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.

Twins Insider: Trade deadline day update

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: July 31, 2014 - 12:34 PM

Sam Fuld for Tommy Milone? Like the move.

What's next?

Standing pat with the rest of the roster should not be an option for the Twins today as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches. It's time to move some pieces and see if they can click on something.

The Twins picked up Fuld off waivers and have turned him into a someone who should be in a major league starting rotation. Milone had won six straight decisions and had just shut out Toronto for six innings when he became a casualty of the Jeff Samardzija trade and had to be sent to the minors. And Milone is left-handed, which the Twins need.

Milone goes into the mix for next season's rotation, with Alex Meyer and Trevor May. With Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and Ricky Nolasco coming back, the Twins should be able to assemble an improved rotation.

SUZUKI NEWS

Was told today that the Twins are still in contact with the agent for catcher Kurt Suzuki about a contract extension but there still a sizeable gap to bridge. At this point, signing Suzuki looks to be a long shot, so trading the All-Star catcher remains the more likely option  Why keep him if you can't sign him?

That's one to monitor as we close in on the trade deadline. Should be an interesting day. I've heard the Twins have a good chance of making at least one more trade and could move multiple players. Stay tuned.

Twins postgame: It wasn't easy, but it's a W

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III under Twins game coverage Updated: July 27, 2014 - 8:22 PM

Just when you thought the Twins had become predictable, they pull out a game like Sunday's 4-3 victory over Chicago. This one came the hard way; they finally got an early lead (for the first time in the series), squandered it, rallied in the seventh inning and withstood a late charge by the White Sox. Thus ends the home stand, with a 3-7 record and a rather huge sigh of relief.

Yohan Pino got the win with a solid effort. He mixed his pitches well and was effective with all of them, striking out six and allowing two runs on four hits with one walk. Danny Santana knocked in two big runs; he gave the Twins that early lead with a triple that scored Eduardo Escobar, then after they fell behind 2-1, he launched a sacrifice fly in the seventh that tied the game. And Sam Fuld gets the game ball for a seventh-inning single that scored the winning runs.

Closer Glen Perkins added to the drama, loading the bases on two singles and a walk before digging in for the final two outs. Manager Ron Gardenhire called it "as tense a ninth inning as you can get,'' while Fuld praised his team for its tenacity.

"Today was a real good win, given that we battled,'' he said. "When you're in a rut and give up a lead like that, it's easy to fold up and get down. But we stuck with it, and we fought.

"This gives us a little more confidence going into the road trip. I hope can build on it. We understand maybe we've struggled a little bit, but if we stay positive, good things will happen. The goal is not to look too much at the big picture; just stay in the moment and play hard every day, and don’t get caught up in too many things. The way you come back is to not look too far ahead. I think that’s the way most teams come back, just to not think you have to win 10 of the next 12. Win one at a time, and see what happens.''

The Twins still managed a few boneheaded moves. In the sixth, with Gordon Beckham on third, Adam Eaton hit a sharp grounder to Chris Parmelee. Parmelee looked Beckham back at third, then took his time getting to first, allowing Eaton to slide safely into the bag head-first. The play withstood a replay challenge, and Eaton scored on Jose Abreu's double to put the White Sox ahead 2-1.

Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia also broke a bat over his right leg after his third strikeout of the day. Gardenhire said he would speak to him about it--not the kind of thing you want to model to the kids in the ballpark, after all--but praised Arcia for caring deeply about his performance.

"He’s a young player,'' Gardenhire said. "He's got things to learn, yes, but he gives a flip, I know that. Today was a rough day for him. That wasn’t very good breaking it over your knee, but he's been busting his tail. I'm real proud of that kid, because it hasn't been going great for him, and he's been battling pretty damn hard.''

Next up: a day off Monday, then three games in Kansas City and three more in Chicago.

Other notes from Sunday:

--GM Terry Ryan said he will not be swayed by fans' desires when it comes to bringing up prospects. "We've been through this long enough to realize what's right for the club, what's right for the player and what's right for the fans,'' he said. "We know how tough this game is. Just because a kid's putting up numbers in the minor leagues doesn’t mean it's going to happen here. My job is to make sure I do the right thing by the player and the organization.''

