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.
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.
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:
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.
UPDATE: Tonight's game against the Orioles in Sarasota has been cancelled due to rain, and will not be made up.
The Twins got the news just as they finished batting practice and began heading for the team buses. Their next game will be Tuesday night in Hammond Stadium against the Rays. Vance Worley will start for Minnesota.
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins are taking batting practice at their own Hammond Stadium complex, as they await word from the Orioles about tonight's 7 p.m. exhibition game.
Rain is currently falling in Sarasota, where the Twins and Orioles are scheduled to play tonight at 6 p.m. CDT, and a tornado watch is in effect. Forecasts call for a thunderstorm to hit shortly before game time, so the Twins pushed back their 2:15 bus departure to 4 p.m., and took to the field for batting practice.
The game is scheduled to be televised by the MLB Network, and the Orioles are expecting a good crowd, so if there is a way to reasonably get the game in, Baltimore would like to try. But if the game is not going to be played, the Twins are hoping to avoid a two-hour bus ride.
With the weather in doubt, scheduled starter Kevin Correia pitched five innings during this afternoon's Class AA game, allowing the Twins to remain on rotation. Correia pitched well and said, aside from his pitch count, he feels ready to start the season right now.
Vance Worley has been moved up to start tonight's game, should it be played. And shortstop Pedro Florimon is expected to make his spring debut.
Check back for updates on the weather. Here is tonight's planned lineup:
PORT ST. LUCIE -- Spring training games often don't include extra innings, particularly if the visitors have used all their pitching and have a long bus ride ahead. That's why the Twins accepted their third tie in a week on Saturday, after a game played in beautiful 80-degree weather at Tradition Field.
One guy who could have used a few more innings of work, perhaps, is shortstop Danny Santana. The 23-year-old Dominican is likely headed to Class AAA Rochester, but looks like the Twins' future at shortstop.
If he can tighten his grip on the ball.
For the third consecutive day, Santana misplayed a ball in the field, this time dropping a throw from first baseman Chris Colabello after pitcher Scott Diamond picked off Mets outfielder Matt den Dekker. Diamond was already a step or two toward the dugout when Santana dropped the ball and pounded his glove into the dirt in frustration, but he had no trouble ending the inning a couple pitches later.
Manager Ron Gardenhire, eager to get starter Pedro Florimon back on the field, said Santana's troubles are typical of a young shortstop. "He's always trying to be too quick. He was trying to be too quick on the tag and the ball comes out," Gardenhire said. "Yesterday, same thing. Try to be too quick on the tag and misses the ball. He has good at-bats, makes some great throws. But the [requirement] is slowing the game down and making all the routine plays and getting the outs you're supposed to. He's got to work on that."
Working on fundamentals helps. Just look at the play Chris Parmelee made in the fourth inning, Gardenhire said. Antony Swarzak relieved Diamond with two outs and runners on first and second, and gave up a sharp single to Mets outfielder Brian Burgamy.
But Parmelee came up with the ball quickly and whistled a one-hop throw to the plate, where catcher Eric Fryer easily tagged out Anthony Recker.
"Very nice. Heck of a throw. That's what you'e got to do," Gardenhire said of Parmelee's throw. "We've been working on that stuff enough, you'd better throw it perfect."
That's it from the Atlantic side of Florida for today. Back tomorrow from Hammond Stadium.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Twins are conducting a competitioin for the center field job. Or so Ron Gardenhire has heard.
But the Twins' spring schedule has been a little travel-centric this spring, with five bus rides of roughly two hours or more already, trips that only about half the players make at a time. Tired of simply reading reports about his possible center fielders, the Twins' manager brought all four potential contenders with him today, and two of them will be in the starting lineup.
Aaron Hicks will start in center (and bat second, a little unusual) while Darin Mastroianni starts in left. They'll play five innings, then give way to Alex Presley and Jermaine Mitchell, all so Gardenhire can better gauge where each stands with two weeks remaining in spring camp.
Oh, and that unusual batting order? It's so Jason Bartlett can lead off and get as many plate appearances as possible. The Twins are waiting for Bartlett to show he can still hit -- "We're looking for some veteran leadership on this team," Gardenhire said of the 34-year-old infielder -- but he's now 0-for-19 in camp. He hit a couple of balls hard yesterday, but both were caught; Gardenhire said he hopes that Bartlett is beginning to regain some confidence.
Here are the lineups for Saturday's game with the Mets (or what Mets are left; much of the team is in Las Vegas for a weekend exhibition series against the Cubs):
den Dekker RF
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