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Patrick Reusse

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Despite blow-up, relief pitching is least of Twins problems

MILWAUKEE – The Twins lost a game on Tuesday night at Miller Park based on the least of their problems: The work of the back end of the bullpen trio of Tyler Duffey, Trevor May and Taylor Rogers.

Duffey pitched the seventh and remained unscored on in seven outings. Surrounding that, May gave up a game-tying two-run home run (4-4) in the sixth, and Rogers gave up a game-losing two-run home run (6-4) to Jedd Gyorko in the eighth.

Such things happen.

May had been throwing better than ever, Duffey has been a phenomenon since mid-May 2019, and Rogers -- whine if you must, cite his stats in back-to-back games, but I’ll take the lefthander any time to finish a ballgame.

An additional note on Duffey, as a phenomenon: Since mid-July last season, he now has been scored on once in 34 appearances, and that was two runs to Kansas City on the last Saturday of the 2019 season.

Tuesday's misdeeds from two terrific bullpen arms, May’s and Rogers’, took the attention away from a major problem this team continues to demonstrate: They can’t add runs and put away opponents.

And, yes, 18 games is a short sample, but in what will be a 60-game season if a team is lucky, all that will be available are short samples.

The Twins were leading 4-1 in the fourth with runners on first and third and two outs when Alex Claudio struck out Nelson Cruz. The Twins were leading 4-2 in the sixth when Sano and Byron Buxton led off with singles.

Then, Max Kepler was called out on a non-strike evaluated by Jerry Meals, who is unjustly overlooked too often in the debate as to the worst ball-and-strike umpire in the big leagues. Jorge Polanco then wrapped into a double play.

Once again, the Twins went away in a rash of nothingness, three runs in the first three innings and zip after that.

The mid-game failure also brought back an old theory: You can’t afford to waste a Sano single. This was his first of the season, coming after two doubles and three home runs on the way to his current batting average of .125.

That would the worst on the team, if it wasn’t for the woes of catcher Mitch Garver, the slugging revelation of 2019 and now being deprived of delicious fastballs on the inner two-thirds of the plate.

Garver is batting .111 and has 18 strikeouts in 36 at-bats. Since he plays less than Sano, the strikeout competition will have to be settled by percentage. Garver is now whiffing at a .500 rate in his at-bats, meaning – with 25 out of 48 – Sano has him by a tiche at .521.

Admittedly, the Twins were impressive in striking out while compiling a major league record for home runs – 23 percent of their at-bats were Ks – but they have upped that to 27.5 percent in 2020. They also are batting .232 as a team, compared to .270 in 2019.

Yah, we get it. Short sample. 

The shortest sample of all has been Josh Donaldson, the acquisition for third base and paid handsomely to make this lineup EVEN better. He played in seven games, left with an aching right calf, which is an injury as familiar to him as a bad back and neck has become for Eldrick Woods.

The Twins may wind up getting nothing from the first installment (reduced greatly by the mini-season) on Donaldson and hope for his presence next season, when the slugger now bringing teardrops will have turned 35.

There was a strong indication of a Twins’ growing pessimism over Donaldson’s return with the purchase of infielder Ildemaro Vargas from Arizona on Tuesday. Manager Rocco Baldelli said on his pregame Zoom-cast before Game 2 in Milwaukee the Vargas’ acquisition had little to do with Donaldson’s injury situation – that he was a 29-year-old, switch-hitting, not-playing-much infielder that the Twins liked quite a bit.

And we in the media all like Rocco quite a bit, because he’s such an affable fellow, even when he’s fibbing to us through his COVID mask. (Hint: Good word that “fibbing’’ .. causes many fewer problems than “lying.’’)

Of course, there’s also the possibility Rocco was being Boy Scout-honest here, and the Twins felt that one switch-hitting infielder with modest credentials and a tough to pronounce first name for us fellows from Murray County wasn’t enough in Ehire Adrianza, and they had to have another.

The one true error Baldelli made Tuesday was mentioning the Twins had received a strong recommendation from another switch-hitting D-Backs' infielder on Vargas being a fine gentleman.

That player was Eduardo Escobar, and Rocco, in the name of all that is sacred in Twins’ promotion, never go out of your way to remind team followers that your bosses traded the wonderful Eddie Escobar for no good reason, only to see him sign for cheap in Arizona.

Rocco, in the name of Falvey, and LEVINE!, don't inspire us to recall the current third base gap should be filled with Eddie Escobar – struggling a bit right now, but coming off 118 RBI in 2019 for the D-Backs at a salary of $6.17 million.

