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' arrival to the City of Fountains couldn't come at a more interesting time in recent Royals history.
Kansas City is still seething from a weekend series against the A's during which batters were hit, infielders were taken out with sliders, warnings were issued and players ejected. Royals fans howled on local talk show stations about how their players got the raw end of the seal.
Kansas City rolled to the World Series last season, but they feel that they aren't receiving the respect they deserve.
The Royals have gotten into a spat with the opposing team in every series they have played this season - except the one against the Twins in Target Field. And the Royals have won every series they have played in this year - except the one in Target Field.
The Royals also are injured. Omar Infante is out. Greg Holland is out. Alex Rios, courtesy of a J.R. Graham fastball, is out. The hope is that Alcides Escobar can return to play after being taken out by a big Jed Lawrie slide over the weekend.
And there could be suspensions handed out following Sunday's encounters with the A's. Stay tuned.
Royals killer Kyle Gibson is on the mound tonight. Gibson is 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA in four starts against them. In his only start at Kauffman Stadium, Gibson threw seven shutout innings. And Gibson beat Edinson Volquez 3-1 last week at Target Field.
This is the first of a six-game road trip for the Twins. After three here in Kansas City, the Twins head over to Seattle to face the Mariners in a weekend series at Safeco Field.
Will check back with lineups and any updates. Please keep in mind that the tonight's game and Tuesday's game will be televised on Fox Sports North Plus because of hockey postseason.
And here are the lineups
Danny Santana, SS
Torii Hunter, RF
Joe Mauer. 1B
Brian Dozier, 2B
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Eduardo Escobar, DH'
Oswaldo Arcia, LF
Kurt Suzuki, C
Jordan Schafer, CF
Kyle Gibson, RHP
Alcides Escobar, SS
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Salvador Perez, C
Alex Gordon, LF
Paulo Orlando, RF
Christian Colon, 2B
Jarrod Dyson, CF
Edinson Volquez, RHP
Turns out, the season’s not over yet. Paul Molitor complimented a few players for helping to turn around the Twins’ fortunes after that lousy 1-6 start. Here’s what he had to say:
— Great day for Trevor Plouffe, and a great sign for the Twins. The third baseman was 4-for-34 before smashing his 11th-inning game-winner on Friday, and he kept that momentum when he returned to the lineup Sunday. Two singles and a double added more than 60 points to his batting average, and while .205 isn’t where he wants it, either, it’s headed in the right direction.
“The home run obviously gave him some confidence,” manager Paul Molitor said. “He went to the opposite field a couple of times, and is still showing a lot of quickness, staying on the ball. So it’s just a matter of time before he gets going.”
— Also having a good day: Shane Robinson, the backup center fielder. Jordan Schafer is off to a shaky start in center field, and with a left-hander pitching Sunday, it was a perfect chance for Molitor to give him a break. It didn’t hurt, then, that Robinson smacked three hits, drove in two runs, and ranged all over the outfield for six fly balls.
“He made the team out of spring training because he’s a good all-around baseball player. [Coming up] through the Cardinals system, he learned how to play the game right,” Molitor said. “He has good at-bats — lefthanded [pitching], righthanded, doesn’t matter. And he’s instinctively intelligent on the defensive side. He’s in the right place and he gets good jumps. I have a lot of confidence when I put him in there.”
— Lefthander Aaron Thompson didn’t allow a run over two innings in relief of Trevor May, helping protect a lead that was 4-1 at the time, and it’s clear that Molitor’s confidence in the rookie reliever is growing. Sunday’s outing was his sixth straight without allowing a run, a span totaling 8 1/3 innings.
“Every time I run him out there so far, he’s done a good job. To get those six outs in the seventh and eighth [innings], that was important for us,” Molitor said. “You just don’t ever want to assume anything in a big league game, so to get those couple of zeroes that was good for us.”
Brian Dozier has served as the Twins’ cleanup hitter for the past three games, but he’s moving again on Sunday. Dozier will bat leadoff in the series finale against the Indians, a remarkable reflection of manager Paul Molitor’s regard for the third-year player.
“If you’ve got a guy versatile enough to bat leadoff and cleanup,” Molitor said, “that’s not all bad.”
Santana will remain the regular leadoff hitter, Molitor said, but “I’m going to give Danny a day [off]. He’s been playing quite a bit, and I think sometimes it’s good for him to back off just a little bit.” Santana is batting just .195, and after a three-strikeout day on Saturday, has 13 on the season, and has yet to draw a walk.
“I still like Danny at the top,” Molitor said. “I don’t think I’m going to be changing that too much in the short term.”
For today, however, here are the lineups as the Twins try to win their second straight series in Target Field:
A handful of extras from a Saturday matinee at Target Field:
Phil Hughes didn’t sound too concerned about the split fingernail on his right index finger, but it bothered him for a few weeks last year, too. And he’s already taking precautions to make sure this doesn’t become a problem.
“It’s just kind of a maintenance thing. I have to keep and eye on it and make sure it grows out,” Hughes said. “I’ve already talked to [pitching coach Neil Allen] — I’m going to push my [bullpen session] back a day, with the extra day off in Seattle. Just kind of monitor my throwing, make sure it doesn’t get worse or start to blister.”
