March 2012

Twins Opening Day roster predictions

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Before the start of Spring Training I made my roster predictions, and it turns out I was way off on quite a few picks.

Of course, there was no way of knowing that certain players would get hurt — Scott Baker and Joel Zumaya come to mind — or that Jason Marquis wouldn’t be ready to start the year because of a family issue.

But I was quite certain that the Twins would carry three catchers, as it was widely assumed that Ryan Doumit would serve as the club’s regular DH. But with Justin Morneau being shifted to DH, and the emergence of Chris Parmelee, the Twins decided to option Drew Butera to Triple-A Rochester today.

I also thought Tsuyoshi Nishioka would make the roster, but he looked shaky again this spring, and he was optioned to Triple-A on March 19.

So now that we’re a little less than a week from Opening Day, I should do a better job on these predictions. So here’s what I have:

ROTATION

Locks: Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano (L), Liam Hendriks, Nick Blackburn
Spots open: None
Situation: Twins manager Ron Gardenhire officially announced the order of the club’s rotation today after the Twins’ 15-3 win over the Pirates. With Baker and Marquis out, Hendriks will start the third game of the season with Blackburn starting the home opener against the Angels on April 9. And with an off-day on April 10, Carl Pavano will start on regular rest on April 11, meaning the Twins don’t need a fifth starter until April 15.

BULLPEN

Locks: Matt Capps (CL), Glen Perkins (L), Brian Duensing (L), Matt Maloney (L), Anthony Swarzak, Jared Burton
Spots open: Two
Prediction: Alex Burnett, Jeff Gray
Other candidates: Casey Fien
Situation: The Twins plan on having eight relievers to start the year with Swarzak being counted on as a long reliever. Maloney and Burton secured their spots in the bullpen with excellent springs. Jeff Gray appears to be close to wrapping up a spot because he’s out of Minor League options. Gray hasn’t been great — he has a 4.35 ERA and more walks (five) than strikeouts (three) — but still seems close to a lock. The battle for the last spot will likely come down to Burnett vs. Fien, and Burnett simply has the advantage because he’s on the 40-man roster. But Burnett has struggled this spring with a 7.00 ERA in nine innings, while Fien has a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 innings. The trick is finding a 40-man spot for Fien, and I’m not sure the Twins have an extra one.

CATCHER

Locks: Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit
Spots open: None
Situation: The Twins appeared likely to start the year with three catchers, but changed their stance with Morneau’s shift to DH.

INFIELD

Locks: Justin Morneau, Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll, Danny Valencia, Luke Hughes, Chris Parmelee
Spots open: One
Candidates: Sean Burroughs, Brian Dozier
Prediction: Burroughs
Situation: Gardenhire essentially confirmed that Parmelee will make the roster, which means he’s the likely Opening Day starter at first base with Morneau serving as designated hitter. Gardenhire, though, wouldn’t say that Burroughs is on the roster quite yet, even though it appears very likely with the decision to option Butera to Triple-A. The Twins like Burroughs on the field and in the clubhouse, and could serve as a late-inning pinch-hitter.

OUTFIELD

Locks: Josh Willingham, Denard Span, Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe
Spots open: None
Situation: No surprises here other than the decision to start Willingham in left field, which means Revere will serve as a fourth outfielder. Right field will be manned by a combo of Plouffe, Doumit, Revere and Parmelee. Span sticks in center field with Revere as his backup.

Gardenhire refutes Hunter’s 2004 ALDS claim

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire refuted former Twins outfielder Torii Hunter’s claim that a young right-handed hitter refused to pitch hit in a crucial spot against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in Game 2 of the 2004 ALDS.

Hunter told CBSSports.com that the Twins wanted to pinch-hit for left-handed hitter Jason Kubel with a runner on third and one out late in that game, but that a young player refused to face Rivera.

From Jon Heyman’s story:

Hunter recalled one 2004 ALDS game the Twins lost where they had a runner on third with one out, down a run against the great Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and Twins manager called on a young righty hitters to bat against Rivera, and Hunter recalled that hitter turning down the pinch-hit assignment.

