March 2012

Nishioka optioned to Triple-A; lineup vs. Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins made a slew of roster cuts this morning with the most notable being the decision to option infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka to Triple-A Rochester.

Nishioka, 27, hit .240/.269/.320 in nine games this spring, but never looked comfortable at the plate or in the field.

The decision to option Nishioka this early in camp is somewhat of a surprise, especially given the fact that he’s in the second year of a three-year deal worth $9.25 million.

Nishioka, though, took the demotion in stride, saying he plans on working hard to get another chance with the Twins.

“It’s definitely tough to swallow but it’s not like it’s getting baseball taken away from me,” Nishioka said through translator Ryo Shinkawa. “I came from Japan for a challenge at this in this country. So I’m just going to not give up and look for the opportunity to get back up here.”

Asked what he was told by manager Ron Gardenhire to work on down in the Minors, Nishioka said, “To slow the game down and be back to my old self when I was playing in Japan.”

Nishioka was a five-time All-Star in Japan and won a batting title in his last season there in ’10 while helping lead the Chiba Lotte Marines to the Japan Series title.

But he struggled last season with the Twins, hitting just .226/.278/.249 with five doubles in 68 games. He also made 12 errors in the field, including 10 at shortstop and two at second base.

He was bothered by injuries, as he suffered a broken left fibula when the Yankees’ Nick Swisher slid into him while trying to break up a double play at second base on April 7 that forced him to miss 59 games. He also missed time late in the year with a strained right oblique, and played in his last game of the season on Sept. 9 as a result.

Other Twins optioned to Triple-A Rochester this morning included reliever Carlos Gutierrez and outfielder Rene Tosoni. Those reassigned to Minor League camp were relievers Jason Bulger, Luis Perdomo, Daryl Thompson, Esmerling Vasquez, P.J. Walters; catchers Chris Herrmann and Dan Rohlfing; infielder Aaron Bates and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez.

Twins (10-8):
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Jamey Carroll, SS
3. Joe Mauer, 1B
4. Justin Morneau, DH
5. Josh Willingham, RF
6. Danny Valencia, 3B
7. Ryan Doumit, C
8. Ben Revere, LF
9. Alexi Casilla, 2B

RHP Jason Marquis

Twins reserves: J.R. Towles, Danny Lehmann, Joe Benson, Matt Carson, Brian Dinkelman, Chris Parmelee, Sean Burroughs

Twins pitchers: Terry Doyle, Alex Burnett, Jeff Manship, Kyle Waldrop, Jared Burton, Anthony Swarzak

Game 18: Liriano dominant in win over Pirates

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Left-hander Francisco Liriano tossed five no-hit innings and the Twins allowed just one hit in a 10-0 win over the Pirates at Hammond Stadium.

The Twins improved to 10-8 with the victory, and make the short trek to JetBlue Park to face the Red Sox on Monday at 12:35 p.m. CT.

What went right: Liriano looked the best he has all spring, walking just one and striking out six over five no-hit frames.

So far, Liriano has struck out 18 and walked just two in 13 Grapefruit League innings. It’s a great sign for the Twins, who need him to pitch like he did in 2010 after struggling last season with a 5.09 ERA.

Jeff Gray, Sam Deduno and Casey Fien also threw no-hit innings, while Luis Perdomo served up the Pirates’ lone hit in the eighth inning. Brandon Boggs picked up the one single with one out in the eighth, but was thrown out by Brian Dinkelman while trying to advance to second base.

The offense also looked good with 13 hits and 10 runs, as they scored five runs in both the second and seventh innings.

Jamey Carroll, who entered hitting just .043 this spring, went 2-for-3, including a two-run double down the right-field line in the second inning. Brian Dozier hit his first homer of the spring to lead off the seventh, while Ray Chang added a two-run double.

Alexi Casilla, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Trevor Plouffe and Joe Benson each picked up an RBI on the afternoon.

What went wrong: Not much, considering the Twins outplayed the Pirates in just about every aspect of the game.

Mauer and Morneau combined to go 0-for-5 but both had RBI groundouts in the second inning with the infield playing back. Danny Valencia went 0-for-3, including a strikeout to end the first inning with the bases loaded.

Perdomo gave up the lone hit by the Pirates, but didn’t allow a baserunner to reach, as Boggs was thrown out at second.

What they said: “I said all right, I’m going to go home and hit my dog. And he goes, your dog doesn’t have anything to worry about, you won’t be hitting it too hard,” Carroll said about a funny exchange he had with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire earlier this week after another hitless game. “I needed to hear that, so it was good. I don’t have a dog, so all the animal-rights activists, it’s just a joke. But you need to hear that. You get frustrated. You want to contribute, especially on a new team. You want to play well, and I think it’s a matter of just trying to relax a little bit and let it come.”

