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.
Matt Shoemaker hasn't given up a run since Aug. 16, hasn't lost a game since Aug. 6 (a 2-1 loss), and hasn't ever faced the Minnesota Twins. The latter fact changes tonight, and we'll see whether the first two change as well.
Shoemaker is one of the great stories of this baseball season, an undrafted free agent who got an unexpected chance to start for the Angels and has become the ace of their staff now that Garrett Richards is injured. Since July 1, he's been the winningest pitcher in the American League, going 9-2 with a 1.98 ERA. For the season, he's 14-4 with a 3.14 ERA.
He's one of the most unexpected successes of the season, in other words. Tonight, he faces one of the biggest disappointments, in Twins starter Ricky Nolasco. The second-highest-paid pitcher in Twins history, Nolasco is 5-10 with a 5.96 ERA; he's 0-3 with a 6.20 ERA since returning from an elbow injury on Aug. 15, and that includes seven shutout innings at Kansas City.
It's quite a contrast, and a depressing one for the Twins. Here are the lineups that each pitcher will face:
BALTIMORE -- Aaron Hicks will get another chance to prove he's the Twins' future in the outfield, and this time he'll have most of a season in the high minors behind him.
Hicks was one of eight players who will be added to the Twins' roster on Tuesday, when the team opens a six-game homestand at Target Field. Seven of the eight callups have previous major-league experience; only A.J. Achter, a righthanded reliever who saved six games at Class AAA Rochester this season, is new to the major leagues.
Along with Hicks and Achter, the Twins will add:
-- Chris Herrmann, whose ability to play both outfield and catcher give him value, though he's batted only .180 in 82 major league games.
-- Josmil Pinto, who hit .342 in a September tryout with the Twins last year, but was demoted to Rochester, where he hit .279 with six homers, in May. Pinto is the Twins' top catching prospect, but has had issues with his defense.
-- Doug Bernier, a 34-year-old utility infielder whose callup is largely in recognition of his solid season as a leader in Rochester's clubhouse.
-- Michael Tonkin, who spent a month with the Twins this season with a 5.84 ERA, then saved 10 games in the Red Wings' bullpen.
-- Logan Darnell, a lefthanded starter who made three appearances for the Twins earlier this year and went 7-6 with a 3.60 ERA for Rochester.
-- Lester Oliveros, a 23-year-old hard throwing righthander who struck out 51 in 34 innings at Rochester.
The contracts of Oliveros, Bernier and Achter were "selected," in order to be added to the 40-man roster.
Notably absent from September callups: Twins veterans Chris Colabello, who collected 39 RBIs in two stints in Minnesota this season, but who, at 30, appears to have lost his DH/first base job to Kennys Vargas; and Pedro Florimon, the Twins' starting shortstop at the beginning of the season.
Hicks' promotion might be the most significant, considering he began each of the past two seasons as the Twins' starter in center field, only to hit less than .200 each time. After his demotion this year, Hicks spent 43 games in Class AA New Britain, and 23 at Rochester, and regained some of the form at the plate that made him the Twins' No. 1 pick in 2008.
In addition to the players, the Twins will add an extra coach. Tim Dougherty, hitting coach for Class AAA Rochester, will spend the first two weeks of September with the Twins, and Red Wings manager Gene Glynn will replace him from Sept. 15-28.
Three leftovers from a sweaty afternoon in Baltimore:
WHOSE POPUP IS IT? Ron Gardenhire said Trevor Plouffe needed to field David Lough's sixth-inning bunt, an odd play that might have had major consequences on the outcome of Sunday's game. Maybe he meant that Plouffe should have been playing further in and charging harder. But Plouffe might also be right that the Twins were just unlucky, and the ball landed at the perfect spot. The Orioles led 4-2 at the time, but had two runners on base and no outs. Lough squared to bunt -- he also sacrificed in the first inning -- but popped the ball up about 15 feet from home plate. Everyone sort of stopped when the ball popped in the air, figuring it was a major break for the Twins, but nobody ran after it. When it fell, catcher Eric Fryer got to it too late to throw Lough out, and the big inning was on. Adam Jones followed with a two-run double, Nolasco was removed from the game, and J.J. Hardy launched a grand slam shortly thereafter. It was probably Plouffe's play, but I'm not sure he could have got an out, either.
