La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

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.

Molitor ready for first day with entire team

Posted by: Phil Miller under Twins prospects Updated: February 26, 2015 - 2:01 PM

    Thursday was a quiet day at Twins camp, but that all changes tomorrow. The full squad will report for an 8 a.m. team meeting, and then camp will officially be under way.

    Terry Ryan will address the team first, and then Paul Molitor, for the first time as a manager, will explain what he expects out of his players. It’s safe to say he’s put quite a bit of thought into the speech; he’s been carrying around his notes scrawled on a pad all week.

    “It changes all the time,” Molitor said of his speech. “We’ll see how long Terry goes first.”

    The Twins will also hear some advice and instruction on dealing with the media from Dustin Morse, and will get a rundown on travel policies from Mike Herman. It all figures to take at least 90 minutes, so Friday’s workout will start around 9:30 a.m.

    It’s obvious that Molitor is looking forward to having the whole team on the field, after a week of observing pitchers and catchers. He’s got some ideas about the running game that he wants to put into practice, and he hopes to improve the defense over the next five weeks. As the players were walking off the field today, he pulled Oswaldo Arcia aside and, with coach Rudy Hernandez acting as interpreter, had a 10-minute conversation with the young outfielder.

    Many of those position players have been here awhile, working out informally on a back field. But several of them took advantage of their last day off to stay away completely. Still, Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter were on the field, and Kennys Vargas, who arrived yesterday, launched a tremendous home run during batting practice that was last seen bouncing through a parking lot far beyond the outfield fence.

    I asked coach Phil Roof, who has hauled the baseballs back and forth from the field, if anyone found that ball. “We decided to let that one go,” he said, shaking his head.

Twins training camp: Kelly arrives, Bert drops by, abbreviated workout day

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: February 26, 2015 - 9:35 AM

Good morning! It's overcast here at Hammond Stadium and rain is in the forecast. That's too bad, because the Twins are scheduled to participate in a charity golf tournament this afternoon that raises money for cancer care. Today's workout will be a short one - perhaps even shorter if it starts to come down.

It's drizzling right now, but the players are on the field. That includes Kennys Vargas, who is back from five days in Puerto Rico to visit relatives. Joe Mauer said he planned to hit on the field today, so that group on the back field should be worth watching.

It looks like everyone has reported. Infielder Argenis Diaz, infielder Jose Martinez and infielder Heiker Meneses - all non-roster invites - were in the clubhouse this morning.

Rod Carew flew in yesterday. And Tom Kelly was in the clubhouse this morning.

That's right, T.K. is here. Kelly suffered a minor stroke during the offseason but has been cleared to participate in camp. And he's going to hit fungoes during the daily, ``Good Morning America,' drills.

``As long as I don't hit that switch I had 25 years ago,'' Kelly said.

Kelly looked and sounded good, but knows he's a lucky man. He also has no worries about Paul Molitor stepping in as manager despite not having any game experience. Kelly feels Molitor's work in the minors - he's watched a lot of games in the dugouts of the Twins' farm teams - has put him in enough game situations to help prepare him for game management.

He did suggest to Molitor that he use some of the final games of spring training to manage as if they were regular season games.

Other news:

The Twins are talking with the Pirates about scheduling a B game on March 9 in Bradenton in addition to the regularly scheduled game. The Twins and Bucs seem to play a B game every year. Rick Anderson is friends with Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage - and new pitching coach Neil Allen is friends with Searage going back to their days with the Mets. Small world.

Bert Blyleven stopped by this morning. Remarked about how great the renovated park looked, then mumbled something about the same old media being here, using a word that's not fit for a family blog.

Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana, Trevor May and Tommy Milone are among the pitchers throwing in the bullpen today.

Hicks making friends; full squad nearly complete

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: February 25, 2015 - 9:01 AM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. — Aaron Hicks has been spending each morning in the batting cage, working on his swing with Tim Doherty, the Rochester Red Wings’ hitting coach.

    But during his down time in the clubhouse, I’ve noticed Hicks crossing the clubhouse and sitting down next to a pitcher, usually one of the new guys on the roster. Each time, he spends 20 minutes or so chatting with someone different.

    Mining for some extra info? Discussing pitch selection?

    “No, we’re usually talking about golf,” Hicks said.

    But that’s a good thing, too. Hicks said the whole point of his sit-downs is to bond with his teammates, to learn who these guys are. Pitchers and hitters tend to segregate themselves in clubhouses — it’s only natural, since they have different schedules and different workouts — but Hicks, who is battling for the starting center field job, doesn’t like not knowing his teammates. “We’re together for a long time all season,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I want to know more about them?”

    It’s not a big deal, he said, and there is plenty of camaraderie in the clubhouse, but Hicks has been actively looking for openings to sit down and catch up with other Twins, particularly the new guys. A lot of players, especially those new to the team, simply sit at their lockers and read their phones and tablets, but Hicks figures he can better spend that time. “Just making friends,” he said.

