Tag:Minnesota Twins
Posted on: July 13, 2010 8:39 pm
 

Setting the stage at the All-Star Game

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A few things as we get set for the 81st All-Star Game:

-- National League pitching plans: Florida's Josh Johnson and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay will follow starter Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound. After that, manager Charlie Manuel plans to review the game situation, see where the AL lineup is and go from there. With lefties Joe Mauer, Robinson Cano and Carl Crawford hitting 7-8-9, you could see one of a couple of lefty relievers, Hong-Chih Kuo or Arthur Rhodes if the situation dictates.

-- AL pitching plans were unclear as for who would follow Tampa Bay's David Price to the hill. But in Price, Texas' Cliff Lee, Boston's Jon Lester and the Yankees' Andy Pettitte, the AL is loaded with lefties. Which could mean right-handers Justin Verlander and Phil Hughes will be interspersed with them.

-- Boston's David Ortiz on the legacy of the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner: "Unbelievable. When you give a team that many dreams, that many possibilities to win, that's something you've got to respect no matter what."

-- This is how stacked the AL is: Mauer, last year's MVP, is hitting seventh. Last time he did that? "The minor leagues," Mauer said. His reaction to hitting seventh? "Where do you want to put everybody?" Mauer said. "Somebody's gotta bat down there."

-- The pressure is on Padres closer Heath Bell if he pitches late in a close game. San Diego has provided three of the past four losing pitchers: Bell last year, Chris Young in 2007 and Trevor Hoffman in 2006.

-- Atlanta's Omar Infante, the most unlikely of All-Stars, is having a ball. His favorite moments? Tuesday afternoon in NL clubhouse, and Monday watching the Home Run Derby on the field, holding his one-year-old son, taking as many photos as he could. As for the game? "It's very important," said Infante, whose Braves are in position to benefit if the NL can win home-field World Series advantage. "Everybody's psyched."

-- The turf is in good shape here in Angel Stadium. But it almost was in even better shape. The rock band U2 was scheduled to play Angel Stadium in early June, after which the contract called for new sod to be laid at Angel Stadium. Instead of a new playing surface, however ... well, Bono underwent emergency back surgery, U2 canceled its tour and the turf remains the same.

Posted on: July 12, 2010 10:10 pm
 

Torii Hunter: Babies yes, Rally Monkey not yet

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- As the lone Angels' position player on the American League team, outfielder Torii Hunter has emerged as the unofficial All-Star host.

It's a job he'll handle willingly

"FanFest, a couple of things with TV stations, autograph signings, talking to kids, kissing babies ... it's going to be fun," Hunter said, wide grin crossing his face.

So far, though, no appearances with the Rally Monkey.

"I'm actually scared of the Monkey," Hunter joked. "He's pretty aggressive. When he's in a bad mood, he'll actually scratch you."

Hunter was bitterly disappointed that he had to bow out of last year's game in St. Louis with a groin injury. As a kid growing up in Arkansas, Hunter was a huge Cardinals fan. He loved Ozzie Smith and Vince Coleman. To a degree, last year's game in St. Louis was personal with him, given the ties to his boyhood memories.

So he's determined to enjoy everything about this year's game. Three of his children were trailing around with him Monday, and Hunter said he was showing them the ropes -- up to and including "kissing babies."

Part of it is that Hunter naturally is a friendly, outgoing guy who simply enjoys people.

Part of it is that he learned from another gregarious legend as he was coming up as a kid in the Minnesota Twins' system.

"I used to watch Kirby Puckett all the time," Hunter said. "He was always smiling and talking to people. Whenever people needed him, media, vendors, whoever, he talked to them. I watched that.

"That's why I always talk. That's why, if you come to me and need something, I'll say yes. I don't beg for it, but if you've got a kid coming up. ..."

And if that kid is unsure of himself, or needs a good influence ... Hunter is there.

 

Posted on: April 22, 2010 12:29 am
 

Even the schedule working against Orioles

Baltimore's epically horrible start (2-14 following Wednesday's loss in Seattle) is the perfect storm of a whole lot of things going wrong, from bullpen meltdowns to miserable situational hitting, but the Orioles aren't getting any breaks from the schedule-maker, either.

That the Orioles knew this spring that they would start off with as rugged a schedule as anybody in baseball is no consolation as they plow through their worst start since the 0-21 beginning in 1988.

