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.

Three Twins postgame thoughts from LEN3: No killer instinct, Francona, Santana

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: August 19, 2014 - 11:27 PM

Here are three thoughts following the Twins' 7-5 loss to Cleveland:

NO FOOT ON THROAT: The story from the game will be Kyle Gibson's inability to cruise with a five-run lead. He didn't have his good stuff but he also seemed to press at times when he should have relaxed and let the ball go.  But the Twins offense scored five runs before making THEIR FIRST OUT OF THE GAME. Then nothing. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer really didn't do much different after the first inning. So the offense should have kept pouring on and knocked Bauer out of the game earlier. That might have stopped Francona from going matchup crazy later in the game. ``We still had some chances,'' Gardenhire said. ``You score like that, that's when you bury someone. We didn't bury them.''

THE MAD SCIENTIST MANAGER: Cleveland manger Terry Francona went wild with pitching changes in the seventh inning. The madcap menagerie of matchups was one reason why the game lasted well over three hours. Francona used four pitchers - Scott Atchison, Mark Rzepczynski, CC Lee and Nick Hagadone - to get through the inning. And Bryan Shaw was warming up as Mauer faced Hagadone. I'm sure Shaw would have come in if Mauer had reached base, but his sharp grounder was gobbled up for the final out of the inning. ``Francona, I didn't know you had that many relievers,'' Gardenhire said.

BUNTING: We've just seen Jordan Schafer have his moments while trying to get bunts down. It a key situation on Tuesday, no outs and runners on first and second in the seventh, Danny Santana fouled off two bunt attempts then struck out in what was a horrible at-bat. What's up with the bunting? Players should be more polished than this when they come up. When Michael Bourn doubled to lead off the fifth, Mike Aviles followed and got the first pitch down along the first base line for a perfect sacrifice bunt. ``Danny has to be able to do those things,'' Gardenhire said. ``You want to play in this league and you're a leadoff hitter. He can hit a home run, yes. And he's hitting .320, yes. But he's got to be able to bunt it. He might bunt it and get a base it. He's got to do that.''  I remember when Coco Crisp first came up - with Cleveland - he couldn't bunt either. The Indians had him bunt every pitch during his first round of batting practice to he would get used to doing it. And he became a weapon for him - until he decided to try to hit home runs. But you get the point.....


Twins-Indians: Lineups

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: August 19, 2014 - 7:07 PM

Phil Miller is covering today's game, but I got here first and was pleasantly surprised to see that the lineup sheet is out.

A couple quick notes:

With one more stolen base, Brian Dozier will become the sixth Twin to have a 20-20 season. Larry Hisle, Kirby Puckett, Marty Cordova, Corey Koskie and Torii Hunter (twice) are the others.

Michael Brantley is batting .342 with a .901 OPS against the Twins this season.

Indians (62-61)

Michael Bourn, CF
Mike Aviles, SS
Michael Brantley, LF
Carlos Santana, 1B
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Yan Gomes, C
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
Zach Walters, DH
Chris Dickerson, RF

Trevor Bauer, RHP

Twins (55-68)

Danny Santana, CF
Brian Dozier, 2B

Joe Mauer, 1B - sorry about the confusion
Kennys Vargas, DH
Oswaldo Arcia, RF
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Kurt Suzuki, C
Eduardo Escobar, SS
Jordan Schafer, LF

Kyle Gibson, RHP

Three quick Twins postgame thoughts from LEN3: Vargas, Mauer, Arcia

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: August 17, 2014 - 11:49 PM

Here are three thoughts following the Twins' 12-6 loss to Kansas City:

VARGAS IS IMPRESSIVE: Kennys Vargas is batting .317 with three homers and 15 RBI in his first 15 games in the majors. That's impressive for someone coming up from Class AA New Britain. I really liked his final at-bat, when he drove a double to right in the eighth. He took a couple pitches he could have chased after and got a pitch he could handle. He doesn't look overmatched. ``They ask me to be more
patient at the plate, see what they throw to Mauer and that's helped me a lot,'' Vargas said.  The Twins are taking it all in. ``He's chases a little bit and he's struck out,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ``It's going to happen, but he's come up with some big hits and some big RBI. When he gets a hold of it - and he doesn't have to kill it - it still goes in the seats.''

