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.

Blog: Gardenhire, bullpen counting on Nolasco

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: June 14, 2014 - 9:23 PM

    A trio of extras from an injury-filled day:

    NEED INNING-EATING: Amid all the uncertainty about whether his infielders are healthy enough to play, Ron Gardenhire didn't need another roster move to worry about. So he sounded optimistic that his bullpen, which has had plenty of work on this trip, including 5 1/3 innings by four relievers Saturday, can hold up without requiring any reinforcements from Rochester. "We've got [Ricky] Nolasco pitching [Sunday], so we hope we can count on our starter to eat up innings. If he goes out, no, we don't have enough bullpen, but we hope he's going to be able to give us a performance," Gardenhire said. "We've got a bunch of people who can still throw. Most of our guys only went one inning."

    REPLAY SAVES RALLY: The Twins may have trailed by eight runs with just four outs left, but Gardenhire didn't give up on the game. With two outs in the eighth inning, Eduardo Nunez appeared to end the inning with a groundout to second. But Gardenhire challenged umpire Seth Buckminster's call, and replay showed that Nunez's foot touched the bag a split-second before the ball reached Miguel Cabrera. That kept the inning alive, and Eric Fryer, Eduardo Escobar and Danny Santana followed with singles, none of them hit hard but enough to score three runs and close the gap to 12-7. Fryer, by the way, went 3-for-5 in his first game in the majors since last September, but Joe Mauer and Oswaldo Arcia each went 0-for-5.

    LIMITED PAIN: Trevor Plouffe said it was the landing on his dive, an awkward attempt in the third inning on Ian Kinsler's grounder, that injured his quad muscle. He doubled over in pain once the ball bounced away. He remained in the game for one more batter, throwing out Torii Hunter to end the inning, but was removed afterward and diagnosed with a strained left oblique.

    "I can do pretty much any motion now with limited pain. The throwing motion is the one that bothers me most, but if it's just bruised, you've got to play through a little pain sometimes," said Plouffe, who was taken to a nearby hospital for x-rays and an MRI. "It's not going to feel great [Sunday], but if it's something that's just a little bit of pain, I play through it. I've been doing [hitting] motions the whole time, and those don't bother me."

Santana back in the infield, for a day

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: June 14, 2014 - 1:45 PM

    DETROIT -- Brian Dozier pronounced himself completely healthy again on Saturday, but his manager wants him to prove it. So the Twins' second baseman will get one more day off, giving him time to take some ground balls, run the bases, and hit some baseballs in batting practice, all to insure his sore back doesn't flare up again.

    The day off has another benefit, too, manager Ron Gardenhire pointed out: Danny Santana gets to play his preferred position, at least for a day. The rookie shortstop, whose playing time has come in center field this season, still takes ground balls before every game, and he'll take them during the game today, with regular shortstop Eduardo Escobar shifting to second base once more.

    In center, Sam Fuld gets his first start since May 7, and he'll bat in Dozier's spot in the order. Gardenhire made it clear before the game what a relief it is for him to have an experienced outfielder with range in between Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia. Santana hasn't been bad in center, quite the opposite, but expect Fuld to play frequently.

    Behind the plate, Eric Fryer takes on the role of Samuel Deduno's catcher, which gives Kurt Suzuki a day off. Fryer caught Deduno in Rochester last year and in spring training this year, so he knows what he's in for.

    It's a bit of a shakeup, but maybe that's good; the Twins managed only four hits in last night's 2-0 victory, matching their season-low for a win. But they are 32-33 on the season, and can reach .500 for the first time since May 24. The Tigers, meanwhile, have lost nine of their last 12, and are in danger of losing their grip on the AL Central. Kansas City trails by only 1 1/2 games, the Twins are three back, and Cleveland and Chicago are 3 1/2 behind.

    Anabal Sanchez pitches today; the last time the Twins faced him, Sanchez left the game in the third inning with a blister on his middle finger, an injury that put him on the disabled list.

