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Twins notebook, 5/27

May 28, 2011 Comments off

Casilla earns start at short with strong bat

MINNEAPOLIS — His offensive struggles got Alexi Casilla taken out of the role as the Twins’ everyday shortstop. After a couple strong games at the plate while playing second base, Casilla found himself back at shortstop Friday against the Angels.

It was Casilla’s first start at shortstop since May 1, after playing 20 games at short in April.

“Swinging the bat, he’s aggressive,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I think he looks more comfortable in the infield, hopefully he’ll look OK tonight at shortstop. At second base he looks more comfortable, we’ll move him back over there because he’s swinging.”

Casilla was joined up the middle by Michael Cuddyer, who was back in the Twins lineup Friday after missing two games with a strained right hip.

Over his last three starts, Casilla has gone 5-for-9 with a double and two runs scored. He’s raised his average over that time from .184 to .215.

“If Alexi stays aggressive with the bat like he has and drives the ball like he has, that’s fun to watch,” Gardenhire said. “That’s kind of what we were hoping for.”

Plouffe sits after struggles on field

MINNEAPOLIS — With the Twins leading by three runs Monday, shortstop Trevor Plouffe made a pair of miscues that helped the Mariners cut the deficit and eventually come back and win.

Plouffe hasn’t seen the field since.

First, he double-pumped on a throw and allowed Jack Wilson to reach on an error, and later let an Ichiro Suzuki popup land in front of him, allowing a runner to score from third. In both instances, Plouffe was not aggressive enough to make the play.

“You have to be aggressive,” Plouffe said before Friday’s game against the Angels. “I think that I am that player, I think that I had an inning where I wasn’t aggressive and clearly it was taken as it being that’s how I play, and that’s really not how I play. I feel like I am aggressive, I can play every day, I know.”

Plouffe’s defense, along with the way Alexi Casilla has hit lately, and the return of Michael Cuddyer at second base, have left Plouffe on the bench. He had previously started six straight games at shortstop for the Twins and 13 total games since being called up May 6.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and Plouffe have talked since his defensive miscues Monday night, and they’ve discussed the need for the shortstop to be aggressive while in the field. It’s also been made clear to Plouffe that when he is at short, he needs to be the leader of the infield defensively.

“He’s working on it,” Gardenhire said of Plouffe’s leadership. “First we’ve got to get him comfortable. But as I told him, ‘You need to run the infield. … Get out there and take charge.'”

Talking with reporters before Friday’s game, Gardenhire discussed the need to balance fielding the team he thinks had the best chance to win and getting Plouffe some time as well, while keeping him from getting discouraged about a couple mistakes.

“He’s in the Major Leagues, he’s got to be ready to handle whatever we throw at him,” Gardenhire said of Plouffe. “We’re trying to win ball games. We’re trying to get a feel for the people out there that can get it done. So now he comes off the bench, that’s a role too. Tonight he’s sitting on the bench, he may start at shortstop tomorrow.”

Twins can’t halt Angels’ big 8th in loss

May 27, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Typically, a five-run lead after seven innings makes it a pretty safe bet to expect a win. With the Twins bullpen, that has not exactly been the case.

After right-hander Scott Baker delivered a strong performance with seven scoreless innings Friday night, he handed the ball over to Alex Burnett. Along with the rest of the bullpen, Burnett allowed the Angels to put up five runs in the eighth and plate another in the ninth for the 6-5 victory at Target Field.

After tossing 106 pitches through seven innings, it seemed like a no-brainer to take Baker out of the game and bring in the bullpen for two innings. In hindsight, it becomes easy to wonder if he could have been more effective than the bullpen in the eighth.

“Why push it at that point in the game?” Baker said. “You play the game like you’re going to win the game. You’ve got pitchers out there that can get some outs and I think we’re going to continue to believe that if you have a five-run lead, that there’s guys out there that can get some outs and we win the ball game.”

It all started with a grounder to first, which became an infield single as Burnett was slow in covering the base. He then walked a batter before leaving the game.

Lefty Dusty Hughes entered the game, and on the first pitch he threw to Erick Aybar, surrendered a three-run home run to kick start the rally.

“Aybar’s three-run jack kind of lifted us up, got us going,” former Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said. “We were making jokes, laughing in the dugout. Scott Baker was beating us with a fastball. He had late life on his fastball. After seven shutout innings, you’ve got to get somebody to give you a spark. That’s what Aybar did.”

Hughes allowed another runner to reach base on an error before the end of his night. Right-hander Jim Hoey, in his first game back with the big league club, relieved Hughes and promptly gave up a double to Hunter.

