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 played their most complete game of the season in Friday night’s 11-0 victory over Cleveland.
Pitching? Scott Diamond delivered the team’s second complete game of the season and first of his career. It was a three-hit shutout with no walks and six strikeouts.
He said he’s learned a lot from Carl Pavano, who had 10 complete games for the Twins over the previous two seasons.
“I owe it all to him,” Diamond said. “He’s really helped me get to a mental state that’s helped me get through the games, especially when I’m in trouble and what can get me out of the inning.”
Offense? The Twins got three-run homers from Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham and finished with 15 hits.
They scored their first eight runs with two outs. After batting .140 (7-for-50) with runners in scoring position during their last road trip, they went 7-for-14 in those situations against Cleveland.
“That’s some of the things that really let us down in Chicago,” Manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We put a lot of men on the bases in Chicago and didn’t come up with anything. It starts with the big guys. When they put it in the seats, it makes it look pretty easy.”
Defense? Shortstop Brian Dozier and second baseman Alexi Casilla combined to make three terrific plays, turning would-be hits into outs.
“If we could play like that every day, we’d be alright,” Morneau said.
The Twins scored a season-high 19 runs Monday night and matched a season-high with 20 hits, but if you had to pick the most encouraging development, it was probably Justin Morneau getting a season-high four hits.
Morneau, who had two doubles, extended his hitting streak to 14 games. He was batting .229 when that streak began on June 29, and now he's batting .257.
“He’s got a smile on his face, a pretty good smile,” Manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He pulled one pretty hard [on his fourth-inning single down the first-base line], and had some Ichiros the other way, which is a good thing.”
I’ve never heard that term before, but an Ichiro could be defined as a ball hit to third base by a lefty. Morneau doesn’t quite have Ichiro Suzuki’s speed, but you get the point.
“They’re playing the shift on him, and [Morneau’s] slapping the ball around, taking advantage of how they’re trying to pitch him,” Gardenhire said.
* After lining an RBI single to center in the first inning, Joe Mauer led off the second with a home run down the right-field line, stretching the Twins lead to 8-1.
It was Mauer’s sixth homer of the season and his fourth career homer at Target Field. Most of Mauer’s 90 career home runs have gone to left field, as this was just the second one this season that he’s pulled down the line.
Quibble with that all you want, but he's batting .328/.414/.454 and has now played in 81 games (one shy of last year's mark), with 39 starts at catcher.
* The Twins were concerned about Scott Diamond’s first-half workload -- 113 2/3 innings pitched between Class AAA Rochester and Minnesota -- so they used the All-Star break to give him an 11-day break between starts.
He said he felt strong throughout Monday’s outing, as he tossed 100 pitches in sweltering heat, allowing five runs on nine hits in six innings.
“Physically I felt great,” Diamond said. “That time off definitely helped.”
* Asked which of his plays was tougher -- the sliding catch to rob Steve Tolleson in the sixth, or the leaping catch into the center-field wall to rob J.J. Hardy in the seventh -- Denard Span gave an honest answer.
“The J.J. one because I don’t do that too often," he said. "Normally I get to the wall, and I get a little stage fright, a little scared. Sliding catches -- I do that more often. So that was definitely one that I liked the best out of the two.”
Gardenhire made a note of another play Span should have made. In the third inning, Adam Jones hit a pop fly that dropped between Span and left fielder Josh Willingham, with nobody taking charge.
"I think [Span] was pretty upset with himself on that one," Gardenhire said. "He knows a center fielder most of the time catches that. But better than having a collision. He had some good swings and made some big plays out there.”
Twins catcher Joe Mauer remains day-to-day with a bruised right quadriceps muscle, Twins general manager Terry Ryan said Monday.
Mauer got kneed in the quad by Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks on a slide into home plate Sunday.
"It's not anything we need to worry about," Ryan said. "There's still some tightness, but I think he'll be OK in the near future."
Twins closer Matt Capps was unavailable to pitch on Saturday and Sunday because of a sore shoulder.
"Capps is fine," Ryan said. "They're both day-to-day."
Ryan said he has no concerns about either player needing to go on the disabled list. The Twins are off Monday and flying to Pittsburgh, where they'll begin a three-game series with the Pirates on Tuesday.
Three days after notching his first major league victory, Twins pitcher Cole De Vries is heading back to Class AAA Rochester.
The Eden Prairie native went 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA in three starts, but the Twins optioned him back to Triple-A on Thursday to clear a roster spot for Chris Parmelee, who is heading back to Minnesota after batting .375 with four home runs and 12 RBI in 15 games for Rochester.
The Twins had been hoping to trim back to 12 pitchers on their 25-man roster, allowing them to bolster their bench, and they played short in Kansas City this week with Joe Mauer out with a sprained right thumb.
With off days today and Monday, the Twins can get by with four starting pitchers for now.
FORT MYERS, FLA. -- The Twins optioned infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka to Class AAA Rochester this morning. Nishioka, who is on the second year of a three-year contract, was believed to be fighting for a utility infield spot on the Opening Day roster.
Nishioka, 27, batted .240 (6-for-25) in nine Grapefruit League games this spring. He had several defensive miscues early in camp.
"It's definitely tough to swallow, but it's not like I'm getting baseball taken away from me," Nishioka said, through translator Ryo Shinkawa. "I came from Japan to challenge in this country and I’m just going to not give up and look for an opportunity to be back up."
Nishioka was a Gold Glove winner and batting champion for the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Japanese Pacific League in 2010. The Twins invested $14.6 million to acquire him, including a $5.3 million posting fee.
Last year, Nishioka broke his leg in the Twins' sixth game of the season. He returned from the disabled list in mid-June, but struggled, batting .226 with a .278 on-base percentage.
Nishioka will make $3 million this year, even if he stays at Rochester.
Asked what General Manager Terry Ryan and Manager Ron Gardenhire told Nishioka to work on in Rochester, the infielder said, "To slow the game down and to be able to be back to my old self, how I was playing in Japan."
Besides Nishioka, the Twins also optioned reliever Carlos Gutierrez and outfielder Rene Tosoni to Rochester. The team re-assigned nine others to minor-league camp: pitchers Jason Bulger, Luis Perdomo, Daryl Thompson, Esmerling Vasquez and P.J. Walters; catchers Chris Herrmann and Dan Rohlfing; infielder Aaron Bates and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez.
The Twins now have 45 players on their spring training roster.
FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Don Mincher, a key player on the Twins' 1965 American League championship team who went on to become a two-time All-Star first baseman, died Sunday night in Alabama, the Twins confirmed this morning. He was 73.
Mincher retired as president of the Class AA Southern League last fall because of health problems, according to Ballpark Digest.
He made the move with the Washington Senators to Minnesota in 1961. In 1965, when Harmon Killebrew injured his arm, Mincher stepped in at first base and helped lead the Twins to their first pennant.
In December 1966, the Twins traded Mincher to the Angels in a deal for pitcher Dean Chance. Two years later, the Seattle Pilots selected Mincher in the expansion draft. He was an All-Star for the Angels in 1967 and for the Pilots in 1969 and continued playing through 1972.
In his 13-year big league career, Mincher batted .249 with 200 home runs and a .798 OPS. Whenever Twins teams are hit with injuries, Tony Oliva cites Mincher's 1965 contributions as a reason things can turn out OK.
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