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.
The Twins' pitching staff for the 2015 season looks to be settled.
The club announced this morning that they have optioned lefthander Caleb Thielbar to Class AAA Rochester. That gets them down to 12 pitchers, the number they wanted to start the season with.
Phil Hughes, RHP
Ervin Santana, RHP
Ricky Nolasco, RHP
Kyle Gibson, RHP
Tommy Milone, LHP
Mike Pelfrey, RHP
Tim Stauffer, RHP
Blaine Boyer, RHP
J.R. Graham, RHP
Brian Duensing, LHP
Casey Fien, RHP
Glen Perkins, LHP
It LOOKS to be settled, but you never know as more players flood the market. This will be a fluid situation, as I foresee bullpen-related roster moves over the next several weeks as the Twins get the relievers straightened out.
Pitchers like Thielbar and Michael Tonkin have the talent to be effective on the MLB. This, actually, represents a little bit of a fall for Thielbar opened his career with a club-record run of 19.2 scoreless innings, and you thought that the Twins had quite a find on their hands. But his ERA went from 1.76 in 2013 to 3.40 last season.
Tonkin definitely has the fastball for the majors. But he has to work on his control and no be so predictable.
Oswaldo Arcia was in the starting lineup today before being scratched because of a stomach ailment. Eduardo (aka Eddie the Stick) Escobar takes over for him left. With Eddie the Stick in there, it looks like a lineup Paul;l Molitor can fire out against lefthanded starters.
Wait, isn't David Price a lefthander? Isn't he starting on Opening Day against the Twins? Hmmmm.......
Very sad news to report. Twins minor league coach and former minor league manager Riccardo Ingram has passed away at age 48 after the brain cancer he beat years ago returned. Rico was one of the best people I've ever met. He cared, he had fun on his job, he meant a lot to a lot of Twins players who are in the majors. And that thick laugh of his was unmistakable on the back fields.
``Nobody would know who Denard Span was if it weren't for the help of Ricardo Ingram.. One of the best men in baseball,'' Span tweeted earlier today.
Rico was a storyteller. Ingram played baseball and football at Georgia Tech. As a defensive back, Ingram took credit for hitting Frank Thomas (who was an Auburn tight end at the time) and causing the shoulder injury that limited him to first base, then DH. ``Frank would see me in the minors, grab his shoulder and go, `Ow!' '' Rico said. ``I'd go, `DH only.'' Not sure how much of that story is true, but it is funny.
The best story was when the Yellowjackets played against Bo Jackson and Auburn (I think it was 1985) Tech had a good defense then and stopped Jackson early in the game. Ingram said they were talking big trash the whole time. Finally, after getting stopped for a short gain and hearing more trash talk, Jackson, who had a stuttering problem at the time, got up and told them, ``Th-th-that's it....B-B-B-Bo mad,'' and took them apart the rest of the game, including one play in which he put his foot into Ingram's chest and literally ran over him en route to a big gain.
It was the kind of story that put you in tears. Rico told it the best.
In 2009, Ingram experienced pounding headaches that led to the discovery of Grade 4 glioblastoma in the front of his brain. At the time, 90-95 percent of people with that type of cancer die within a year. Ingram underwent six weeks of radiation therapy and survived.
The Twins helped out by naming him a roving hitting instructor between Class AAA Rochester and Class AA New Britain. That allowed him to make visits to Duke University Medical Center for follow up care.
Ingram was scheduled to be the hitting coach for the Gulf Coast League rookie team this season. He will be missed. He leaves behind his wife, Allison, and daughters Kacey and Kristen.
Rusney Castillo, RF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Mike Napoli, 1B
Daniel Nava, LF
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Jackie Bradley, Jr. CF
Travis Shaw, DH
Sandy Leon, C
Clay Buccholz, C
Danny Santana, SS
Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B
Torii Hunter, RF
Kennys Vargas, DH
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Eduardo Escobar, LF
Kurt Suzuki, C
Jordan Schafer, CF
Phil Hughes, RHP
Some notes and tidbits following the Twins 6-5 win over Toronto
Nolasco strong: Ricky Nolasco struck out six over five innings on Tuesday in an encouraging outing for the Twins. He had his curveball working, using it to strike out Jose Bautista in the third inning, ``The curveball was going pretty good,'' Nolasco said. ``Just trying to throw strikes. It's definitely not a lineup you want to pitch behind.'' Nolasco has lost some weight and his stuff looks a little better this spring. Let's see if he can channel that into wins. He has a 3.95 ERA over 13.2 innings.