    Today's lineups:

 

TWINS

 

Santana SS

Fuld CF

Mauer 1B

Willingham LF

Morales DH

Arcia RF

Plouffe 3B

Fryer C

Escobar 2B

 

Deduno RHP

 

TIGERS

 

Kinsler 2B

Hunter RF

Cabrera 1B

V. Martinez DH

J.D. Martinez LF

Jackson CF

Castellanos 3B

Avila C

Suarez SS

 

Sanchez RHP

Postgame: Nathan's going through a rough patch with Detroit

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: June 13, 2014 - 11:12 PM

    A trio of leftovers from the Twins' third straight win, tying their season-high winning streak:

    NATHAN'S NOT AUTOMATIC: Joe Nathan was always a true professional in dealing with the media during his years with the Twins, so it's a little bit hard to watch him find it so difficult to retire hitters now. The Twins' all-time saves leader was loudly, if briefly, booed after allowing an unearned run in the ninth inning Friday, the fifth time in his last six appearances he's been scored upon. Nathan, who turned 39 last November, wasn't helped by his defense; rookie shortstop made an error that allowed Josh Willingham to reach to open the inning. But he walked Trevor Plouffe, hit Eduardo Nunez and walked Eduardo Escober to double the Twins' one-run lead. Nathan, who signed a two-year, $20.5 million contract to be the Tigers' closer, actually reduced his ERA to below 7 (it's 6.85), but it was another discouraging outing.

    THAT AWKWARD FEELING: The replay challenge system paid off for the Twins again, when Danny Santana was called out while trying to steal third base in the third inning. Ron Gardenhire appealed the call, which was overturned by umpires watching in New York. But the system remains uncomfortable for Gardenhire, who thought about challenging Oswaldo Arcia's double play that ended the sixth inning. Umpires kept the Tigers on the field as Gardenhire strolled slowly out to first base, and he killed time until word came from the dugout (and video director Sean Harlin): Arcia was out. "It felt like I was on the field all night," Gardenhire said of the awkward situation that results every time he must await word from his dugout.

    EXTRA OUTS AREN'T FATAL: Kyle Gibson allowed only five hits, and three of them could have been outs. A third-inning smash by J.D. Martinez bounced off Trevor Plouffe's glove but was ruled a double. Gibson bobbled a bunt by Kevin Romine, another hit-or-error call that was awarded to the batter. And Twins center fielder Danny Santana seemed to catch up to Alex Avila's deep fly in the seventh inning, but it carried past him for another double. Add in Eduardo Nunez's misplay of a Austin Jackson grounder in the third, and that's a lot of extra outs the Twins' defense gave up. Yet Gibson made sure none of it mattered, making his second straight victory (and 15-inning scoreless streak) even more impressive.

Pregame: Dozier's back too sore to play as Twins open at Detroit

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: June 13, 2014 - 4:34 PM

    DETROIT -- All of a sudden, the clubhouse dynamic is completely different.

    Televisions are almost always on in every clubhouse, but mostly they're ignored by the players. Not today. A couple of guys were watching the U.S. Open at one end of the Twins' clubhouse in Comerica Park, but at the other end, where most of of the Latin American players dress, there were a half-dozen chairs pulled up, watching the World Cup game. And someone scored while reporters were interviewing manager Ron Gardenhire, because a loud cheer went up from that gathering.

    The players in the clubhouse are a little different, too. Sam Fuld and Eric Fryer occupy lockers next to each other, newcomers who just reported to the team yesterday. Fryer replaces Josmil Pinto, who was sent to Class AAA Rochester to get more at-bats, while Fuld pronounced himself 100 percent healthy again after suffering a concussion last month.

    Fuld takes Aaron Hicks' spot after the second-year outfielder was placed on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder. Hicks underwent an MRI in Minneapolis on Thursday, but no structural damage was found, so the Twins consider the injury minor. The timing of it was fortunate, too; with Fuld back, Hicks was probably going to be optioned to Rochester.

