GameChat – Dodgers @ Twins #2, 7:10

Some good news today (assuming we can believe anything coming out of the organization’s medical staff) is that Delmon Young apparently has no ligament damage and should be ready to return to action when his DL time expires.

On a sad note, former Twins GM Howard Fox passed away at an Orlando hospice at the age of 90. Fox pretty much devoted his life to the Twins, having been involved with the franchise for something like 50 years in various capacities. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family.

Tonight, we’ve got Joe Mauer DHing. This is actually encouraging to me in that Gardy has gotten past the standard “don’t catch Mauer in a day game after a night game” mentality and actually looked at pitching match ups to determine in advance what might be the best game to have him DH. Rather than having him catch tonight and Jim Thome DH against the Dodger lefty, Ted Lilly, Gardy will instead let Thome sit tonight and DH tomorrow against a righty. Seems like a small thing, but it shows more forethought that we’re accustomed to seeing out of the Twins manager, so that’s encouraging.

Here are the line ups:

DODGERS @ TWINS
Gwynn, LF Revere, CF
Blake, 1B Casilla, A, 2B
Ethier, RF Mauer, DH
Kemp, CF Cuddyer, RF
Uribe, 3B Valencia, 3B
Thames, M, DH Hughes, L, 1B
Miles, 2B Repko, LF
Ellis, A, C Rivera, R, C
Carroll, SS Nishioka, SS
_Lilly, P _Duensing, P

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
LA Dodgers 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 0 4 7 1
Minnesota 1 2 0 1 2 0 0 0 x 6 10 0

This was a rather unique win for the Twins… Brian Duensing fell short of a “quality start” and got bailed out a bit by the offense. Duensing actually pitched well for four innings, but walks were his downfall in the fifth. The bullpen did a nice job in relief and it was particularly nice to see Joe Nathan pitch a really nice 8th inning up against some tough hitters. Matt Capps had a few control issues in the 9th but got the save. Let’s buy a keg for the bullpen!

There was no shortage of offensive heroes tonight. In fact, when it came down to voting for BOD honors, it was pretty tough to name just one… or even two. So for the first time, we have tri-BODs. Ben Revere seemed like he was on base all night with two hits and a walk, leading to two runs. Luke Hughes provided the winning margin with a huge two-run home run in the 5th inning to break a 4-4 tie. And Jason Repko not only had two hits and scored two runs, he also had a huge assist, throwing a runner out at the plate from LF (yeah… maybe the call was a debatable but the umpire is always right, right?). Gentlemen… you are our BODs!

 

Ben Revere

Luke Hughes

Jason Repko

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Ben Revere: Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

After watching Ben Revere in Spring Training, I wrote somewhere that the Twins should keep him as their extra outfielder to start the season, rather than Jason Repko. Most others (including the Twins decision-makers) felt that Revere needed to play every day to improve the way the Twins felt he could. Tough to argue that point, but the things he brings to the table that other outfielders do not were just as apparent in March as they are now, so there’s reason to suspect that avoiding starting his service time too soon was a factor, as well.

Ben Revere

Since being recalled from Rochester June 2, Revere has gotten a lot of attention… almost all of it good. A lot of it has been for his offensive contributions and that’s justifiable… to a degree. He certainly can be a disruptive force on the bases, when he gets on base. But while he’s filled in adequately for Denard Span at the top of the order over the past week, Revere actually doesn’t get on base all that much. He seldom works a walk and he’s not exactly driving the ball.

But when he does get on base, he’s a definite threat to steal. In my book, it really doesn’t matter much whether a player doubles or whether he singles and steals 2B… especially when he’s likely to safely take an extra base on subsequent hits by guys behind him in the order.

He’s also earned recognition with his glove… and his legs… in the outfield. A lot of Twins fans thought they had a pretty fair defensive CF in Span, but Revere has opened some eyes to what real speed can do out there.

Over at Twins Fan From Afar, our friend Andrew has gone on record saying he wants Revere sticking around. He’s not alone. There have been others who have suggested that Jason Repko’s time as a Twin could be coming to a close as many of the Twins’ walking wounded begin to return to the roster.

I agree with a lot of what’s being written. I want Revere to be kept in Minnesota, too, but I won’t be satisfied with keeping him around merely as the bench outfielder. I want to see Gardy find an every day position for Revere and keep him in Minnesota, regardless of who comes off the Disabled List. It may not be the same position every day, but he should be in the line up at least 5 times a week.