What’s next: Right-hander Jason Marquis is set to make his fourth Grapefruit League start on Monday against the Red Sox at 12:35 p.m. CT at JetBlue Park. Marquis has allowed nine runs over 8 2/3 innings this spring. Right-handers Alex Burnett, Jared Burton, Anthony Swarzak and Jeff Manship are also scheduled to pitch for the Twins.

Injury update: Right-hander Scott Baker (elbow) faces a big test on Monday, as he’s slated to throw a bullpen at the club’s Spring Training complex before they travel down the road to play the Red Sox. Baker is expected to ramp up his intensity after throwing at about 75 percent on Saturday. … Outfielder Trevor Plouffe exited Sunday’s game against the Pirates in the seventh inning with a strained right hamstring. It’s not serious but he’s expected to be held out through at least Wednesday.

Game 18: Twins vs. Pirates lineups

FORT MYERS, Fla. — After a few days off to celebrate my 26th birthday, I’m back covering the Twins today against the Pirates.

The Twins hosted a “B” game against the Pirates this morning on one of the practice fields at the Lee County Sports Complex, and lost 3-2 in eight innings.

Matt Capps tossed two innings for the first time this spring, and didn’t allow a run, giving up only a double over two innings. He also struck out two.

Left-hander Glen Perkins surrendered a run in his one inning of work before giving way to Brendan Wise, who threw two perfect innings.

A few Twins Minor League pitchers saw action including Brad Thompson and Daniel Turpen. Thompson left early after being struck on the wrist by a line drive but was OK. Turpen, acquired in the trade that sent Kevin Slowey to Colorado, allowed one hit and struck out two in one inning.

On the offensive side, Sean Burroughs and Matt Carson both doubled. Ryan Doumit and Tsuyoshi Nishioka also singled for the Twins.

Twins (9-8)
1. Alexi Casilla, 2B
2. Jamey Carroll, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, DH
5. Josh Willingham, RF
6. Danny Valencia, 3B
7. Trevor Plouffe, LF
8. Aaron Bates, 1B
9. Joe Benson, CF

LHP Francisco Liriano

Twins reserves: Rene Rivera, Danny Lehmann, Ray Chang, Brian Dozier, Chris Parmelee, Ben Revere, Denard Span

Twins pitchers: Jeff Gray, Casey Fien, Luis Perdomo, Kyle Waldrop

Pirates (6-8)
1. Alex Presley, LF
2. Clint Barmes, SS
3. Jose Tabata, RF
4. Casey McGehee, 3B
5. Neil Walker, 2B
6. Jake Fox, 1B
7. Nate McLouth, CF
8. Michael McKenry, C
9. Charlie Morton, RHP

Game 12: Liriano, Burnett struggle in loss

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Left-hander Francisco Liriano allowed four runs over three innings, and the Twins managed just five hits in an 8-2 loss to the split-squad Blue Jays at Hammond Stadium.

The loss dropped the Twins to 6-6 in Grapefruit League play. They travel to Clearwater on Wednesday to face the Phillies and ace Roy Halladay.

What went right: Relievers Kyle Waldrop, Jared Burton and Matt Maloney kept their ERAs at 0.00, as they combined to retire all 10 batters they faced.

Waldrop threw a perfect fourth inning with a strikeout before Burton tossed a 1-2-3 fifth inning with two strikeouts. Maloney struck out Anthony Gose to end the sixth before retiring the side in order in the seventh with two more strikeouts.

The three pitchers have combined to throw 12 1/3 scoreless innings with 15 strikeouts and two walks allowed so far in Grapefruit League action.

It’s still early, but all three have made a strong case to join the bullpen out of camp with their impressive results.

Burton — the only non-roster invite of the three — remains the most likely to make the club given his success as a setup reliever with the Reds before injuries plagued him the last few seasons.

Maloney, who has experience as a starter, is a candidate to be a long reliever. He’s also a left-hander, and even though fellow left-handers Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing are locks to make the roster, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he has no problems having three lefties in the bullpen.

Gardenhire also gave Waldrop his full vote of confidence, saying that he believes that the sinkerballer is Major League ready.

The offense didn’t do much on the afternoon, but Joe Mauer went 2-for-3 with a run scored after being hitless over his previous four games. Luke Hughes also played all nine innings at second base and went 1-for-3. Trevor Plouffe and Steve Pearce picked up RBI singles in the sixth.

