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.
Today will be a good day to watch relievers at the Lee County Sports Complex.
Alex Burnett, Jared Burton, Matt Maloney, Kyle Waldrop and Jason Bulger all are scheduled to throw batting practice. There's a good chance that one or two relievers from this group break camp with the team. With Brian Duensing in the bullpen there's less of a need to keep a third lefty like Maloney, but you never know.
Burton has looked pretty good so far, but that doesn't really matter until he starts facing opposing hitters.
There's a chance that reliever Joel Zumaya will reach a decision on his future. We'll let you know here as soon as it happens.
A couple injury updates. Luke Hughes took 25 light swings this morning and he works his way back from right shoulder inflammation. He's been allowed to take part in fielding drills but can only roll the ball off the field after he fields grounders. He hopes he'll be promoted to light tosses soon. Ah, rehab. Baby steps,
Reliever Jeff Gray was kept off the mound for a couple days because he had trouble getting loose, But he's going to throw today,
It was either 2004 or 2005 (the years are beginning to blur) when I was having lunch during spring training. Matthew LeCroy walked in and sat down next me.
While picking sushi rolls up with his hands and stuffing them into his mouth, he talked about Michael Cuddyer.
``He's unbelievable,'' LeCroy said. ``When he arrived at New Britain (2000) he walked into the office and said, `Anything you need to have done in the community, let me know. I want to help.'
When I asked him about it, he said he wanted to be that guy to give back.''
Until the end of his time with the Twins, Cuddyer was that guy. When Twins officials this summer talked about trying to sign him to one more contract, they spoke of how Cuddyer has done everything they've asked of him through the years. Hosting `Baseball Unplugged' during off-days. Interviewing players during the Diamond Awards dinner. Cuddyer stepped up for them. One more contract, they felt, would make him a lock for the Twins' Hall of Fame.
He was a pretty good player too. He never had a really, really big season. He reached 30 homers once. He drove in 100 runs once. He didn't make an All-Star team until last season. But, once the Twins figured out where to play him, he was reliable, he could carry a team for a little while and made baserunners pay when they tried to stretch for two.
But it was the whole package, on and off the field, that made covering him a pleasure.
I've known Cuddyer since 1999. I remember buying rounds for him and Michael Restovich at a watering hole during their first major league training camp a couple years later and getting to know them. (I also remember getting crushed at the pool table that night). He treats people the way he wants to be treated. He's funny. He's loyal. He married a teacher. He's creative. Good grief, the guy once thought about opening a bar in which people swiped their credit cards at taps designed like gasoline pumps and pour their own beer. He was an impressive young man in 1999 and really never changed.
Luke Hughes is in awe of the guy. Hughes is trying to get Australian baseball moving forward and has gone to Cuddyer for advice on what to say and what to do to motivate players in his homeland. To Hughes, Cuddyer's professionalism is one trait every player should have.
When the Twins were in the process of getting waxed by the Yankees in the 2010 playoffs, it was Cuddyer who came out and faced the media while other players remained in the restricted area of the clubhouse.
This past season drained Cuddyer and factored into his decision to leave. In September, he told me during a casual conversation that it probably was his toughest season, based on failed expectations and how things played out in the clubhouse.
Fellow clubhouse leader Justin Morneau struggled with injuries and recurring concussion symptoms. When and where Joe Mauer was playing was a daily mystery. Young players needed to be straightened out. Cuddyer tried to play with a sore neck late in the season to send a message to everyone, but it became pointless as the losses mounted and the Rochester roster migrated West.
``I feel like I'm fighting a one-man battle,'' Cuddyer told someone in the clubhouse.
It's a great deal, $31.5 million over three years. Clearly more than the Twins were willing to go. Good for Cuddyer, one of my favorite players to cover since I started writing ball in 1994. The Twins get two draft picks and might have $8-9 million to spend (starting pitching?). Good for the Twins.
Cuddyer is off to the Rockies. The Twins will try to recover from rock-bottom baseball.
We haven't been told why, but Twins righthander Scott Baker has left tonight's game after giving up an unearned run over five innings. He seemed fine as he walked off the field after the fifth inning.