SPEAKING OF MAUER: In his career, Joe Mauer is batting .436 when hitting the first pitch. That includes the home run he hit Sunday off JEREMY Guthrie in the third inning. That's fodder for those of you who think Mauer is too patient at the plate. I believe someone who's won multiple batting titles has the right to stick with his approach. But I will say that, in this particular season, it appears that he's been more aggressive early in the count. He's 12-for-23 (.522) when hitting the first pitch. Last year he was 8-for-15. In 2012, he was 12-for-26, then 0-for-5 (injuries) then 16-for-29. Then, in his MVP year of 2009, he was 9-for-19 when hitting the first pitch. It looks like he's going to hit the first pitch more this season than he has in recent years. Talking with him earlier in the season, he lamented how he was getting a lot of borderline pitches called strike three on him and that was making him stay out of those counts. This is evidence of that.

ARCIA: Just noticed that Oswaldo Arcia had played 164 games coming into Sunday - just over a full season. His numbers: .240 average, .304 on base percentage, 24 homers, 73 RBI and 198 strikeouts. You know what? For a 23 year old, that is something to work with. That is something worth working with.

Twins-Royals: Play resumes, Royals resume pummeling

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III under Rookies Updated: August 17, 2014 - 4:18 PM

After a 54-minute rain delay, play has resumed.

And Alex Gordon hit a 422-foot homer to right-center, increasing the Royals lead to 9-2 in the fifth.

The Twins-Royals game had been delayed by rain with one out in the bottom of the fourth inning and the Royals leading 7-2.

Kansas City scored all it's runs in the second inning,knocking out Twins starter Tommy Milone after 39 pitches.

The Twins scored their runs on a RBI single by Kennys Vargas in the first and solo home run by Joe Mauer in the third.

The game started 34 minutes late because of the threat of rain (it never came) but the last two innings have been played in steady rain. And, finally, Fieldin Culbreth has called for the tarp to be pulled on the field.


For the next two days, Twins starters will make their debuts at Target Field.

Lefthander Tommy Milone will start today against Kansas City. The lefthander held Houston to two runs over six innings on Tuesday in his first start for the Twins. He won't light up the radar gun but can paint his fastball and is crafty.

Trevor May will make his Target Field debut on Monday. He's in the, you-can't-fall-down-when-you're-already-on-the floor category after a horrendous major league debut against Oakland about a week ago. May has more stuff, and greater potential, than Milone, So it will be interesting to see how May responds in his second start.

I'm trying to get more details about what Byron Buxton is going through as he recovers from the concussion he suffered on Wednesday. I sent an e-mail to Twins GM Terry Ryan, who's out watching minor leaguers. I was curious about what symptoms Buxton is dealing with as he goes through the process. Here's what I got back.

La Velle:

He is stiff.


That's all I've got for now.

Joe Mauer's 16-game hitter streak ended last night, but the Twins have to be encouraged that his bat looks as sharp as it did before he was injured. Mauer still feels soreness in his right and expects to have to manage discomfort there for the rest of the season. Chatted with him some today, and he said he actually takes a few right-handed swings to help loosen his right side before he hits.

Kennys Vargas (12 RBI) and Danny Santana (21 hits) lead all rookies in baseball this month in those categories. Santana is tied with Boston's Brock Holt among rookies with 13 runs scored this month.

Eduardo Escobar is getting a start a third base today while Santana starts at short. There's nothing wrong with Trevor Plouffe, Gardy just wanted to get Escobar in the lineup.

Get here early - if you're coming to the game. It's the annual mascot softball game at 12:35.

Royals (67-55)

Nori Aoki, RF
Omar Infante, 2B
Salvador Perez, C
Billy Butler, 1B
Alex Gordon, LF
Josh Willingham, DH
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Alcides Escobar, SS
Jarrod Dyson, CF

Jeremy Guthrie, RHP

Twins (55-66)

Danny Santana, SS
Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B
Kennys Vargas, DH
Oswaldo Arcia, RF
Kurt Suzuki, C
Chris Parmelee, LF
Eduardo Escobar, 3B
Jordan Schafer, CF

Tommy Milone, LHP

Three Twins postgame thoughts from LEN3: Suzuki, Hughes, Parmelee`

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: August 16, 2014 - 10:25 PM

Here are three thoughts following the Twins' 4-1 win over Kansas City.