The O's are in the midst of playing 18 of their first 28 games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Tampa Bay. And of those other 10 games, seven consist of a West Coast trip to Oakland and Seattle (which ended Wednesday night against the Mariners' Felix Hernandez).

That finished, the Orioles open a series in Boston on Friday, entering a stretch in which they'll face the Red Sox and Yankees 12 consecutive times. After that, it's off to contending Minnesota for four games before finally hitting the first "soft" part of their schedule: And eight-game homestand against Seattle, Cleveland and Kansas City beginning May 11.

Meantime, Baltimore's struggling AL East rival, Boston, is in as friendly a part of the schedule as a team could want: The Red Sox are in the midst of playing 20 of 26 games in Fenway Park, where Boston went 56-25 last season.

The Sox opened a 10-game homestand Friday against Tampa Bay, and following a trip to Toronto and Baltimore, they open another 10-game homestand May 3 against the Angels.

At 6-9 and fourth in the AL East, the Red Sox will not have a better time to turn things around.

A couple of other early scheduling observations:

-- The Angels will make a whopping six different cross-country trips this summer to the East Coast. They were in New York to face the Yankees in April, they'll be in Boston in May, New York again in July, Baltimore in August and Tampa Bay in September. June is the only month in which the Angels do not head for the East Coast. Hmmm, think manager Mike Scioscia made someone angry when he complained about the playoff schedule last October? The Angels will fly 50,509 air miles this season, a major-league high.

-- When San Francisco started 7-2, the thought was that we would find out whether the Giants were for real very soon (though getting swept in San Diego this week didn't figure to be one of the crucial test cases): Beginning in Los Angeles against the Dodgers last Friday, the Giants were to face five contenders in six series': The Dodgers, St. Louis (which arrives in San Francisco on Friday to open a weekend series), Philadelphia, Colorado and Florida.

-- The Twins, who hosted the Red Sox for three games last week, play just twice in Boston this season. Minnesota and Boston are finished with each other for 2010 on May 20.

-- Detroit plays the Mets in New York (June 22-24) before facing the Yankees in New York (Aug. 16-19).

Likes: Austin Jackson, Detroit's good-looking rookie center fielder. ... How about Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes in Oakland on Wednesday night, no-hitting the A's until Eric Chavez's sharp single that bounced off of Hughes to start the inning. ... Never a dull moment talking baseball in Detroit manager Jim Leyland's office. ... I applaud Carlos Zambrano's willingness to do anything to help the Cubs, but a temp job as a set-up man? Yikes.

Dislikes: The plight of the independent record stores, which are shrinking as badly as the independent bookstores and, sadly, are probably headed the way of the independent grocery stores and pharmacies. I applauded Independent Record Store Day last Saturday, but when I visited one of my favorites, Lou's Records in Encinitas, Calif., the other day, it was discouraging. They didn't have the Drive-By Truckers' newest CD (The Big To-Do), which makes about the fourth consecutive trip where they were out of what I was looking for. Worse, they're consolidating inventory into one building (it's a funky little place that currently consists of two small buildings, with used CDs in one and new in the other). Which obviously means less stuff. A clerk told me sales have been down 80 percent.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"People get ready, there's a train a comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

-- Curtis Mayfield, People Get Ready

Posted on: April 15, 2010 5:56 pm
 

Tough Liriano good sign for Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ten games into their season, the Twins are on a high after taking series' from three contenders (Angels, White Sox and Red Sox) and winning their first three series for the first time in a season since 1987.

But if Thursday's 8-0 win was a potential glimpse of lefty Francisco Liriano's 2010 season, the best might be yet to come.

Liriano, coming off of a 5-13 season while returning from Tommy John ligament transfer surgery, shut out Boston for seven innings in an 8-0 Twins romp and showed a repertoire that could become one of the Twins' most lethal weapons.

"If he can get back to the Liriano everyone keeps saying he was, he's going to be real big for us," Twins center fielder Denard Span said.

In holding Boston to four hits and striking out eight over his seven innings, Liriano threw 96 pitches. What the Twins liked best was that he relied on catcher Joe Mauer and threw his fastball often early, saving his slider for later. Last year, he often didn't trust his fastball and relied too heavily on his slider.

"We've talked all along," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "I've told him, 'That slider is your out pitch, but if you overuse it early, it's not going to be an out pitch. If you keep it in your back pocket, they'll swing at it later in the game.'"

