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Twins host intrasquad game at Hammond Stadium

FORT MYERS, Fla. — After 10 days of workouts, the Twins finally saw some game action on Thursday with an eight-inning intrasquad game at Hammond Stadium on Thursday.

Right-handers Phil Hughes and Kevin Correia started opposite each other, and both fared well by throwing two scoreless innings.

Hughes, who joined the club on a three-year, $24 million deal this offseason, threw two scoreless innings with four strikeouts — including strikeouts of top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Hughes, whose fastball was at about 91-92 mph, was pleased with the results, as he threw 20 of his 26 pitches for strikes. He also said he worked in seven or eight curveballs, which is important for him, as he’s scrapping his slider this year in favor of his curveball and a cutter.

“I was just trying to attack the zone,” Hughes said. “It was good to see some live hitters for the first time so that was a positive. … To be able to be in a game setting and see some hitters and some swings was good. Throwing strikes and staying within my mechanics was the biggest thing.”

Correia, was the club’s most consistent starter last season with a 4.18 ERA in 31 starts, didn’t allow a hit, striking out one and walking one, while throwing 23 pitches with 13 going for strikes.

“It was good,” Correia said. “I’ve thrown to some live hitters but it isn’t the same as being in a game situation and trying to make some pitches. It was a good process in the step of getting ready.”

Here are some more notes from today’s intrasquad:

– Catcher Josmil Pinto was cleared to play in the game after being limited by a sore back this week. Pinto caught with right-hander Anthony Swarzak on the mound, and walked in his lone plate appearance.

– Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez fared well, going 2-for-4 with a three-run homer off right-hander Lester Oliveros. Second baseman James Beresford also had a big day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run. Shortstop Danny Santana and right fielder Max Kepler also had two hits each.

– Third baseman Miguel Sano, who suffered a strained elbow this offseason, made several nice plays at third base and had no issues throwing during Thursday’s intrasquad game. He went 0-for-2 at the plate with a strikeout while reaching on a throwing error from shortstop Danny Santana. Fellow top prospect Byron Buxton went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk.

Also, on a side note, the blog will be very active once Grapefruit League play starts tomorrow against the Red Sox at 1:05 p.m. ET at JetBlue Park. I’ll be doing daily roundups, which will be similar in style to last year’s with photos as well.

Here are some of my favorite photos I’ve taken in the last 10 days while the Twins have been working out at the Lee County Sports Complex.

Source: Pelfrey, Twins agree to two-year deal

MINNEAPOLIS — Mike Pelfrey is staying in Minnesota.

The Twins have agreed to re-sign the free-agent right-hander on a two-year deal, a Major League source confirmed Saturday night. The deal, which is reportedly worth $11 million with up to $3.5 million in incentives, was first reported by CBSSports.com.

The Twins, however, have not officially announced the deal, as Pelfrey still needs to undergo a physical. The deal is expected to become official next week.

Pelfrey, 29, posted a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts with the Twins last season after joining the club on a one-year deal worth $4 million. The right-hander, who was had Tommy John surgery the previous May, struck out 101, walked 53 and gave up 13 homers in 152 2/3 innings.

Pelfrey was better in the second half of the season with a 3.25 ERA in five June starts and a 3.60 ERA in six August starts but faltered in September with a 7.45 ERA in four outings.

Advanced metrics such as Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like based on strikeouts, walks and homers allowed, also painted a rosier picture of Pelfrey. He had a 3.99 FIP, as he still had strong peripheral stats and was hurt by a .337 batting average on balls on play (BABIP). The league average BABIP is roughly .300.

Pitchers also tend to perform better in their second year back from Tommy John surgery, as their command begins to improve.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire made it no secret at the Winter Meetings that he wanted Pelfrey back in his rotation. Pelfrey, who is represented by Scott Boras, is now the third free-agent addition to the rotation, joining Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes.

“I love the guy,” Gardenhire said at the Winter Meetings. “He’s good for the clubhouse. He came a long ways last year off his surgery. We like the young man an awful lot and he can help us win baseball games.”

Twins reportedly meet with Bronson Arroyo’s agent

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Could the Twins be adding another starting pitcher to their rotation via free agency?

Despite already signing Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to multi-year deals, the Twins reportedly met with right-hander Bronson Arroyo’s agent, Terry Bross, on the first day of the Winter Meetings today.

That meeting went well, according to 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson, while FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweeted the talks between the Twins and Arroyo are gaining momentum.

But Arroyo confirmed to MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that no deals are close, and the Angels and Phillies are also interested in his services.

The Twins have yet to make a formal offer to Arroyo, but the situation is definitely worth monitoring. It’s still unclear if the Twins are ready to hand out another multi-year deal after spending a combined $73 million on Nolasco and Hughes, but it’s another sign the Twins aren’t done trying to fix a rotation that posted the worst ERA in the Majors last season.

I’ll have more as the day goes along here, as we’re set to meet with general manager Terry Ryan at about 5 p.m. CT.

Source: Gardenhire to remain as Twins manager

MINNEAPOLIS — Ron Gardenhire will remain manager of the Twins and is expected to receive a two-year deal, according to a Major League source.