What went wrong: Liriano cruised through the first two innings but ran into trouble in the third inning.

He loaded the bases with nobody out, and ended up allowing back-to-back doubles to Travis Snider and Travis d’Arnaud with one out. The one positive was that he didn’t walk a batter and struck out five, but he also plunked Mike McCoy in the third and struggled with his command that inning.

Reliever Alex Burnett continued his struggles, allowing four runs on five hits and a balk while recording just two outs in the sixth inning.

Burnett, who is competing for a spot in the bullpen, hasn’t helped himself much this spring with a 16.80 ERA in 2 2/3 innings. He also struggled in a “B” game against the Pirates on Sunday.

What they said: “It was one of those games where there wasn’t a lot of movement on our side,” Gardenhire said. “We got behind early and played a little bit too much defense with not enough offense.”

What’s next: Right-hander Jason Marquis is set to make his third Grapefruit League start on Wednesday against the Phillies at 12:05 p.m. CT at Bright House Field. Marquis has allowed five runs on six hits over 4 2/3 innings so far this spring. Brian Duensing, Jeff Manship, Esmerling Vasquez, Luis Perdomo, Jeff Gray and Aaron Thompson are also scheduled to pitch for the Twins. Phillies ace Roy Halladay starts for Philadelphia.

Injury update: Center fielder Denard Span missed his second straight game with neck stiffness. But he took batting practice without any issues and is expected to make the trip to Clearwater on Wednesday. … Infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka was held out of the lineup for the second straight day with sprained left pinkie. Nishioka, though, is expected to start at shortstop against the Phillies. … Infielder Steve Pearce left Tuesday’s game with a strained right calf and is day to day.

Game 12: Lineups vs. split-squad Blue Jays

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Twins center fielder Denard Span was held out of the lineup for the second straight day with neck stiffness.

Span said he’s feeling much better today, but by the time he arrived at the ballpark, the lineup had already been posted.

Span, who tweaked his neck during warm-ups before Saturday’s game, remains hopeful he’ll play tomorrow.

“I feel a lot better compared to the way I felt two days ago,” Span said. “My range of motion is a lot better. Hopefully soon I’ll be back out there.”

Left-hander Francisco Liriano makes the start against the Blue Jays, who are playing very few regulars, as they’re also hosting Team Canada in Dunedin.

Twins (6-5)
1. Darin Mastroianni, CF
2. Jamey Carroll, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Josh Willingham, RF
6. Danny Valencia, 3B
7. Trevor Plouffe, LF
8. Steve Pearce, DH
9. Luke Hughes, 2B

LHP Francisco Liriano

Twins reserves: Drew Butera, Rene Rivera, Sean Burroughs, Wilkin Ramirez, Brian Dinkelman, Ray Chang, Matt Carson, Rene Tosoni, Ben Revere

Twins pitchers: Alex Burnett, Jared Burton, Sam Deduno, Deolis Guerra, Matt Maloney, Lester Oliveros, Kyle Waldrop

Blue Jays (8-2-1)
1. Rajai Davis, CF
2. Travis Snyder, LF
3. Travis d’Arnaud
4. Eric Thames, DH
5. David Cooper, 1B
6. Moses Sierra, RF
7. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
8. Mike McCoy, 3B
9. Jonathan Diaz, 2B

LHP Brett Cecil

Game 11: Hughes gives Twins the win in extras

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Carl Pavano had his best outing of the spring, and Luke Hughes hit a solo homer in the 10th inning to help lead the Twins to a 2-1 win over the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park.

With their third straight win, the Twins improved to 6-5 on the season. They host the split-squad Blue Jays on Tuesday at Hammond Stadium.

What went right: Pavano looked sharp against the Rays in his third Grapefruit League start, surrendering one run on four hits over four innings. He got ahead of hitters, as he threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the 15 batters he faced.

Pavano, who threw 60 pitches, gave up his lone run on a single from Desmond Jennings after a double from Jose Lobaton. He also worked well with catcher Ryan Doumit, who threw out two attempting base stealers. The only misplay was when Jennings stole second despite a pitchout from Pavano, as the throw from Doumit sailed high.

Hughes also showed he’s progressing well in his recovery from a strained right shoulder suffered in a home-plate collision in his native Australia in early February. He played all 10 innings at second base, and went 2-for-4 at the plate, including the game-winning homer in the 10th off right-hander Albert Suarez.

“I think that’s a big lift for him,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s been fighting through it because of the shoulder thing. He’s been set back a ways, so that’s a big deal for him hitting that homer.”

