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.
The Twins began their off-season roster maintenance on Monday by outrighting two veterans who spent most of 2014 in Class AAA.
Infielder Doug Bernier and righthander Yohan Pino were removed from the Twins' roster, freeing up spots for minor-leaguers who must be added to the roster this winter or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft in December.
Bernier elected to become a free agent rather than accept assignment to Class AAA Rochester, though he could be signed again later this winter. Pino is eligible for free agency as well, as a six-year minor-league veteran.
Pino, a 30-year-old righthander from Venezuela, made his major-league debut in June, and started 11 games for the Twins, going 2-5 with a 5.07 ERA. The Venezuelan, originally a Twins signee in 2005, signed as a free agent from the Reds organization last winter and enjoyed one of the strongest seasons of his career at Rochester. Pino went 10-2 with a 2.47 ERA in 16 games, including nine starts, to earn the major-league opportunity.
Bernier, 34, also had a good season at Rochester, batting .280 as the Red Wings' starting shortstop and earning praise from Twins officials as one of the team's clubhouse leaders. For the second straight year, he finished the season in Minnesota, though he made only nine plate appearances in September, going 2-for-7.
With the removal of Bernier and Pino, the Twins now have 37 players on their roster; Rule 5-eligible players like Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer must be added to the roster over the next month.
Twins officials are in Fort Myers, Fla., this week to hold their annual organization meetings, evaluating players and staff and planning for the 2015 season.
DETROIT -- There's an all-business air of anticipation around Comerica Park, everywhere but in the Twins' clubhouse. There, it's the last day of school, with players discarding old equipment and preparing to head home. About half the team won't even go back to Minnesota tonight, once the season ends.
But while the Twins contemplated the finish, the Tigers were on the field, taking batting practice, which is rare on Sundays. Things are about to get intense for Detroit, starting with today's game. The Tigers must win one game over the next three days in order to advance to the division series against Baltimore -- beat the Twins today (or benefit from a Royals loss in Chicago), and they win the division. If not, they'll play a Game No. 163 here Monday against Kansas City, with the winner claiming the division title. If the Tigers haven't won by then, they'll advance to Tuesday's wild-card game with either Oakland or Seattle.
So today isn't win-or-else for Detroit, but the Tigers would surely love to avoid all those complications with a win. That's why David Price is on the mound, and the Tigers can't rest their regulars.
Kyle Gibson makes the start for the Twins, hoping to win his third game in a row, a nice way to head into the offseason. With three runs, the Twins can set a new record for runs scored against the Tigers, and also double their scoring total against Detroit from last year (61).
Here are the lineups for the 2014 season finale:
J.D. Martinez LF
For a 70-win team, the Twins sure had a lot to talk about on Saturday. Here are some leftovers on the eve of the season finale:
TWO BASERUNNING MISTAKES: The Twins scored a dozen runs and won easily, so Ron Gardenhire didn't get too upset about a baserunning mistake that cost the Twins at least one run on Saturday. In the sixth inning, after the Twins had already put six runs on the scoreboard, Chris Herrmann lined a single to center with runners on first and second. Oswaldo Arcia rounded third and headed for home, while Eduardo Escobar got to second and just kept going. The throw from Ezequiel Carrera was to third, and Escobar was tagged out to end the inning. Not only did Escobar violate baseball prudence -- never make the final out at third -- but Arcia's run didn't count because the out was recorded before he touched home plate. The manager was not happy.
"Arcia slowed up knowing they didn't have a play on him, and Esco's running in behind him. Esco probably needs to stay on second base, and Arcia needs to run hard all the way," Gardenhire said. "We talked to them about it in the dugout. Luckily, we won the ballgame and you can joke around a little bit. But when those games are tight and everything's on the line, you've got to do better than that."
SANTANA SCARE: The Twins got a scare in the seventh inning, when Danny Santana appeared to be injured on a play that was eerily similar to the one that resulted in a concussion to Justin Morneau four years ago. While taking a throw to record a force out at second base, Santana's right knee struck baserunner Kevin Romine's helmet as he slid into the base. Santana fell awkwardly, then laid on the ground for a couple of minutes, grabbing his knee. But he finally got up and walked around, then decided to stay in the game. "It's uncomfortable for a little bit, but as soon as Dr. Arcia came in there and called him some names, he was fine," Gardenhire joked. Romine apparently was OK, too, with no sign of a concussion from the blow.
GET THE SURE OUT: Ricky Nolasco pitched out of bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the sixth inning, partly because of a spectacular diving stop by Brian Dozier, and a nice stretch by Joe Mauer at first base to catch Dozier's hurried throw while keeping a toe on the bag. One run scored in the inning, though, on the play just before Dozier's gem, a tapper up the first-base line. Nolasco grabbed the ball in a hurry, but chose to concede the run and throw to first base rather than home. The 6-1 score at the time was part of the reason, he said. "I had my back to home plate. I'm not going to turn around and force anything with a 6-1 lead. I'd rather take the out and take my chances with the next guy," he said. "The last thing I want to do is spin around and launch the ball to the backstop or something, and then they get a huge rally."
He's been victimized by rallies before. Nolasco has lost two victories in the past month due to the bullpen's failure to hold his leads, but there was litle chance of that Saturday. Nolasco, 6-12 in his first season with the Twins, recorded his first win since July 1, and admitted it felt good. "Absoutely. I've always been a firm believer in that," he said. "The main goal is team wins, but it's nice to have those W's next to your name."
HE'S TROLLING YOU: Gardenhire had another message for his critics on Saturday. "I get [complaints] all the time," he said. "I can throw it back every once in awhile."