During the offseason, I understood about Gardy wanting more speed… I was just confused by the fact that they would conclude the Twins needed more offensive speed to take advantage of the way Target Field’s outfield rewarded gap hitters, while at the same time not recognizing that the same factors meant they should be improving their defensive speed in the outfield, too.

We are all, including (at least I hope) the Twins management, now seeing how important it is to have some wheels in that big patch of grass between the infield dirt and the JumboTron.

Everyone is pointing out just how much the Twins’ pitching staff has improved… how their collective ERA has dropped… in the past couple of weeks. Gosh, I wonder if that’s because a dozen different guys who had been struggling to get anyone out suddenly all got good at the same time or do we think that… just maybe… it has something to do with balls that find their way over an infielder’s head are occasionally landing in a glove instead of all of them dropping on the green, green grass? I’ts funny how ERAs drop (and numbers in the win column go up) when the OF gap is where opponents’ batted balls go to die instead of splitting outfielders for doubles.

(By the way, despite a lot of people being upset over how mean Gardy was to poor Trevor Plouffe, I think Twins pitchers would agree that another reason their stat lines are looking better is that the middle infield is no longer giving opposing teams four outs every other inning.)

There have been a few things written lately about how the Twins no longer play baseball “the Twins Way.” Well, the “Twins Way” isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) just about slapping the ball and running around the bases faster. It starts with playing solid defense and if the Twins are really interested in getting back to their roots, then keeping Ben Revere in the outfield somewhere (preferably alongside Denard Span when he’s healthy again) is an absolute must.

BUT, if that’s not the plan… if we’re going to go back to seeing some combination of Delmon Young, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer manning 2/3 of the outfield because the Twins want all the offensive firepower they can get in the line up… if the only role Revere will play once everyone is healthy is that of a 4th (or 5th) outfielder and occasional pinch runner… AND if it’s true that service time had nothing to do with why Revere wasn’t given the extra outfielder spot over Repko out of Spring Training, then send him back to Rochester where he could continue to play every day, because nothing has really changed since the end of March.

In March, the Twins knew his arm wasn’t strong and that he’d need to learn to compensate for that. In March, the Twins knew he had little or no power. If it’s true that they felt the only way he would improve on his weaknesses was to play every day… to improve (or at least compensate for) his weak arm and to improve his swing to drive more balls in to the gap… then they should still feel that way.

If the reason for starting the season in Rochester really was all about giving him daily playing time so he continues to develop, then the same thing would be true once the regular outfielders are healthy. But if the real reason had to do with delaying service time, that ship has probably sailed. I guess we’ll find out what the REAL reason was in the next couple of weeks.

But the more I see of Revere, the more convinced I am that I was right in the first place. He should have been with the Twins from the outset of the season. He was good enough to play at this level and the Twins needed his speed in the outfield. I wanted to see that at the start of the season and I sure as heck don’t want to stop seeing it now.

I suspect the pitching staff feels much the same way.

– JC

Respect The Streak? Not This Time

For weeks, we’ve been moaning and groaning about the bad luck that’s befallen the Twins this season on the injury front. As the injuries mounted, so did the deficit the Twins faced in the standings.

For a while, we fans held out hope… if only they can keep things reasonably close until guys could get healthy. But they didn’t. In fact, not only did injured players not get healthy, but more players got hurt. Until it reached the point where only the most avid “prospect watchers” among us even recognized the names of some of the players wearing the Twins uniform.

And hope faded almost to black.

Almost.

And then a funny thing happened. These guys started to win.

Sure, they weren’t playing the Yankees and Red Sox (or even the Rays, Orioles or Blue Jays, for that matter) any more, but last I checked, all the games count the same in the standings, regardless of who the opponent is.

And they kept winning. They swept four from the Royals. They took 2 of 3 on the road from the AL Central leading Tribe. They took 3 of 4 from the AL West leading Rangers.

They aren’t making the errors (mental or physical) that they had been making. The pitchers aren’t giving up runs the way they had been. They finally managed to burn the assbats and started hitting the ball hard… and often. The new guys started hitting… then the few remaining regulars started hitting.