Phil Dumatrait is in the game for the Twins now. We'll update you as soon as we know something.
Update: Scott Baker left tonight's game with a mild right elbow strain and will be re-evaluated tomorrow. A strain isn't bad. But anything involving the elbow isn't good.
Denard Span, who's been battling a concussion, is feeling better. He is on the field for early batting practice, getting swings in the cage with some of his teammates.
Span said he's been feeling better in recent days,so he wants to increase his activities. The guess is that he still needs a string of good days before the Twins decide if it's time to send him out on a rehab assignment.
The pitching matchups for the Twins-White Sox series have been released:
Thursday: Carl Pavano v. Phil Humber
Friday: Nick Blackburn v Gavin Floyd
Saturday: Brian Duensing v Mark Buehrle
Sunday: Scott Baker v Jake Peavy.
Check back here later for lineups and updates.
UPDATES: Sorry for the delay. Had an extra story to write before the game and everything got backed up.
Jason Kubel had an MRI on his left foot before the game. The Twins are expected to know the results shortly.
Justin Morneau was at the park today, and insisted that he will return before the season is over. In fact, he hopes to return in early August instead of mid-August.
Span is scheduled to join the team for the series in Chicago,where he will coninue his recovery from the concussion.
Umpire Paul Emmel, who was whacked on the kneecap by a chunk of Joe Mauer's bat on Monday, has been replaced by Chris Conroy, who is working third base,
1. Johnny Damon, DH
2. Ben Zobrist, 2B
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Matt Joyce, RF
5. B.J. Upton, CF
6. Casey Kotchman, 1B
7. John Jaso, C
8. Sam Fuld, LF
9. Elliot Johnson, SS
1. Ben Revere CF
2. Alexi Casilla 2B
3. Joe Mauer C
4. Michael Cuddyer 1B
5. Jim Thome DH
6. Danny Valencia 3B
7. Rene Tosoni LF
8. Jason Repko RF
9. Tsuyoshi Nishioka SS
Scott Baker RHP
Programming note from MLB Radio:
``Tonight at (7 p.m.) on XM 179, before the Minnesota Twins & Seattle Mariners game, SiriusXM will re-broadcast Baseball Confidential: Harmon Killebrew. Recorded at the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009, hear Killebrew’s reflections on his Hall of Fame life and career. ''
Message from the Seattle Mariners about tonight's game:
``The Mariners want you to be aware that we will be saluting Harmon Killebrew tonight. First, the flag will be at half-staff. Second, there will be a moment of silence just prior to the national anthem. Third, at the end of the first inning, there will be an in-park video tribute to Mr. Killebrew.
``In addition, at the end of the fourth inning, we will introduce Bert Blyleven in the park and congratulate him on his election to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.''
Hall of Famer Paul Molitor
Paul Molitor and his wife, Destiny,flew out to Arizona on Friday and visited with Harmon for a little while on Friday and Saturday.
``I just wanted to make sure he knew that I appreciated having him to look up to as a kid and have his friendship the past several decades. It was great to have a conversation with him.''
Twins president Dave St.Peter:
“No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins Territory than Harmon Killebrew. Harmon will long be remembered as one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the game and the leader of a group of players who helped lay the foundation for the long-term success of the Twins franchise and Major League Baseball in the Upper Midwest. However, more importantly Harmon’s legacy will be the class, dignity and humility he demonstrated each and every day as a Hall of Fame-quality husband, father, friend, teammate and man. The Twins extend heartfelt sympathies and prayers to the Killebrew family at this difficult time.”
Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
“Harmon Killebrew personified Hall of Fame excellence in every aspect of his dynamic life. He will forever be remembered for his 573 career home runs and as the 1969 American League Most Valuable Player, and as one of the greatest hitters of his era. Since joining the Hall of Fame family in 1984, Harmon was a beacon of light among his fellow Hall of Famers, always smiling, always enjoying every moment that life delivered at his doorstep. We have so many fond memories of this wonderful baseball hero, and we will miss him enormously.”
Jeff Idelson, Hall of Fame president.