Liriano threw a filthy slider to Kevin Youkilis for a called strike three in the first inning -- plate umpire Tim Tschida might have been a bit generous -- but saved many of the 26 sliders he wound up throwing until later in his outing.

The key with Liriano using his fastball is that it can open up the other side of the plate for him. His hard-biting slider sinks quickly down-and-in to right-handed hitters. By throwing his fastball to the other side of the plate, it keeps hitters from guarding one side of the plate.

When Liriano went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA as a rookie in '06 before his elbow injury, his slider was one of the nastiest pitches in the game.

"I can always remember facing him and going, wow," says Twins designated hitter Jim Thome, who was with the White Sox in '06. "For me, he was one of the toughest left-handers I've seen. Randy Johnson, in his prime. ... Liriano, with his slider, was the same feeling. You'd have to bear down."

Anderson thinks Liriano's slider is "close" to what it was in '06.

"It's pretty good," the pitching coach said. "It's got that late bite back. Last year, you didn't see as many swings and misses."

This year, if Liriano continues to gain confidence, look out.

******

One last thought on the Twins' beautiful new Target Field: While there are several gorgeous parks around that are still fairly new -- the parks in San Francisco and Pittsburgh come to mind -- nobody has done as an impressive a job of incorporating club history into the park as the Twins.

From naming the gates after players whose jerseys are retired (Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett, to name two) to the countless photos and memorabilia stations throughout the park to the dozens of old Sports Illustrated covers, media guide covers and yearbook covers decorating the press box, lunch room and concourses, the Twins set the standard.

It extends down to the clubhouse, where Puckett and two-time World Series-winning manager Tom Kelly are represented with class -- in quotes.

On one end of the clubhouse, above a door leading to the trainer's room, an eerie and poignant Puckett quote is spelled out in silver letters on a blue wall: "Live for today. Tomorrow isn't promised to anyone."

At the other end of the clubhouse, above a door leading toward the tunnel that takes the Twins to the field, there's this Kelly quote: "We're all in this boat together. Everybody grab an oar."

******

Funny, the most-heard phrase around Target Field and Minneapolis this week as everyone has been talking/worrying about/fretting over the weather has been this: "Don't worry, when Joe Mauer comes to bat, the sun will come out."

Likes: Denard Span's mother was not at the Target Field opening, but it's not because she's feeling ill effects from when she was hit by a foul ball lined by her son in Tampa the final week of the exhibition season. She's good," Span says. "She was mad I came out of the game. I brought 20 family members to that game. It was an eventful week. She was sore for a couple of days." The reason Denard's mother wasn't here? She didn't trust the Twin Cities weather. "She's coming in May," Span says. Good plan for a Florida native, though the weather here this week is tremendous. ... The Mary Tyler Moore statue on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. She could always turn the world on with her smile. ... Café Latte on Grand Ave. in St. Paul. The Tres Leche cake is phenomenal. ... Adele's Frozen Custard in Excelsior. Might even be better than the Tres Leche cake.

Dislikes: Early morning flights.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Who can turn the world on with her smile?
"Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
"Well it's you girl, and you should know it
"With each glance and every little movement you show it
"Love is all around, no need to waste it
"You can have a town, why don't you take it
"You're gonna make it after all"

-- Paul Williams, Love is All Around

Posted on: April 12, 2010 3:48 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2010 3:54 pm
 

Sad that Puckett not around to see new park

MINNEAPOLIS -- The one obvious absence as the Twins christen their new outdoor ballpark this afternoon is the late Kirby Puckett, the all-time most popular Twin before hometown hero Joe Mauer's arrival.

Boston slugger David Ortiz, the former Twin who broke into the majors in 19976, spoke eloquently about Puckett and said he thought a lot about the Hall of Famer as he was driving to Target Field on Monday.

"All I can remember when you talk about those World Series was Kirby, man," Ortiz said as the Red Sox were hitting Monday afternoon. "Everything he did, how great he was. How good he was to young players."

Though Ortiz never played with Puckett, who retired because of an eye damaged by glaucoma in 1996, Puckett was still around the Twins as Ortiz got his feet on the ground.

"He was so cool to me," Ortiz said. "It was hard to see him go. I wasn't expecting that at all. I was talking to my boy about it yesterday and today, how great he was to this organization, to the Twins.

"That's one of the main reasons I wear No. 34, because of him. I thought about him a lot today."