Yes, the Twins are on a winning streak… and you don’t have to be someone who’s watched Bull Durham 391 times to know that you don’t f… fool… with a winning streak. You respect the streak.

But Ron Gardenhire and the Twins are about challenge Crash Davis’ conventional wisdom. They really have no choice. But I’m betting it bothers Gardy at least as much as it does me… probably more.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Starting Thursday afternoon, the first of the Twins’ walking wounded returns to the line up. Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been out of action so long that this will be his first appearance in a game at Target Field. He’ll play shortstop, which means Alexi Casilla moves to second base. For all the talk about rookie Ben Revere and the pitching staff, it has quite possibly been Casilla whose performance, at bat and in the field, has been most responsible for the Twins’ recent success. Now he’s changing positions.

Joe Mauer

Friday, Joe Mauer is expected to take his rightful place behind the plate and in the heart of the batting order. He’s done neither for two months (and the season is only 2 and a half months old). It’s a no-brainer, of course. Mauer HAS to return to the line up if he’s healthy. Drew Butera and Rene Rivera are making more contact than they had been, but there’s a reason Mauer’s the starting catcher. Actually, there are about 23,000,000 reasons.

And that’s just the beginning. Over the course of the next week to 10 days, we can expect to see a lot of familiar faces return. Glen Perkins was arguably the most effective (only effective?) member of the bullpen when he went down. He’s due back by the weekend, but he’s rejoining a bullpen that’s been much better, perhaps because everyone there now has pretty well defined roles. Where will Perkins fit and will he be as effective as he had been?

Remember when Jason Kubel and Denard Span were the only hitters even coming close to performing at expected levels? They haven’t been in the lineup during this surge… but they will be returning before long. Who’s At-Bats will they be taking and… perhaps more importantly… who’s spots in the field will they be taking? There’s no question that the OF defense has improved since Ben Revere was recalled June 2.

Joe Nathan and Jim Thome are also on the road to recovery. They’ll be taking roster spots from a couple of guys who have contributed to the Twins’ recent success, too, but how certain are we that they will outperform the guys they’ll be replacing?

The last to return will possibly be the most recent to go on the DL, Justin Morneau. But has anyone else noticed that Luke Hughes and Michael Cuddyer are actually doing a better job defensively at 1B than Morneau had been?

Don’t get me wrong… I’m very happy to see these guys coming back. But I’m just old-school superstitious enough to be nervous about the timing, too.

If all of these guys come back and perform at the levels we expected from them when the season opened, the Twins may not only catch the rest of the Division, but absolutely destroy it. I just wish I was more confident of that.

One thing I’m pretty sure about, though, is that the Rochester Red Wings are on the verge of getting much, much, better.

– JC

Tough Decisions This Week

The Rochester Red Wings must cringe every time the phone rings in their office this season. Almost every player on their roster who’s shown any ability to play the game of baseball this season has been plucked from their clubhouse and given a ticket to Minneapolis (with Kyle Gibson being one obvious exception).

As difficult as it has been for Ron Gardenhire to keep 25 healthy bodies in the Twins clubhouse this season, his job may be getting even tougher this week. The Twins currently have eight players on the Disabled List. What could be worse than that? How about having eight players all ready to come OFF the Disabled List at one time?

Now, if the Twins were still playing like a bad American Legion team, the way they were throughout April and a good chunk of May, this would be no problem. You celebrate the return of all the “real” Twins and happily send Red Wings manager Tom Nieto back the players you’ve borrowed from him. But now, just as virtually every player on your DL is due back in uniform, you’ve got a team of young players who have been winning a lot of games.

Joe Nathan

Kevin Slowey is just starting to throw, so his return isn’t as imminent as the others, but Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan are going to be ready to return to the bullpen in the next week or two. The current bullpen is consistently shutting down opponents (finally)… so who loses their job when Perkins and Nathan return? How confident are you that those two guys will immediately be as effective as the pitchers they replace?

As tough as those choices may be, things only get tougher when you ponder the decisions coming up with regard to the position players. Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, Denard Span, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are all scheduled to come off the DL at roughly the same time.