The Twins' manager did just that on Friday, first by ordering Eduardo Escobar to sacrifice with two runners on base and no outs while holding a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning, then by taunting those who disagree with the strategy after the game.
"I know people hate it when we bunt. Everybody says the stats and numbers tell you not to do it," he said. "But you know what, when you put pressure on the defense, they've got to make a perfect play. It didn't happen, we scored runs, so ha-ha!"
He doesn't enjoy the criticism, Gardenhire said, but he long ago realized it was part of the job that he can't change. With the rise of social media and the increasing number of articles written about his team, he hears a lot more "suggestions" about how to do his job.
"There's a lot of opinions out there. I mean, if I bunt, I hear about it. Why would you bunt, give up an out?" he said. "Well, bunting's been in baseball as long as I've been in, [and] we're going to bunt when I think we should bunt."
DETROIT -- Of all the teams he's faced this season, Ricky Nolasco has been most effective against the Detroit Tigers. The Kansas City Royals are counting on that to continue tonight.
Nolasco owns a 2.03 ERA in two starts against the Tigers this season, including eight shutout innings at Target Field on Sept. 16. If he can do something similar tonight, when he faces Tigers rookie Kyle Lobstein, the AL Central race will come down to the season's final day -- or longer. The Royals trail Detroit by one game, and face the White Sox tonight in Chicago. If there is a tie, a one-game playoff will take place Monday, with the winner advancing to the division series, and the loser forced into the wild-card playoff game.
So there's actual pennant-race pressure in Comerica Park, and the Twins are enjoying their chance to take part, even from last place. "I'm going to approach it as a must-win," said Kyle Gibson, who will start the finale on Sunday. "You can learn a lot from seeing this kind of pressure."
Here are the lineups for tonight's game:
V. Martinez DH
J.D. Martinez LF
A.J. Achter and his first big-league win were the story tonight, but there were others. Here are a few leftovers:
FIRST-PITCH COOKIE: It took the Twins only two pitches to take a lead against Rick Porcello on Friday. Danny Santana whacked the first pitch of the game to the fence in left-center for a double, and he scored when Brian Dozier lined Porcello's next pitch into left field. The double was a bit of a breakthrough for the Twins' leadoff hitter, manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We've been talking to him about being a leadoff hitter, taking pitches and everything. But we also talked to him about, if they throw a cookie [on the] first pitch, hit it," Gardenhire said. "And today, he had a big smile on his face, because that's the first time he's done that in a long time -- swung at first pitch and actually whacked it." He has a point: Santana has only put the first pitch in play 33 times all season, but he is 17-for-33 (.515) when he does so.
NO GET-ME-OVERS: Anthony Swarzak sounded like a man who has a new approach -- never give in -- after his four-plus-inning start on Friday. "I gave it everything I had out there. I didn't take one pitch off. there wasn't one get-me-over [pitch] tonight," he said. "I went at them with my best stuff, and they strung some hits together in a row at the end." He didn't allow a hit through the first three innings, but ended up surrendering three runs. "I felt great. The first three innings speak for themselves, and even the fourth and fifth inning, I felt great. To be honest, I just couldn't execute with two strikes."
GARDY DEFENDS BUNT: With the Twins leading 4-0 in the fourth inning, Chris Herrmann led off with a double and Aaron Hicks drew a walk. Gardenhire then ordered Eduardo Escobar to sacrifice, and his bunt moved the runners up to second and third. Danny Santana struck out, but when Brian Dozier's slow roller to third resulted in a bad throw by third baseman Nick Castellanos (though first baseman Miguel Cabrera probably should have caught the bounce), both runners scored. Gardenhire has heard from critics, on his radio show and elsewhere, who don't like sacrifice bunts, so he was ready to defend the bunt after the game. "I know people hate it when we bunt. Everybody says the stats and numbers tell you not to do it," he said with tongue in cheek. "But you know what, when you put pressure on the defense, they've got to make a perfect play. It didn't happen, we scored runs, so ha-ha!"
DETROIT -- Another Twins pitcher makes his final start of the season tonight, only this one isn't a starter. Anthony Swarzak wraps up his third full season in the Twins' bullpen by getting another fill-in start for Tommy Milone as the Twins try to delay Detroit's division-winning celebration by another day.
It's Swarzak's fourth start of the season, and third in a row since Milone came down with a tired arm and a stiff neck in mid-September, allowing the 29-year-old righthander to escape his bullpen role temporarily. "The wonderful thing about him is you can use him in all kinds of different ways," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He can throw 50 pitches and two days later, he's back in the bullpen and ready to do it again."
Swarzak will face Tigers righthander Rick Porcello as Detroit tries to reduce its magic number to clinch the AL Central from 2 to 0 and set up an ALDS series with Baltimore next week. Gardenhire hopes Swarzak picked up a blueprint for how to pitch against these Tigers last night from Trevor May.
"He's got to use that change-up. We saw May last night, once he got into using that change-up, it got them off of everything," Gardenhire said. "[May's] change-up was very good, he got a lot of big outs with it, and Swarzie's going to have to do the same thing."
It wouldn't be surprising to see Milone pitch too, in relief of Swarzak. A cortisone shot has taken care of the neck pain, Milone believes, and the Twins would like to get him an inning or two to send him into the off-season certain of his healthy.
Jordan Schafer remains out of action with a nerve problem in his right elbow, so Chris Herrmann gets another start in left field, and Eduardo Escober moves to third base once again, filling in for Trevor Plouffe. Here are tonight's lineups from Comerica Park:
V. Martinez DH
J.D. Martinez LF
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