Ortiz, by the way, already was finding life different at the new Twins' stadium: He got lost traveling to the ballpark. Looking for the loading dock, he finally had his driver drop him at Gate 29 (Rod Carew's old number), which is one of the main stadium entrances.

Several early-bird fans got a big surprise when they saw him, and Ortiz said he signed several autographs as he was circling the stadium looking for the entrance.

Posted on: April 12, 2010 12:44 pm
 

Twins vs. Mother Nature: Looks like Twins win?

MINNEAPOLIS -- The countdown has begun in earnest, with hundreds of fans waiting outside the gates of Minnesota's beautiful downtown and the early verdict is ... it is a gorgeous day for an outdoor baseball game in Minnesota.

Now, the skies are a bit overcast and there's still a chance of rain this afternoon, but it's right around 70 degrees and perfect. It's shirt-sleeve weather, not jacket weather.

The Red Sox are here, the Twins are about to start batting practice and if we can just keep the rain away, it is going to be one memorable afternoon here at Target Field. First pitch: 3:10 CDT. Right now, they're unveiling the Kirby Puckett statue outside the park with dignitaries, including Hall of Famer Rod Carew, at the ceremony.

Posted on: April 11, 2010 8:33 pm
Edited on: April 11, 2010 11:36 pm
 

Target Field: The Twins vs. Mother Nature

MINNEAPOLIS -- Stepped out of the airplane here Sunday night and ... no snow.

Stepped out of the airport Sunday and ... still no snow.

Stepped onto the sidewalk toward the hotel in downtown Minneapolis later Sunday and ... no snow.

Truth be told ... it was 72 degrees and sunny in the Twin Cities at 6 p.m. Sunday. Absolutely gorgeous.

Outdoor baseball in Minnesota in less than 24 hours, and who needs a roof?

Don't mean to be obsessing, but, hey. Ever since brand new Target Field was but a gleam in old Twins owner Carl Pohlad's eye, and especially after any hope for a retractable roof fell through, you'd think that the Twins were going to play baseball in Alaska.

Not only are they not, but you can't even see Alaska from here.

Yes, it gets cold in Minnesota. Yes, it rains here.

But they actually did play baseball outside at old Metropolitan Stadium from 1961-1981. We're just babies today because we're so spoiled by modern conveniences. Like, you know, retractable roofs.

First pitch against Boston is Monday at 3:10 p.m. local time. From what the weathermen are saying, the Twins and Red Sox will have to dodge some rain drops this week, but no snow, no ice and no sleet.

The latest forecast:

Monday: High of 66, with 30 percent chance of rain.

Tuesday: High of 74, with 30 percent chance of thunderstorms. (No game is scheduled this day, it's the makeup day in case Monday's opener is rained out).

Wednesday: High of 76, with 30 percent chance of thunderstorms.

Thursday: High of 70, partly sunny.

We'll see you tomorrow with another forecast as the Twins prepare to open their new park (and thanks to Natemann113 below for updating me with the "30 percent" chance of thunderstorms. I had just written chance of thunderstorms). You know what they say in the Midwest: If you don't like the weather, wait around a couple of hours and maybe you'll get something different.


Likes:
Isn't it nice to have baseball games every day and night again? ... CC Sabathia taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning Saturday in Tampa Bay. Reminded me very much of watching Jack Morris, then pitching for Detroit, no-hit the Chicago White Sox on the first Saturday of the 1984 season in Chicago. I was in college then and watched that game on television from start to finish. ... I've been lucky enough to cover two no-hitters: David Wells' perfect game for the Yankees against the Twins in 1997 (the weekend my daughter turned 1) and Eric Milton's Saturday morning special for the Twins against a B-team Angels lineup in September, 1999. ... Giants manager Bruce Bochy when I asked him toward the end of spring training whether he ever converses with hitting coach Hensley Meulens, who speaks five languages, in something other than English. "No," quipped Bochy, who grew up in Melbourne, Fla. "He doesn't speak Southern drawl." ... An all-red Angel Stadium the other night as 40,000-plus fans were wrapped in their Hideki Matsui Snuggie fleece blankets geared for a Guiness World Record. Goofy, I know, but a cool sight in a weird way.