“You need a righty hitter against Rivera with his cutter,” Hunter recalled. But according to Hunter, the player shook his head no. So Gardenhire used another kid, Jason Kubel, a lefthanded hitter, who Hunter recalled getting jammed. “Kubel wasn’t afraid, but he’s a lefty hitter,” Hunter said.

The problem is that Hunter didn’t exactly have a perfect recollection, as the Twins were actually tied, 5-5, at that point, as Justin Morneau hit an RBI single before Corey Koskie doubled home a run to bring runners at second and third with one out.

And keep in mind that both Morneau and Koskie are left-handed hitters, and Kubel was no slouch at the plate, hitting .300 with a .792 OPS as a rookie that year. Of course, Kubel struck out and the rest is history — the Twin lost that game in 12 innings and have yet to win a playoff game since, including back-to-back ALDS sweeps at the hands of the Yankees in 2009 and ’10.

Lew Ford appears to be the young right-handed hitter who refused the assignment, and Hunter actually said that in Heyman’s first version, but Gardenhire flatly denied that after the Twins’ 15-3 win over the Pirates on Saturday.

Here’s what Gardenhire had to say in full:

“You know what, I’m not going to throw anybody under the bus or anything like that, but I’ve never had a player, no matter when it was or when you want to say, tell me, ‘No, I don’t want to hit. No, I refuse to bat.’ Never happened. Never happened. Never have I had a player say, ‘No, I won’t go do this.’

“I don’t really know where that came from. I really believe that the thought process through the whole situation was we only had a couple guys. You had Kubel, who was one of our best hitters down the stretch as a young kid. And we had two left-handers in a row get hits – Mornie and Koskie – get hits. And we talked about with Kubes … Lew Ford. But believe me, I wasn’t going to pinch-hit Lew Ford for Jason Kubel with Kubel’s swing. He had a bad at-bat; a lot of people do.

“We talked about [pinch-hitting]. Maybe [Ford] had a better chance. But in the end I said, ‘No we can’t. Not with this kid. This kid can hit. I’ll take my chances with him.’

Lew Ford may have fallen down in the back room trying to get loose and I couldn’t find him, but he didn’t. He may not have been able to find the dugout, but he never said, ‘I can’t hit.’ But that’s who we’re talking about.

And you can print that.”

Update: I originally made a bad typo, saying it was the 2002 ALCS. It was obviously the ALDS. My mistake.

Game 31: Butera, optioned, Twins lineup vs. Pirates

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins made another round of roster moves this morning, optioning catcher Drew Butera to Triple-A Rochester, sending right-hander Kyle Waldrop to the 15-day disabled list and reassigning Michael Hollimon to Minor League camp.

The big news is the decision to send Butera to Triple-A, which means the Twins will keep two catchers on their roster — Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit. Butera saw plenty of action with the Twins over the last two seasons as a backup catcher, but struggled to hit big league pitching, hitting just .178 with 21 extra-base hits in 376 at-bats.

It also bodes well for Chris Parmelee because the move also means that Justin Morneau is almost a lock to start the season as designated hitter. Because if the Twins wanted to make Doumit their primary DH, they would need to carry a third catcher.

Waldrop, meanwhile, was placed on the DL retroactive to March 26 with a right elbow strain. He’ll be eligible to come off the DL on April 12.

Hollimon had himself a nice spring at the plate, hitting .360, but also made some mistakes in the field. But he’ll add depth to Triple-A Rochester, and could be their starting third baseman.

The Twins now have 31 active players in camp: 15 pitchers (two non-roster), three catchers (one non-roster), eight infielders (two non-roster), and five outfielders (one non-roster).

Twins (17-13)
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Trevor Plouffe, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, DH
5. Josh Willingham, LF
6. Ryan Doumit, RF
7. Danny Valencia, 3B
8. Chris Parmelee, 1B
9. Brian Dozier, SS

RHP Anthony Swarzak

Twins reserves: Brian Dinkelman, Ben Revere, J.R. Towles, Sean Burroughs, Jamey Carroll, Luke Hughes, Alexi Casilla

Twins pitchers: Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Esmerling Vasquez, Caleb Thielbar, Bruce Bugh, Luis Perdomo

Games 29/30: Twins earn split vs. Red Sox, Blue Jays

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins earned a split in split-squad action on Friday with a 4-1 win over the Blue Jays in Dunedin and a 9-7 loss to the Red Sox at Hammond Stadium.

