Hicks named Opening Day starting center fielder

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The starting center-fielder competition is over for the Twins.

Aaron Hicks, who has yet to play above Double-A New Britain, will be Minnesota’s center fielder and leadoff hitter come Opening Day on April 1 against the Tigers at Target Field, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire announced Sunday.

Hicks, who went 4-for-4 with three runs scored and an RBI against the Blue Jays on Sunday, won the battle over Darin Mastroianni and Joe Benson. Mastroianni is expected to be the club’s fourth outfielder while Benson was optioned to Triple-A Rochester on Friday.

“I think it’s pretty simple to say Hicks is going to be our center fielder,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t think it’s a shocking announcement by any means.”

Hicks, 23, has been impressive this spring, as he’s hitting .350/.397/.650 with a team-high four homers, 16 RBIs, 16 runs and three stolen bases. He hit five homers in a three-game stretch earlier this month, including three in a game against the Phillies in Clearwater and one against Team Puerto Rico in an exhibition game.

“It feels great,” Hicks said. “It’s everything I’ve been working for since I started playing baseball. So it just feels really good to be named center fielder.”

Game 26: Escobar, bullpen help lead Twins to victory

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Eduardo Escobar provided the go-ahead two-run single in the seventh inning and the bullpen was solid in a 6-4 win for the Twins over the Rays on Saturday at Charlotte Sports Park.

The Twins improved to 13-13 with the victory and host the Blue Jays in an afternoon game at Hammond Stadium on Sunday.

What went right: The offense was solid again, as evidenced by the six runs and 12 hits even though Rays ace David Price started the game.

Center fielder Aaron Hicks had another nice game offensively, going 1-for-3 with two walks, including a bases loaded walk against Price in the fourth.

Brian Dozier made a really nice play in the field at second base and also went 1-for-3 with a walk and is looking like the top candidate to bat second to open the season. Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez has also been swinging a hot bat and went 2-for-3 to raise his average to .425.

Dan Rohlfing went 2-for-5 with two hits off Price and is hitting .308 in limited time this spring. Escobar, though, had the big hit with a two-run single off Jim Paduch in the seventh.

The bullpen also did its job, as Tim Wood, Glen Perkins, Alex Burnett and Casey Fien combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings. Fien and Burnett both threw perfect innings with Fien getting two strikeouts.

What went wrong: Right-hander Kevin Correia was better than his last outing but still gave up four runs (three earned) on five hits and three walks over 4 2/3 innings.

He’s slated to start one more time this spring before the regular season starts and said he wants it to be a good one so he can go into the year on a high note. He also said he hasn’t been told where he’ll be slotted in the rotation.

So while the offense was solid, the Twins did strike out 14 times on the afternoon. Josh Willingham and Darin Mastroianni both went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. But both hitters are still having solid springs at the plate.

What they said: “They’re all getting better. Today was good. Spring Training is a progression. Not only do you have to get your arm and body in shape but you have to get your mind in shape. Spring is almost over, so now is the time to go get it.” — Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson on the pitching staff.

What’s next: Right-hander P.J. Walters is scheduled to take the mound against the Blue Jays on Sunday in a 1:05 p.m. ET start at Hammond Stadium. Walters, who is competing for a spot in the rotation, has been solid this spring, as he’s yet to allow a run in 10 innings. Right-hander David Bush is slated to start for Toronto.

Injury update: Right-hander Samuel Deduno was scratched from his scheduled start against the Blue Jays on Sunday because of groin tightness. The Twins aren’t sure how long he’ll be out.

RHP Samuel Deduno out with groin tightness

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Right-hander Samuel Deduno was scratched from his scheduled start against the Blue Jays on Sunday because of groin tightness, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire announced Saturday.

Deduno originally felt the tightness while pitching in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic on Tuesday.

He thought the injury was minor, as he was still able to throw five scoreless innings to lead the Dominican Republic to the title, but felt it while throwing a bullpen on Thursday.

Gardenhire said there is no timetable for Deduno’s return and that right-hander P.J. Walters will start in his place against Toronto on Sunday.