Dozier, wow: The first pitch Brian Dozier saw after signing a four-year, $20 million contract on Tuesday was knocked over the left field wall for a home run. It's always interesting to see how a player responds to a big deal, but Dozier seems to be a guy who won't add pressure or coast. ``We're elated to have one of our best players in the fold for four years,'' manager Paul Molitor said, ``and I think we the Twins will see plenty of dividends in their investment.''
Duensing smoked: Lefthander Brian Duensing was struck in the left quadriceps by a liner off the bat of Devon Travis. The ball deflected off of Duensing, who scrambled to retrieve the ball but had no play at first then bent over at the waist. The Twins took little time to remove Duesning from the game. He will be re-evaluated tomorrow.
That opened the door for J.R. Graham to come in with one out. He hit 96 with one pitch to Dayan Viciedo then struck him out with an 84 mile an hour slider. ``I loved that,'' Molitor said. ``That kind of got my blood going in the right direction.'' Graham is a Rule 5 pick and has to remain on the major league roster all season, but he's earning a spot on this roster. He's fun to watch pitch, as he's all of 5-foot-10 and leans forward at the start of his delivery.
Hunter homers: Torii Hunter, who coined the phrase, ``A hanging breaking ball is like a gift from God, got one in the seventh inning and hit it over the left field wall for three run home run, his first homer of spring training. Molitor said he's spaced out at-bats for Hunter and Joe Mauer but they will start to play some back-to-back games as the final days of spring training are close.
Roster moves: None of the cuts today were big ones - A.J. Achter, Eric Farris, James Beresford, Tyler Grimes Danny Ortiz and Jose Martinez were extreme long shots to make the roster. But camp is now down to 35 bodies and 10 must be moved before Opening Day. The next ones won't be easy.
Mark Hamburger was no helper on Tuesday as Toronto scored twice off of him, one unearned because of his throwing error. That didn't help his chances, as the Twins want to see how relievers here handle those situations.
Molitor decided to go for the win in the ninth and put the bunt on when Eduardo Nunez beat out an infield hit to open the ninth. Eric Fryer dropped a nice bunt to the first base side of the mound to move Nunez to second, then Eddie Rosario flicked a single to left to drive home the winning run.
Here are three thoughts from the Twins' 9-4 loss to Cleveland
THE FALL: The Twins began the week in second place in the A.L. Central. Now they are tied with Cleveland for last place and are in Detroit for a three-game series this weekend. Can they escape the cellar this weekend? Without Joe Mauer? With Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia still on the mend? Things won't get easier for them as they play host to Boston at Target Field starting Tuesday.
THE MAUER SITUATION: Can Joe Mauer avoid the disabled list? The first baseman has been playing catch and swinging lightly while treating his sore back. That ends Friday, when he plans to increase his activities. ``I'm going to get to the park early and give it a good test and see where we are at,'' Mauer said. Mauer has told the Twins that he thinks that he can be ready to play by Friday or Saturday.
``I think Saturday is more realistic,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. If Mauer can't play by then, look for him to land on the disabled list. He will have missed a week of games by then, so missing another week won't be that much of a stretch. Mauer said he's feeling better, but I don't think he has enough time.
OTHER MOVES: You can't give up on Pedro Florimon just yet. He'll go down to Rochester and see if he can get his swing going. I will state that, his track record says he won't become a good offensive player. Can he become somewhat functional, bat .240 so he can steal a few more bases? Maybe. But he's got to figure out something on offense quickly...In a perfect world, Aaron Hicks would spend some games at Rochester to get his bat going before being activated from the DL. But the Twins need outfielders. As long as he passes the concussion tests on Friday. He should be in uniform. I don't have a sense on the other player the Twins might call up. Gardy called it ``a surprise.'' Kenny Wilson? Eric Fryer? Another transaction? We'll see. BTW, Brooks Raley was claimed off waivers from Anaheim. The Twins needed to make room for Matt Guerrier and tried to get Raley through outright waivers.
1. HAMMER TO HAVE SURGERY: Josh Willingham hopes to be ready to return to action in four to six weeks after he has surgery on Wednesday to repair a torn meniscus and also recover from a bone bruise. My guess is that it will take every bit of six weeks for him to recover, putting him in a mid-to-late August return. That means he won't have much time to impress before the Aug. 31 trade deadline either. Willingham has just been removed as a trade target by GM's across the league.