That double was followed by a single and a sacrifice fly, tying the ballgame at five runs apiece.

Through 49 games this season, the Twins bullpen has allowed 49 runs in the eighth inning. After the game, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was asked if he felt “skittish” about bringing a reliever in to pitch with the way they’ve performed through nearly two months.

“That’s who we had, those guys have to get it done,” Gardenhire answered. “That’s who we have, that’s who we are, that’s who has to pitch. Skittish, I don’t know. Nervous, absolutely, because we’re not getting the job done.”

Gardenhire noted after the game that Joe Nathan and Anthony Swarzak were unavailable to pitch, and closer Matt Capps was not going to come in until the ninth if he did pitch.

Hoey was the only reliever to record an out, but he surrendered the lead and the game in the ninth. Peter Bourjos led off the inning with a triple to left center, and scored one batter later on a Maicer Izturis single to right.

Burnett, Hughes, and Hoey combined to record only three outs, while giving up six runs on seven hits and one walk. All of this ruined Baker’s best start since May 6.

Baker tossed seven shutout innings to put himself in line for the win, giving up six hits while striking out six batters without a walk. Only twice, in the first and seventh innings, did Baker allow more than one Angels hitter to reach base in an inning.

It was first time since that same May 6 start in Boston that Baker went at least seven innings.

“He gave us everything we needed to win a ball game,” Gardenhire said. “He was in the zone, used his breaking ball, moved the ball in and out, had a decent changeup, and after the first couple innings, he settled in and just cruised.”

Also negated by the bullpen’s performance was a strong game by the top of the order, especially Alexi Casilla. It started with Denard Span’s walk to lead off the game, and Casilla followed with a double to put the Twins up 1-0 early.

Casilla would have had a triple on the play, had he not returned to first after missing the base. He did triple in the third, and was driven in by Jason Kubel. Casilla added another double in the seventh.

After consecutive 2-for-3 games against the Mariners, Casilla went 3-for-4 on the night, with all three hits going for extra bases. He has now gone 7-for-10 over his last three games with three doubles, a triple, a stolen base and four runs scored.

“He’s been swinging good, he’s been playing aggressive,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what we have to have from him, that’s what we would love to see, just exactly what he’s done the last few ball games.”

Michael Cuddyer also became the 14th player in Twins history to record 1,000 hits with the club, knocking a two-out single in the ninth inning.

It was a bittersweet moment for Cuddyer, though, who said afterward he would have traded the 1,000th hit for a win.

“It’s tough. It seems like something has happened every game now,” Cuddyer said. “Whether it’s [blowing a lead] or not hitting. It’s almost like we’re snakebit. We have to figure out how to win a game.”

As one of the leaders in the clubhouse, Cuddyer has been asked many times about all the Twins losses, but he has no better solution than anyone else.

“It’s the million-dollar question,” he said. “I wish we knew and we could put a finger on it because we’d definitely do it. It’s not fun for us either. I know everybody’s frustrated — fans are frustrated — but we’re as frustrated as anybody. It’s tough.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Players became fans when it came to Killebrew

May 26, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — For all the home runs he hit in his career, and the impressive distances they traveled, it was Harmon Killebrew’s personality that left a lasting impact on his friends, family, former teammates and the Twins organization.

They made that clear Thursday night at Target Field, when several current and former Twins shared their memories of the Hall of Fame slugger.

“He was more than a great baseball player,” said Hall of Famer Rod Carew in one of the more touching speeches of the night. “He loved people. And he loved treating them the right way — and respected everyone.”

Carew shared a story, about the nicknames he and Killebrew had for each other.

During his second season with the Twins, Carew was talking one day in the dugout with Killebrew, who told him that he couldn’t call him “Rookie” anymore, so he was going to call him “Junior.” From that day forward, they addressed each other as “Junior” and “Charlie.”

Carew never explained why he called Killebrew by the name “Charlie,” but it gave everyone in attendance a look into their close relationship just the same.

“I tried to model myself after Harmon Killebrew, that’s how much he meant to me,” Carew said. “There will only be one face of this organization, and that’s Harmon Killebrew.”

Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau shared their thoughts, and a video from former Twins Gold Glover Torii Hunter was shown on the video board as well. Each described the way Killebrew helped them change their signatures to make them more legible for fans.

Killebrew’s autograph — which was added to the wall in right at Target Field — was among the best in baseball, and he made it a point to ensure that fans could tell it was his. It was one of many examples of the concern Killebrew had for others, no matter their status in life.