“We have to wait until he’s healthy,” Gardenhire said. “We don’t have a plan until he gets back on the mound. He has some groin tightness. We put him on the mound but he said he felt something at the world games so we’re just biding our time now.”

Deduno was a candidate to be part of the club’s starting rotation, especially after he posted a 0.69 ERA with 17 strikeouts and five walks in 13 innings in the Classic.

But now it appears the non-roster invite will have trouble being ready in time for the season. Other candidates for the backend of the rotation include Liam Hendriks, Cole De Vries and Walters.

“He didn’t think it was a big deal but it is a big deal because you can’t start with that,” Gardenhire said. “So now we’re on hold until he gets back off that. It kind of makes us ad-lib a little bit.”

Game 25: Worley, Robertson struggle in loss to NYY

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Justin Morneau, Ryan Doumit and Dan Rohlfing homered but it wasn’t enough for the Twins in a 9-7 loss to the Yankees on Friday in front of a record crowd of 8,366 at Hammond Stadium.

With the loss, the Twins fell to 12-13 in Grapefruit League play. They travel to Port Charlotte to face the Rays on Saturday.

What went right: The Twins had plenty of offense, as evidenced by the homers from Morneau, Doumit and Rohlfing.

Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, in his return to Grapefruit League action after missing time with a strained right calf, went 2-for-3 with a run scored. Right fielder Wilkin Ramirez went 3-for-3 with two doubles.

Rule 5 Draft pick Ryan Pressly tossed a scoreless inning and now has an impressive 0.82 ERA this spring. Left-hander Brian Duensing also tossed a scoreless frame to lower his ERA to 4.09. Right-hander Josh Roenicke, who is out of options, also threw a scoreless inning.

What went wrong: Right-hander Vance Worley gave up five runs (four earned) on eight hits over five innings.

He now has a 6.35 ERA this spring, which doesn’t include the two runs he gave up in 3 1/3 innings against Puerto Rico in an exhibition game. He’s still a top candidate to start on Opening Day on April 1 but this start didn’t help his cause.

Left-hander Tyler Robertson likely sealed his fate with a trip to Triple-A Rochester by giving up four runs on five hits in the eighth inning.

What they said: “I think I wrote on the back of my lineup card — ‘Worley: lots of balls up. Not many breakers early. Slow pace.’ Just that type of stuff. Didn’t seem like he did much feel to it. He was really searching on the mound.” — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire

What’s next: Right-hander Kevin Correia is set to make his second-to-last start of the spring for the Twins on Saturday, when they travel to play the Rays in a 1:05 p.m. ET start at Charlotte Sports Park. Left-hander David Price is set to start for Tampa Bay.

Injury update: The Twins placed left-hander Scott Diamond (elbow) and right-hander Anthony Swarzak (ribs) on the 15-day disabled list on Friday, as both pitchers won’t be ready for the start of the season. … Left-hander Rafael Perez threw off a mound for the second time this week.

Twins-Rays postponed due to rain

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins’ scheduled game against the Rays on Wednesday night at Hammond Stadium was postponed due to rain, marking the second straight Twins game affected by weather, as Monday’s game against the Marlins was called after five innings because of rain.

The rain forced the Twins to adjust their schedule, as right-hander Mike Pelfrey was slated to start against the Rays but will instead travel to Sarasota to pitch against Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate on Thursday.

Right-hander Liam Hendriks will make his scheduled start against the Yankees in a night game at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

Several Twins players will stay back at the club’s Spring Training complex and play in Minor League games such as Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll and Trevor Plouffe. But the travel list to Tampa was not altered as a result of the rainout.

“They’ll all be hitting and playing in Minor League games all over the place,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “And all the guys we had going on the trip are going.”

Game 23: Correia struggles in loss to Marlins

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Kevin Correia struggled in his fifth Grapefruit League outing in a rain-shortened 6-2 loss to the Marlins that was called after just five innings on Monday at Hammond Stadium.

With the loss, the Twins fell below .500 at 11-12 this spring. They have Tuesday off but return to action Wednesday night against the Rays.

