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.
Brian Dozier isn't sure whether leadoff home runs are something prone to hot streaks. "If I hit one today, come back and ask me again," he said with a laugh.
But Dozier has made a habit of the first-inning home run lately. Saturday's leadoff shot was his third first-inning home run this year, and second in three days. Five of his last eight have come in the first inning, in fact. Thursday's homer against Oakland's Dan Straily wasn't a leadoff blast only because he was batting second behind Darin Mastroianni, but it had the same effect.
"It's just trying to set a tone with the starter, to see his pitches. I'm not looking to jump on a fastball, but sometimes you can" because the pitcher is also trying to establish his pitches, Dozier said.
The early home runs have put Dozier in an unlikely spot -- tied for the AL lead in home runs. Tell me who doesn't fit in this group -- Jose Abreu, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista ... and Brian Dozier. All have four home runs this season, more than David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Robertson Cano, Mike Trout, Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, etc.
"It's kind of fun, isn't it?" Dozier laughed. I didn't get the feeling he expects to hang with that company the rest of the season (or even the month), but he's enjoying being able to contribute despite his .182 average.
In fact, the Twins' surprising offense, second highest-scoring in the league so far, is near the top of all three Triple Crown categories. Dozier is tied for the home run lead, Chris Colabello is tied for the lead in RBIs, and Jason Kubel's .405 average is second behind Alexi Ramirez's .413.
Dozier is batting first again today, as the Twins try to sweep the Royals. At the bottom of the order is Pedro Florimon, still floundering at 2-for-28 on the season. Eduardo Nunez hit a home run for Class AAA Rochester yesterday, and manager Ron Gardenhire said before the game that "we're going to have some big decisions to make soon."
The Twins today face Jason Vargas, the Royals' big free-agent addition to their rotation. It's overcast and cold, 43 degrees at the moment, but the rain is supposed to hold off until late afternoon. Here are today's lineups:
It's getting hard to keep the losing streaks straight. Let's see, it's nine straight losses at Target Field. It's nine straight losses to the A's. It's four straight to the Royals, but seven straight in this ballpark.
Wow, where did all the optimism go? The Twins came home on Monday relatively certain that this season would be better, that they could be a .500 team on the road and better than that at home. Suddenly, after a sweep at the hands of Oakland, all seems gloomy at Target Field once more. The clubhouse was whisper-quiet after the game.
By far the biggest setback Thursday, however, was on the mound, where the 2013 Mike Pelfrey, the one who falls behind every hitter and slows the game way down, reappeared. Pelfrey, many observers in Fort Myers asserted, would be a different pitcher this season, that being two years removed from Tommy John surgery would change his approach and his results.
Maybe it will. Four innings into his start in Cleveland last Friday, I was ready to believe he was a totally different pitcher. But after no-hitting the Indians for five innings, he suddenly fell apart last week. And then Thursday, it was like a time warp -- back to the old habits, and his "this is unacceptable" self-assessment in the clubhouse.
I keep saying, the fans of this team want to believe things are better, but their pitching is making it awfully hard. We heard all winter about how they had addressed their starting rotation by spending $84 million on Pelfrey, Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco. I expected those guys to make a big splash early, something that would really enliven the atmosphere around this team.
Maybe they'll be as good as advertised, but that show-us moment has been lost. Two starts apiece for that trio, they own ERAs of 7.84 (Pelfrey), 7.20 (Hughes) and 9.00 (Nolasco). No wonder it's getting so quiet around Target Field.
Darin Mastroianni moves into the leadoff spot today, having arrived from Rochester to fill in for Oswaldo Arcia. Ron Gardenhire said he likes "all the things he can do at the top of the lineup," which translates to, "maybe we can steal a base." Brian Dozier has three, so he's been trying to ignite things at the top of the lineup, but Dozier's on-base percentage is .286 so far, so his opportunities have been limited. Dozier moves down to second in today's lineup.
Josh Willingham is not available again today, since some swelling eventually showed up in his left wrist. "We've got to let that go down" before he can prepare to return, the manager said, but he hopes Willingham will make progress today. He's hitting in the batting cage this afternoon, hoping to work his way up to full batting practice by tomorrow.
Eduardo Nunez, the shortstop the Twins plan to consider as an alternative to Pedro Florimon, did not work out during the 10 days after the Yankees designated him for assignment, so reports from Rochester are that he has some catching up to do. The Red Wings are giving him extra batting practice and ground balls in the infield, and he'll start today as he ramps up again for the season.
