April 2011

Mauer gives update on condition

On the day he was eligible to return from the disabled list, Twins catcher Joe Mauer told reporters Thursday he felt he was “turning the corner” in his recovery from bilateral leg weakness, but still offered no timetable for his return.

Mauer, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 14, met with team doctors on Thursday, but said he’s still working on regaining strength in his legs and has yet to begin baseball activities. He also said that a week-long bout with the flu caused him to lose 15 pounds, and added to the weakness he felt in his lower body.

“I’m trying to get that out of everybody, but I’ve just got to get healthy,” Mauer said of a possible timetable for his return. “I’m not where I need to be yet to be on the field and do baseball things. I’m trying to get there as best I can.”

It came after head trainer Rick McWane told reporters earlier in the day that Mauer wasn’t ready to start the season at catcher even though his surgically repaired left knee, which he had arthroscopic surgery on in December, held up just fine.

“He wasn’t strong enough to handle the everyday catching,” McWane said. “At the end of Spring Training he said that’s the best he had felt, and he was doing fine. He didn’t have any issues with his knee at the end of spring training, and still, his knee feels good. It wasn’t a matter of his knee not being ready, he just I don’t think had the repetitions catching or anything else. Once the season started, he started to wear down.”

Mauer, 28, admitted that the late start to Spring Training — he didn’t start his first game behind the plate until March 19 — made it difficult to get fully ready for the regular season.

“It was kind of an accelerated Spring Training and I thought I got myself to where once I got to the beginning of the season my legs would continue to get stronger,” Mauer said. “But it just kind of went the other way, so it’s frustrating. But you now, we are where we’re at, and I’m just trying to get healthy again.”

Mauer’s next step will be starting baseball activities and rehab games — likely in Florida — but there’s also no timetable for that yet either.

Game 22 vs. Rays

It’s going to be quite cold tonight here at Target Field.

The Twins even received a shipment of specially designed hats from New Era that include built-in ear flaps to stay warm.

But it’s yet to be seen if any of the players will actually wear them during the game, as a few said they’ll wear them only during batting practice.

Either way, staying warm will be key for both teams, as the players are all expected to layer up to help fight the cold with temperatures expected to dip into the mid-30s.

Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano will also hope to heat up (no pun intended), as he’s off to a slow start this season with a 7.40 ERA over his first four outings of the season.

His ERA is certainly bloated compared to last season, but even worse, it’s his peripheral stats that are lacking this year. It’s obviously a small sample size, but he’s struck out as many as he’s walked with 14 strikeouts and 14 walks over 20 2/3 innings. He’s also served up four home runs after giving up just nine all of last season.

Liriano has always had trouble with walks, but last year he helped make up for it by striking out 201 batters over 191 2/3 innings, while walking 58.

His strikeout rate is down this season, and a big culprit could be that he’s suffering from a dip in fastball velocity, as it averaged 93.7 mph last year and is at 92.1 mph this year, according to FanGraphs.

It’s still early, so he could regain velocity as the season goes along, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can bounce back and repeat his numbers from his impressive 2010 campaign.

UPDATE: Delmon Young was a late scratch from the lineup, as he said he couldn’t get loose during batting practice. Matt Tolbert is now in the lineup, playing second base and batting ninth. Michael Cuddyer shifts from first base to right field, Jason Kubel from right field to left field and Luke Hughes from second base to first base. Additionally, Jim Thome (oblique) and Jason Repko (quad) are also unavailable tonight, leaving backup catcher Steve Holm as the lone option off the bench.

Twins lineup vs. Rays (7:10 p.m. start at Target Field)

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Alexi Casilla, SS
3. Jason Kubel, LF
4. Justin Morneau, DH
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Danny Valencia, 3B
7. Drew Butera, C
8. Luke Hughes, 1B
9. Matt Tolbert, 2B

LHP Francisco Liriano (1-3, 7.40 ERA, 20 2/3 IP, 14 K, 14 BB, 6.38 FIP)

Rays lineup

1. Sam Fuld, LF
2. Johnny Damon, DH
3. Justin Upton, CF
4. Ben Zobrist, RF
5. Sean Rodriguez, 2B
6. Felipe Lopez, 3B
7. Kelly Shoppach, C
8. Dan Johnson, 1B
9. Reid Brignac, SS

RHP Wade Davis (2-2, 2.73 ERA, 26 1/3 IP, 10 K, 8 BB, 3.80 FIP)

Game 20: Twins vs. Indians

After what felt like a long break to make the move from Southern California to Minnesota, I’m back and ready for Twins coverage.