The problem will disappear once the nail grows, but Hughes has to pitch in the meantime. The best solution? “I need stuff that makes your nails grow faster,” he joked.
Manager Paul Molitor wishes his leadoff hitter was hitting better than .195, wishes he would draw more walks — or his first one, actually — and wishes he would turn into the offensive engine that he was last season. But he’s not growing impatient with Danny Santana, he said.
“He can be a little hot and cold. I know he’s a guy who wants to try to find a way to improve his skills as a leadoff hitter, taking pitches,” Molitor said after Santana struck out three times in an 0-for-4 day. “So far he hasn’t been able to find ways to increase his walk total, we all know that. But he’s a guy who can bounce back and get four hits the next day after a tough day.”
Santana now has 15 strikeouts on the season, zero walks, and a .195 on-base percentage. Entering Saturday, Houston’s George Springer and Tampa Bay’s Steven Souza led the AL with 16 strikeouts.
Danny Salazar, restored to the Indians’ rotation after two weeks in the minor leagues, allowed two hits in an inning only once in his six-inning stint Saturday. But he had some help from the Twins, too, Molitor said.
“Young hitters, when a guy’s throwing hard, will try to match how hard he’s throwing with how hard you’re swinging, and it usually doesn’t work out too well,” the manager said. “I just think we turned some counts around by chasing balls a little bit out of the zone. Instead of hitting 3-1, we’re hitting 2-2. Instead of hitting 2-0, we’re hitting 1-1. But he took advantage of our aggressiveness.”
It’s not just Santana who’s not hitting, of course. The Twins have been held to eight hits or fewer in nine of their 11 games this season, and are batting just .214 as a group. They are 14th in the AL in home runs, too, with seven. Only Cleveland, with six, has fewer.
It’s a quick turnaround this morning for the Twins, after last night’s walk-off win. Batting practice was brief and voluntary, and only about half of the players came out. The rest will all hit in the batting cages before the game. Torii Hunter was in a hurry to finish, so he could watch Notre Dame’s Blue and Gold football game, featuring wide receiver Torii Jr.
In response to an email I received last night, I asked Joe Mauer about his beard. It started on a whim (he figured it might help get through the cold cities this month), has remained because his wife likes it, and after a couple of conversations with friends on the Wild, has morphed into a playoff beard. He won’t get to see today’s game, of course, because he’ll be at first base during today’s Wild game.
Trevor Plouffe was last night’s hero, smashing an 11th-inning home run, but as was arranged before that game, he’s out of the lineup today in order to get Eduardo Nunez some playing time. “It’s important to get everyone in there, especially right out of spring training,” manager Paul Molitor said. He checked to see if the cut on Nunez’s index finger on his throwing hand had healed. It has.
Phil Hughes will make his third attempt at a victory, and for the first time, he’s not facing another team’s ace. Hughes has pitched against David Price and Chris Sale this season, so his chances at victory figure to be a little stronger against Cleveland righthander Danny Salazar. Of course, it’s easy to forget that Hughes didn’t win any of his first three starts last year, either, before going on a six-game winning streak.
Here are the lineups for today’s 1:10 p.m. start:
Three quick notes after the Twins extend their winning streak to three games:
— Mike Pelfrey was the pitcher he wants to be, that the Twins would love for him to be, for three innings on Friday, retiring nine of 10 hitters. He ran a couple of counts to 3-2, sure, but mostly he was economical and effective. Then he hit the quicksand again in the fourth inning, as he’s done so many times: Nibbling on the corners, getting ahead and then letting hitters back into the count, sending his pitch count soaring. He walked three in the fourth inning and was lucky to escape without a run; he walked another in the fifth, and threw a run-scoring wild pitch. Only a great throw by Eduardo Escobar to get Jose Ramirez at the plate prevented another run from scoring.
“Kind of disappointing,” Pelfrey said of his inability to get through more than five innings. “But I thought it was better. My first outing [in Chicago, when he blew a 4-0 lead], I thought my stuff was better but over the middle. Too many mistakes.”
For his part, Paul Molitor is willing to take the outing as an encouraging sign. “He seemed sharp to start, and then got a little too fine,” Molitor said.
— Escobar’s play was a real highlight for a converted infielder. “I didn’t know if we had a play,” Pelfrey said. “He obviously came up with a heck of a throw, and it was a huge part of the game.” It was, but Escobar didn’t last until the end. He was hit by a Corey Kluber pitch in the eighth inning, and was removed for Shane Robinson. It’s a move that Molitor was going to make for defense, anyway. Escobar was hobbling, but should be fine, Molitor said.
— The Twins’ much-maligned bullpen had a great night, holding the Indians without a run, or even a serious threat, over the final 5 2/3 innings. Tim Stauffer allowed a home run to Brandon Moss in the sixth inning, but after that, Stauffer, Aaron Thompson (for two innings), Glen Perkins, Caleb Thielbar and Blaine Boyer did the job, with Boyer earning the win. Only a double by Mike Aviles in the 11th put a runner in scoring position, but Boyer retired Lonnie Chisenhall and Roberto Perez to end the threat.
“A lot of guys threw the ball well,” Molitor said. “Thompson continues to pitch effectively. We got Thielbar in the game in his first game back. And Boyer was able to get some big outs.”
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