The decision concerning which catcher departs to make room for Mauer will be tough enough. Drew Butera has been with the team for most of the past two seasons, but Rene Rivera is reportedly out of options [UPDATE 6/15: Latest information is that Rivera is NOT out of options, which makes the rest of this paragraph moot. Butera and Rivera are therefore essentially on even footing], while Butera still has options remaining. That means the team would have to risk sending Rivera through waivers if they want to keep Butera. That said, the Twins will need to clear a 40-man roster spot for Mauer, so they may be willing to take that risk with Rivera. But you have to wonder if the Twins want to face the possibility of Steve Holm being the fallback option if Joe Mauer’s return is short-lived.

Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert

As tough as that decision may be, it’s nothing compared to how Gardy and GM Bill Smith will go about finding room for the others. Seth Stohs detailed the performances of the current position players over the course of the past 10 games over at SethSpeaks.net and it would be tough for me to find one or two non-catchers that I’d be anxious to pull out of the current line up, never mind more.

I’d love to get Span, Kubel and Thome back. But do you really want to see Ben Revere benched or, even worse, sent back to Rochester? I don’t. During the offseason, I wrote that I wanted to see more speed in the Twins outfield and now that they have it, I don’t want to give it up.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

The Twins made a three year commitment to Nishioka and it’s very possible that he’ll end up being worth every nickel of the money they’ve sunk in to bringing him over from Japan. But we haven’t seen enough of him to know that for sure. What we do know is that Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert and Luke Hughes have all been batting over .300 (with three doubles each) during the recent stretch of success. How comfortable are you with the prospect of plugging in the unproven Nishioka in place of one of those guys?

We’ve poked a bit of fun at the line ups that Gardy’s been turning in, with references to them being “Red Wings” line ups and comments about how they resemble line ups you’d expect to see at spring training road games. But they’re also line ups that have been WINNING and the Twins still have a lot of winning to do if they’re going to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in.

So who’s time with the Twins is drawing to a close?

Brian Dinkelman’s cup of coffee with the big club is probably about over. In fact, don’t be too surprised if he is passed through waivers to make room on the 40-man roster for Nishioka. Rene Tosoni is also a logical candidate to return to Rochester.

So, if we assume Slowey will be headed to Rochester to join their rotation and that Dinkelman, Tosoni and one of the catchers will be departing, that leaves us just three more players to drop to make room for those returning. Two will be pitchers… but which pitchers? Might the Twins be ready to insert Anthony Swarzak in to the rotation and, if so, would Brian Duensing be likely to head down to Rochester so he continues to get regular starts? Of the rest, you could make an argument that Jose Mijares is the most deserving of a free trip to Rochester.

And what about the remaining position player that we must bid farewell to? I don’t see Revere, Hughes, or Tolbert going anywhere. Is it time to give Danny Valencia a wake-up call? Or is it possible that Jason Repko’s run with the Twins might be nearing an end?

These will all be critical… and difficult… decisions. Two players are going to have to pass through waivers and could be claimed by other organizations, so the Twins must choose wisely. The current roster has been making an impressive run and in the process, they’ve closed the gap between themselves and the division leaders. Shaking up the roster at this point is a risk, even given the talent level that’s returning.

As early as a week from now, we may be seeing a line up that includes Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Denard Span. It will certainly look a lot more like the line up that we expected to see when the Twins broke camp in Ft. Myers. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen.

– JC

GameChat – Twins @ Indians #3, 11:05am

stupid east coast start times…

Minnesota @ Cleveland
Revere, CF   Brantley, LF
Casilla, A, SS   Cabrera, A, SS
Cuddyer, RF   Sizemore, G, CF
Morneau, DH   Santana, C, 1B
Young, D, LF   Choo, RF
Valencia, 3B   LaPorta, DH
Hughes, L, 1B   Phelps, C, 2B
Tolbert, 2B   Hannahan, 3B
Butera, C   Marson, C
  Pavano, P     Masterson, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 3 11 0
Cleveland 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 2 10 1

I’m wondering if Matt Capps had a discussion with his agent and found out that somewhere in the fine print of his contract, there’s a bonus for “wins”, but not “saves”. That’s about the only reason I can think of for throwing a gopher ball with 2 out in the bottom of the ninth to allow the Tribe to tie this game up and thus rob Carl Pavano of well-deserved victory.

Regardless, the Piranhas II came through in the 10th to grab the win and lead the Twins to their first 3-game series win of the season. Once again, the heart of the order left it to the guys at the top and bottom to do most of the damage (though Justin Morneau did collect a 2B and an RBI, which is more than Cuddy and DY can say).