It sure seems like much has changed, with Joe Mauer going on the disabled list with bilateral leg weakness and relievers Jeff Manship and Alex Burnett being optioned in favor of Jim Hoey and Eric Hacker, respectively.

But the Twins at least received some good news today with the return of Justin Morneau to the lineup after missing five games with the flu. And left fielder Delmon Young could return tomorrow as long as his batting practice session goes OK today.

The club is obviously in a hole to start out the year, but if they get healthy and start hitting, the season is certainly from from over, especially considering the early struggles of the White Sox and Tigers.

It’s been an unpredictable start to the year in the AL Central with the Indians in first place and the Royals right behind them in second, but it’s worth repeating that we’re still only 20 games into a 162-game season.

So my advice is to buckle up and enjoy the ride, as it should be an interesting race in the AL Central this season.

Game 9 vs. A’s: Cuddyer to second base

It’s obvious the Twins are doing just about anything they can to generate offense in the early going this season.

It’s certainly the case with today’s lineup with Michael Cuddyer getting his first start at second base since 2005, which gets his bat in there along with left-handed hitters Jason Kubel and Jim Thome against A’s right-hander Brandon McCarthy.

It’ll be interesting to see how Cuddyer does defensively at second, but Ron Gardenhire seemed comfortable with him as an option there, even if he’s not going to display too much range out there.

The Twins’ lineup does look more potent with the move, however, and so we’ll see if it can jump-start this sluggish offense. Gardenhire sure seemed to think so in his media session before Sunday’s game.

“You take a lineup like today, we’re pretty thick all the way up and down it,” Gardenhire said. “So, we’ve got some good hitters. It’s just a matter of time we start whacking the ball.”

Gardenhire also said no one is too worried about the slow start offensively, as the offense was the last thing the club was concerned about coming out of Spring Training.

“Is it frustrating for everybody? Yes, because we have very good hitters,” Gardenhire said. “But I’m not one of these, ‘Oh my goodness, what are we going to do?’ kind of things. I like our guys when they walk to the plate, I like the chance that we have every time we walk to the plate.”

Lineups for the 1:10 p.m. CT start at Target Field

Twins (3-5)

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Joe Mauer, C
3. Justin Morneau, 1B
4. Jim Thome, DH
5. Delmon Young, LF
6. Jason Kubel, RF
7. Michael Cuddyer, 2B
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. Alexi Casilla, SS

RHP Scott Baker (0-1, 6.00 ERA, 6 IP, 1.00 K/BB, 8.54 FIP)

A’s (3-5)

1. David DeJesus, CF
2. Daric Barton, 1B
3. Josh Willingham, LF
4. Hideki Matsui, DH
5. Ryan Sweeney, RF
6. Mark Ellis, 2B
7. Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B
8. Landon Powell, C
9. Cliff Pennington, SS

RHP Brandon McCarthy (0-0, 4.50 ERA, 8 IP, 2.00 K/BB, 2.91 FIP)

Home Opener at Target Field

It’s almost impossible to put a damper on the home opener at Target Field.

The ballpark is amazingly beautiful, it’s packed full of fans and the weather couldn’t be any better today.

But at the same time, the effects of Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s injury could certainly be felt on his teammates and manager Ron Gardenhire.

It’s clear Nishioka was excited about playing here at Target Field for the first time, but now he’ll have to wait some time with his fractured bone in his lower left leg. He’s being evaluated by Dr. John Steubs today, and so we’ll get a better understanding of when he’ll return after today’s game.

But no matter how long Nishioka is out, the Twins have to move on and quickly, and it’s exactly what they’re doing with plenty of residual effects from Nishioka’s injury.

Second baseman Luke Hughes gets his first start of the season at second base, Joe Mauer is moving into the two-hole and Michael Cuddyer even took grounders at second in anticipation of seeing time there in Nishioka’s absence.

So it’ll be interesting to see how the Twins do moving forward now that Nishioka is likely out at least a month, or possibly even longer.

Anyways, here are the lineups for the Twins and A’s in the home opener at Target Field that’s set for a 3:10 p.m. CT start.

Twins

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Joe Mauer, C
3. Justin Morneau, 1B
4. Delmon Young, LF
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Jim Thome, DH
7. Danny Valencia, 3B
8. Luke Hughes, 2B
9. Alexi Casilla, SS

RHP Carl Pavano (0-1, 15.75 ERA, 13.45 FIP, 1.50 K/BB)

A’s

1. Coco Crisp, CF
2. Daric Barton, 1B
3. David DeJesus, RF
4. Josh Willingham, LF
5. Hideki Matsui, DH
6. Kurt Suzuki, C
8. Mark Ellis, 2B
5. Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B
9. Cliff Pennington, SS

LHP Brett Anderson (0-0, 1.50 ERA, 1.97 FIP, 5.00 K/BB)

Rain postpones Wednesday night’s game

Well, so much for the last post, as rain wiped out Wednesday night’s game against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. There’s still no rescheduled make-up date, although it’s likely to be played on Sept. 8 or Sept. 15, when both clubs share a common off-day.