    The Twins are about to take the field for their third day of training camp, and it appears that almost 100 percent of the roster has arrived. Eduardo Nunez unpacked this morning, non-roster infielder Eric Farris arrived, and Joe Mauer (who was here for the Hammond Stadium open house on Sunday) was in the batting cage for the first time this week. Among the 40-man roster, that leaves only Kennys Vargas — who was here last week, but went home to Puerto Rico for a few days — and Max Kepler still to arrive ahead of Saturday’s first full-squad workout.

    Check back at startribune.com later today for a video updates from La Velle E. Neal III, plus an interesting video blog he shot with pitcher Mike Palfrey.

Spring training, Day 2: Santana takes the mound

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: February 24, 2015 - 11:16 AM

Greetings from Fort Myers, where the cloud cover is juuuuust about to blow over and allow sunshine to splash all over southwest Florida.

If you plan to come down here, watch out for the drivers. It's nuts down here. I've had to honk at least four times because of jackassery on the roads. Cutting drivers off, not using turn signals, racing, crazy lane changes. I've seen it all down here in six days.

My colleague, Phil Miller, is driving a Chevy Sonic this spring. With these crazy drivers down here, I wouldn't be caught dead down here behind the wheel of a small car like that.

RUNNING GAME CONTROL

Talked to a couple Twins pitchers, and the gist of Paul Molitor's first talk of the spring centered on improving the running game, Thank goodness. The Twins threw out just 18 percent of baserunners attempting to steal last season.

If you believe that pitchers are the key to slowing down the running game, the numbers of some were scary.

Teams were 14 of 15 in steals with Phil Hughes on the mound.

They were 16 of 21 against Ricky Nolasco.

They combined to go 17 for 17 combined against Jared Burton and Kevin Correia.

So this is an area that needs to be cleaned up, one area that can put a pitcher's ERA at risk and cost a team games.

IN THE BULLPEN

The pitchers are in the bullpen getting work in, and new righthander Ervin Santana is scheduled to throw. Molitor would not confirm that Santana will follow Hughes in the rotation, but it makes too much sense.

In fact, I see Santana slinging it in the bullpen as I write this.

ETC.

Was startled by this yesterday. I have been checking out new spots to eat as production of the 2015 Fort Myers food guide is underway. But now I have competition.

I pledge to eat like I've never eaten before in order to provide to most comprehensive food coverage around.

Folks, it's Wayne Hattaway's 75th birthday today. The long time minor league and major league clubhouse attendant has stood the test of time. This is the man who once told a struggling minor league player. ``That's all right big'un. It's not you, it's the scout who signed you.''

Happy birthday, Big Fella.

Phil Hughes, no surprise, to be Opening Day starter

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: February 23, 2015 - 12:35 PM
Phil Hughes was asked on Monday if he had been named the Opening Day starter.
 
"Unofficially,'' he said, meaning that he had heard about the appointment but not by someone with authority.
 
Twins manager Paul Molitor pretty much made it official a few minutes later.
 

“Right now, at least in pencil and preliminarily, that’s what we have in mind,” Molitor said.

Hughes, 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA last season, will make his first ever Opening Day start. The closest he got was last season, when he started the Twins' second game. Ricky Nolasco got the Opening Day nod last year.
 
This one was a forgone conclusion, as Hughes, by far, was the Twins' most effective starter last season.
 
It would make sense that Ervin Santana would be the No. 2 starter, but Molitor wasn't going there yet.
 
“I don’t know if there’s really any urgency to try to make any of those things public,” Molitor said. “I see the announcements every spring: ‘Such and such was named Opening Day starter.’ If that’s newsworthy, then so be it. I don’t think too many people would be surprised, if Phil Hughes has a healthy spring, that he starts our first game.”
 
Hughes would be the fourth different Opening Day starter for the Twins in the last four seasons. Nolasco started last year, then Vance Worley, then Carl Pavano,

Molitor conducting first workout as manager

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: February 23, 2015 - 8:46 AM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s amazing how the aura around Paul Molitor has changed this spring. When the Hall of Famer occasionally walked through the Twins’ clubhouse last spring, he got little notice. Just one of the coaches, albeit one of the better-known ones.

    Now? Pitcher Tommy Milone summed it up best, without saying a word: In discussing Molitor’s new status, Milone raised his hands and bowed in a Wayne-and-Garth “we’re not worthy” salute.

    Monitor briefly addressed his players this morning, then headed to the practice field outside Hammond Stadium to supervise his first workout as a manager. (In 70-degree sunshine, I should note.) All 29 pitchers and eight catchers are here, with Phil Hughes, Kirk Gibson, Tim Stauffer, Glen Perkins, Jose Berrios, Casey Fien and Mike Pelfrey all scheduled to throw. 

    In fact, nearly every one of the 61 players due in camp by this weekend is here already. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano were both unpacking this morning, with Sano cheerfully walking around the clubhouse and shaking hands with us media members.

    Notable on today’s schedule is all the time pitchers will spend working on holding runners, something that Molitor mentioned he plans to emphasize.

    Check back for more on the first day of training camp for the Twins, and stop by startribune.com at noon to join in my first live chat of the spring.

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