Max Kepler didn't think a day in baseball could get much better than hitting a home run, then celebrating a championship shortly afterward. But it did.
The German-born outfielder approached his Class AA Chattanooga manager, Doug Mientkiewicz, during the postgame revelry, planning to present him with a game ball. But Mientkiewicz cut him off. "He congratulated me on the great year, [and said] 'You're getting moved up,' " Kepler said. "I was speechless. I was about to cry. I don't cry much, but I was tearing up. … It was amazing."
Kepler called his sister, Emma, in Tallahassee, Fla., and his mother, Kathy, in Berlin, and both immediately booked flights to the Twin Cities in order to be at Target Field on Tuesday night. His father is traveling for the ballet school he runs, so he's unable to make it right away, Kepler said.
But it's not certain the Keplers will get to watch Max play much in the Twins' remaining games, not with a playoff spot at stake. Twins manager Paul Molitor said he believes the time spent in the majors will benefit the 22-year-old outfielder and first baseman, and it's a nice reward for a brilliant season, but he's likely to stick with more experienced players down the stretch.
"It's going to be tough to insert him in there in very many situations," Molitor said. "I know he can run, I know he can play defense, I know he can put together a good at-bat against right and left. I would love to give him a chance to get exposed up here, I just can't predict how it's going to play out."
Not that Kepler minds. After hitting three home runs in the Southern League championship series, capping a breakout season at Chattanooga — a .318 average with 56 extra-base hits — he's just delighted to be at Target Field.
His plan for the next two weeks? "Just to learn from these big guys up here and just soak it up like a sponge," Kepler said. "I'm just so happy to be here."
On the mend
There was another new face in the clubhouse Tuesday: Logan Darnell, the lefthander who was sidelined because of pneumonia for 10 days. Darnell contracted the illness when the Twins arrived in Chicago on Sept. 10, and assumed it was a bad cold or the flu. But when he still felt ill upon returning to Minneapolis last week, the Twins sent him for X-rays.
"It got real bad," Darnell said. "On the X-ray, my whole right lung was covered" in fluids.
So much for his September call-up. He stayed in bed at his hotel all last week, with fellow call-up A.J. Achter bringing him food and medicine. Darnell lost 17 pounds during the ordeal, " so now it's about gaining some of my strength back, gaining some of that weight, trying to get healthy again." He won't go on the road trip this weekend, and it's unlikely he'll pitch at all this month, now that he's missed so much time. Darnell plans to play winter ball in Venezuela, so he's preparing for that.
•Ricky Nolasco threw nearly 50 pitches in instructional ball Monday, then worked out with the Twins' rookies Tuesday before flying back to Minnesota. He likely will throw one more side session this week, but could be activated and in the Twins' bullpen by the weekend. He won't start, Molitor said, "but right now I'm thinking about winning. If we continue to do that, we'll probably try to find a role for him out there."
•Tommy Milone played catch in the outfield Tuesday and likely will do the same Wednesday, he said, while the Twins determine when he will pitch next. "It felt a little tired, but that's expected," Milone said of his stiff shoulder. "It felt better coming out, so that's the encouraging part."