The Twins also announced that the two clubs will not be playing two on Thursday, as both clubs play travel after Thursday’s 1:05 p.m. ET start and play day games on Friday. The Twins host the A’s in their opener at Target Field and the Yankees travel to face the Red Sox in their first game of the year at Fenway Park.

Both teams adjusted their rotation with right-handers Carl Pavano and Freddy Garcia having their scheduled starts pushed back. Pavano will now start on Friday at Target Field, while Garcia won’t make his first start of the season until April 15 against the Rangers.

Twins left-hander Franciso Liriano will stay on regular rest and start on Thursday, while the Yankees will turn to right-hander A.J. Burnett on his originally scheduled start.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn’t seem too excited about the rain out and had this to say after the game was called:

“I’m not a weather forecaster but there’s green [on the weather map indicating rain] all the way to Detroit,” Gardenhire said. “So there might be a window, but it’s just a house with a window open.”

Mauer gets second day off

The Twins are still searching a bit for offense so far this season, and it might not get any easier on Wednesday night against the Yankees with catcher Joe Mauer getting his second day off of the season.

His off-day comes as no surprise, though, as Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he expected Mauer to get a day off in Toronto and New York. And right-hander Carl Pavano worked with backup catcher Drew Butera 15 times last season to great results with a 3.65 ERA and a 3.05 K/BB ratio over 105 innings.

Pavano, however, actually had similar numbers with Mauer behind the plate last year, as he posted a 3.79 ERA and a 3.40 K/BB in 17 outings over 106 innings. The difference, however, was with attempting base stealers, as runners were 18-for-20 on stolen base attempts with Mauer behind the plate, and just 13-for-19 when Butera was catching.

So with that in mind, Butera is expected to serve as Pavano’s personal catcher this season, which does give Mauer the comfort of having a schedule of expected off-days throughout the season.

Gardenhire said he understands the outcry when Mauer isn’t starting, but said it’s just something that comes with being a catcher, especially one coming off left knee surgery over the offseason.

“I’m like everybody else, I’d love to have Mauer playing all the time,” Gardenhire said. “I’m no different than any fan sitting out there on their rocking chair or armchair, saying they want Mauer in the lineup. Believe me, I like that too. But catchers need rest, and so we need to make sure we give him one a week when Pavano is pitching.”

Lineups for 6:05 p.m. CT start at Yankee Stadium:

Twins
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B
3. Delmon Young, LF
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Jason Kubel, DH
6. Michael Cuddyer, RF
7. Danny Valencia, 3B
8. Drew Butera, C
9. Alexi Casilla, SS

RHP Carl Pavano (0-1, 15.75 ERA, 13.45 FIP, 1.50 K/BB)

Yankees
1. Brett Gardner, LF
2. Curtis Granderson, CF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, DH
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Eric Chavez, 3B
8. Eduardo Nunez, SS
9. Gustavo Molina, C

RHP Freddy Garcia (first start of season)

Duensing gets another shot at the Yankees

Left-hander Brian Duensing, who will make his first start of the season tonight against the Yankees, seemed excited but loose when talking to reporters Monday.

He joked about how he hasn’t pitched in a game since March 26, so in a recent bullpen session he had pitching coach Rick Anderson stand in at the plate to simulate pitching to a hitter. But one pitch, however, didn’t exactly go where he wanted it, as he nearly hit Anderson in the head with an errant fastball.

“I almost killed him,” Duening said with a laugh. “It was a fastball about head-high. I almost dropped it coming back, and instead of stopping my motion, I continued with it. He was already backing up, thank goodness. The next pitch was the hardest thing I had to do after throwing a pitch like that. I was in between laughing, crying and sweating all at the same time. It was bad.”

Duensing is hoping he’ll have better control when he faces the Yankees at new Yankee Stadium, a place he hasn’t exactly had great results at in the past. He’s only made two starts here, but they came in the postseason, and are two games he’d rather forget. Duensing allowed a combined 10 runs over eight innings in two defeats, including a Game 3 loss in last year’s ALDS that knocked the Twins out of the playoffs.

“I’d like to have a good outing so that I’ll like coming here,” Duensing said. “Right now, I don’t like it at all. But it’s a new year so we’ll see how it happens. You know my policy. Expect the worst, so that if it happens, you don’t get surprised by it.”