The Twins are officially set to make the announcement on Monday at a 2:30 p.m. press conference at Target Field with general manager Terry Ryan. The Twins are also expected to announce the entire coaching staff will return as well.

Gardenhire, who has managed the team since 2002, is the second-longest tenured manager in the Majors behind only Angels skipper Mike Scioscia.

He led Minnesota to six division titles in a nine-year span before the Twins fell into hard times over the last three years. The Twins have lost 95-plus games in each of the last three seasons, which cast doubt on Gardenhire’s future, as his contract expired at the end of the 2013 season.

But given Gardenhire’s overall success in his 12 years at the helm and his reputation around the league as a top manager, the Twins decided to stick with their longtime skipper.

He was named the 2010 American League Manager of the Year, and finished second in the balloting for that award in ’03, ’04, ’06, ’08 and ’09 with a third-place finish in ’02.

He has a career 998-947 record, as he fell just two victories short of win No. 1,000 this year. The Twins went just 8-20 in September en route to a 66-96 record, which was identical to the ’12 season.

Gardenhire says his preference is to stay with Twins

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he expects to talk about his future with general manager Terry Ryan after Sunday’s season finale against the Indians.

Gardenhire, whose contract is set to expire at the end of the season, said a decision still hasn’t been reached on whether he’ll back next season. But he reiterated an announcement will be made before the postseason begins on Tuesday.

“We’re still discussing it — we’re still talking like we always do,” Gardenhire said. “Whatever happens, he’s going to make a decision and go with it. And I’m going to have to live with it one way or another. That’s where we’re at.”

Gardenhire, who is the second-longest tenured manager in the Majors behind the Angels’ Mike Scioscia, said he hasn’t thought about other managerial jobs, as his preference remains to stay with the Twins. He’s been the manager of the Twins since 2002, and led them to six division titles before suffering through three straight 90-plus loss seasons, including this year.

“I like where I’m at,” Gardenhire said. “I’d rather stay here. If it doesn’t work out here then you start thinking about other stuff. But I enjoy it here. It’s as good as it gets for me.”

Gardenhire added that he’s not thinking about Sunday’s game against the Indians like it’s his last game as Twins manager.

“I don’t worry about it,” Gardenhire said. “It’s not something I can control. I come in here like everybody else. It’s going to an emotional day but that’s because it’s the last day of the season. It’s not because of my situation. It’s not in the equation. I don’t think of it that way.”

Gardenhire talks about his future with the Twins

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who doesn’t have a contract for next season, expects to know his situation early next week.

Gardenhire said he plans on meeting with general manager Terry Ryan shortly after the season ends to discuss his future with the club. That meeting and decision is expected to happen as soon as Monday, as the Twins don’t want to distract from baseball’s postseason, which begins on Tuesday.

Gardenhire, who has managed the team since 2002, is the second-longest tenured manager in baseball behind the Angels’ Mike Scioscia. He currently has 998 career victories with two more games to go this season. He’s led the franchise to six division titles but the Twins have lost more than 90 games in each of the last three seasons.

“We’ll talk,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t have an opinion on anything other than trying to get through two games and see if we can win a game or two and go from there. We’ll see how it all shakes out. I’m hoping to have a conversation with Terry about everything. I want to see what his plan is.”

Ryan said he still hasn’t made any decision regarding the club’s coaching staff next season. He said he’ll wait until after the year to talk to Gardenhire about his contract status, and if he’ll remain manager moving forward.

“We know the importance of that conversation,” Ryan said. “So it’ll happen, and it’ll happen soon.”

Mauer sent home with concussion-like symptoms

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins catcher Joe Mauer had to shut down his workout early on Wednesday, as he felt concussion-like symptoms and was sent home from Target Field.

It was the first setback for Mauer since suffering a concussion on Aug. 19, when he was hit by a foul tip while catching against the Mets.

Mauer took batting practice on the field over the weekend but worked out inside on Tuesday and Wednesday. But Wednesday was the first time that Mauer had to shut it down early, according to Twins general manager Terry Ryan.

“He didn’t have a good day,” Ryan said. “It’s a concern more than frustration. You gotta feel for the guy. He just didn’t feel good today so we went him home. This wasn’t a good day and I don’t want to hide that at all. So he’s home and hopefully he comes back tomorrow feeling better and he’ll get back on track here.”

A few thoughts on the Justin Morneau trade

ARLINGTON — Judging by the reactions on Twitter, it appears most Twins fans aren’t happy with the decision to trade first baseman Justin Morneau to the Pirates for Alex Presley and a player to be named or cash.

And given what Morneau meant to the franchise in his 11 years with the Twins, and the fact that Presley is already 28 and profiles as a fourth outfielder, it’s certainly understandable.

Morneau was undoubtedly a face of the franchise along with Joe Mauer, and rightfully so, given his four All-Star Game appearances and his 2006 AL MVP Award. He deserved a better exit than this but at least he now has a chance to play in the postseason for the first time since ’06.

But the truth is his production dropped after sustaining his fateful concussion in Toronto on July 7, 2010, and he hasn’t been the same since.