What went right: Brian Dozier hit his first homer of the spring on a two-run blast off Marlins right-hander Nathan Eovaldi in the first inning.

Catcher Joe Mauer returned to action after playing in the World Baseball Classic and went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles.

Pedro Florimon made another nice play at shortstop, bare-handing a grounder to make the play at first. He’s looked solid there all spring.

What went wrong: Correia ran into trouble in the second inning, as the first six batters he faced that frame reached base.

He was able to settle down after the rocky start to the inning — retiring eight of the last nine batters he faced — but also served up a solo homer to Chris Valaika in the fifth. But he now has a 6.46 ERA in Grapefruit League play.

Right-hander Tim Wood gave up one of the longest homers of the spring on a solo shot by Marlins prospect Christian Yelich that ended up in the pond about 100 feet beyond the right-field fence.

What they said: “You start to press a little bit for it but I have two more before I start the season. But you just want to have one nice one before you get out there so you feel good about yourself. But overall, I feel pretty good about how my arm, my body and my stuff are right now.” — Correia on looking to make a good start before the regular season begins.

What’s next: The Twins have a scheduled day off on Tuesday before returning to action on Wednesday. Right-hander Mike Pelfrey is scheduled to start for the Twins against the Rays in a 7:05 p.m. ET start at Hammond Stadium. Left-hander Matt Moore is scheduled to start for Tampa Bay.

Injury update: Third baseman Trevor Plouffe (strained right calf) is expected to play in a Minor League game on Wednesday. He’ll serve as designated hitter. … Left-hander Scott Diamond (elbow) made his first start of the spring in a Minor League game. He threw two scoreless innings with three strikeouts against Triple-A Pawtucket.

Game 22: Twins pitchers struggle in loss to Orioles

SARASOTA, Fla. — Right-hander Vance Worley gave up three runs over four innings and the bullpen didn’t fare much better in a 7-1 loss to the Orioles on Sunday at Ed Smith Stadium.

With the loss, the Twins fell to 11-11 in Grapefruit League play. They host the Marlins on Monday in a day game at Hammond Stadium.

What went right: Not much, as the Twins didn’t score until there was two outs in the ninth and didn’t pitch particularly well either.

Jamey Carroll and Wilkin Ramirez combined for four of Minnesota’s six hits. Chris Parmelee, who also drew a walk, had an opposite-field single.

Brandon Boggs hit an opposite-field homer in the ninth inning off right-hander Jair Jurrgens. It was the third homer for the spring for Boggs.

Shortstop Pedro Florimon made a couple of nice plays in the field, including a diving snare of a line drive and a running catch in right-center to catch a blooper. But he also made an error on a routine play and also tried to call off Worley on a pop-up that Worley ended up catching on the mound.

What went wrong: Worley gave up three runs on six hits and two walks over four innings and has a 6.00 ERA in Grapefruit League play.

But Worley wasn’t really hit hard, as two runs scored on a soft grounders with the bases loaded in the second. The one ball that was hit hard was a solo shot from former Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy in fourth inning.

Reliever Casey Fien gave up two runs on a two-run blast to Matt Wieters in the fifth inning. He’s competing for a spot in the bullpen but has a 6.14 ERA this spring.

Right-hander Jared Burton worked two innings but surrendered a two-run single to former Twin Lew Ford in the sixth.

What they said: “It was kind of a blah game. Their pitchers did a nice job throwing the ball.” — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

What’s next: Right-hander Kevin Correia is slated to start for the Twins against the Marlins in a 1:05 p.m. ET start at Hammond Stadium. Catcher Joe Mauer also is expected to return to action after participating in the World Baseball Classic with Team USA. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi is scheduled to start for Miami.

Injury update: Left-hander Scott Diamond (elbow) is scheduled to throw two innings in a Class A game on Monday. He’s expected to be ready to return in mid-April. … Right-hander Anthony Swarzak (ribs) is likely to start the year on the disabled list. He’s still throwing bullpens. … Third baseman Trevor Plouffe (calf) is tentatively scheduled to make his return on Wednesday.