Shortstop Brian Dozier also had a good day at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a walk. He was robbed of a homer by the umpires in the first inning, when his deep drive hit the wooden deck above the left-field fence but it was ruled in-play. He settled for a triple off Tampa Bay’s projected Opening Day starter James Shields.

The bullpen also continued to impress, as Glen Perkins, Phil Dumatrait, Jason Bulger, Liam Hendriks, Tyler Robertson and Daryl Thompson each threw a scoreless frame. It was good to see Bulger get through an inning, as he entered the game with an 81.00 ERA.

What went wrong: It might be nitpicking in a win, but the offense didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard with two runs in 10 innings.

Joe Mauer, serving as designated hitter while playing in his first road game, went 0-for-2 with a walk and is batting .200 this spring. Trevor Plouffe went 0-for-4 with a strikeout to see his batting average drop to .118.

But the defense was solid yet again — outside of the botched pitchout — and the Twins have pitched well over their last five games.

What they said: “He got the ball and asked me if I’d sign it for him,” Gardenhire said about Bulger’s scoreless inning. “He said, ‘That’s the first time all spring you haven’t taken it from me.’ That’s entertainment.”

What’s next: Left-hander Francisco Liriano is set to make his third Grapefruit League start on Tuesday against the split-squad Blue Jays at 12:05 p.m. CT at Hammond Stadium. Lirano has yet to give up a run over five innings in Spring Training. Jared Burton, Matt Maloney and Sam Deduno are also scheduled to pitch for the Twins. Left-hander Brett Cecil starts for Toronto.

Injury update: Center fielder Denard Span stayed back at the club’s Spring Training complex on Monday to take some swings in the cage and see a chiropractor after missing Sunday’s game with neck stiffness. Span, who said the injury is not related to the concussion-like symptoms that plagued him last year, could return to the lineup on Tuesday. … Infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka missed Monday’s game with a sprained left pinkie, and remains day to day.

Game 11: Twins lineup at Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Twins center fielder Denard Span is staying back today to take some swings in the cage and see a chiropractor after missing yesterday’s game with neck stiffness.

Span said the neck injury is not related to the concussion-like symptoms that plagued him last season. He said he tweaked his neck during warm-ups before Saturday’s game, and he started feeling it later that game.

He added that he hopes to be back in the lineup tomorrow when the Twins host the Blue Jays at Hammond Stadium. In the meantime, Ben Revere is starting at center field in Span’s place and leading off today.

I’ll have more in today’s notebook so stay tuned.

Twins (5-5)
1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Brian Dozier, SS
3. Joe Mauer, DH
4. Chris Parmelee, 1B
5. Ryan Doumit, C
6. Trevor Plouffe, LF
7. Sean Burroughs, 3B
8. Luke Hughes, 2B
9. Rene Tosoni, RF

RHP Carl Pavano

Twins reserves: Danny Lehmann, Danny Rams, Chris Herrmann, Aaron Bates, Ray Chang, Michael Hollimon, Oswaldo Arcia, Darin Mastoianni

Twins pitchers: Jason Bulger, Scott Diamond, Phil Dumatrait, Liam Hendriks, Glen Perkins, Tyler Robertson, Daryl Thompson

Rays (3-6)
1. Desmond Jennings, LF
2. B.J. Upton, CF
3. Ben Zobrist, RF
4. Matt Joyce, DH
5. Jeff Keppinger, 2B
6. Elliot Johnson, SS
7. Matt Mangini, 1B
8. Chris Gimenez, 3B
9. Jose Lobaton, C

RHP James Shields

Game 10: Blackburn solid, three homers propel Twins

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Behind a strong performance from Nick Blackburn and homers from Joe Benson, Danny Valencia and Michael Hollimon, the Twins won their second straight game with a 5-1 victory over the Yankees on Sunday at Hammond Stadium.

With the win, the Twins improved to 5-5 on the season and travel to Port Charlotte on Monday with the chance to get above the .500 mark in Grapefruit League play.

What went right: Blackburn has been impressive so far this spring, and he fared just fine in his Grapefruit League debut. He said after that he didn’t have his best stuff, but he still ended up tossing three scoreless innings.

But the story of the day was the power shown by the Twins, as they entered the game with just three homers in nine Spring Training games, but matched that total against the Yankees.

Benson, who had struck out in seven of his previous 13 at-bats, finally connected with a deep homer in the fifth inning. It marked his first homer in quite some time, as he didn’t hit any as a September callup or during his time in the Venezuela in the offseason.