Dislikes: I had some work to do on Sunday's flight here and, sure enough, the guy in front of me launched his seat-back into the reclining mode not long after takeoff, forcing me to dip into my Airline Survival playbook. Yes, I quickly reached up, opened the air vent and directed it best I could straight at the top of his sleeping head, full blast. After about 15 minutes, he turned around and asked if I could shut my vent. I quickly agreed ... as long as he raised his seat back up. The deal struck, he went back to whatever it was he was doing ... and I was able to open my laptop and get to work. In today's air travel, which mostly sucks, it's all about survival.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Leavin' home, out on the road
"I've been down before
"Ridin' along in this big ol' jet plane
"I've been thinkin' about my home
"But my love light seems so far away
"And I feel like it's all been done
"Somebody's tryin' to make me stay
"You know I've got to be movin' on"

-- Steve Miller, Jet Airliner

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 7, 2010 10:07 pm
 

Hardy hopes to solve mystery in Minnesota

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- You like fresh starts in the spring? Well come visit for a moment with shortstop J.J. Hardy, whose tale is a classic in the genre:

Hardy, part of Milwaukee's young wrecking crew, falls off the cliff in 2009.

His 24 homers in 2008 melt to 11 in '09.

His 74 RBI in '08 shrink to 47 in '09.

He scuffles so much the Brewers ship him back to Triple-A Nashville. Then, looking to trim their payroll this winter, they ship him to Minnesota for center fielder Carlos Gomez.

So here Hardy is, new Twins uniform, blank slate, hopes as high as his production once was.

Credit for some of those hopes goes to Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra and special spring training instructor (and, of course, Hall of Famer) Rod Carew.

"I've made some pretty big changes, and for the better," Hardy says. "Some things I've known I've needed to do, and I just haven't been doing them."

What Vavra and Carew have succeeded (so far) in doing with Hardy is this: Last year, he fell into a bad habit of twisting his upper body back toward the catcher too much as he was loading his swing. What Vavra suggested, and Carew has helped fine tune, is getting Hardy's hands and back elbow in a spot that makes it hard for him to rotate his upper body so extravagantly.

Now, instead of turning back too far before he launches his swing forward, Hardy says he's coming straight to the ball in a shorter, more compact manner.

"It's a new start, and I'm excited about that," Hardy says.

Especially alarming were two things: His deteriorating power, and his declining effectiveness against lefty pitchers. He's never hit right-handers particularly well, but he hit only .169 against lefties in '09 (as opposed to a .299 career average against lefties through '08).

Can Hardy bounce back?

Did Vavra unlock an eternal mystery?

Will Carew's suggestions put Hardy back on track?

For now, the smile is back, and that's a start.

"I'm going to have fun. Last year, I was miserable. For some reason last year, I felt more pressure on myself. If I was 2-for-4 or 1-for-3, I was miserable because it just wasn't good enough.

"I'd come to the park in a bad mood. It was a long, frustrating year for me."

Sunblock Day? Slow start, but it was in the 70s by day's end Sunday and it is supposed to remain in the 70s for the rest of the week. Let the burning begin.

Likes: Nice conversation the other day with former Twins manager Tom Kelly, in camp helping as an instructor. The other day, he was on a half-field working with the infield defense and with the pitchers in their fielding practice. He's doing well and roves throughout the Twins' minor-league system during the summer, evaluating and teaching. As for spring camp, he'll be here through the end. "Gardy wanted me to come for the whole spring," T.K. says of manager Ron Gardenhire, as if it came as somewhat of a surprise. ... Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Paul Molitor also are in uniform as guest instructors. Between those three and T.K., it's an impressive sight. ... Nice conversation also with former outfielder and first baseman Dmitri Young, who is retired and was visiting his brother, Twins' outfielder Delmon. Dmitri says he's retired with no regrets, and his top priority now is being a father to his three kids. He brought his oldest, 12-year-old Owen, who served as the Twins' batboy on Saturday. ... Nino's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria in Fort Myers remains as delicious as ever, and it was good to hear that the owner of the joint, Graziano, was able to get away to his native Italy for three weeks last summer. More impressive, he spent the time with some friends making food and feeding people following last April's earthquake centered in Abruzzo mountain region of Italy.

Dislikes: Aw, I'll have left Florida by the time Wilco plays in Clearwater on March 23. I've had a heck of a time catching up to them over the past year. Would

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"I feel alright, it's a Minnesota night
"You've got nothing left to show me but your smile
"Stars so bright on this Minnesota night
"Can we cut the conversation for a little while?"

-- The Push Stars, Minnesota

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com