The Twins certainly hope Duensing isn’t at his worst, as they’re facing Yankees ace CC Sabathia, who has a career 3.05 ERA with 143 strikeouts and 62 walks over 191 2/3 innings against the Twins.

The Twins will also be without first baseman Justin Morneau, who is getting his first day off of the season with Michael Cuddyer getting the start at first. Jason Repko will also make his first start of the season in right field.

Lineups for the 6:05 p.m. CT start at Yankee Stadium:

Twins

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Delmon Young, LF
5. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
6. Jason Kubel, DH
7. Danny Valencia, 3B
8. Jason Repko, RF
9. Alexi Casilla, SS

LHP Brian Duensing (first start)

Yankees

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, DH
7. Russell Martin, C
8. Andruw Jones, LF
9. Curtis Granderson, CF

LHP CC Sabatha (0-0, 3.00 ERA, 3.50 K/BB, 1.67 FIP)

New York, New York

It’s no secret that the Yankees haven’t been kind to the Twins in recent years.

After all, the Twins have gone just 2-11 against the Yankees the last two seasons, including a 1-6 record at Yankee Stadium. And Twins fans certainly don’t have to be reminded that the Yankees swept the Twins out of the postseason each of the last two years.

But Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who has a career regular-season record of 4-25 against the Yankees in New York, preferred not to talk about his club’s struggles against the Yankees before Monday night’s game.

“We’re working our way back to the Minnesota area,” Gardenhire joked. “It’s just another stopover.”

The Twins will see a new face on the mound, however, as rookie right-hander Ivan Nova is set to start for the Yankees after posting a 1.80 ERA over 20 innings in Spring Training.

He made a one-inning relief appearance against the Twins last year on May 16, but Denard Span and Joe Mauer are the only current Twins who faced him that day. Gardenhire, however, did say the Twins read scouting reports and watched video on Nova to get ready for the game and called him a Yankees “super-prospect.”

So it’ll be interesting to see how the Twins do against Nova with another new lineup, as Michael Cuddyer was benched in favor of Jason Kubel in right field with Jim Thome getting the start at designated hitter to give the Twins more of a left-handed look.

Lineups for the 6:05 p.m. CT start at Yankee Stadium

Twins
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Delmon Young, LF
6. Jim Thome, DH
7. Jason Kubel, RF
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. Alexi Casilla, SS

RHP Scott Baker

Yankees
Brett Gardner LF
Derek Jeter SS
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Curtis Granderson, CF
Russell Martin, C

RHP Ivan Nova RHP

Mauer gets the day off

The Twins enter Sunday afternoon’s series finale at Rogers Centre already in a 2-0 hole, and it doesn’t figure to get any easier against the Blue Jays with catcher Joe Mauer out of the lineup.

It’s somewhat of a surprising move, as it’s not a day game after a night game, and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn’t mention anything after yesterday’s loss about sitting Mauer today.

But Mauer, who is coming off minor surgery on his left knee, figured to get days off here and there, as the club plays games on 23 of the first 24 days of April.

And Gardenhire did say before Sunday’s game that Mauer took quite the beating behind the plate yesterday with left-hander Francisco Liriano struggling with control problems.

“Frankie bounced about 50 percent of his pitches,” Gardenhire quipped, “and Joe had to block them. So he got beat around a bit yesterday.”

So maybe it’s as good a time as any for Mauer to get a break, but the Twins certainly don’t want to fall to 0-3 for the first time since the 1981 season.

At least Justin Morneau is in the starting lineup, even though he’s serving as the club’s designated hitter. He hasn’t looked great so far at the plate, but it figures he’ll start to come around with more at-bats, as he obviously got a late start to Spring Training.

Matt Tolbert is also slated to see action at shortstop, as Gardenhire said he wanted to see all of his players play in the first series of the season. So far, only outfielder Jason Repko has yet to get in there, but it’s mostly because center fielder Denard Span is the only one doing any hitting for the club through two games.

Lineups for 12:07 CT start at Rogers Centre:

Twins
1. Denard Span CF
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka 2B
3. Delmon Young LF
4. Justin Morneau DH
5. Michael Cuddyer 1B
6. Jason Kubel RF
7. Danny Valencia 3B
8. Drew Butera C
9. Matt Tolbert SS

Nick Blackburn RHP

Blue Jays
1. Yunel Escobar SS
2. Juan Rivera DH
3. Jose Bautista RF
4. Adam Lind 1B
5. Aaron Hill 2B
6. Edwin Encarnacion 3B
7. Travis Snider LF
8. J.P. Arencibia C
9. Mike McCoy CF

Brett Cecil LHP

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