When he reached the podium, Paul Molitor shared a note about his signature as well, in one of the more lighthearted moments of the night.

“Harmon actually liked my autograph,” Molitor said. “Just to get that out of the way.”

Molitor talked about another common topic regarding Killebrew, his nickname.

“Much has been made of the irony of his nickname, Killer, given his tranquil personality,” Molitor said. “But there’s irony in his first name, too, Harmon, or Harm. Because he never did any harm to anyone — except for opposing pitchers.”

Like many Twins fans, Molitor grew up idolizing Killebrew as a child. He recalled the way players would always fight over the No. 3 jersey when he played Little League.

Now a Hall of Famer himself, Molitor eventually became close friends with his idol.

As much as they remembered him for his kindhearted nature, Killebrew’s friends and former teammates were among his biggest fans, too.

And just like any other Twins fan, they loved to see him hit the ball out of the park.

“The thing that set Harmon apart from other home run hitters was the trajectory he hit in his home runs,” said former Twins All-Star pitcher Jim Kaat, who was also a teammate of Killebrew’s. “There were two players in the American League who made you say, ‘Wow’. And that was Mickey Mantle and Harmon Killebrew.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Killebrew fondly remembered by fans at service

May 26, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — He was a fan favorite in Minnesota during his playing days, and several thousand fans turned out Thursday night for Harmon Killebrew’s memorial service at Target Field.

Killebrew was a legendary figure among Twins fans for the way he hit towering home runs at Metropolitan Stadium, and a hero for the way he exuded class off the field. After he left a lasting mark on their lives, Twins fans made the trip to the ballpark Thursday to pay one last tribute to Killebrew.

“I was 9 years old when the Twins came to Minnesota, and he was the star,” said John Korman of Mendota Heights, Minn. “That’s all you could think about is wanting to go down to the old Met and watch Harmon Killebrew.”

When Twins fans came to the ballpark in the 1960s, they wanted to see Killebrew hit one of his classic, long home runs to left field. Having hit 573 during his career, Killebrew often granted their wish.

Some were not so lucky.

“I’ll never forget the first time I came to Met Stadium down in Bloomington and seeing it for the first time,” said Scott Karich of New Brighton, Minn. “Harmon being my favorite player, we were there to see him hit a home run. We wanted to see him hit a home run, and everybody there wanted to see him hit a home run, and that’s kind of my memory, that I didn’t get to see him hit a home run.”

Whether they got to see them in person or not, the one thing fans most closely associated with Killebrew — besides his genuine personality — were his home runs.

“I just always remember the crack of the bat over the radio as a South Dakota farm boy,” said Mike Reyelts, who now lives in Eagan, Minn. “You could tell Harmon hit the ball out before Herb Carneal even announced it.”

The ceremony, which featured speeches from several former players, Commissioner Bud Selig and Killebrew’s wife, Nita, received excellent reviews from the fans in attendance.

Among the things that stood out as the more memorable or touching moments to the fans were the heartfelt speeches from former Twins players and from Nita. The musical selections throughout the ceremony also were a highlight, and they included Mudcat Grant, a former teammate of Killebrew, singing “What A Wonderful World.”

“Rod Carew’s speech,” Korman said. “That made me cry.”

Duensing’s solid start wasted as Twins fall

May 25, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — In the early innings Wednesday, Twins lefty Brian Duensing struggled to get comfortable. Whether it was the cold or the wind, something was not quite right.

After he made a small adjustment with his “rocker step,” Duensing settled in nicely and delivered his best start since April 30. But the Twins’ offense couldn’t figure out Mariners lefty Erik Bedard as they lost, 3-0, Wednesday at Target Field.

Each of the first three hits Duensing allowed, along with a second-inning walk, came back to cost him in the end. After putting Franklin Gutierrez on to lead off the second, Adam Kennedy doubled and Brendan Ryan singled to put Seattle up, 2-0.

Two innings later, Gutierrez led off with a solo home run, his first of the season.

“There was only one that I’d want back, and that was the homer I gave up to Gutierrez, which was a changeup up,” Duensing said. “Other than that, I thought I threw the ball pretty well and walked a couple guys I didn’t really want to walk but at the same time made some good pitches when I needed to.”

Tossing seven innings while giving up three runs on four hits, Duensing kept Minnesota in the ballgame. It was the second consecutive outing of seven or more innings by a Twins starter, keeping the burden off the bullpen.

Duensing went seven innings for the first time in five outings this month after four of his five April starts went seven innings. The three runs he allowed were the fewest for Duensing since May 10.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was especially happy with the way the left-hander was able to finish by striking out Ichiro Suzuki with runners on the corners and two out.