ROOKIES ON A ROLL: Danny Santana had another hit on Sunday, a two-run home run. Kennys Vargas had, of all things, an infield hit in five at-bats. That brings the rookies' total to 79 hits in August, the most by rookie teammates in one month since 1962, when Bernie Allen (44) and Rich Rollins (40) set the Twins' record with 84. Santana, with 41 hits, and Vargas, with 38, passed Fred Lynn and Jim Rice on Sunday; the Twins can only hope these rookies have as successful careers as those former Red Sox.
GOOD MONTH, BAD MONTH: All 18 batters in the two starting lineups had hits on Sunday, the first time that's happened in more than a year -- since May 17, 2013, in a Tampa Bay-Baltimore game had the same outcome. Impressive, but it didn't make the Twins feel any better. They've been hitting all month, for all the good it's done them -- they finished August with an 11-18 record. The Twins finished August with 159 runs, more than any team in the major leagues, and the most since 2009, when they scored 168 in May. But the pitching, particularly the past two weeks, has been abysmal.
BALTIMORE -- You can officially scratch Alex Meyer from the Twins' September call-up list. Meyer went on the Class AAA disabled list instead on Sunday, one day after leaving his final start of the season after he couldn't get loose on the mound.
The Twins list Meyer's ailment as "shoulder inflammation," and I'm sure he'll be evaluated further now that his season is over. Twins farm director Brad Steil termed Meyer's departure as "precautionary" on Saturday, but it's just one more thing for the Twins to worry about as they head into the offseason next month.
Meyer's condition gives another pitching prospect an opportunity, though. J.O. Berrios, who began the season at Fort Myers and spent the past six weeks at New Britain, has been called up to Rochester to start tonight's game in Pawtucket -- a critical game for the Red Wings, who must win both their remaining games to have a chance (they need a Buffalo loss as well) at winning a wild-card playoff berth.
Ryan O'Rourke, a left-handed reliever, is with him, as a AAA replacement for Aaron Thompson, who is on a major-league roster today for the first time in since 2011. Thompson said he was shocked by the timing, but not the promotion. He had been hoping for a September callup all along. He's in the bullpen today and will likely serve as Ron Gardenhire's lefty specialist for now. Brian Duensing and Caleb Thielbar have been less consistent lately -- each has given up runs a couple of times in the past 10 days -- so Thompson will help give them a break.
Speaking of breaks, Kurt Suzuki gets one today, too, though Gardenhire said it's unrelated to the foul ball he took off his jaw yesterday. And Joe Mauer will serve as the designated hitter for a third straight game, as Gardenhire gets a longer look at Kennys Vargas' first-base skills.
The Orioles had hoped to have their new outfielder, Alejandro De Aza, in the lineup today, but he missed his flight and won't arrive in time.
Here are the lineups for today's 12:35 CT game from Camden Yards:
A few leftover tidbits from an interesting night at Camden Yards:
A WARRIOR'S CHIN: They knew he could catch, but I'm not sure the Twins realized just how tough Kurt Suzuki is. They understand now. The 30-year-old catcher has taken a beating from foul tips all season, but in the fourth inning tonight, when Nick Markakis lined a foul ball off the right side of his jaw, the crowd audibly winced in sympath. Suzuki, who has been feeling sick from the flu all week but has played every game but one anyway, simply rolled over and laid there, while trainer Tony Leo and manager Ron Gardenhire rushed out. "Right away, I said, 'You want to get out of here?' " Gardenhire said. "And he said 'No, thank you. Just give me a minute to gather myself.' " After about three minutes of clearing his head, he stayed in the game, much to the amazement of pitcher Kyle Gibson. "He's impressive. I felt bad, because I feel like there's a lot of foul balls when I'm on the mound," Gibson said, shaking his head. "Changeup that Markakis got underneath. Being down low, you never expect a guy to foul a ball up into your chin. ... He's a warrior back there."
