seven relievers have been almost uniformly effective, so much so that the Twins aren't sure what to do with relievers like Tim Wood (before he got hurt) or Pedro Hernandez (before he became the fifth starter).
So it's a little weird that they are only 1-3 in extra innings this season, after losing 9-6 to Baltimore on Friday. And all three extra-inning losses have come in the past week -- 7-6 at Cleveland last Friday, 6-5 in Boston on Monday and tonight's big blown lead.
-- They've been victimized by Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, too, but Chris Davis sure can look like the scariest batter the Twins face. His smooth, easy swing produced three doubles tonight, and he's now 6-for-17 against the Twins this year, with four extra-base hits -- remember his grand slam in Baltimore? -- and eight RBIs. In four games.
-- When Aaron Hicks singled in his first at-bat tonight, I was certain this would be the first multi-hit game of his career. But Hicks flew out, grounded out and struck out the rest of the way, then was pinch-hit for by Chris Parmelee in the 10th. That extends to 30 his streak of games with zero or one hit, but it's a long way from record territory. In fact, it's not even halfway to the record for players named Hicks. Joe Hicks, an outfielder with the White Sox, Senators and Mets in the early 1960s, played 69 straight games before his first two-hit game.
It's a beautiful night for baseball, so maybe Twins fans -- who were lined up early outside the gates for Josh Willingham bobblehead night -- wouldn't mind sticking around Target Field a little longer than normal. Then again, it's one thing if a game is long because there is a lot of action; when it's long because the pitcher is pokey, fans get frustrated.
So do teammates, which is one reason the Twins have emphasized to Mike Pelfrey, tonight's starter against Baltimore in the first game of a nine-game homestand, that pace is important. "We've kind of beat it into his head," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You don't want [your fielders] standing there. When the pitcher is throwing the ball, you're paying attention. Everything is better."
The Twins already have played five nine-inning games this season that dragged on for more than 3 hours, 30 minutes, and Pelfrey has started three of them. In part, it's because he is trying to work his way back from elbow reconstruction surgery a year ago, and he's being deliberate about making sure his mechanics are in order. But he's also a bit of a slow worker at heart, so the Twins' philosophy is new to him.
"He understands it. He's trying," Gardenhire said. "He's definitely making an effort."
Gardenhire's aversion to slow pitchers dates back to his playing days, when he was coming up the the same New York Mets system that Pelfrey did.
"I played behind Ron Darling," Gardenhire said, when asked about his own experience with dawdling pitchers as a shortstop prospect in the 1970s and '80s. "[Second baseman] Wally Backman and I would scream at him at Triple-A. We would scream at him -- 'You're killing us.' "
The Yale graduate, though, was unmoved by his infielders' pleas.
"Ronnie was way too intellectual for me and Wally. We know he called us something, but he was way above us," Gardenhire said with a laugh. "He had nasty stuff, but it was like he wanted to invent things out there."
Pelfrey, who allowed only one run over six innings in his last start Sunday in Cleveland, will be facing a team that moved into first place last night. In fact, the Orioles are the third first-place team the Twins have faced in their last four series; they knocked the Red Sox into a first-place tie with Baltimore and New York by taking three of four games in Fenway Park.
The Twins arrived in Minneapolis at 2:15 a.m. last night, so Joe Mauer is getting the night off from catching. Oswaldo Arcia, the team's hottest hitter, is back in right, sidelining Chris Parmelee for the third straight game. Pedro Florimon is out of the lineup due to a slight hamstring strain, but the Twins don't think it's anything serious. And Jamey Carroll replaces Brian Dozier at second base because he is 6-for-15 (.400) with four walks against Baltimore starter Jason Hammel.
Jason Hammel RHP
Mike Pelfrey RHP
A handful of mistakes made Sunday's 4-2 victory over the Indians closer than it should have been, manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We kind of butchered a couple of things," he said.
Chief among them was Josh Willingham's baserunning gaffe in the sixth inning, when Justin Morneau hit a no-out, bases-loaded single to right. Willingham was on first base, and didn't see third-base coach Joe Vavra stop Joe Mauer at third, playing it safe with no outs, "as he should have," Gardenhire said.
Willingham was halfway to third when he realized he had nowhere to run, and he was tagged out. The Indians escaped the inning without allowing another run.
"Willie just saw the ball went past the cutoff man, and he took off. But you have to know the situation," Gardenhire said. "That kind of side-railed us a little bit."
In the fifth inning, Aaron Hicks missed a hit-and-run sign on one pitch, Gardenhire said, and then Oswaldo took off for second on the next pitch, believing the play was still on. He was thrown out easily. "We got that one straightened out, too," the manager said.
In the third inning, Indians runner Asdrubel Cabrera appeared beaten on a stolen base attempt at third, but umpire Tim Timmons ruled that Plouffe missed the tag. The call resulted in the only run allowed by Mike Pelfrey, since Mark Reynolds followed with a sacrifice fly.
Was the call correct? "No comment," Plouffe said. "He saw one thing and I saw another."
Gardenhire complained, but Timmons told the manager he was "100 percent certain" of the call.
"I can't tell [on a TV replay]. I don't know if he touched him or not," Gardenhire said. "I can't argue with a guy who says he's 100 percent sure. ... Well, I can, but I didn't."
Pretty strong group of pitchers working today in the Twins' minor-league system, especially when you consider two of them have major-league experience.
Samuel Deduno, out for a month with a groin strain, was activated today by the Twins, and he'll make his 2013 debut for the Rochester Red Wings at Columbus this afternoon. To make room on the roster, the Twins released outfielder Brandon Boggs, who was hitting .184 in 21 games. (Liam Hendriks won last night's game, by the way, and Clete Thomas and Jeff Clement each homered twice.)
In Portland, Maine, top prospect Alex Meyer starts for New Britain. In Fort Myers, Fla., Cole De Vries, recovering from a forearm strain, makes his first rehab start for the Miracle against Tampa. And in South Bend, Ind., Jose Berrios is on the mound for Cedar Rapids.
The Twins will use Mike Pelfrey here at Progressive Field, and Ron Gardenhire said before the game that he was encouraged by the righthander's last start, though he gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings. Pelfrey has never faced the Indians.
Justin Morneau was in Gardenhire's original lineup as the first baseman, but the manager changed his mind when Morneau mentioned he had a little soreness in his legs. He'll serve as DH instead, with Chris Parmelee moving to first base and Oswaldo Arcia, originally set to DH, moving to right field instead.
It's getaway day for the Twins, who depart for Boston immediately after the game. They're 1-4 on this trip, and are trying to avoid their first three-game sweep by the Indians since Sept. 2011.
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