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.

Twins rained out; moves bring roster into focus

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: March 24, 2014 - 12:44 PM

    UPDATE: A steady rain, and forecasts of more, forced the Twins to cancel Monday's game against the Rays at 1:45 p.m. EDT. There will be no makeup. The Twins will face Baltimore on Tuesday at Hammond Stadium.

   FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins' roster is all but complete now, after 10 players were moved out during a busy Monday morning at Hammond Stadium.

    Jason Kubel and Josmil Pinto appear assured of roster spots, with only four cuts remaining before the 25-man roster is finalized ahead of next Monday's 2014 opener in Chicago. Still to be determined: The fate of Scott Diamond, the apparent odd man out in the fifth-starter competition; who will back up Joe Mauer at first base, Chris Parmelee or Chris Colabello; which utility infielder comes north, Eduardo Escober or Jason Bartlett; and when Rochester catcher Dan Rohlfing is assigned to Triple-A.

    The Twins' bullpen was finalized with some difficult cuts Monday, including the decision to release veteran righthander Matt Guerrier in order to allow him to seek another major-league job. Guerrier, his spring delayed by his comeback from forearm surgery last August, made three encouraging appearances and one bad one, but had not done enough to dislodge an incumbent reliever.

    One member of the 2013 bullpen was dispatched, however; righthander Ryan Pressly, the former Rule 5 draftee who still had options remaining, was sent to Class AAA Rochester, along with one of the stars of the spring, righthander Michael Tonkin, who did not allow a run in seven appearances.

    Also optioned: catcher Chris Herrmann, whose .412 batting average led all Twins hopefuls this spring, but whose roster spot was claimed instead by Pinto, a more promising hitter.

    Six non-roster players were reassigned to minor-league camp, including three relievers -- righthander Deolis Guerra and lefthanders Aaron Thompson and Matt Hoffman -- plus infielders Deibinson Romero and Doug Bernier and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez.

    The moves clear up many questions about the roster, like: Will the Twins keep both Aaron Hicks and Alex Presley to play center field (yes); is Pinto ready to skip Class AAA (the Twins think so); and are any members of last year's bullpen vulnerable (just Pressly, as it turns out)?

    The identity of the chief utility man should be known by Tuesday, when Bartlett has the right to declare himself a free agent if he's not on the 25-man roster. "I don't know what I'm going to do. I haven't heard anything [from the Twins], and I don't know who my agent as talked to," said Bartlett, whose one-year absence from professional baseball has been reflected in his 3-for-34 results at the plate. He's been improving as camp has gone on, and has been sure-handed in the field, but Bartlett remains the underdog in his battle with Escobar.

    Parmelee and Colabello is more of a toss-up, with the latter's righthanded bat and 12 hits this spring offset by the fact that Parmelee is out of options. Diamond's status is unknown; after being beaten out by Kyle Gibson and Samuel Deduno for the final spots on the pitching staff, the left-hander could either be traded or put on waivers, available to be claimed by any other team.

    As for today's game, it's in doubt, thanks to a steady rain that seems to be getting heavier by the minute. Batting practice has been cancelled, but the Twins hope some of the clouds move on before the noon CDT start. The game, if it's played, will be televised by Fox Sports North, and this will be the Twins' lineup:

TWINS

 

Dozier 2B

Suzuki C

Mauer 1B

Willingham LF

Kubel DH

Plouffe 3B

Arcia RF

Hicks CF

Florimon SS

 

Pelfrey RHP

Postgame: Hicks makes great catch, misses sign

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: March 22, 2014 - 4:56 PM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In addition to seeing baseball's new replay system correct a missed call, Ron Gardenhire got to test out his own communication system on Saturday. It was a lot less exciting.

    But maybe that's a good thing. After Aaron Hicks was called out on an extremely close play at first base in the seventh inning, Gardenhire came out to discuss the play with umpire Bob Davidson. In reality, he was stalling for time, while video coordinator Sean Harvin examined the replay to determine whether the play was worth challenging.

    So Gardenhire walked out. Strolled. Ambled.

    "I've never walked out to talk to an umpire in my life," Gardenhire said after the Twins' 5-4 loss to the Yankees. "I thought, this don't feel right. Normally, I'm out there on a dead sprint and my face is red."

