Wes Johnson was a surprise hire to many when he was named Twins pitching coach in November after spending 19 years coaching mainly at the college level.
But Blake Parker, who the Twins signed last week as a free agent to be a potential late-inning reliever, said he has known of Johnson and his reputation for years.
“He is a fellow Arkansan, and we actually live minutes from each other and go to the same church together on Sundays,” Parker said.
He said he has never worked with Johnson, but the two have tried to get together because Parker’s former pitching coaches with the Angels had visited Johnson when he was coaching at the University of Arkansas.
“When I got home last offseason, my pitching coach with the Angels and some of the coaching staff have come up to Arkansas to get some ideas and pick his brain because he is apparently a pitching guru, so to speak, and he really knows what he’s talking about,” Parker said. “I called him wanting to get up and do some workouts with him but the timing was way off because the [Razorbacks] had just finished fall and working through finals and finishing school, and they were done for the winter.
“So I didn’t get a chance to work out with him, but I’m really excited to start working with him and pick his brain and check the ideas he has.”
Parker has spent three seasons with the Cubs, split a season between the Mariners and the Yankees and pitched for the Angels for the past two years. Over 224⅓ career innings, he has posted a 3.29 ERA with an average of 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
Parker, 33, had two excellent seasons with the Angels. He went 5-4 with a 2.90 ERA over 133⅔ innings with 156 strikeouts and only 35 walks.
He said that over his six years in the majors, he has learned not to take it personally when teams didn’t want him back. He became a free agent in November when the Angels didn’t offer him a contract.
“After being around for a few years, you start to see things from a business side of it,” Parker said. “I wasn’t surprised, but was caught off-guard.”
The Twins signed Parker for one year for $1.8 million, and he said he did have other offers.
“I was in talks with my agent while all of this was going on and he had notified me that there was probably nine or 10 teams that were showing interest pretty quickly after the Angels had nontenured me,” Parker said. “Trying to find the right fit was obviously a big priority for me, and I felt like Minnesota was the right fit.”
Parker said he’s hoping to find a home in Minnesota, but he’s also happy with whatever role he finds in the majors.
“That’s just the life of a journeyman reliever,” he said. “I wish I could have spent my whole career in one organization and been the hometown hero, but the way my career has played out, it has sent me all across the country and I am very grateful for that. The experiences I have had, I wouldn’t trade them in for nothing.”
Parker said he didn’t know what to expect about pitching at Target Field, but he did have a few clear memories from three previous appearances there.
“I did give up a homer to [Byron] Buxton [in July of 2017],” Parker said. “I got behind him 1-0 on a pretty good pitch that I thought could have gone either way, so then I attacked him and he got every bit of it.
“I watched Max Kepler put some balls out of the ballpark. Whenever we played him he was really on fire, but you know I think [Target Field is] hitter-friendly. I guess I don’t know too much just from the series I have played.”
Super Bowl opponents
The New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams, who will meet in Super Bowl LII in Atlanta on Feb. 3, both defeated the Vikings during the regular season.
The Vikings faced the Rams in Week 4 in Los Angeles in a Thursday night game and lost 38-31. The Rams gained 556 total yards and quarterback Jared Goff completed 26 of 33 passes for 465 yards and five touchdowns.
The Patriots game in Week 13 at Foxboro, Mass., was never close. Tom Brady threw for 311 yards, one touchdown and one interception in New England’s 24-10 victory.
The good news for the Vikings is their 2019 schedule features only one of the four teams who reached the conference championships. They will play the Chiefs on the road, with specific schedule dates and times set in April.
There were rumors the Vikings had settled on Rick Dennison to be their offensive line coach, followed by rumors that the Packers also were interested in Dennison.
So far he hasn’t signed with any team after spending last season as Jets offensive line coach and run game coordinator. The Vikings still might be hiring him, however, possibly as soon as Thursday.
• When will the NFL change the overtime rule that, if one team wins the coin toss and scores a touchdown, the game is over without the opposing team getting a possession? In the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, the Patriots won 37-31 in overtime without the Chiefs offense and their star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, getting back on the field after scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter.
• ESPN released their 2020 NBA mock draft Wednesday, with Rochester John Marshall standout forward Matthew Hurt as the No. 16 overall pick.
• Las Vegas oddsmakers have set the Twins’ over/under win total at 84½, which is tied for the ninth-highest mark in MLB and fifth in the AL behind only the Astros, Red Sox, Yankees and Indians.
• Former Gophers and Vikings wide receiver Isaac Fruechte has been named the offensive coordinator at Wis.-La Crosse. Fruechte was on the Eagles staff last year, but this will be his first season running the offense.
• Not only was Vikings linebacker coach Adam Zimmer the head coach of the West team that won the East-West Shrine Game 21-17 in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday, but he had Vikings assistant special teams coach Ryan Ficken and assistant defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez on his staff. On the East team staff were Vikings co-offensive line coach Andrew Janocko and assistant defensive backs coach Jeff Howard.
• The Gophers wrestling team (10-2) is ranked No. 7 in the country by InterMat after defeating Northwestern 29-12 on Sunday. Freshman heavyweight Gable Steveson is the lone Gopher ranked No. 1 in his weight class; Sean Russell (No. 6 at 125 pounds), Ethan Lizak (No. 8, 133), Mitch McKee (No. 8, 141) and Steve Bleise (No. 7, 157) are in the top 10.