I was only in the GameChat for a couple of innings and attendance was scarce, so I’m going to make an executive decision (It’s good to be King!) and declare Ben Revere to be Boyfriend of the Day. Revere went 3/5, scored a run and had two RBI, including the game winner in the 10th. The battery of Pavano (1 run allowed in 7 IP) and Drew Butera (a VERY timely 2 out double in the 10th inning, leading to the eventual game-winning run) earn baked goods of their choice for their work. – JC

Ben Revere

Keep Hope Alive!

“You must not surrender. You may or may not get there, but just know that you’re qualified and you hold on and hold out. We must never surrender. [The Twins] will get better and better. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. On tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive.”

Jesse Jackson at 1988 DNC (AP Photo-Ron Edmonds)

This is what it has come to… I’m resorting to channeling my inner Jesse Jackson.

For those of you too young (or too politically/socially disinterested) to recall, The “Keep Hope Alive!” quote in the first paragraph was the closing line from Reverend Jackson’s speech to the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta and he was assuring us that “America” would get better, not specifically the Twins (but if the shoe fits, right?). I may not have agreed with Rev. Jackson’s politics a whole lot, but my goodness the man could work a crowd!

With all the gloom and doom in Twinsville these days, it occurs to me that maybe a little dose of Jackson-like oratory might just be what’s called for (setting aside, for the moment anyway, the inconvenient fact that at the time Rev. Jackson gave his 1988 speech, Michael Dukakis had about a 20 point lead on George H. W. Bush in the polls… so Jackson’s speech didn’t exactly motivate the Democratic faithful enough to drive Dukakis to the White House).

I’m not sure I’m the one to turn to for motivational oratory these days, however. I not only have not posted a lot of commentary here, lately, but I’ve all but completely stopped posting comments on other blogs and podcasts. It’s not that I’ve given up on the Twins. Quite the contrary. I believe that when the “real” Twins get healthy and join Denard Span and Jason Kubel in the line up, this team will bounce back.

What I have given up on are many so-called “Twins fans”. I understand the frustration because I feel it, too. I don’t particularly enjoy watching the Twins lose game after game any more than anyone else does.

But I simply can’t tolerate the volume of the insane (and often inane) opinions regarding the reasons for the Twins’ poor showing, thus far. I listen/read some of the stuff out there and I just want to yell, “It’s the injuries, stupid!” Seriously… does anyone with half a brain think that Bill Smith, Ron Gardenhire or any other member of the Twins management should have EXPECTED to have Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Jim Thome, and Jason Repko all on the Disabled List at the same time?

You want to know why the Twins can’t win more ballgames? Go back and read this post from Jim Mandelaro, in which he posts the opening day lineup for the Rochester Red Wings. Let me know if you find these names familiar… Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Rene Tosoni, Rene Rivera. That’s right, five members of the Red Wings’ opening day lineup are currently getting regular playing time for the Minnesota Twins (and their opening day starting pitcher, Anthony Swarzak, made a brief cameo appearance for the Twins, as well). The Twins’ bullpen also has been littered with guys who started the season in Rochester.

I think we all have every reason to be surprised that the Minnesota Twins find themselves with the worst record in baseball, 11 games behind the leaders in the AL Central, as we reach mid-May.  But that’s just it… it’s not so much that the Twins are in that position… but rather the Rochester Red Wings are 11 games out in the AL Central and that really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

I know, I know… this is all just “making excuses” for the Twins’ ineptitude. That’s fine, if that’s how you choose to feel. But if you’re one of the people who refuse to acknowledge the role that injuries have played in the Twins’ results, thus far, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re just one of the “fans” who carry so much hate in your heart for everyone in authority with the Twins organization, that you actually come across as being happy about the team’s current struggles, because it allows you to pump up the volume on your “fire/trade/release everyone” rants. If that’s the kind of fan you are, congratulations, I guess. Enjoy yourself… but don’t expect me to listen to your BS.

Denard Span, one of the more prolific Tweeters on the Twins, posted this on Wednesday night: “Before I talk about the heat winning… If ur a genuine twins fan plz be positive and have faith in us bc we haven’t lost faith in ourselve”

Count me in, Denard.

