FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins will close spring training with a game against their Class AAA club, the Rochester Red Wings, on Friday. There won’t be many people in the Hammond Stadium stands, but there could be a couple of interesting twists:
First, Jose Berrios is in line to pitch for the Red Wings. That would set him up to pitch Rochester’s season opener next Thursday. Let’s say young Jose goes five scoreless and strikes out nine or 10 … that would cause some outrage from the critics back home.
(And remember: At this point, there seem to be two forms of the prior Twins audience back in Minnesota -- the critics and the currently disinterested.)
Second, ByungHo Park could be in the Red Wings’ lineup after his tremendous spring training for the Twins, only to be gutted by management on Thursday morning and told to report to the Rochester club. Maybe he'll hit a couple of bombs off Kyle Gibson and the pitchers to follow for the Twins.
There also reason for Alex Wimmers to be upset that he pitched well enough to be in the Twins’ bullpen and wound up being sent to Rochester. Or perhaps J.T. Chargois still will be trying to figure out why he got sent down the road when there still was time to get his act together before the end of the Twins’ stay in Florida.
This will be the first time the Twins and the Red Wings have played an exhibition game at the end of spring training since 2006. That one was interesting for the enthusiasim with which the Red Wings plastered the Twins 15-3.
Thad Levine, the Twins general manager, said:
“We discussed that, actually – the possibility there are Rochester players who might be upset, perhaps justifiably, about not being on the big league team. Could something happen?’’
Probably not. Park, Berrios, Wimmers, Chargois … they seem like reasonable gentlemen who know that disappointment generally comes before success in the Grand Old Game.
Then again, the last time the Twins played the Red Wings in a spring-closing exhibition – on April 2, 2006 – it did not go quite as smoothly as the big-league manager, Ron Gardenhire, was hoping would be the case.
Here is the Star Tribune report on that game by the now-reformed baseball writer, Joe Christensen:
WHEN YOU’VE JUST BEEN blown out by your Class AAA affiliate, it's a little tough speaking confidently about your chances in the American League. The Twins faced that task Sunday, as they finished spring training with a 15-3 loss to the Rochester Red Wings at Hammond Stadium.
A Rochester lineup featuring Terry Tiffee, Jason Bartlett and some other recent cuts by the Twins seemed to take great pleasure in pounding the big-league counterparts.
Scott Baker, who just secured the Twins' No. 5 starting spot, gave up 10 runs in the second inning alone.
"I think a lot of our guys' minds were elsewhere," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We're thinking about going [to Toronto], and that's too bad. We wanted to put up a little bit better fight than that, and they just kind of got us."
Several Twins players said they believe this is a better team than the one that left Fort Myers last April.
Some recent performances bolstered that confidence. They finished Grapefruit League play with six consecutive victories and a 19-13 record.
Joe Mauer, who had Sunday off, singled in his final seven at-bats. Jason Kubel hit .421 over his final eight games and added two RBI against Rochester, after tying Justin Morneau with a team-high 12 this spring.
Michael Cuddyer homered on three consecutive days. Kyle Lohse (5-0) carried a pitching staff that posted an AL-best 4.23 ERA.
Of course, when the Royals led all AL Central teams with a 17-10 record, it's hard to put much stock in the numbers.
"It's a different story on April 3 and 4," Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. "Everything turns. But we feel good about the club."
Before heading to Toronto, where they'll open the season Tuesday, the Twins ran into a Rochester buzzsaw.
Watching Baker struggle was unsettling. He had posted a 3.52 ERA this spring, winning the battle for the No. 5 spot over Francisco Liriano.
Facing Rochester, Baker was charged with 11 earned runs and 10 hits and didn’t last two innings.
"He just didn't have it today," Gardenhire said. "He was up in the zone and got whacked around, and they scored and scored and scored.’’
The game even featured a little friction. Tiffee, who had been cut a day earlier, took a hard slide into second base in the first inning, knocking Twins shortstop Juan Castro off balance on a potential double-play ball.
When Tiffee came up the next inning, he and catcher Mike Redmond had words.
"Tiff likes to play the game, and he plays the game hard," Gardenhire said. "I think Red Dog just wanted to make sure he understood that we're not going to try and get anybody killed here."
Tiffee finished 3-for-4 with three line-drive singles, and Bartlett went 4-for-5 with a home run and three runs scored.
"That's what you'd expect them to do," Gardenhire said.
[ADDENDUM, 11 years later: Really, Gardy? If that’s what you expected, why didn’t you keep ‘em – although Bartlett did come back in June and was a big help as the shortstop for the division-winning “Piranhas.’’]