Valencia continued to show off his power, as it marked his second homer in as many days. He hit a three-run shot in the Twins’ 4-2 win over the Rays on Saturday.

And Hollimon has turned some heads so far this spring, as he absolutely crushed a three-run homer in the eighth and has four hits in six at-bats in Grapefruit League action.

Justin Morneau also looked good at the plate, going 1-for-2 with a single and a walk. Alexi Casilla went 1-for-2 to raise his batting average to .438 this spring.

Twins relievers Brian Duensing, Matt Capps, Jeff Manship, Carlos Gutierrez and Brendan Wise each threw a scoreless inning.

What went wrong: Not much, as the Twins looked good in just about every phase of the game.

The defense was sharp — they executed a great relay play to get Brett Gardner out at home plate in the third — and didn’t commit any errors.

Only left-hander Aaron Thompson gave up a run on the afternoon. He allowed a double to Nick Swisher and an RBI single to Francisco Cervelli.

What they said: “It’s called Jim Thome getting loud,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire joked about his team crushing three homers. “We’re getting loud. That’s our new theory in hitting, we’re going to start getting loud. We’ll see what happens. Like to see the ball fly. Get the barrel on it and see what happens.”

What’s next: Right-hander Carl Pavano is set to get the start against the Rays on Monday at 12:05 p.m. CT at Charlotte Sports Park. It’ll be Pavano’s third start of the spring, as he’s allowed three runs on nine hits over five innings in Grapefruit League play. Left-handers Glen Perkins and Phil Dumatrait and closer Matt Capps are also scheduled to pitch for the Twins. Joe Mauer will also serve as designated hitter. Right-hander James Shields is slated to start for the Rays.

Injury update: Center fielder Denard Span was a late scratch with neck stiffness and is day to day. But the injury isn’t serious and isn’t related to the concussion-like symptoms he’s suffered from since sustaining his initial concussion in a home-plate collision on June 3. … Infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka sprained his left pinkie making a tag and will be held out of action against the Rays. He’s also day to day and will be reevaluated further on Monday.

Span scratched with neck stiffness

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Denard Span was a late scratch from today’s game against the Yankees with neck stiffness, and is day-to-day.

Span, who was slated to start in center field and bat leadoff, was replaced by Joe Benson in center field. Left fielder Ben Revere moved up to the first spot in the order, while Benson batted eighth.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan said that Span’s injury is not serious and didn’t come as a result of a play in yesterday’s game against the Pirates. The injury is also not related to any concussion-like symptoms that Span has been dealing with since sustaining his initial concussion in a home-plate collision on June 3.

“I think he came out of that game yesterday and felt a little stiffness in his neck,” said Ryan, who added Span could return to the lineup as early as tomorrow. “He’s day-to-day. He might’ve slept on it wrong. I don’t think it’s anything other than a little stiffness. If this is the biggest injury we haven’t to worry about, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

Game 10: Twins lineup vs. split-squad Yankees

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins are rolling out their expected Opening Day lineup against the Yankees today at Hammond Stadium.

One Twins pitcher joked that it didn’t surprise him that manager Ron Gardenhire waited until the club played the Yankees to unveil his “A” lineup. So it’ll certainly be interesting to see if they can put some runs on the board, as the offense has mostly struggled so far this spring.

The game, which will be televised on FS North and MLB.TV at 12:05 p.m. CT, will also be a good test for right-hander Nick Blackburn, who is making his Grapefruit League debut.

Blackburn has looked good so far in two “B” games — throwing three scoreless innings against the Red Sox — so we’ll see how he does against a Yankees lineup that includes veterans such as Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez.

UPDATE: That didn’t last long. The Twins announced that Denard Span is out with neck stiffness. Joe Benson replaced him and is batting eighth. Ben Revere moves up to leadoff. The updated lineup is below:

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

RHP Nick Blackburn

Twins reserves: Drew Butera, Dan Rohlfing, Steve Pearce, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, Wilkin Ramirez, Matt Carson

Twins pitchers: Brian Duensing, Jeff Manship, Jason Bulger, Carlos Gutierrez, Tyler Robertson, Brendan Wise, Aaron Thompson, Matt Capps

Yankees (4-4)
1. Brett Gardner, LF
2. Curtis Granderson, CF
3. Nick Swisher, RF
4. Raul Ibanez, DH
5. Francisco Cervelli, C
6. Jorge Vaqzuez 3B,
7. Jayson Nix 2B,
8. Brandon Laird 1B,
9. Ramiro Pena, SS

RHP Phil Hughes