“He wants to be out there, he needs to make a big pitch [and] he did,” Gardenhire said. “That last hitter is as good as they get in the league and it was a good matchup for us. We wanted him to get out of that inning without giving something up and he did.

“That’s important for him on down the road. He came out of it feeling pretty good about himself. Although he got a loss, he knew he found something out there on the mound and he finished that inning off, which was huge.”

But as much as Duensing kept them in the ballgame, the Twins could not get much going at the plate against Bedard, who pitched six shutout innings, scattering six hits with four strikeouts for the win.

At the plate, the Twins had at least one runner on base in each of the first five innings but could not bring any of them around to score. Overall, the Twins went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

“[Bedard] was pretty filthy,” Gardenhire said. “Sometimes, you tip your hat to the other guy and Bedard’s one of those guys that we’ve had to do that before. He had great stuff today. One of those situations you could see guys swinging and missing balls by a foot, and that’s that breaking ball, that was diving down along with a 92-mph fastball.”

The Twins’ best chance to put runs on the board came in the fifth, when their Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, catcher Drew Butera and second baseman Alexi Casilla, led off with a pair of singles.

But those hits were followed by three consecutive outs from the top of the order.

“That fifth was a big inning,” Bedard said. “We were up, 3-0, and if I give up a hit there, the game gets closer. You just battle out there. Try to keep the ball down and get out of the inning.”

One of those outs looked like it could score a run, though, when Matt Tolbert flew out to right field for the second out of the inning. But with Butera on third and Ichiro’s strong arm in right, it was not deep enough to bring the Twins’ catcher home.

Gardenhire was not sure if Butera could have scored on the play, but said he would have have liked to see him try with the way Bedard was keeping the Twins hitters off balance throughout the game.

“It was kind of more of a respect thing for [Ichiro’s] arm,” Butera said. “I’m not a very fast runner, I know that, and he has probably one of the best arms in the game. And I felt at the time we had one of our hottest hitters coming up. I probably could’ve taken a chance, I probably should’ve taken a chance.”

The top five hitters in the Twins’ lineup combined to go 2-for-20 on the day, with two singles and four strikeouts. None of the Twins’ seven hits went for extra bases as they lost for the fifth time in six games.

With the Indians also losing Wednesday, the Twins remained 14 1/2 games out. While they’ve been playing better of late, the losses continue to come, making it tougher for the Twins to remain positive.

“You obviously pay attention because you want to win. That’s ultimately what this is about,” said designated hitter Jim Thome, who went 1-for-3 with a walk and a single. “It’s always about winning your division and trying to gain ground. Cleveland has played well, so give them credit. So I always look every day and see what Cleveland is doing because I want to gain ground on them.

“You want to try to do the best you can to gain ground but you can’t do it overnight. It takes a long process. … Baseball is a weird thing. I’ve seen crazy things happen.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Twins beat 5/25

May 25, 2011 Comments off

Capps unavailable Wednesday due to sore arm

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins closer Matt Capps was unavailable for a second consecutive game Wednesday due to soreness in his forearm.

Capps pitched Monday against the Mariners, tossing 31 pitches over 1 2/3 innings, giving up one run on two hits for his fourth blown save of the season. It was the second-highest pitch total of the season for Capps and his sixth outing of more than three outs this year.

“Capps is a no-go. We’re backing off him,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’re not going to mess with him.”

Capps’ injury will not require an MRI as of yet. The Twins are just being cautious to allow him to rest after a couple tough outings.

While Capps is the Twins’ closer, Gardenhire would prefer not to use him outside of the ninth inning, but the Twins have been forced to bring him in during the eighth for his past two outings.

The results in those appearances have been an 0-1 mark for Capps with a pair of blown saves. He’s allowed five runs on six hits and two strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings.

“I know a lot of teams have done that with their closers and everything,” Gardenhire said. “We really like the idea of bringing him in the ninth inning and letting him have a clean inning.”

Twins will hold fundraiser for tornado victims

MINNEAPOLIS — An autograph session will be held before Saturday’s game at Target Field to raise funds for victims of the recent tornadoes, the Twins announced Wednesday.

The session will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CT outside Gate 29 on Target Plaza, and all donations will benefit the Red Cross tornado relief efforts. For $10, fans will be able to get a variety of autographs, with a limit of one from each player.

Among the players scheduled to take part in the autograph session are pitchers Matt Capps and Brian Duensing and catcher Drew Butera.