SUZUKI SHINES: He doesn't throw out a high percentage of base stealers and he doesn't hit for power. But Suzuki has been Kurt Clutch for them in other ways this season. He kicked off the Twins' three-run seventh inning with a single and then scored the first run with a nifty slight-of-hand at home plate. He then added a home run. And he has the respect of the pitching staff who enjoy working with him.  And he's batting .310. ``He's always been known as a good catcher,'' Twins nighthander Phil Hughes said. ``Hitting has been kind of his issue the last few years.  This year, I don't know if it is from the work he's done with Bruno or what has changed. But he's been dynamic in every way that we have needed him.''

HUGHES NOTE: Phil Hughes is 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA his last three starts. At 13-8, he has a chance to match his career high in wins, which is 18, set in 2010. He also has won the most games by a Twins starting pitcher is a season since Carl Pavano won 17 in 2010. The Royals were one of the teams interested in Hughes during the offseason. But the Twins were only ones willing to give Hughes a three-year deal.  Looks like it ended up being one of the moves that worked.

PARMELEE CAN BUNT: The seventh inning picked up when Chris Parmelle laughed at the Royals' shift (I kid) and dropped a bunt toward third. Mike Moustakas was playing too far back to make a play. That put two runners on, and both eventually scored in the game-changing inning. ``Parmelee showing off the speed,'' Brian Dozier said. ``Parmelee is not slow. He can run a little bit for his size. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was pleased his team took advantage of the opportunity. ``We've preached to these guys late in the game in certain situations, they are giving you a bunt,'' Gardenhire said. ``He's been practicing. It was a beautiful thing. A nice drag bunt.''

Hughes looks for third straight win as Twins face Royals

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: August 16, 2014 - 4:40 PM

Danny Santana is back at shortstop for the first time since June 25, and he's expected to make several appearances there before the season ends. The Twins still vew Santana as their shortstop of the near future. But remember that he battled inconsistency in spring spring training with his throws. He also has been known to drop an occasional throw while covering second. Those are things to watch for has moves back to short.

``I'm just going to play it day by day,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ``I just want to get him back in the infield. He's a shortstop and I want him to play there. No knock on (Eduardo) Escobar. He's been playing great.''

That raises something interesting. With Escobar, Santana and Eduardo Nunez around, and Miguel Sano in range to debut sometime next season, should the Twins have moved Trevor Plouffe and used Santana and Escobar on the left side of the infield? Plouffe leads the Twins in RBI and is tied for the lead in doubles.'

Gardenhire went on to say that he wants to see Jordan Schafer in center field, so he's going to move people around. Aaron Hicks is batting .357 through eight games at Class AAA Rochester and figures to be up in September. Again, they could have moved Plouffe. Perhaps they tried to and didn't get an offer they liked.

As the Twins roster build for 2015, they are going to have to open up spots for new blood. Third base is inevitable. And they have to have at least two guys who can run balls down in the outfield. But at least Gardenhire is committed to getting Santana at short, where some teammates have called him a young Jose Reyes.

``You move people around and get Santana back in the infield,'' Gardenhire said. ``I'm not going to say it's going to be today, tomorrow, the next day. I'm just going to do it whenever I feel like doing it, pitching matchups and all those things.''

Ice bucket challenge madness

Terry Steinbach, Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer and Ron Gardenhire pulled off the ice bucket challenge earlier this afternoon, the craze that has raised, according to reports, more than $11 million for ALS.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was hatched with the idea to raise awareness about ALS. A person has to be filmed having ice water dumped on them, then challenge others to do the same. If not, then that person must donate $100 to ALS. A-list celebrities and professional athletes have taken the challenge, which has been a social media smash hit.

Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven and Royals counterpart Rex Hudler did theirs together.
After being doused with his ice bucket, Gardenhire said he's challenged Wild head coach Mike Yeo, Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia and former manager Tom Kelly to do the same.

``Cause they are ice people,'' Gardenhire said. ``And then Tom Kelly, because when he hears that he's going to stare me down, cold as ice.''

Royals (67-54)

Nori Aoki, RF
Omar Infante, 2B
Salvador Perez, C
Billy Butler, 1B
Alex Gordon, LF
Lorenzo Cain, CF
Raul Ibanez, DH
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Alcides Escobar, SS

Yordano Ventura, RHP

Twins (54-66)

Danny Santana, SS
Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B
Kennys Vargas, DH
Oswaldo Arcia, RF
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Kurt Suzuki, C
Chris Parmelee, LF
Jordan Schafer, CF

Phil Hughes, RHP



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