    Manager Ron Gardenhire said he was tempted to put Fuld in the lineup today, but held off a day because left-hander Drew Smyly -- who has limited left-handed hitters to a .138 batting average this year -- is on the mound for the Tigers. Sounds like he'll be in there tomorrow, though.

    Meanwhile, Brian Dozier said his lower back remains sore, even after a visit to a chiropractor on Friday morning. He doesn't believe the injury, aggravated during a collision in short center field, is serious, but he said it still hurts to bend over, swing a bat, or do much of anything. He's already told Gardenhire that "I probably can't do him any good" even as a pinch-hitter tonight. Eduardo Escobar moves over to second base in Dozier's absence, with Eduardo Nunez starting at short. Kurt Suzuki moves up to the second spot in the batting order.

    The Twins open the three-game series just four games behind Detroit in the AL Central, and just two games below .500. Tonight's lineups:

 

TWINS

 

Santana CF

Suzuki C

Mauer 1B

Willingham LF

Morales DH

Arcia RF

Plouffe 3B

Nunez SS

Escober 2B

 

Gibson RHP

 

TIGERS

 

Kinsler 2B

Jackson CF

Cabrera 1B

V. Martinez DH

J.D. Martinez RF

Kelly LF

Castellanos 3B

Avila C

Romine SS

 

Smyly LHP

Postgame: Two slams are historic, in a bad way

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: June 8, 2014 - 8:34 PM

    Some leftovers from a day that started with a big signing, and ended with some big home runs:

    TWO SWINGS, EIGHT RUNS: The game never seemed particularly competitive on Sunday, not with Samuel Deduno's control so far off. But it turned historic in the late innings, when Chris Carter and Jon Singleton each connected on the first grand slams of their careers. Carter victimized Brian Duensing, whose ERA spiked to 3.33, while Singleton connected off closer Glen Perkins, in the game for some apparently necessary tune-up work, since he hadn't pitched since Wednesday. Perkins' runs were unearned, due to an error by Brian Dozier.

    It's just the second time in Astros history that two hitters have collected slams in the same game. Back in July 30, 1969, Dennis Menke and Jimmy Wynn hit slams in a Shea Stadium win over the soon-to-be world champs Amazin' Mets.

    The Twins hadn't given up two grand slams in a game in 25 years, but this one was the third in their history. The most recent ones were hit by Corey Snyder (off Bert Blyleven) and Joe Carter (off Keith Atherton) of the Indians in an 11-6 Cleveland victory in the Metrodome on April 22, 1988.

    The first instance must have been quite a game. It came in the Twins' first season in Minnesota, on May 9, 1961 at Metropolitan Stadium, when Baltimore's Jim Gentile hit a slam in the first and second innings of a 13-5 victory. Scoring on both slams was Orioles leadoff hitter, and Hall of Fame manager, Whitey Herzog. Gentile finished with nine RBIs in the game.

    TIGHT ROSTER: Kendrys Morales sat in the dugout and watched Sunday's game, having been activated a few hours earlier. The Twins will have to play shorthanded for a week or two while he gets ready, meaning it's almost impossible for them to add a 13th pitcher if they need one in Toronto. But it's worth the trouble, general manager Terry Ryan said, to add a hitter like Morales. "If you've got a guy who's the ideal DH, this guy's probably him," Ryan said.

    It puts the Twins in a bad spot, but they had little choice, since Morales is out of options. Some have suggested they could have signed him to a minor-league contract, but Ryan said it's unlikely baseball would have approved that arrangement, since it's an attempt to circumvent option rules. There's no such thing as a $10 million minor-league contract, he said. In addition, Morales and his agent, Scott Boras, probably would not have gone along with such a plan, because it would present a big risk of injury. If he's not on a 40-man roster and he suffers a season-ending injury, for instance, Morales would lose all the accrued service time. "It's not idea, but we'll make it work," Ryan said.

    Morales, who asked for uniform No. 17 -- Pat Neshek's old number -- will take fielding practice once he's ready, too, Ryan said, and may occasionally play the position to give Joe Mauer a day off. But he will primarily serve as a designated hitter, the first time in years the Twins have had a full-time DH, more or less.