He was an elite first baseman at that point with a career .286/.358/.511 line in 948 games, but since then he’s hit just .256/.316/.412 in 330 games while battling through wrist, knee and neck injuries.

And this year, even after an impressive August that saw him hit nine homers, Morneau hit .259/.315/.426 in 127 games. It’s not a bad mark given his OPS+ of 102 but not great when compared to other first basemen across the Majors, as the average first baseman has hit .260/.336/.436 with a 115 OPS+ this year.

Truthfully, Morneau didn’t have much value on the trade market, especially considering he’s making $14 million this season in the last year of his contract. The Twins shopped him since July, and decided to finally cash in on the final day he could be traded and be eligible for the postseason.

So while the return may look underwhelming, the Twins didn’t want to get left with nothing in case Morneau signs with another club this offseason. They were never going to offer him the qualifying offer this off-season to get draft-pick compensation, as Morneau would’ve took the one-year offer, which figures to be worth roughly $13-14 million.

Presley, at 28 years old, is no longer a prospect but has value because of his ability to play all three outfield spots and does have a career .377 on-base percentage in 285 games at Triple-A. The Twins simply aren’t long on leadoff-type hitters — outside of Aaron Hicks, who has struggled this year — so they’ll give Presley a chance to prove himself this September. He’s also under team control until 2018 and isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2015.

The Twins save money this year with the deal and will also receive another player, although he’s not expected to be a top prospect. But it’ll be worth monitoring to see what type of player they’ll get along with Presley, as Pirates general manager Neil Huntington. And it’ll also be worth seeing what Chris Colabello can do with regular at-bats at first base in September after dominating at Triple-A Rochester.

There’s also the chance that Morneau returns to Minnesota on a new contract this off-season, which is similar to what happened with former closer Rick Aguilera, who was traded to Boston in 1995 but still re-signed with the Twins. If he does return, then the trade is a win for the Twins, as they picked up two bonus players in addition to Morneau.

So while I was surprised the Twins decided to move Morneau at the last minute and believe it’s a modest return, it simply shows that Morneau just wasn’t worth all that much on the trade market.

In the end, they get a fourth outfielder and another potentially useful player for a one-month rental of a player expected to be used in a platoon at first base. So while it’s tough to see one of the best players in franchise history be traded, it does make some sense for baseball reasons even though it’s a tough pill to swallow.

Update: The player to be named is expected to be right-hander Duke Welker, according to MLB.com sources.

Welker, 27, is a hard-throwing reliever, as the 6-foot-7 reliever’s fastball averages about 97 mph. He had a 3.25 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 61 innings at Triple-A Indianapolis, and also made two scoreless appearances with the Pirates in late June.

Welker, who is under team control until 2019, has the potential to develop into a decent set-up reliever at the Major League level.

Willingham stays put, not traded by the Twins

ARLINGTON — Josh Willingham is still a member of the Twins.

The left fielder was pulled back off waivers by the Twins, as the club was unable to work out a deal with the Orioles before Friday’s deadline. The Orioles claimed Willingham off waivers on Wednesday but ended up working out a deal with the Mariners for first baseman/outfielder Mike Morse instead.

Willingham, who is also under contract for $7 million next year, now can’t be traded to any club this season.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” Willingham said. “Now I know where I’m going to be.”

Willingham said he knew a trade wasn’t completed when he didn’t hear anything from the Twins or his agent on Friday, but was never officially notified by anyone he wasn’t traded.

But he was happy to be in the lineup on Friday against the Rangers, and said he prefers staying in Minnesota.

“I’m comfortable here so I’d like to stay here,” Willingham said. “The bottom line is I didn’t have any control so I didn’t worry myself with it.”

Mauer feeling better but no timetable for his return

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins catcher Joe Mauer met with the media on Thursday for the first time since sustaining a concussion on Aug. 19, and said he’s feeling better but that there’s no timetable for his return.

Mauer suffered the concussion after being hit by a foul tip while catching on Aug. 19 and was placed on the 7-day concussion disabled list the next day after feeling dizzy during batting practice in Detroit.

He was able to do light exercises for the first time on Wednesday at Target Field, and said he’s doing better after spending the last week resting at home. But he said he’s still feeling some symptoms such as sensitivity to light and sound.

“My symptoms have been getting better, which is good,” Mauer said. “Even the things yesterday, I’m definitely conscious of the way I’m feeling and exercising and taking a break for a little while to see where I’m at. But it’s been going good so hopefully it’ll be another good day today.”

Mauer, though, said it’s too early to tell when he’ll make his return. He’s not making the trip to Texas for the Rangers series but will ramp up his activities while the Twins are away. He added that he plans on playing again this season.

“Shutting it down never entered my mind,” Mauer said. “I want to be out there. Obviously I want to be smart about it, but I want to get out there and play.”

But Mauer said he hasn’t talked to the Twins about how much he’ll catch this season when he makes his return. But general manager Terry Ryan said he’s hopeful Mauer will be back behind the plate this year.

“I hope so,” Ryan said. “That’s his position. You can get hurt on a baseball field wherever you go. Even at DH.”

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