KEEP ON SWINGING: Oswaldo Arcia is in a 3-for-27 (.111) slump, but Gardenhire didn't hesitate to give him the green light on a 3-0 pitch from Chris Tillman in the third inning Saturday. He's trying to keep Arcia's confidence intact. "I've got to show confidence in that kid. Right now, he's going through some scuffles, but I don't want to bury him and tell him to start taking pitches," Gardenhire said. "He just missed the ball. I like to see him swinging." The Twins have been working with Arcia to lay off high pitches, and he just missed Tillman's pitch, hitting a fly ball to left-center field. Next time up, he drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. And he only struck out once -- an improvement on the four he had one night earlier.
RUNNING TOO HARD: The game's decisive run scored on a fly ball to shallow left-center, with Adam Jones tagging up and easily beating an off-line throw home. Danny Santana made the catch, but took two or three steps before throwing the ball. Couldn't be helped, Gardenhire said; a lot of outfielders might not have made the play at all. "He had to run 18,000 miles, and then he couldn't stop. He was running so fast to catch the ball, he had to try to slow himself down to throw the ball," the manager said of his rookie shortstop-turned-outfielder. "He was just coming too hard -- which he had to do because it was a shallow ball -- to try to set his feet and throw. He never got his feet set."
JOE, ALBERT AND KENNYS: Speaking of Santana, he had two hits on Saturday, as did fellow rookie Kennys Vargas. That gives the pair 77 total hits in August, tying them with Fred Lynn and Jim Rice for the most hits by rookie teammates in a month since 1975. Unless they have a huge day Sunday the 31st, they probably can't equal the Twins' record of 84, set by Bernie Allen and Rich Rollins in 1962. And they definitely can't equal the major-league record of 93, set in 1938 by Indians Ken Keltner and Jeff Heath. Still, some impressive company. Not as impressive, though, as the company Vargas is keeping with his hot start. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only three hitters have ever collected 34 or more hits and 24 or more RBIs (admittedly, some conveniently arbitrary criteria, but still) in their debut month: Joe DiMaggio (48 and 28 in May 1936), Albert Pujols (34 and 27 in 2001) -- and Vargas.
BALTIMORE -- Alex Meyer, rated as the top pitching prospect in the Twins' system, "couldn't get loose" while pitching for Class AAA Rochester on Saturday, a Twins official said, and was removed from the after after recording only four outs.
The move was "precautionary," Twins director of minor leagues Brad Steil said via text.
The outing was likely Meyer's final one of 2014, since the International League regular season ends on Monday. Meyer, generally limited to 80-85 pitches all season after suffering a shoulder injury in 2013, had been a candidate for promotion to the major leagues when rosters expand next month, but that's unlikely after he faced only six batters in his final start against Buffalo.
Meyer, whose fastball is normally clocked at 95 mph or above, was hitting only 90 mph during his brief start. He allowed a run in the first inning on one hit, then a walk and a double in the second before being replaced by Mark Hamburger. Meyer remained in the dugout as his teammates tried to rally from the early 3-0 deficit.
Meyer, who leads the IL in strikeouts with 152 in 130 1/3 innings, did not strike out any of the six hitters he faced. A recent strikeout binge -- 67 in his last 52 innings -- gave him a three-strikeout lead over Durham righthander Nate Karns in his attempt to become the first Twins prospect since Boof Bonser in 2005 to win the IL strikeout crown.
Meyer, acquired from Washington in exchange for center fielder Denard Span two winters ago, is the second top pitching prospect to walk off the mound early with shoulder tightness. Two weeks ago, 2013 first-round pick Kohl Stewart was removed from a game in the second inning and has not pitched since.
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