Game 18: Roenicke can’t hold lead in loss to Orioles

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Infielder James Beresford and Ray Olmedo both homered in the eighth inning but Josh Roenicke blew the save by giving up five runs in the ninth to hand the Twins a 9-4 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday night at Hammond Stadium.

With the loss, the Twins fell to 10-8 in Grapefruit League play. They host the Red Sox in a day game at Hammond Stadium on Thursday.

What went right: In a rare display of power, Beresford and Olmedo both came up with long blasts off Orioles right-hander Todd Redmond.

Beresford, who started it off with a solo shot, has just one career homer in the Minor Leagues and it came in 2010 with Class A Beloit. And Olmedo followed with a two-run blast after Joe Benson, which was also rare considering Olmedo has just two career big league homers in 484 plate appearances.

Right-hander Kevin Correia turned in his best outing of the spring, as he gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits to his improve his ERA to 4.76 in four Grapefruit League starts.

Correia was also helped by a few great plays from the defense, as Chris Parmelee robbed a potential homer in right field with a leaping catch at the wall and Brian Dozier made several slick plays at second base.

Reliever Casey Fien had a nice outing, throwing 1 1/3 perfect innings in relief of Correia.

What went wrong: Roenicke struggled, as he only recorded two outs in the ninth inning and blew the lead by giving up five runs on three hits and two walks.

It wasn’t a good sign for Roenicke, who is battling for a spot in the bullpen after being selected off waivers from the Rockies. Roenicke, who is out of options, now has an 8.22 ERA this spring.

But left-hander Caleb Thielbar didn’t fare much better trying to clean up Roenicke’s mess, as he gave up two hits and a run and threw a wild pitch before getting Chris Robinson to pop out to end the inning.

But it wasn’t just the pitching, as outside of their big eighth inning, the Twins also didn’t do much offensively. They didn’t get a hit until Ryan Doumit singled to lead off the fifth inning.

Center fielder Aaron Hicks has also cooled off a bit, as he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, but is still hitting .342.

What they said: “We ambushed them and then they re-ambushed us. Is that a word? It should be. One of those Yogi-isms” — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

What’s next: Right-hander Mike Pelfrey is set to make his fourth start of the spring on Thursday against the Red Sox in a 1:05 p.m. ET start at Hammond Stadium. Pelfrey, who had Tommy John surgery on May 1, has a 3.52 ERA this spring. Right-hander Ryan Dempster is scheduled to start for the Red Sox.

Injury update: Right-hander Deolis Guerra (blood clot in right shoulder) was transferred to Tampa General Hospital, where he’ll have his first rib removed in the next few days to help give his artery more room.

Thoughts on WBC plus lineups for Twins/Orioles

FORT MYERS, Fla. — With the Twins having a rare off-day on Tuesday, I decided to head over to Marlins Ballpark in Miami to catch the USA-Puerto Rico game.

I wanted to check out the new stadium and the atmosphere, as I went to the semifinals and finals of the World Baseball Classic in both 2006 and ’09 and had a great time.

The decision to drive two hours across the state didn’t disappoint, as I found myself liking the ballpark much more than I thought I would and the atmosphere was incredible. It definitely didn’t feel like a Spring Training game, as it was incredibly loud with noisemakers going off all over the stadium and lots of passionate Puerto Rico fans.

It was also fun to watch a few of the Twins’ prospects, as both Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios played for Puerto Rico. I was impressed by Rosario’s double on an 0-2 pitch from David Hernandez and Berrios was throwing 95 mph and wasn’t afraid out there despite the fact he’s only 18.

So when we talked to Justin Morneau today about his time in the World Baseball Classic, it was no surprise that he loved the intense environment the games bring in mid-March.

Morneau was impressive in the Classic, hitting .636 (7-for-11) with three doubles, three RBIs and a walk. But Canada was eliminated with a 9-4 loss to Team USA on Sunday at Chase Field in Phoenix, which caused Morneau to head back to Fort Myers earlier than he had hoped.