Nobody associated with the Twins likes the way things are going right now and it’s fair to point out when players fail to perform up to expectations. But if you want to be fair, when you point out that six Twins are hitting below the “Mendoza Line” (.200 BA), you probably should also point out that only one of the six was expected to fill a starting role this season, while the others have had to fill in for injured regulars. And in the further interest of fairness, you could mention that three of the six were supposed to be playing in Rochester this season. But, hey… what fun is being “fair” when you can be negative?

This really isn’t rocket science and Tiger manager Jim Leyland knows it. “It’s pretty simple,” Leyland was quoted by media. “When your horses are at the vet, that’s not good. When they’re on the track, that’s good. Their horses will be on the track here shortly.”

I believe that when Mauer, Nishioka, Young, and Thome get back in the line up, this team will score runs. They will win games. Will it be enough to overcome this awful start? I don’t know. Maybe… maybe not. But they’ll be fun to watch again and I’ll enjoy doing so.

In other words, until then… Keep hope alive!

– JC

It’s All About the Pitching

A lot of the media folks that cover the Twins and a lot of the bloggers, as well, have been writing about the team’s pitching, lately. Everyone has an opinion about who should be in the rotation and who should be kept around to fill out the bullpen. I’ll probably get around to trying to sort out my own opinions on those issues eventually, too… but it won’t be at 1:30 in the morning after getting back to my Ft. Myers hotel from the Twins/Orioles game in Sarasota.

Let me just say this… for tonight anyway, the Twins pitching was really good.

Francisco Liriano was looking good against the O's

If tonight’s performance was any indication of things to come, we no longer have to be concerned with Francisco Liriano. Tonight, he demonstrated why you just don’t put a lot of stock in the first couple of Spring Training appearances. That said, in fairness, this one excellent performance doesn’t guarantee Liriano will look just as good when the regular season rolls around, either.

But Liriano did look really good. He struck out 7 Orioles in his five innings on the mound and gave up just one earned run on three hits (two by Vlad Guerrero).

And he wasn’t the only pitcher who looked good. In fact all five Twins who took the mound to face the Orioles had pretty good nights.

Joe Nathan is all smiles as he continues his successful return

Of the four relief pitchers who each threw one inning (Jose Mijares, Joe Nathan, Alex Burnett, and Glen Perkins), only Nathan gave up a run and that was unearned. In fact, Nathan’s the only one of the foursome who gave up a hit and he only gave up one.

Matt Tolbert had a big night against the Orioles

The offensive side of the ledger wasn’t quite as impressive, but the Twins did collect nine hits. Matt Tolbert may have decided not to just roll over and let Luke Hughes have his roster spot without a fight, as Tolbert was the only Twin with more than one hit… he collected three, including a line drive home run over the LCF wall in the third inning.

My seat for the game was in the first row, down the left field line, so I had a nice close-up view of our guys as they loosened up before the game. I have to admit, between seeing several Twins play up close and personal on the minor league complex Thursday and then having this vantage point on Friday, I’m getting a bit spoiled. Here are a few more pictures from Sarasota.

Sarasota gave Ed Smith Stadium a major facelift. They did it right!

Ben Revere shares a smile during warm ups before the Orioles game

 

Jose Mijares signed autographs for fans for several minutes before the game

Vlad Guerrero accounted for half of the O's four hits

Former Twin JJ Hardy went hitless in 3 at-bats against his old team mates Friday night

Saturday afternoon, the Rays visit Ft. Myers to play the Twins. We’re expecting Joe Mauer to catch a few innings for the first time in a Twins spring training game and Justin Morneau is supposed to DH, making it the first time he’s played in back-to-back games. The Twins don’t have another home game until Wednesday, so I suspect we’ll see the A-list lineup against the Rays.

This blogging thing is becoming exhausting… I need sleep!

– JC

It’s Mardi Gras, Let’s Celebrate!

It’s not like we really need an EXCUSE to party tonight, but we might as well get in the Mardi Gras spirit, right!?

I may not be the biggest party animal in Twinsville, but there are plenty of reasons for Twins fans to be celebrating tonight!

First and foremost, there was the return of Justin Morneau to the playing field. Check out the video of both of Doc’s plate appearances this morning in the ‘B’ game with the Pirates!

This got everyone pretty excited!