--Perkins cited inconsistency, not a lack of talent, as the Twins' biggest problem. "I've said many times we're not a bad team,'' he said. "We're inconsistent. That’s because we score runs one day and we don’t the next day, and we pitch good one day and we don’t pitch good the next day. That’s been the most frustrating part. We've just been inconsistent. Hopefully, we’ll show up, go to KC and play the baseball we know we're capable of and do it on offense and defense.'' 

--Gardenhire, on what the Twins must do to change their fortunes: "The one thing that makes baseball fun is when you're crossing that plate. When you start scoring some runs and running across the plate, everybody seems to get into it. But when you're constantly sitting there and you're getting nobody on, we're having three quick outs and going back out there, that’s the frustrating part. Because guys are frustrated with their swing, with not getting hits, it just builds through the game. We need our pitchers to do better, no doubt, that’s obvious. We can't keep getting behind and going to the bullpen; that’s just killing us. And then we need to score some runs.''

That's it from me, as La Velle and Phil return Monday.

RACHEL BLOUNT

A weekend in Cooperstown

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: July 28, 2014 - 9:02 AM

COOPERSTOWN, NY - The speeches have ended, the plaques have been unveiled, the stories have been told,

The 75th Hall of Fame class has been presented, the highlight of a thrilling weekend in this town just off Blackbird Bay. The estimated crowd here was 48,000, the third largest ever. And it was a loud and proud group as a chunk of Georgia showed up to cheer Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox from the Braves; Joe Torre, who managed the Braves; and Frank Thomas, who is from Columbus, Ga. 

The speeches were excellent. The funniest story came from Cox, who went to the mound once to address the infield and ask Tom Glavine to consider walking the batter with first base open. The only problem  was that the bases were already loaded - Cox had missed the runner at first.

"If this gets out to the media, I'm fining each you $1,000,'' he said as the place busted up.

Here are other notes from the weekend:

What am I doing here? 

As president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, one duty is to introduce the person who is entering the writer's wing of The Hall. This year it's Roger Angell, the first non-BBWAA member to receive such an honor. Mr. Angell has long been a favorite of ball writers across the country for his incredible essays about the game.

I was nervous as hell, but I pulled off the speech rather well. Johnny Bench even introduced himself to me later and told me he liked it. Angell's speech was wonderful. But the best moment came few minutes before the ceremony began when I asked him how he was feeling.

"I'm in Valhalla,'' he said.

HOF voting change

The Hall on Friday announced a couple changes to the voting procedure. Candidates will spend 10 years on the ballot before being moved to the ERA committee - instead of 15 years - and BBWAA members will have to register, agree to a Code of Conduct of sorts and have their name listed as a voter. 

I really like the last two changes. The Hall makes it clear now that people who give their ballot away will be dealt with. And I like the transparency. We were moving in the direction anyway, as many voters publish their ballots these days.

I was told three players in the last 30-plus years have been voted in after being on the ballot for more than 10 years, so The Hall felt justified in making the change, This will be interesting to see play out. It forces voters to consider candidates in a shorter time frame, instead of taking a few years to change their minds. It attacks those who feel that there should be first-ballot HOFers, then HOFers. Never been a fan of that.

The BBWAA has a committee looking at changes, too, and we hope to make a couple recommendations to The Hall before the the year is over.

The Big Hurt breaks down

The BBWAA president stays at the Otesaga Resort Hotel - where the Hall of Famers stay. I will allow myself to become a fan here briefly and report that it was WAAAAY COOOOOOL!!!!!!

Goose Gossage is staying across the hallway. Bud Selig and Frank Thomas are down the hall. I actually had a conversation with Eddie Murray, who despised the media when he played. Last night was a blast, as I ended up in conversations with Murray and Joe Torre's grandchildren. I also met Don Drysdale's daughter, who sings R&B music at spots around southern California and was three months old when her father passed away.

Rode down the elevator with Frank Thomas and his family this morning. I asked him, "How long is your speech, man?'  He said, " Fourteen minutes.''

"Did you include time for tears?'' I replied as the women in the group laughed.

