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After flirting with history, Romero twirls gem

May 13, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — After being on the losing end of a no-hitter last time out, Ricky Romero took a run at a no-hitter of his own Friday. The southpaw came up short, but he dominated the Twins in his best outing of the season.

Romero held the Twins hitless through 5 2/3 frames, before giving up a pair of singles. He allowed just two additional hits in his 8 2/3 innings of work as the Blue Jays picked up a 2-0 win at Target Field.

“Ricky was outstanding tonight, there’s no doubt about it,” manager John Farrell said.

With a runner on in the ninth, Romero was one out away from his second career shutout. But after getting Delmon Young to hit the ball on the ground, it was just beyond the reach of second baseman Aaron Hill.

That forced Farrell to call in his closer.

“He handled Young in the first two at-bats, and I felt like he’s up two, and in the worst-case scenario, he’s not looking at a loss,” Farrell said. “But that was his last hitter he was going to face, regardless of what happened. After that, it was a matter of us finishing out the game and winning it.”

With the potential for a loss at that point even after such a dominant performance, would Romero have liked to stay in there to finish it out for his fifth career complete game?

“Absolutely,” Romero said. “I think that’s your goal any time you’re a starter — you want to finish what you started. I felt good, and obviously you understand why you’re coming out in that situation.”

Despite collecting 13 hits in the game, the Blue Jays managed just two runs, while leaving 14 runners on base and going just 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position. Corey Patterson scored the first run for Toronto in the seventh, on a Juan Rivera single.

In the ninth, Jose Bautista smacked his 12th long ball of the season on a 3-2 fastball from Twins reliever Joe Nathan.

“I was just looking for a good pitch to handle, something to hit,” Bautista said. “He gave me a lot of them, I just kept fouling them off. That one, I just got ready a little bit earlier, and luckily he threw a fastball middle-in and I was able to connect well with it.”

With the win, Romero improved to 4-0 in five career starts against the Twins, including the Blue Jays’ 13-3 victory on Opening Day at Rogers Centre. Romero has allowed just eight earned runs on 33 hits in 38 innings of work against the Twins.

The dominant outing for Romero came after he had his shortest outing of the season against the Tigers last Saturday, when he went just 3 1/3 innings and allowed six runs as Justin Verlander no-hit the Blue Jays.

“I prepared well all week to kind of get to this point,” Romero said. “After a little rough outing, I think it motivates you even more to come out and just have a good outing for the team and for a much-needed rest for the bullpen.”

Romero pitched that game on seven days’ rest after his start was bumped back due to an oblique injury, but he was on regular four days’ rest on Friday against Minnesota. The lefty faced the minimum through three innings, and he had allowed just two baserunners — both on walks — through 5 2/3 innings.

Center fielder Denard Span ripped a single through the infield to left for Minnesota’s first hit of the game in the sixth, and was followed by shortstop Trevor Plouffe, who beat out a weak grounder for an infield single. Romero got out of the inning with a grounder to short to keep the Twins off the board.

Romero struck out eight batters against just three walks.

He primarily used his fastball throughout the game, only mixing in offspeed pitches as necessary.

“It was unbelievable,” catcher J.P. Arencibia said of Romero’s performance. “What’s crazy is he threw probably 80-85 percent fastballs and he commanded both sides of the plate.

“He’s got so many different weapons. One day, maybe his changeup is on and everyone’s just swinging at his changeup, or his breaking ball. But today, he threw cutters and sinkers, and his ball was moving so much in the zone that it’s really all he needed to do.”

For the Blue Jays, the shutout was the first for the club since Sept. 23, 2010, against the Mariners.

The win was Toronto’s third straight, the first time this season the Blue Jays have won three in a row. Now they’re looking to improve their hitting with runners in scoring position.

