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.
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.
BALTIMORE -- The Twins' bullpen is one short on Saturday, after Samuel Deduno was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros.
The 31-year-old righthander, who twice failed to hold a spot in Minnesota's starting rotation, finishes his Twins career with a 16-18 record and 4.26 ERA. He started 41 games, pitched in long relief another 22 times, and tantalized fans with his sometimes-dominating fastball.
But his lack of control was a persistent problem, and ultimately, the Twins decided to let him go for nothing but the $25,000 waiver fee. The Astros will pay the final month of his $520,000 contract, and the Twins free up a roster spot they can use for a younger player.
"He was sad to leave Minnesota," said manager Ron Gardenhire, who broke the news to the veteran righthander in the lobby of the team's hotel here. "He definitely liked it here. But I told him, it's always a good thing when somebody wants you."
To replace Deduno, the Twins added lefthander Aaron Thompson to the 40-man roster and summoned him from Class AAA Rochester, where he had posted a 3.59 ERA in 52 innings this season. "We wanted to bring in a lefty who's getting lefties out," Gardenhire said of the decision. Thompson, 27, was originally drafted by the Marlins in 2005 and has been in the Twins system since 2012. He appeared in four games with the Pirates in 2011, making one start, and posting a 7.04 ERA.
Thompson will arrive tomorrow, so the Twins will play with one fewer pitcher in the bullpen, though since Deduno threw 44 pitches last night, he wouldn't have been available today anyway.
Kyle Gibson is on the mound tonight, trying to reverse his recent trend: The second-year righthander has a 6.08 ERA over his last four starts. He'll face Chris Tillman, an 11-game winner for the Orioles. Here are tonight's lineups:
An eventful night at Orioles Park at Camden Yards. Here are a few leftovers:
ILLUSTRATING HIS POINT: Buck Showalter has been very public this season about his unhappiness with baseball's replay-challenge system, his disbelief that even with an elaborate video system in place, calls are being botched by the crews issuing rulings from New York. He had more ammunition on Friday, but he let his counterpart do the complaining this time. That's because Delmon Young's fifth-inning home run, on the last of Trevor May's 84 pitches, appeared an open-and-shut case of a call that should be overturned. But the Orioles got the benefit of a call that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire fumed about after the game. Showalter, who said he couldn't wait to discuss the call with Gardenhire, sounded as though he was prepared for the home run to be overruled. He said he was prepared to argue that Adam Jones, on first base at the time with two outs, should be awarded home plate, and not be forced to stop at third base as he would on a ground-rule double. "I'm not quite sure how they saw it, but I liked the end game on that," the Orioles manager said. "At the very least, Delmon would have had a double and the run would have scored, I think." Gardenhire, well aware of Showalter's lobbying for more accountability in the replay system, ended his angry comments on the matter by saying, "I agree with Buck."
SAY YOUR PIECE: Gardenhire complimented the umpiring crew, and especially crew chief Mike Winters, for not ejecting him after the ruling came back from New York. The manager vented about the call for 20 seconds or so, which is supposed to be an automatic ejection. "Mike Winters actually went above and beyond, because he let me say my piece, and he didn't have to do that. I told him how disappointing it is for that to happen, and he said, 'I'm not even supposed to be talking with you in this situation. I'm giving you a little slack here.' He understood totally. The crew here did what they were supposed to do. Here."
ALL IN HIS HEAD? The fact that a player who had not hit a batter in 115 innings of major- and minor-league baseball suddenly hit back-to-back hitters in the fourth inning would suggest that the problem is in Trevor May's head. But both May and Gardenhire said they're not so sure. "That's what we're all saying -- it's mental. But is it? I don't know," Gardenhire said. "I don't know if he just loses his mechanics or whatever. It could be a physical thing, where he gets a little out of whack with his mechanics. ... We're not so much frustrated as, we're trying to figure it out." And May insisted that nerves is no longer a problem, not like it was in his first appearance or two. It all comes down to execution in big spots, something that he hasn't been able to do.
DRAFTEE HEADED TO AFL: Jake Reed was drafted by the Twins out of the University of Oregon in the fifth round last June. It hasn't taken the 21-year-old righthander long to make an impression. Reed, who has allowed only one earned run in 30 innings as a professional, has been added to the roster of the Salt River Rafters in this year's Arizona Fall League, the Twins announced Friday. The team had originally considered assigning second-round pick Nick Burdi to the AFL, but decided instead to send Reed. The southern California native, who currently owns a 21 2/3-inning scoreless streak at Class A Cedar Rapids, will join fellow Twins prospects Taylor Rogers, Jason Adam, Mason Melotakis, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, and Byron Buxton in the Arizona Fall League.
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