“The intensity was good and the adrenaline level was high but there’s still a long time until the regular season starts,” Morneau said. “But it was still a good foundation to build off of to have a few good days of the success at the plate and know my swing is pretty close to where I want it to be. So it’s a good confidence builder and hopefully I can continue it.”

Morneau is back in the lineup batting cleanup and at first base for the Twins tonight against the Orioles. Here are the rest of the lineups with plenty of familiar faces playing for Baltimore:

Orioles (10-4)
1. Alexi Casilla, 2B
2. Ryan Flaherty, SS
3. Manny Machado, 3B
4. Jason Pridie, LF
5. Taylor Teagarden, C
6. Travis Ishikawa, 1B
7. Danny Valencia, DH
8. Chris Dickerson, RF
9. Trayvon Robinson, CF

LHP Brian Matusz

Twins (10-7)
1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Brian Dozier, 2B
3. Josh Willingham, LF
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Ryan Doumit, C
6. Chris Parmelee, RF
7. Oswaldo Arcia, DH
8. Eduardo Escobar, 3B
9. Pedro Florimon SS

RHP Kevin Correia

Game 17: Twins rally late for win over the Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Prosect Oswaldo Arcia had an impressive day at the plate, and Ray Olmedo had the game-winning hit with an RBI triple in the 10th inning to help the Twins to a 6-4 win over the Rays on Monday night at Charlotte Sports Park.

With the win, the Twins improved to 10-7 in Grapefruit League play. They have their first off-day on Tuesday before hosting the Orioles in a night game on Wednesday at Hammond Stadium.

What went right: Arcia, who was playing in just his second game this spring after suffering a pulled intercostal muscle, went 2-for-3 and was hit by a pitch.

He also scored in the first inning on a throwing error by shortstop Yunel Escobar on a ball hit by Joe Benson and again in the fourth on a sacrifice fly from Darin Mastroianni.

Mastroianni also had a good day with a diving catch in left while also going 1-for-1 to raise to his average to .412 before being replaced by Brandon Boggs. First baseman Jeff Clement went 1-for-3 with an RBI single in the first inning off right-hander Roberto Hernandez.

Joe Benson and Eric Fryer had back-to-back triples to tie the game in the ninth inning before Olmedo had the game-winning RBI triple in the 10th after Clete Thomas doubled.

Left-hander Tyler Robertson threw a scoreless inning in relief with two strikeouts. Fellow lefty Brian Duensing also tossed a perfect inning in relief with a strikeout.

Right-hander P.J. Walters threw two scoreless innings in relief and hasn’t allowed a run in seven Grapefruit League innings. He did walk two but also struck out three.

What went wrong: Right-hander Vance Worley was mostly fine but did give up two runs on five hits, including four extra-base hits, over four innings.

He served up an RBI double to Evan Longoria in the first inning and a solo blast to Luke Scott in the second inning. But he did settle down and showed good velocity with his fastball reaching 94 mph.

Rule 5 pick Ryan Pressly gave up his first run of the spring but also picked up his first two strikeouts in an inning of work. Fellow reliever Luis Perdomo allowed the go-ahead run to score in the eighth inning.

What they said: “I turned back around and I was almost mid-90s. I got to 94 once and I hadn’t seen that in a couple years.” — Worley on his velocity.

What’s next: The Twins have their first off-day of the spring on Tuesday before hosting the Orioles in a 6:05 p.m. CT start at Hammond Stadium on Wednesday. Right-hander Kevin Correia is set to start for the Twins while left-hander Brian Matusz is slated to start for the Orioles. First baseman Justin Morneau is also expected to make his return, as he arrived back in Fort Myers on Monday after participating in the World Baseball Classic.

Injury update: Right fielder Chris Parmelee (right groin tightness) is scheduled to make his return on Wednesday against the Orioles. … Third baseman Trevor Plouffe (strained right calf) had an MRI exam but it came back with favorable results. He’s expected to be out a week. … Left-hander Scott Diamond (elbow) threw his first live bullpen session on Monday and all went well.

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