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.

Pitcher Swarzak ready for first season start

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III under Ron Gardenhire, Twins game coverage Updated: July 23, 2014 - 11:15 AM
Right-handed pitcher Anthony Swarzak will make his first start of the season this afternoon in the final installment of a three-game home series against the Cleveland Indians.
Swarzak learned of his first start since Oct. 2, 2012, last night after the game when Kyle Gibson scratched because of a lower-back injury. 
Manager Ron Gardenhire said he wasn’t too concerned about the quick turnaround for Swarzak.
“You take those relievers, and they’re kind of ready for just about anything you throw at them,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been around for a long time.”
Gardenhire said the biggest adjustment for his starting pitcher would just be warm-up time, as the reliever is used to quicker warmups and would need to endure the longer warmup without wearing himself out.
Swarzak is expected to last four or five innings with about 60 pitches, while Deduno, Fien and closer Perkins will finish out the game, if all goes to Gardenhire’s plan.
Here are the complete lineups for today’s 12:10 p.m. start:
Kipnis 2B
Ramirez SS
Brantley CF
Santana 1B
Chisenhall 3B
Swisher DH
Murphy RF
Perez C
Dickerson LF
Fuld LF
Dozier 2B
Plouffe 3B
Morales DH
Colabello 1B
Arcia RF
Nunez SS
Fryer C
Santana CF
Swarzak RHP

Twins-Indians pregame: Pino tasked with stopping All-Star Brantley

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: July 22, 2014 - 5:42 PM

Twins starter Yohan Pino will be tasked with stopping Indians All-Star center fielder Michael Brantley, who had just a pinch hit appearance in the Twins’  4-3 victory over the Indians on Monday.

Brantley ripped a double to right field off reliever Casey Fien in the eighth inning. He’s batting third for the Indians on Tuesday. Brantley is .284 with two home runs and 32 RBIs in 291 plate appearances against the Twins.

Pino, who will make his sixth career start, has never faced Brantley.

“We don’t have too many people that have a lot of success against him,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He comes in last night and, boy, the ball must’ve looked like a beach ball. We’ve got to figure out a way to make it look like a golf ball and get him out. He’s a pretty good hitter.”

Sam Fuld will start in left field with Danny Stantana remaining in center field. Gardenhire doesn’t want to put Santana in left field, a position he’s never placed, and wants to keep shortstop Eduardo Escobar in the lineup.

“[Santana] can fly out there and Sammy can cover his ground so it works out better this way,” Gardenhire said.

Here’s the rest of the lineup:

Jason Kipnis (L), 2B
Chris Dickerson (L), LF
Michael Brantley (L), CF
Carlos Santana (S), 1B
Lonnie Chisenhall (L), 3B
Nick Swisher (S), DH
Yan Gomes, C
David Murphy (L), RF
Mike Aviles, SS

Danny Salazar, RHP

Twins (45-53)

Danny Santana (S), CF
Brian Dozier, 2B
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Kendrys Morales (S), 1B
Josh Willingham, DH
Kurt Suzuki, C
Oswaldo Arcia (L), RF
Eduardo Escobar (S), SS
Sam Fuld (L), LF
Yohan Pino, RHP


Postgame: Thoughts on Johnson, obliques and rotation

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: July 22, 2014 - 12:05 AM

Here are three thoughts following the Twins' win over Cleveland.

1. GOOD FOR TWINS, CRUMMY FOR JOHNSON: I'm a little strange. I like that players get the ball for milestone hits and wins. And teams give a left-handed toast to managers for milestone wins. Why? This game pretty hard to play. Doing anything for the first time is cool. Doinghit 500 times? 1,000? More? That seems pretty special. So it was too bad for lefthander Kris Johnson, who left the game with a 3-2 lead in the fifth and was set up for his first win. But Casey Fien couldn't get out of the eighth untouched, a blemish on what has been a strong season for him. Johnson pointed out that the important thing was that the Twins got a win they needed in the end. Hopefully he'll get another chance. At 29, you never know when the next opportunity will come.

2. A CORRECTION: I think I stated in the pregame blog that most players I've covered have needed about a month to return from an oblique strain (re: No. 7). I decided to look that up, and I was mistaken. Let's head back to 2011, the year of the great oblique outbreak. It was the last time any Twins player had the injury. Delmon Young and Jim Thome both missed 19 games, Glen Perkins missed 23 games, Tsuyoshi Nishioka missed 15 games and Brian Duensing missed only10 games. Mauer on Monday missed his 16th game, but that doesn't include the four-day All-Star break. So this one already is worse than most of the others. And Mauer hasn't started hitting yet. I'm glad I looked that up.

3. PINO THURSDAY, DARNELL ON SATURDAY? I'm hearing that Logan Darnell could be called up to start on Saturday, the next time the Twins need a fill-in starter. Darnell is in line to start on Friday, so it looks as if he would get an extra day of rest if he ends up being the choice. Alex Meyer is pitching on Wednesday, and would gave to be juggled. Plus, Meyer's work load could make it hard for him to join the rotation. May has a much better chance to debut this season, but he needs three more starts, at least. to build up his arm strength after missing nearly a month because of a calf strain. I know it's not what the masses want to read right now, but I'm just a courier.