    WIN OR SAVE? Despite the score, Astros' lefthander Darin Downs was eligible for his first career save on Sunday. Instead, he was awarded his first win since 2012. That's because starter Collin McHugh, the pitcher of record when the Astros took the lead for good in the second inning, didn't pitch the required five innings to earn the win. Under baseball rules, the official scorer, in this case Stew Thornley, awards the victory to the pitcher he judges most deserving.

    Josh Fields relieved McHugh in the fifth inning, after the starter walked two Twins while holding a 5-1 lead. But while Fields wasn't charged with any runs, he gave up back-to-back singles that scored two runs charged to McHugh. Kyle Farnsworth only pitched one-third of an inning and gave up two runs. That left Downs, who entered the game in the seventh inning with two runners on base and the Astros leading, 9-5. Since the tying run was on deck, it was technically a save situation, and Downs quickly ended the inning with no further damage. Then he pitched the next two innings without allowing a run, making Thornley's decision relatively easy. A pitcher can't earn both a save and a win, so Downs doesn't get his first save, but he does get his first win as an Astro. It breaks a drought of 45 appearances without a victory, dating back to Sept. 18, 2012, when he was with the Tigers and relieved Max Scherzer in a 12-2 victory over the A's.

    That's it from Target Field. La Velle E. Neal is already in Toronto, prepared to cover the Twins' three-game foray into Canada, normally a tough place for them to play. You can follow his blog, Twins Insider, and on Twitter @LaVelleNeal.

Twins let Kubel go to make room for Morales

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: June 8, 2014 - 12:34 PM

    The Twins have signed one veteran designated hitter, and released another to make room for him.

    Kendrys Morales passed his physical and formally agreed to a one-year contract with the Twins, the team announced Sunday morning. The former Angel and Mariners slugger will be placed on the active roster immediately, taking the place of Jason Kubel, who was designated for assignment.

    "Why not us?" general manager Terry Ryan asked rhetorically in explaining the Twins' pursuit of another bat for the lineup, an uncharacteristic move for the usually conservative club. "Why not the Twins? I read there were probably a handful of clubs that were chasing Kendrys. We were ahead of many of those clubs in the standings. I don't know why we couldn't reach out to him and see if we could bring in a quality player."

    Morales, stuck in free-agent limbo all winter because teams were reluctant to sacrifice a draft pick to sign him, has not played since Sept. 29, going 0-for-3 in his final game as a Mariner. When the draft took place this week and removed that penalty, Morales chose the Twins, who open the day five games behind first-place Detroit in the AL Central, over four other suiters, according to published reports. He signed a one-year contract for a prorated salary of $12 million, or just over $7.5 million, in order to play this season, restore his value, and return to the free-agent market this winter.

    Morales has been working out at the Boras Sports Institute in Florida, and was placed on the 25-man roster immediately by the Twins, and will be available today. Because he is out of options, he cannot be sent to the minors to work his way into shape.

    That shouldn't be a problem, though, Morales said. He's been working out six days a week, taking ground balls, hitting in the batting cage and doing conditioning drills. "It may take five days, it may take seven days, it may take 10 days," Morales said through an interpreter, bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar. "I'll let you know when I'm ready to play."

    Morales reportedly could have signed with the Orioles, Rangers or Yankees, but chose Minnesota, he said, because "[I've] always liked coming here -- this is a beautiful city, clean. [I] likes the ballpark, [I like] the atmosphere here. [I'm] here to help this team win some baseball games."

    Kubel, who returned to the Twins after two seasons with Arizona and Cleveland, batted .288 with six doubles and a home run in April, but his play deteriorated quickly after that. He was mired in a deep slump, without an extra-base hit since April 25; he batted .143 with 37 strikeouts in 84 at-bats since then.

    "That was a difficult meeting," Ryan said of having to inform Kubel that he was being released. "We talked, thanked him for his contributions over the years to this organization. We tried, but it just wasn't working out."

 

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