It doesn’t take much to get the Twinsville Tweeters’ fingers going (much to Gardy’s chagrin, at times… does anyone else find it just hilarious that he hasn’t quite come to grips with the fact that things he tells reporters no longer take 18 hours before those words become public?) and we certainly had reactions flying across the airwaves today. Here’s just a sampling of today’s revelry:

Justin was all smiles after the game… at least I THINK there’s a smile under that fu manchu somewhere. Check out the pic link:

@Twins_morsecode Photo of the day – #Twins 1B all smiles. Justin Morneau. http://plixi.com/p/82536411

Naturally, Carl “the ‘stache” Pavano, himself, was not easily impressed:

@JoeCStrib Pavano on Morneau: “He shaved into a handlebar moustache. You gotta be feeling really good if you are going to be wearing that around here.”
.

Joe Mauer was duly impressed… kind of:

@JoeCStrib Huge crowd was watching Mauer take swings in batting cage. I told him Morneau hit a 3-run 2B. “Did he?” Mauer said. “That’s pretty good.”

OK, so I’m not really sure this falls under the category of “revelry”… but it’s interesting anyway:

@JoeCStrib Blue Jays had 3 scouts watching B-game, one with a video camera. I’m told they like Slowey and have relievers to spare. #stribtwins

Tsuyoshi Nishioka got in to the Mardi Gras spirit:
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@TwinsNow Japanese media said Nishioka was very excited today because, for the first time with the #Twins, he started a double play.
.
and…
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@JoeCStrib Nishioka lines an opposite-field single to left and is replaced by a pinch runner. He was 1-for-2 today. #stribtwins
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Ben Revere had his own way of celebrating:
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@PMac21 Ben Revere just made a ridiculous diving catch on the left-field warning track.
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Gardy was in a jovial mood, as well:
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@TomPelissero #Twins manager Ron Gardenhire when asked how Justin Morneau looked in his spring debut: “Canadian. Real Canadian.”
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Of course, Gardy made sure everyone knew Doc wasn’t the only guy making his spring debut today:

@TwinsNow Gardy on DY’s 2 walks today: “Haven’t seen that in a long time, ever maybe. … We thought that was historic.” #Twins
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OK I guess that’s enough celebrating for this old man tonight… and enough of stealing others’ work to fill blogspace here at Knuckleballs.
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So let me leave you with this final Mardi Gras thought… and image.
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Happy Mardi Gras, y’all!
-JC

All-Star Game – Who’s on First? I Don’t Know. He’s on Third and I Don’t Give a Darn. (Do You?)

Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine is not only the funniest comedy bit ever done about baseball, it also seems to just about perfectly describe my feelings about the MLB All-Star Game.

It’s a bit sad, really, because (“Because” plays CF) I used to love this game. I got so excited when I found out I got 2 tickets to the 1985 All-Star Game in the Metrodome that I swung a pool cue around and broke 3 beer bottles sitting on a nearby table (the game itself was a bit of a yawner as the National League won 6-1, but I didn’t care). I also remember watching Pete Rose slam in to Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse on television and a number of other great All-Star moments over the years. I never missed the game unless I was playing ball myself.

I don’t really even know why (“Why’s” the left fielder) my feelings changed. It may have been the infamous tie game and the sight of Bud Selig’s “What can I do?” shrug (“What” is on second) that ended the 2002 All-Star Game in a tie. That event led to Selig declaring that home field advantage in the World Series would go to the team representing the League that wins the All-Star Game. I never quite understood how that prevents teams from running out of pitchers in extra-inning All-Star Games, but on the list of Selig decisions I don’t understand, this one probably barely cracks the top 10.

It just feels to me like, for all the bluster about the game, even Major League Baseball doesn’t exactly know whether to take it seriously or not, so why (“Why” is still in LF) should I?

It is refreshing that many of the players still care about it… and I’m willing to give most of them the benefit of the doubt and believe it’s for reasons that go beyond the ASG bonus that many of their agents have had included in their contracts. I feel good for guys like the D’Backs Chris Young, who (“Who” is at 1B) clearly is excited about going to Anaheim for his first ASG. And while I guess I was ambivalent about the whole “Should Steven Strasburg be an All-Star?” question, hearing that a poll of 50 current players resulted in a unanimous 50-0 “NO” vote told me that these guys do care about who (“Who” is on FIRST!) represents them.