Twins-Indians: Mauer making progress; Pino starts Tuesday

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: July 21, 2014 - 7:06 PM

Joe Mauer was out early taking grounders and running in the outfield as he recovers from a right oblique strain. He plans to take some dry swings ( not off the tee or against any pitching). Mauer said he's fine with every day activities but definitely still feels it when he starts working out. Not surprised. Most players I have covered missed at least a month with that injury.

``That's not what I wanted to hear,'' Mauer said. But it's true. It's an injury that takes a while to calm down.

Still, Mauer feels like he's making progress. He's getting treatment every day and is at the point where he can do a little more each day.

``Long days at the park,'' he said.

Yohan Pino is here and will start on Tuesday against Cleveland, as expected. Lefthander Kris Johnson is expected to be sent down after tonight's start to clear room for Pino,

Pino was sent to Class AAA Rochester before the All-Star break to remain on somewhat of a routine - and to make room for Kris Johnson to be be added in time to start on July 11 against Colorado. Pino started on Thursday against Norfolk, giving up five earned runs over five innings on three hits - and seven walks

Pino's theory is that pitching with six day's rest threw him off schedule. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn't seen too concerned either, probably because his options are limited.

Pinto will start Tuesday, then Sunday against the White Sox. The Twins have an off day on Monday, July 28, so everyone can be pushed back a day in the rotation. Pinto could start again on Aug. 1. Aug. 2 should be the next day the Twins need a fifth starter.

By the way, my new prediction for the debut of Trevor May is Aug. 10. He threw 47 pitches on Sunday in his return from a calf strain. He'll need at least three more starts to build up his arm strength to 90-plus pitches.

Oswaldo Arcia is not in the lineup today because a lefthander is on the mound for Cleveland. But he was out on the field for early batting practice with hitting coach Tom Brunansky.

Michael Brantley is getting a day off for the Indians, leaving them with a lineup that has some interesting batting averages.

Cleveland (50-48)

Jason Kipnis, 2B
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
Yan Gomes, DH
Carlos Santana, 1B (.204-14-40)
Ryan Raburn, LF (.199-2-18)
Nick Swisher, RF (.209-8-40)
Roberto Perez, C
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
Mike Aviles, CF (infielder playing the outfield)

T.J. House, LHP

Twins (44-53)

Danny Santana, CF (infielder playing the outfield)
Brian Dozier, 2B
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Kendrys Morales, 1B (.239-1-18, 10 game hit streak)
Josh Willingham, LF (.209-8-27)
Kurt Suzuki, C
Chris Colabello, DH
Chris Parmelee, RF
Eduardo Escobar, SS

Kris Johnson, LHP

Postgame: GM Ryan praises Rays' Price

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III under Twins game coverage Updated: July 20, 2014 - 8:31 PM
Megan Ryan, the intern, with some quick postgame thoughts for you. I’m sorry I don’t have a clever blog title like LaVelle’s that plays off my name. But here goes anyway.
Pregame, general manager Terry Ryan spoke of Tampa Bay Rays left-handed pitcher David Price. And while Ryan [no relation … I think] said he shouldn’t talk about other team’s players, he couldn’t help but extol some of Price’s virtues.
“Obviously he’s one of those guys you read about quite often,” Ryan said. “David Price is a talented pitcher. Really talented. And you don’t see left handers come around that have his stuff and command that he has.”
Ryan added that there was a reason Price was the No. 1 pick in the country, and the Twins really didn’t stand a chance when they faced him Saturday. His speed changing pitches held the Twins to eight scoreless innings and increased his major league strikeout lead to 173 and innings pitched lead to 155.2.
And Price may not be a Ray for long. With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaching, Tampa Bay may want to sell him off for a handsome price to a serious playoff contender.
Terry said “we’ll see.” And I guess that’s what we’ll have to do – for the Twins veterans, too.

Santana left out of lineup, working on mechanics

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III under Ron Gardenhire, Twins game coverage Updated: July 20, 2014 - 12:01 PM
Rookie Danny Santana won’t be in the lineup today in the final installment of a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Target Field.
The centerfielder went on the disabled list June 27 because of a knee injury but returned Friday. He’s struggled in his first outings, including striking out four times in four at bats in last night’s 5-1 loss.
Manager Ron Gardenhire said Santana will be in the batting cage working on some mechanical fixes instead.
This is intern Megan Ryan, by the way, hijacking LaVelle’s blog.
Another thing to look for tonight is a Twins loss – because if they do fail to take one from the series, it will be Gardy’s 1,000th career loss. But the longtime manager isn’t too concerned.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said. “We’re going to win the rest of our games.”
The Twins managed five groundball double plays last night, and while Gardenhire was impressed by the play of Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar, he said there was a downside as well.
“There’s the old saying that if you lead the league in double plays, that means you have a lot of people on base, which is not good for your pitch staff,” he said. “But at least we’re getting ground balls and getting out of them.”
Here are the lineups for today’s 1:10 p.m. start:
Jennings CF
Zobrist 2B
Joyce LF
Longoria 3B
Loney 1B
Guyer DH
Escobar SS
Casali C
Kiermaier RF
Archer SP
Dozier 2B
Nunez 3B
Plouffe DH
Morales 1B
Arcia RF
Willingham LF
Escobar SS
Fryer C
Fuld CF
Correia SP



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