    Finally, Harvin relayed to the Twins' bench that the replay wasn't conclusive, so Gardenhire shouldn't waste his challenge. "I got the thumbs-down from my bench. That's no fun," Gardenhire said. "Why did I walk all the way out there?"

XXX

    Hicks had another interesting day, by the way. In addition to that replay-that-wasn't, he was also safe and then out on a play that was challenged, apparently made a mistake that his manager noticed, and then covered up for one by a teammate.

    The most visible oddity in the Twins' center fielder's day came in the third inning, when he was called safe by umpire Marvin Hudson on a stolen-base attempt at second base. Joe Girardi appealed, and the replay revealed that Hicks was tagged while off the base.

    In discussing Hicks' day after the game, Gardenhire said he's been swinging the bat well, but noted "a few snafus today. Some little things. We're working on it."

    Asked to elaborate, Gardenhire said, "we missed three signs today as a team. You can't do that."

    But Hicks was given credit by his manager for the long running catch he made to record the final out of the fourth inning. "You mean the one in left field?" Gardenhire asked sarcastically of Hicks' catch of an Antoan Richardson pop fly, a ball the manager clearly believes that Josh Willingham should have caught.

    "Willie said, 'You think I should go after that ball?' " Gardenhire said. "I went, 'No, not if you're playing in foul territory.' The next ball that was hit out there to left, I yelled, 'Hicksie!' "

    

XXX

    Terry Ryan met with each of the Twins' players on Saturday (and met one he didn't know, as I detailed in an earlier blog), watched batting practice and then the game, sat in on the radio broadcast during the second inning, and left for the airport to fly home to the Twin Cities. His radiation treatments for cancer in his neck resume on Monday.

Twins' Hoffman meets his boss -- eventually

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: March 22, 2014 - 9:52 AM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Funny moment this morning in the Twins' clubhouse. I was chatting with Terry Ryan (who looks great, by the way) near the trainers' room, and Matt Hoffman walks by. Ryan stops him as he walks past, and says to the relief pitcher, "I don't think we've met. I'm Terry."

    Hoffman was polite, stopped and shook hands, nice to meet you, all that, but clearly had no idea who he was talking to. Just some middle-aged gentleman in a golf cap, right? After a couple moments of small talk, he started to turn into the trainers' room when Ryan said, "I'm the general manager."

    Oooooh, that Terry. Suddenly, Hoffman had plenty of time to chat, and he gave a much more in-depth account of how he's pitching. They talked for two or three minutes, getting acquainted.

    When Hoffman returned to his locker, I asked if he really didn't know his boss. "No clue," he said with a smile. He had been signed by minor-league director Brad Steil, and had never met Ryan. "Seems like a nice guy, though," he said.

    Anyway, to today's game: A sellout crowd is expected, the first in Hammond Stadium history. And a full contingent of media will be here, too, including the throngs of Japanese reporters and photographers who follow Masahiro Tanaka everywhere he goes. Tanaka starts for the Yankees, and he may be just about the only recognizable name in New York's lineup. The veterans don't generally make the 2-hour bus ride from Tampa, so Brett Gardner may represent all the star power the Yankees lineup can muster today. The Twins, meanwhile, are rolling out their likely Opening Day starters again.

    Here are those lineups:

YANKEES

Gardner DH

Nunez SS

Johnson 1B

Cervelli C

Sizemore 3B

Anna 2B

Almonte RF

Wheeler LF

Richardson CF

 

Tanaka RHP

 

TWINS

Dozier 2B

Suzuki C

Mauer 1B

Willingham LF

Kubel DH

Plouffe 3B

Arcia RF

Hicks CF

Florimon SS

 

Correia RHP

Postgame: Hicks goes 4-for-4, misses cutoff man in loss

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: March 20, 2014 - 10:10 PM

    PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Aaron Hicks went 4-for-4 on Thursday, collecting two hits from each side of the plate. But that's not what Ron Gardenhire remembered from his young center fielder's night.

    "He overthrew the cutoff man again, which gave them another run," Gardenhire said after the Twins' 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay. "Which is a good teaching point."

    That's because, when Justin Christian singled in the seventh, Hicks came up with the ball and decided to try to throw out Jerry Sands, who scored easily from second base. As Hicks' throw sailed toward the plate, Christian moved up to second base, and scored when Ray Olmedo followed with a double.