Of course, as a Twins fan, it feels good to see two of our guys voted in as starters for the first time since Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew in 1968. That was two years before starting rosters were turned back over to fan voting, by the way. I think a lot of Twins fans have begun to take Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau for granted, but this not only serves as a reminder that we are watching two potential Hall of Famers on the field together daily (not to mention shoe-in HOFer, Jim Thome this season), but also demonstrates that the Twins have gotten the attention and appreciation of baseball fans all over the country. Together, Mauer & Morneau have made Twins baseball relevant.

I think it’s great that Delmon Young is included in the “final 5″ vote, even though his chances of winning are slim & none (and you should definitely go vote for him… I did). It’s not that he isn’t deserving, but Kevin Youkilis is such an obvious omission from the AL roster, that I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t double the votes of any other name on the list. To be honest, I thought Francisco Liriano probably deserved as much consideration as Young, if not more.

I don’t know (“I Don’t Know”… third base!) yet which reserves were voted in by the players/managers/coaches as a whole and which were chosen specifically by the ASG managers (the Yankees’ Joe Girardi and Phillies Charlie Manuel), but if it turns out that they chose ARoid over Youk and Ryan Howard over Joey Votto, I think it’s time to take the right to pick ANY pitchers/reserves away from the respective managers.

And don’t be surprised if Girardi replaces CC Sabathia (can’t pitch in the ASG ‘cuz he’ll be pitching Sunday) with Andy Pettite instead of Jared Weaver, who (“Who” is the guy on 1B) not only is more deserving, but the game is being played in his home ballpark. As it stands, only Torii Hunter will represent the Halos. But then an All-Star Game with only FIVE Yankees playing really wouldn’t be an All-Star Game, would it? (UPDATE: Girardi didn’t wait long… he’s named Pettitte to replace the injured Clay Buchholz.)

As for Manuel, if he’s the one responsible for picking Omar Infante over… well… just about everyone else in a National League starting lineup, I think someone needs to require Charlie to undergo a thorough mental health evaluation. That choice is flat out bizarre.

Finally, on the subject of All-Star Games, it really is unfortunate that Twins prospect Liam Hendriks will miss the All-Star Futures Game. (New Britain’s Ben Revere is also representing the Twins organization.) This game gives some of the top prospects in minor league baseball an opportunity to showcase their talents and compete against many of the other top prospects, in addition to giving fans across the country an opportunity to see future stars in action. Hendriks had an emergency appendectomy on Sunday and will be out of action for a month or more. The Aussie has been very impressive (1.76 ERA and 0.845 WHIP) in 16 starts this season, split between Beloit and Ft. Myers. I saw him shut down Cedar Rapids early in the year (7 Ks in 5 shutout innings)  and was looking forward to seeing him match up against the other minor league stars. Get well soon, Liam.

So, am I alone in my general indifference to the All-Star Game and who (for the last time, “Who” is on first!) participates? We don’t have a Twins game to look forward to until tomorrow (“Tomorrow” is our pitcher) night, so let’s do a poll, shall we? I’ll cast the first vote… and I don’t give a darn (Oh, he’s our shortstop!). – JC

Spring Training Vacation Wrap Up

I’m heading out bright and early Thursday morning, but before I call it a night, I wanted to post one final “Spring Training Report.” (OK, it might not be the final one published, depending on whether a final ‘Jim Crikket Report’ makes an appearance in Howard Sinker’s “A Fan’s View From Section 219″ blog Thursday).

I can’t recommend highly enough this kind of spring vacation, if you’re a Twins fan or a fan of Major League Baseball at all. I’m sure Target Field will be terrific, but you don’t get opportunities to watch talent of this level as “up close and personal” anywhere but during spring training. And the opportunity to check out the Twins’ “future stars” on the minor league complex is a huge bonus, in my opinion.

With that, I’ll leave you with a few images from my last day at Twins 2010 Spring Training.

Outside Hammond Stadium, Spring Training home of your Minnesota Twins!

2008 first round pick Carlos Gutierrez gets some help with his change-up grip

Michael Cuddyer doing his Nick Punto impression... and he's SAFE!

Jim Thome and Jerry White doing... something... I don't think I wanna know what.

Anthony Slama... closer of the future?

Ben Revere. His time is coming... soon.

Hammond Stadium Mens Room... with "Take Me Out to The Ball Game" murals

TC Bear with a SuperSoaker... coming soon to an outdoor stadium near you!