“Harmon was a Hall of Famer on and off the field. He was baseball's version of Paul Bunyan, with his prodigious home run power, leading by example in the clubhouse and on the field. Off the field, he emanated class, dignity, and warmth, and he was a great humanitarian. He was so down-to-earth, you would never realize he was a baseball legend. It’s ironic that his nickname was ‘Killer,’ as he was one of the nicest, most generous individuals to ever walk the earth.”
Well, after I hyped the Gibson v. Nishioka battle, it never came about.
Nishioka's group left right before Gibson took the mound for his bullpen session. Instead, Gibson faced the M & M boys.
Mauer hit a couple pitches well and Morneau clobbered a long one off of Gibson, but the way everyone went to Gibson and congratulated him after his outing suggested that they like what they see from the righthander out of the University Missouri.
Morneau, by the way, hit several long ones during the coach-pitch phase of batting practice. He looks fine to me. You wonder when he'll jump up one day and say, `it's time to play in a game.'' It's gotta be his call more than anything.
Again, I must remind myself that concussions have their own timetable.
Michael Cuddyer won't play in any spring training games anytime soon because the wart that was supposed to be a non-issue has become an issue.
``Cuddy has a little foot problem so he backed away,'' Gardy said. ``We kept him off the field and we are going to see how he does tomorrow. That growth that he had taken off his foot has really affected him and got really sore so backed off today and we are going to know more tomorrow. If it continues to stay sore we are going to have the whole thing taken out.
``That will cost a little time if that has to happen. Michael seemed to think that he would be OK tomorrow. We'll see.
Nishioka surprised me today when I walked by his stall and he looked at me and said, ``Good Morning.'' with a smile.
By the way, `Good morning,' in Japanese is pronounced something like "Ohio". So I've been greeting Japanese media each morning with "Ohio"
Alexi Casilla walked past us and said the Japanese word for, "shut up" which brought laughter from a Japanese reporter. How'd he learn that. And I'm starting to worry what words Twins players are trying to teach Nishioka....
Here's how the Twins’ starting rotation sets up for the first week of spring training games.
Sunday: Carl Pavano. Monday: Nick Blackburn followed by Kevin Slowey. Tuesday: Scott Baker, followed by Joe Nathan. Wednesday: Brian Duensing. Thursday: Pavano. Friday: Francisco Liriano, tentatively.
The schedule could change, based on health. Righthander Scott Baker had another good bullpen session on Friday and could come out of the bullpen in one of the games.
Don't read too much into who is starting games and who is not because schedules can always be adjusted. Also keep in mind that your favorite Twins starter could end up getting a lot of innings in minor league spring training games, once they begin, while the coaching staff evaluates new pitchers.
Not good news for Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek. There's a growing chance he might miss all of spring training while recovering from surgery to reattach the retina in his left eye.
The Twins are concerned that he could have a setback if he comes back, gets in the sun and gets active again. Everything is on hold with him right now.
The Twins hit the field at 8:30 eastern to start their workout. Today is their annual charity golf tournament to raise funds for cancer care in Lee County, so they will be off the field around 11.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka will not play in the tournament, although he's supposed to be a good golfer.
Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Kevin Slowey, Jose Mijares and Jim Hoey are among the pitchers scheduled to face hitters today.
Nathan is taking the mound at Hammond Stadium as I write this.
Justin Morneau was in the batting cage when Team Strib arrived at 7:45. I view that as a good sign. We were all wound up about how he felt after his first workout. The key will be how he feels after several days of team activities. I'm curious to see when Morneau will start to clamor to play in spring games.
But I agree with colleague Jim Souhan. We get fixated on who's going to be ready for Opening Day. It's really about getting players to the point where, once they start the season, they have a good chance to finish the season.
I want to make it clear that there are no indications that Morneau might not be ready Apr. 1. This goes for Morneau, Joe Mauer. Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano or anyone who is dealing with any physical issue.
Michael Cuddyer has released his now-annual t-shirt with his now-annual slogan. On the front, in big letters, is "WIN"
The back reads, ``Don't Be Denied"
I think Cuddy, who has been here since 2001, is tired of being denied.,
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