    "The guy who hit the ball went to second and scored on another base hit. So there you have it -- the fifth run, and we end up losing the game by a run," Gardenhire explained. "Throw the ball down. He had no chance to throw the guy out at home, I don't care how strong his arm is. We hit the cutoff man, keep the man on first, who knows what happens?"

    Still, Gardenhire was happy with Hicks' night,  in which he raised his batting average to .375 with a double and three singles -- one of which could have been a double or even a triple. Hicks led off the third inning by bashing Cesar Ramos' first pitch to the warning track in center field. But he stumbled before he even reached first base, then sprawled in the dirt after rounding the bag without touching it.

    "I missed the bag, so i couldn't even keep going," he said. "I was running, and looking at [outfielder Desmond Jennings] at the same time, and first base kind of snuck up on me."

    What did first-base coach Scott Ullger say to Hicks as he arrived back at first? "He said, "Sniper get you?" Hicks laughed.

Suzuki batting second as Twins face Rays

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: March 20, 2014 - 5:22 PM

    PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Greetings from Charlotte Sports Park, where the Twins are running about a half hour late due to a long traffic backup on Interstate 75, caused by a fender-bender in a construction zone. The Twins (and everybody else traveling from Fort Myers) arrived so late, they cancelled batting practice.

    Hey, maybe it'll help. The Twins haven't had much luck with the Rays this spring, losing all three previous games by a combined score of 24-7. They'll face lefthander Cesar Ramos tonight, and will do so with what might be their Opening Day lineup, a rarity for a game that includes a bus ride. Ron Gardenhire's lineup has Kurt Suzuki batting second, something he did regularly with Oakland in 2008 and 2008 (when he had a .336 on-base percentage in the spot) but not since.

    I get the feeling that Gardenhire doesn't necessarily want to bat the veteran catcher so high in the batting order, but he remains open to the possibility in case Aaron Hicks doesn't hit this year.

    Scott Diamond is on the mound tonight, knowing that Kyle Gibson and Sam Deduno made strong cases for the fifth-starter spot yesterday against the Cardinals. The Canadian lefthander probably needs a good start himself to remain in the running.

    Here are the lineups for tonight's game:

 

TWINS

Dozier 2B

Suzuki C

Mauer 1B

Willingham LF

Kubel DH

Plouffe 3B

Arcia RF

Hicks CF

Florimon SS

 

Diamond LHP

 

RAYS

Jennings CF

Loney 1B

Zobrist 2B

Longoria 3B

Forsythe LF

Escobar SS

Rodriguez RF

Hanigan C

Guyer DH

 

Ramos LHP

Postgame: Florimon's legs "a little wobbly"

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: March 18, 2014 - 10:14 PM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ron Gardenhire had a question for the reporters who gathered in his office after the Twins' 11-3 loss Tuesday night. "Ugliest game ever -- why do you want to talk about that?" the manager asked.

    Well, there were a few items of interest worth talking about. Pedro Florimon's spring debut, for instance -- the shortstop went 0-for-3, turned a double play and got to a couple of ground balls. Not all of them, though.

    "Looked like his legs were a little wobbly," Gardenhire said of the shortstop, who underwent an appendectomy on Feb. 17. "Ground ball up the middle, looked like he stumbled there."

    But Florimon should be able to build up his strength in time for the season, the manager said.

    As for starting pitcher Vance Worley, his pitching coach sounded as mystified as Worley himself about his awful outing. "He warmed up as well as I've ever seen," Rick Anderson said. "And all of a sudden, as soon as they [say] 'Play ball,' it goes all over. The more he tried and pressed, the more it elevated," resulting in seven runs over 2 2/3 innings.

    One positive note for the Twins? Jason Bartlett finally caught his first fly ball. Playing center field over the final four innings, the former infielder raced to the center field fence on Desmond Jennings' deep fly ball in the sixth inning. "It was jumping up and down," Bartlett laughed about his view of the ball. "I was running on my heels."

    If the run wasn't perfect, the catch was. Looking over his right shoulder as the ball came down, Bartlett slid onto the warning track to make a spectacular catch, his first ever as an outfielder.

    "He's an athlete. He goes and takes balls out there every day, he takes balls off the bat, always trying to run them down," Gardenhire said. "I tell him, 'you're going to play them all [positions]. You're going to be moving all around out there. That's a long run, that's not an easy play. But he can do those things."

    That's it from Hammond Stadium. As Gardenhire noted as the reporters left, he has a bus ride to Jupiter, Fla., in about eight hours.

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