The Twins host the Pirates on Saturday with right-hander Anthony Swarzak getting his second start of the spring.

What went right: Both starting pitchers fared well, as Nick Blackburn allowed two runs on five hits over five innings against the Red Sox, while Liam Hendriks gave up just one hit and a walk over five scoreless frames against the Blue Jays.

Blackburn also appears primed to start the home opener against the Angels on April 9, as Scott Baker doesn’t seem likely to be ready to start the season because of his battles with right elbow tendonitis.

Hendriks also established himself as the front-runner to start the club’s third game against the Orioles on April 8, as it doesn’t appear that Jason Marquis will be ready to go because he’s been back home tending to a family issue for more than a week.

On the offensive side, Chris Parmelee homered against the Blue Jays, and continues to make a strong case to be Minnesota’s starting first baseman come Opening Day.

And Justin Morneau had another solid day at the plate, going 1-for-3 with an RBI double while serving as designated hitter yet again. Joe Mauer also went 2-for-3 with a walk to raise his average to .367.

What went wrong: The Twins didn’t exactly pitch well against the Red Sox, as both Jeff Gray and Brian Duensing gave up three runs.

The Twins also made some sloppy plays in the field, including a boneheaded play in the seventh that allowed a run to score from second on a bunt.

Luke Hughes cooled off a bit by going 0-for-5 against Boston, but is still hitting .339 in Grapefruit League play.

What they said: “Figure the math,” Anderson said about Blackburn’s first start this season. “Five days after that, when is he throwing again? It’s the home opener.”

What’s next: Right-hander Anthony Swarzak is set to make his second Grapefruit League start on Sunday against the Pirates at Hammond Stadium. Swarzak, who has a 3.86 ERA this spring, is being stretched out in case Scott Baker and Jason Marquis aren’t ready to start the season. Right-hander Kevin Correia starts for Pittsburgh.

Injury update: Outfielder Trevor Plouffe (strained right hamstring) returned to the lineup on Friday, and went 0-for-3. … Right-hander Kyle Waldrop will be placed on the 15-day disabled list to start the season. He’s suffering from a strained right elbow. … Right-hander Scott Baker is set to pitch in a Minor League game against the Red Sox’s Triple-A club on Saturday. … An MRI taken on Alexi Casilla’s right knee revealed only inflammation. He’s day to day.

Blackburn appears set to start home opener

FORT MYERS, Fla. — After tossing five innings against the Red Sox, Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn said he wasn’t sure when he’ll make his next start.

But pitching coach Rick Anderson said Blackburn’s next outing will be against Class A Advanced Fort Myers on Wednesday, and strongly hinted that he’ll start the home opener against the Angels on April 9 at Target Field.

“Figure the math,” Anderson said. “Five days after that, when is he throwing again? It’s the home opener.”

With Blackburn apparently scheduled to start in the home opener, the Twins are getting close to setting their rotation. Right-hander Carl Pavano will start on Opening Day in Baltimore on April 6 and left-hander Francisco Liriano appears set to start in the club’s second game.

The third starter is up in the air, but right-hander Liam Hendriks is the front-runner to make that start, as Scott Baker (elbow tendonitis) and Jason Marquis (family issue) aren’t likely to be ready to open the season. The Twins don’t need a fifth starter because of the off-day on April 10.

Blackburn didn’t turn his prettiest outing of the spring on Friday, but he was happy he was able to make an in-game adjustment to bounce back after a shaky first few innings against the Red Sox.

He gave up five hits — including a two-run homer to Cody Ross in the second frame — and walked two, but got out of a few key games and settled down after the third.

Through four Grapefruit League outings, Blackburn has a 2.25 ERA with 12 strikeouts and four walks over 16 innings.

“Today was as ugly as it’s been,” Blackburn said. “I was able to do some damage control but most importantly I made an adjustment during a game. Even though this is a spring training game, you still have adrenaline facing a lineup like that, and the fact that you can make an adjustment in the game was a big thing for me right now. I don’t think I could have done that a couple years ago.”