Reusse: 3M Open newbies go on to big things at PGA Championship

The 2019 NCAA Division I men’s golf tournament was held in late May in Fayetteville, Ark. Matthew Wolff, a 20-year-old sophomore from Oklahoma State, was the individual winner by five strokes.

Collin Morikawa, a 22-year-old University of California graduate, finished in a tie for sixth, 10 strokes behind Wolff. Viktor Hovland, 21, and the other sophomore star for Oklahoma State, finished 14 strokes back in a tie for 15th.

Hollis Cavner has been involved in collegiate golf events in his role as CEO of Pro Links Sports. As Wolff, Morikawa and Hovland were finishing their college careers in Arkansas, Cavner was five weeks from bringing back a weekly PGA Tour event to Minnesota with the first 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities.

Cavner was quick to offer sponsor’s exemptions to Wolff, Morikawa and Hovland. “Golf is in great shape with the talent and character of these young guys we have, and we wanted to make sure we gave Minnesota fans a chance to see these three right away,’’ Cavner said Monday.

Wolff had received one exemption as an amateur and was playing his third PGA Tour event as a pro in the 2019 3M Open. Morikawa had qualified for the U.S. Open, and also was playing his third PGA Tour event on that Fourth of July weekend in Blaine.

Hovland, a Norwegian and perhaps Europe’s next superstar, was the 2018 U.S. Amateur champion and thus gained 2019 entry into the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and a couple of other events. The 3M Open was also Hovland’s third PGA Tour event as a pro.

Cavner had gotten to know Wolff, Morikawa and Hovland at college tournaments earlier in their careers, and quickly offering those sponsor’s exemptions proved a bonanza for the initial 3M Open.

Wolff made an eagle on the 72nd hole to finish 21-under and beat Morikawa and the pre-Bluto version of Bryson DeChambeau by a stroke. Hovland finished tied for 15th at 15-under.

The 2020 portion of the PGA Tour, shut down during the Players Championship in mid-March, returned in mid-June with a reshuffled schedule and no fans, and creating hectic schedules for players leading up to the second 3M Open in late July.

Cavner knew in June that he wasn’t going to have fans, and was told a month in advance by the PGA Tour that the lucrative pro-ams preceding the 3M also were cancelled.

No fans, no on-course corporate hospitality areas, no pro-ams … it’s a fairly good guess that Cavner wasn’t his usual aggressive self in convincing players to tee it up in Blaine. Those chits a tournament boss might have at his disposal might be better-used when the public can be watching other than on television.

Morikawa and Hovland were not in the field. Wolff returned to defend his title and finished at 15-under and tied for 12th.

As was reported at the time, Morikawa mailed a note to Cavner, explaining his decision not to play in the 2020 3M Open.

“Hand-written, and great penmanship,’’ Cavner said Monday, with a laugh. “He’s just a great young man. We exchange texts quite often. When he was up there on leaderboard at the first of the two events at Muirfield Village last month, I sent him a text saying, ‘Just go out and beat ‘em up today,’ and got a quick thank you for that.’’

Morikawa did that, beating Justin Thomas on the third playoff holem of the Workday Charity tournament.

On Sunday, Cavner was at his home in Florida, watching the PGA Championship with Nick Price and his wife Sue, and Cece Davis. Her husband, Mike Davis, the CEO of the USGA, was at Harding Park in San Francisco, attending the final round of the PGA Championship – golf’s first major in the Year of COVID.

Morikawa had played great on Sunday to get his first win in the Workday, and now he played great on another Sunday, to win a major at age 23.The little fade that Morikawa hit  

on No. 16, laid out to be a drivable par-4, was a shot for the ages … setting up a 7-foot eagle putt to get Morikawa to what would be a winning 13-under.

“I’ve been to Harding Park a few times,’’ Cavner said. “That’s a great tee shot, but I was as impressed by Collin walking up and knocking in the putt, knowing that it would win the tournament for him.

“Nick Price was blown away watching this kid. He said, ‘I love the fact he plays the game with that easy smile. It says something about his attitude.’ ‘’

Morikawa shot a 6-under 64 on Sunday to finish at 13-under. Wolff shot a 5-under 65 on Sunday to finish in a tie for fourth at 10-under. Hovland shot a 4-unde 66 on Sunday to finish in tie for 33rd at 2-under.

“We’re going to see those young men again at the 3M Open,’’ Cavner sad. “That’s going to happen. And there are more good ones – with a chance to be great – on the way.

"We all love Tiger and Phil, but as I said, golf is in great shape with this new wave … and Collin’s at front and center right now.’’