I just had a feeling....and Thomas already was in trouble because 14 minutes is in the long range. On a day in which there were six speakers, that could rankle some of the members. Dave Winfield's lengthy speech is legendary, with tales of Hank Aaron badgering him to wrap it up.

(now this is good, I'm sitting in a restaurant writing this, when Thomas walks in. So I was able to get more details on his near-blubbering)

Thomas broke down as soon as he got to the podium and choked up during most of his speech, which lasted 18 minutes. Found out later that his mother rarely leaves her home in Columbus, and the sight of her in the audience made him emotional.

Thomas was not ripped for his long speech. The HOFers believe that long speeches are boring, but they saw that Thomas was speaking from the heart.

OTHER STUFF

Everyone is leaving in good shape, I'm pleased to report. But there were moments.

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf fainted on Friday and had to be rushed to a local hospital. He was back at the hotel Saturday and able to get through the weekend.

Longtime umpire Doug Harvey had difficulty breathing on Saturday and had to be rushed to a local hospital. Was told he was doing well.

As I talked with Peter Gammons on Saturday behind the stage before the awards presentation at Doubleday Field, Gaylord Perry, 75,  took a wrong step and tumbled to the ground. He was helped up to a nearby seat. Once it determined he was OK, Carlton Fisk yells, "This is NOT the time to practice headfirst slides!!"

A great weekend. I'll never be this close to the action like I was here this year. So I wanted to share with you some stories......

Twins pregame: Hoping for a happy ending, and a timetable for Mauer

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III under Twins game coverage Updated: July 27, 2014 - 1:12 PM

Good afternoon from Target Field, where the Twins wrap up a misbegotten 10-game home stand they hoped would launch them on the road to relevance. With a 2-7 record thus far, they're simply hoping to leave town on a good note--and avoid being swept in this four-game series against the White Sox. Today's lineups:

TWINS

1--Santana, CF

2--Fuld, LF

3--Dozier, 2B

4--Plouffe, 3B

5--Arcia, RF

6--Willingham, DH

7--Parmelee, 1B

8--Fryer, C

9--Escobar, SS

P--Pino (1-3, 4.64)

WHITE SOX

1--Eaton, CF

2--Ramirez, SS

3--Abreu, 1B

4--Dunn, DH

5--Viciedo, RF

6--Gillaspie, 3B

7--De Aza, LF

8--Beckham, 2B

9--Nieto, C

P--Carroll (4-6, 4.52)

Manager Ron Gardenhire said today that Joe Mauer will begin taking batting practice in the cage on Monday, with a goal of sending him to a rehab assignment by the time the Twins return from a six-day road trip to Kansas City and Chicago. Mauer is scheduled to begin taking batting practice on the field, the next step in the progression, on Wednesday.

"If everything goes according to plan, by the time we get back here, he should be gone on a rehab,'' Gardenhire said. GM Terry Ryan said he will examine the schedules of the Twins' minor-league affiliates to decide where Mauer will go, but he hopes to send him to Class AAA Rochester for better competition.

"We'll just get him in the right place to where he won't get killed with some young kid throwing all over the place and be able to get his swings in,'' Gardenhire said.

Whenever Mauer returns, Gardenhire added, it won't come a moment too soon for a struggling club.

"Getting Mauer back is going to be huge,'' he said. "We really need him desperately. He's a big cog in our lineup. We need to get him back on the field. That's important for our baseball team, not only because of what he does on the field, but the whole package, him being around the guys and everything. He's a calming influence.

"That would be huge for us, and then kind of get right again. We have to get right again mentally. That’s what we're hoping for here. This has been really frustrating for everybody involved. It's no fun to come in this clubhouse after losing game after game.''

Enjoy the game!

RACHEL BLOUNT

Twins postgame: Lost weekend

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III under Twins game coverage Updated: July 26, 2014 - 11:26 PM

Well, at least it was fast. The Twins didn't prolong the agony Saturday, taking only two hours, 30 minutes to get steamrolled 7-0 by the White Sox.

A homestand that started with some degree of optimism has imploded, with one game remaining Sunday. The ugly numbers: The White Sox, looking like the 1927 Yankees against the Twins' unfortunate pitching, have pounded out 42 hits and scored 21 runs through the first three games of the series. The Twins' hapless hitters have managed 18 hits and seven runs. Yes, Chris Sale was magnificent, striking out 12 and allowing only four singles and a double. But the Twins just looked inept.