Waldrop headed to 15-day disabled list

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Twins general manager Terry Ryan confirmed to reporters in Dunedin that right-hander Kyle Waldrop will start the season on the Major League disabled list with a strained right elbow.

Waldrop felt discomfort in a throwing session on Thursday, and will be shut down temporarily.

“I think he’s OK,” Ryan told reporters, including MLB.com’s Adam Berry. “We just don’t have enough time.”

Waldrop said he first felt the discomfort before his outing against the Yankees in Tampa on March 23, and that it only worsened from there.

It’s a tough break for Waldrop, as the sinkerballer had a strong chance to make the club after posting a 1.50 ERA in six Grapefruit League appearances.

“It’s disappointing but it’s baseball,” Waldrop said. “Injuries happen. I just have to take care of it right now and move forward. It’s a long season. It’s not like this is something that’s going to require surgery, so I’m just going to kind of deal with it and get better, get healthy.”

Waldrop, 26, added that he hopes to get back on the mound soon, and that he’s still proud of the way he performed this spring.

“It’s a little setback, but I’m not going to keep my head down,” Waldrop said. “This is something that I’ll come back from and get healthy, and I’ll be all right.”

Game 29: Waldrop shut down, lineup vs. Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins have their last split-squad action of the spring today, as they host the Red Sox and travel to Dunedin to play the Blue Jays.

There are a lot of Minor Leaguers on the trip to Dunedin, and a few who will see action in the game at Hammond Stadium.

But one pitcher who won’t be throwing in either game will be right-hander Kyle Waldrop, who has been shut down with a strained right elbow, as reported yesterday.

I had the chance to catch up with Waldrop this morning, and he said he tried to test out his elbow in a throwing session yesterday but felt discomfort. He added that he first began to feel discomfort before his outing against the Yankees on March 23.

It’s unfortunate timing for Waldrop, considering he appeared primed to make the club out of Spring Training. But as he pointed out, it’s still early and he still has a chance to make an impact this season.

Anyways, I’m covering the game here in Fort Myers, so here are the lineups for both the Red Sox and Twins.

Red Sox (12-11-3)
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. David Ortiz, DH
4. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
6. Cody Ross, LF
7. Ryan Sweeney, RF
8. Mike Aviles, SS
9. Nick Punto, 1B

RHP Daniel Bard

Twins (16-12)
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Brian Dozier, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, DH
5. Josh Willingham, LF
6. Sean Burroughs, 3B
7. Luke Hughes, 1B
8. Trevor Plouffe, RF
9. Michael Hollimon, 2B

RHP Nick Blackburn

Twins reserves: Drew Butera, Ryan Doumit, Estarlin De Los Santos, Evan Bigley, Angel Morales, Anderson Hidalgo

Twins pitchers: Brian Duensing, Matt Hauser, Luis Perdomo

Twins lineup vs. Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. — Left-hander Matt Maloney gets his first start of the spring today, as he’s one of a few pitchers getting stretched out in case Scott Baker and Jason Marquis aren’t ready to start the season.

Maloney has been terrific this spring, as he’s yet to allow a run in 11 1/3 innings. He’s also struck out 13 and walked just two.

The Twins are also going to get a look at outfield prospect Angel Morales, who is in the starting lineup and batting sixth. Morales was hindered by an elbow injury last season, and played 33 games with Class A Advanced Fort Myers, hitting .264/.326/.388 with three homers and six doubles.

Twins (15-12)
1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Alexi Casilla, 2B
3. Danny Valencia, DH
4. Chris Parmelee, 1B
5. Luke Hughes, 3B
6. Angel Morales, RF
7. Brian Dinkelman, LF
8. Brian Dozier, SS
9. Drew Butera, C

LHP Matt Maloney

Twins pitchers: Jared Burton, Jeff Gray, Alex Burnett, Casey Fien

Pirates (8-16)
1. Alex Presley, LF
2. Josh Harrison, SS
3. Jose Tabata, RF
4. Casey McGehee, 1B
5. Neil Walker, 2B
6. Nate McLouth, CF
7. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
8. Michael McKenry, C
9. James McDonald, RHP

Morneau, Mauer, Hughes power Twins to win

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Justin Morneau and Luke Hughes both homered, and Joe Mauer added three hits to lead the Twins to an 11-7 win over the Phillies on Wednesday at Hammond Stadium.