The Twins play their ninth consecutive day game today, and it's a nice, brisk, sunny day for it. They'll play their first night game tomorrow, when Kansas City arrives at Target Field.
Here are today's lineups as the Twins try to break their eight-game losing streak against Oakland:
It's interesting to watch the little side effects that are becoming apparent in Major League Baseball's replay-challenge system. Some things we didn't expect are becoming the most noticeable aspects of the system, while the seamless, barely-notice-it's-there process that baseball hoped for hasn't happened yet. The Twins know all about that -- they've already had two lengthy replay delays in the season's first week, and both of them affected Kevin Correia's pitching.
The long delay to get a ruling on today's fair ball / foul ball call actually made sense to me, since it was extremely difficult to see on the replay. It was one of those plays where you have to determine whether the ball disappears behind the pole or remains visible, and I'm not surprised it took a few minutes of checking the various replays to make certain.
Those sort of replay delays shouldn't be too common; that's not the slow-down-the-game problem that is developing. No, the real way the game will be delayed, it turns out, is by the number of times managers come out of the dugout after a close play and stall while awaiting word from their clubhouse if the play is worth challenging, if there is evidence to overturn the call. The fact that one side or the other may dispute just about every close call, even if they ultimately don't challenge it, might turn out to be the bigger problem.
Then there's the slowness, the clunkiness of the process itself. Asking for a replay, walking over to the dugouts and putting the headsets on just seems too ceremonial, too formal. Why not equip one of the base umpires with a headset he wears the entire game, and let him simply get an answer ASAP when a play is challenged? This is a problem in the NFL, too; the process of running off the field delays the action on it.
Still, you don't hear anyone complaining about getting the calls right. The problem is with the time of games, and that's not just a replay problem. The firt three innings of today's game took more than 90 minutes, and that wasn't all because of the replay.
Looks like a spectacular day for the Twins' home opener at Target Field, sunny and warm. Maybe the Twins' weather luck will return this year.
Chris Herrmann has arrived and will be in uniform for today's opener against Oakland. But instead of replacing one of the Twins' sore-handed outfielders, he's assuming the roster spot of Jason Bartlett, who sprained his left ankle Sunday while sliding home to score from first base on Chris Colabello's double.
That's an interesting choice, but a logical one if Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia aren't injured enough to warrent two weeks out of action. Basically, the Twins have three players who have injuries that will keep them out of the lineup for a few days, but who don't need two weeks off. But the Twins are too short-handed not to add another player, so they had to make a calculation: Which of the three can they most afford to do without for a couple weeks?
By placing Bartlett on the DL, they give Willingham and Arcia two more days (with the off day Tuesday) to get healthy enough to play. Arcia planned to test his sore right wrist today and Willingham's left wrist was bruised when he was hit by a pitch yesterday in Cleveland.
If one of them is not ready Wednesday, look for another roster move. In the meantime, Herrmann went 7-for-17 during spring training and in addition to playing the outfield, he can serve as a third catcher. Plus, he's been taking ground balls at first base; that's where he was stationed during yesterday's game in Rochester when word came that he was needed in Minneapolis. He caught a 5:45 a.m. flight this morning to get here.
With outfielders suddenly scarce, Gardenhire said Chris Colabello will play right field today, a position he's played before (though without distinction, let's say). He's not an outfielder, Gardenhire said, but he'll do for a day while the Twins straighten out their roster. Tomorrow is an off day, so they hope to be shorthanded only for one day.
Here are the lineups for today's opener, Kasmir vs. Correia:
CLEVELAND -- The weather has greatly improved here today, with bright sunshine and temperatures in the mid-40s, headed above 50. That's quite a change, after two days of players huddled around heaters for the first two games. It's so nice, the Indians plan to take batting practice, something most teams normally skip on Sunday. Not sure if the Twins plan to do the same.
The Twins fly home after today's game, and open their home season tomorrow at Target Field against the A's. But first, they'll try to finish off a split of the six-game road trip, which would be quite a feat after they lost the first two and trailed in the third.
They'll use a virtually identical lineup today to the one that earned Ron Gardenhire's 1,000th win yesterday, with only one substitution: Kurt Suzuki back behind the plate, instead of Josmil Pinto. Oswaldo Arcia remains out with a sore hand, though his trigger finger is OK; he was racking up a high score in one of those deer-hunting video games in the clubhouse.
Here are the lineups for today's series ender:
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