Logan Darnell, in his first major-league start, was game. But after striking out four of the first nine batters, the Sox caught up to him. Ryan Pressly pitched three solid innings, allowing only one hit.

Darnell on his start: "That's not really how you picture it. I started off pretty good. Later in the game, the aggression I knew was going to come happened, and I just didn't make enough good pitches with two strikes. (On Alexei Ramirez's home run), the slider down wasn't down enough. In other situations, (pitches) just weren't good enough; they weren't down enough or they weren't away enough. They weren't bad pitches, they just weren't as good as they should have been.''

A few notes from the game:

--The Twins are now a season-low 11 games under .500 (46-57).

--Sale lowered his ERA to 1.88 and improved to 10-1. He is the first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle (2005) to win 10 of his first 11 decisions. He has struck out 10 or more batters in five games this season and 15 times in his career; that career mark ties him with Juan Pizarro for the second-most in White Sox history behind Ed Walsh (17).

--Jose Abreu singled off Glen Perkins in the ninth to keep his hitting streak going, extending it to 16 games.

--Trevor Plouffe went 2-for-4 and has a three-game hit streak. He also has a five-game hitting streak against Chicago.

I'll be back again tomorrow. La Velle and Phil will return next week, though I suspect La Velle is going to find it mighty hard to leave Cooperstown.

RACHEL BLOUNT

Twins-White Sox pregame: Plouffe returns, and Logan Darnell starts

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III under Twins game coverage Updated: July 26, 2014 - 4:07 PM

If you're coming to tonight's Twins game against the White Sox, you'll want to arrive early for the giveaway. Trevor Plouffe, who sat out last night's 9-5 loss, returns to his spot at third base--just in time to see several thousand likenesses of his face on sticks, which will be handed out to fans. Here's how today's lineup looks:

TWINS

1--Santana, CF

2--Dozier, 2B

3--Plouffe, 3B

4--Colabello, 1B

5--Willingham, LF

6--Arcia, RF

7--Suzuki, C

8--Nunez, DH

9--Escobar, SS

P--Logan Darnell (0-0, 0.00)

WHITE SOX

1--Eaton, CF

2--Ramirez, SS

3--Abreu, DH

4--Viciedo, RF

5--Konerko, 1B

6--Gillaspie, 3B

7--Flowers, C

8--De Aza, LF

9--Beckham, 2B

P--Chris Sale (9-1, 2.03)

Twins GM Terry Ryan said Friday how impressed he was by Darnell's debut with the Twins, a three-inning relief stint against Cleveland on May 6. He struck out one and threw 33 pitches. Darnell said his changeup is his go-to pitch, and he likes to use it early in the count to get hitters off-balance.

The laconic Tennessean certainly seemed relaxed Friday night as he discussed his first major-league start.  "It's the same mind frame as last time: just try to get each guy out,'' he said. "I learned (against Cleveland) you have to get outs in the strike zone. You have to throw it over the plate at some point to get them out. They don't chase as much. It's still the same game you played growing up; you've still got to make pitches and get people out.

"I think it helps that I've gotten people out before up here, but I've still got to go out there and do what I've always done. I'm a fastball-changeup pitcher. I like to use my changeup a lot; if I can get ahead and use my change, it makes my curveball and slider a lot better. It's easier for me to get guys out quicker.''

Darnell watched Friday's game from the clubhouse and noted that Chicago's hitters were aggressive early in the count, something he hopes to use to his advantage Saturday. "Getting ahead is key,'' he said. "I'm not going to shy away from throwing strikes.''

Manager Ron Gardenhire is hoping Darnell can hang in for several innings, with his beat-up bullpen still short on long relievers who are ready to go. Ryan Pressly could be available for two or three innings, he said, and Anthony Swarzak could be good for one. Darnell has gone at least six innings in three of his past four starts, including a complete game victory on June 29 and an eight-inning loss on July 9. Each of his past nine starts has lasted at least five innings.

Enjoy the game!

RACHEL BLOUNT

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