The Twins go for their third win in a row on Thursday, when they travel to Bradenton to face the Pirates.

What went right: Morneau continued his impressive stretch, going 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs.

Morneau, making his 10th straight start at designated hitter, is hitting .471 (8-for-17) with three homers, two doubles and nine RBIs over his last five games.

It’s certainly a good sign for the Twins, but they’re still not saying whether he’ll start the year at DH or at first base. But it’s becoming more and more likely he’ll begin the season at DH.

Mauer also had three hits, including an RBI single in the fourth inning. He’s now batting .340 this spring.

Hughes hit his team-leading fifth homer of the spring in the Twins’ seven-run fourth inning. He’s been crushing the ball this spring with a .375 batting average, and is all but guaranteed a spot on the team. He also saw his first action in left field.

Left-hander Francisco Liriano was solid, allowing two runs on seven hits over four-plus innings. More importantly, he walked just one batter and has a 2.45 ERA with 26 strikeouts and just four walks in 22 innings this spring.

Left-hander Brian Duensing tossed two scoreless innings in relief of Liriano, and has allowed just one run this year.

What went wrong: Glen Perkins and Matt Capps both threw on consecutive days for the first time this spring, and struggled.

Perkins allowed three runs on three hits in the sixth inning. But he did strike out two batters.

And Capps gave up a run on two hits in the eighth to raise his ERA to 4.00 this spring. Alex Burnett gave up another run in the ninth and now has a 7.88 ERA.

What they said: “I’m going to buy M&Ms on the way home because I feel so nostalgic,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said when asked if Mauer and Morneau’s big day reminded him of the good old days. “Nostalgic? To me, the good old days were the 70s. So, no, they don’t remind me of the 70s.”

What’s next: Left-hander Matt Maloney is scheduled to make his first start of the spring on Thursday against the Pirates in Bradenton at 12:05 p.m. CT. Maloney, who is competing for a spot in the bullpen, has been perfect so far this spring with a 0.00 ERA in 11 1/3 innings. Right-hander Jared Burton is also scheduled to pitch for the Twins. Right-hander James McDonald gets the start for Pittsburgh.

Injury update: Outfielder Trevor Plouffe (strained right hamstring) went 4-for-4 with three homers and a double in a Triple-A game on Wednesday … Infielder Sean Burroughs received good news, as an X-ray exam on his left forearm came back negative. He’s day to day. … Outfielder Josh Willingham returned to the lineup after tweaking his ankle before Monday’s game against the Rays.

Twins lineup vs. Phillies

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins cleared up more space on their 40-man roster this morning, releasing right-hander Joel Zumaya.

It comes as somewhat as a surprise, as the Twins could’ve simply placed him on the 60-day disabled list this season. But they decided to release him on the day before he’s set to undergo Tommy John surgery instead.

Along with the decision to send Rule 5 Draft pick Terry Doyle back to the White Sox, the Twins now have 38 players on their 40-man roster.

Reliever Jared Burton and infielder Sean Burroughs are two notable non-roster invitees who could join the 40-man roster if they make the club.

Twins (14-12)
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Jamey Carroll, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, DH
5. Josh Willingham, LF
6. Luke Hughes, 1B
7. Danny Valencia, 3B
8. Ben Revere, RF
9. Alexi Casilla, 2B

LHP Francisco Liriano

Twins reserves: Drew Butera, Brian Dinkelman, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmelee

Twins pitchers: Matt Capps, Brian Duensing, Casey Fien, Glen Perkins, Jeff Manship

Phillies (11-13)
1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
2. Carlos Ruiz, C
3. Hunter Pence, RF
4. Ty Wigginton, 3B
5. Hector Luna, 1B
6. John Mayberry Jr., CF
7. Luis Montanez, LF
8. Miguel Abreu, 2B
9. Vance Worley, RHP

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