2. I MUST REMEMBER: I wrote last week that the Twins would have some tough roster decisions to make once Aaron Hicks and Mike Pelfrey are ready to return. History tells us that roster moves often have a way of working themselves out. Willingham needs surgery. Here comes Hicks. Pelfrey has been named the starter for Saturday's game against Toronto (and possibly R.A. Dickey). Let's see how that one works its way out.
3. INTERNATIONAL SIGNING DAY: The Twins expect to sign several prospects from Latin America, Europe and Australia. They have agreements with outfielder Lewin Diaz ($1.4 million) and third baseman Roni Tapia ($550,000). Righthander Mayky Perez also is on their radar but they are trying to get him to reduce his asking price. Look for several more prospects to sign over the next couple of weeks. The Twins still have roughly $2 million to spend (based on what we know) which could come in handy as other teams run out of money. The Twins had the fourth-highest bonus pool, so only three other teams can outspend them. Keep in mind that, while there's a frenzy now, teams will be signing players up until next June.
Today's game is being delayed until 3:30 p.m. It's raining again, but the groundscrew has painted the infield, so they can just pull the tarp up and spruce things up once they are ready to play.
By the way, this is the first "true" doubleheader the Twins have played in since Sept. 13, 2008 in Baltimore. There will be 30 minutes between games.
A couple notes:
Kyle Gibson on Friday gave up three runs over 3.2 innings on five hits and three walks as Class AAA Rochester lost 8-5 to Buffalo. He threw 68 pitches, 43 strikes. That should be Gibson's final start of the minor league season as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery last year. Between Rochester, Fort Myers and the Gulf Coast League, Gibson threw 28.1 innings.
He'll head to Florida Instructional League for a few weeks before Arizona Fall League play begins in October.
After the game, Gibson tweeted the following: "By no means is it the results I want, but its getting better in one way or another each time out! Gotta keep working each day to get there!"
Matt Capps (shoulder, rotator cuff) continues to work out at Target Field. Twins GM Terry Ryan said yesterday that there's a chance that Capps will be able to pitch in late September. Capps hasn't pitched in a game since June.
I'm going to re-post the starting lineups from last night's game, and will update if there are any changes. The only one I can think of is that Joe Mauer might play the first game after getting last night off.
UPDATE: It has stopped raining!!!!
The Twins have made their expected roster moves official. Righthander Esmerling Vasquez has had his contract purchased from Class AAA Rochester. Righthander P.J. Walters (shoulder) has been reinstated from the 60-day disabled list.
More callups are expected sometime next week.
1. Darin Mastroianni, CF
2. Jamey Carroll, 2B
3. Josh Willingham, DH
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Ryan Doumit, C
6. Chris Parmelee, RF
7. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
8. Matt Carson, LF
9. Pedro Florimon, SS
Pitching: RHP Cole De Vries
1. Lorenzo Cain, CF
2. Yuniel Escobar, SS
3. Alex Gordon, LF
4. Billy Butler, DH
5 .Mike Moustakas, 3B
6. Brayan Pena, C
7. Jeff Francouer, RF
8. Eric Hosmer, 1B
9. Johnny Giavotella, 2B
Pitching: LHP Will Smith
The Twins lost 6-2 on Wednesday but made bigger news after the game with a few roster moves.
Here are a few initial thoughts after the Twins wear out the transaction wire.
1. Who is Darin Mastroianni? The Twins claimed him off waivers from the Blue Jays in February. Dude can run. He once stole 70 bases in a minor league season. He didn't show too much in spring training but wasn't expected to make the club anyway. When he got off to a slow start at Class AA New Britain, it looked like a bad move.
But Mastroianni took off once he got to Class AAA Rochester, batting .346. He can play all three outfield positions, he doesn't hit for power and can play a little second base. A little. "Mastroianni’s been playing the living fire out of the game down there,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They told me he’s the most exciting player down there. Terry (Ryan) has been down there watching that team for a week or so. I talked to the manager down there, Gene Glynn. He told me this kid has been playing really well, swinging the bat really well. Probably the most exciting player they have on that baseball team right now, running bases, stealing bases. He can fly. We’ll see. We’ll see how he does.”
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