“Yeah, we hope so,” Bautista said, “and not necessarily bang out that amount of hits like we did tonight and get all those baserunners. Just cash in and get the timely hits when runners are on base. That would be huge; I know our pitching staff would appreciate it if we could score more runs, so hopefully we can get the offense rolling.”

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, 5/10

May 10, 2011 Comments off

Young anticipating Friday return

MINNEAPOLIS — Left fielder Delmon Young is expected to rejoin the Twins on Friday after going on the 15-day disabled list on April 27 with a strained left oblique.

Young batted five times Tuesday in an extended Spring Training game, collecting three hits and showing that he is healthy enough to play left field in another rehab game Wednesday.

“He got three infield hits, and scored from first,” Twins trainer Rick McWane said. “It doesn’t bother him to run, it doesn’t bother him to swing.”

Young is just one of three Twins players currently rehabbing in Fort Myers, Fla. Joining him are second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka and designated hitter Jim Thome, both of whom also are making progress with their rehab work.

Nishioka is doing “very light work,” according to manager Ron Gardenhire, without much lateral movement.

“Right now, very light activities on the field, under control,” Gardenhire said. “It’s not like hitting ground balls, fungos all over. Rolling the ball to him, very light.”

The soreness that Nishioka had been experiencing in his left leg was reported to be much better Tuesday.

Thome, who has been out since May 1 with a strained left oblique, took batting practice Tuesday. The Twins hope he’ll be able to begin rehab games soon as well.

“He’s going to take BP again tomorrow,” McWane said. “No problems with his oblique, hopefully he’ll start playing in games on Thursday.”

Twins players, coaches hold meeting

MINNEAPOLIS — With all the injuries to key players early this season, the Twins’ roster is filled with players that have been called up from Triple-A Rochester.

While the difference in talent level is an obvious result, chemistry and experience bring other issues as well. A number of Twins players and coaches met Tuesday afternoon to address some of those issues.

“Talking baserunning, talking quality of at-bats, situations, you handling the situation rather than it handling you, all those things,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Last night, we had a lot of opportunities to get a hit, and we were chasing. We were chasing a lot of pitches, and it looked like the situation kind of controlled us.

“We just have to be better. We have to control the situations a little better, and I’m not saying it’s easy, but you know what, we have to keep working at it. That’s all we can do.”

Twins beat 4/13

April 13, 2011 Comments off

Hughes could supplant Casilla on occasion

MINNEAPOLIS — If Alexi Casilla doesn’t start swinging the bat better, Luke Hughes could soon find himself getting a start or two at shortstop.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire talked Wednesday morning about the possibility of using Hughes, who he sees as primarily a second or third baseman, in place of Casilla. It all hinges on Casilla’s approach at the plate.

“I like Alexi’s defense, the way he moved around last night was better, he had more energy,” Gardenhire said. “But if he continues to wave at the ball like he’s doing, I need him to swing, and I told him that again last night, ‘Swing the bat, son.'”

Through 10 games, Casilla has just three hits, good for a .143 batting average with two doubles, three runs scored and an RBI. Casilla has struck out just three times in 21 at-bats, with most of his outs coming on weak ground balls.

In a crucial moment Saturday, Casilla also failed to plate a run with none out and runners on the corners in the fifth inning. Casilla grounded softly back to the pitcher on the play.

“I think he’s trying not to make mistakes or trying not to do things, rather than just going [hard] again,” Gardenhire said. “Last year, that’s what he did, he just went [hard]. When he played he got out there and just had a ball playing. Right now, he looks tentative.”

What makes Casilla’s poor play and apparent tentativeness more intriguing is his play in Spring Training. Throughout the month of March, he looked just the opposite.

The other concern with Casilla is that he occasionally outthinks himself at the plate. With his speed, he can certainly beat out a bunt for a single. At the same time, he can swing the bat well enough to make corner infielders pay for playing in too far while anticipating the bunt.

All Casilla needs to do is pick one or the other and go with it.

“If you’re going to go up there and bunt, drop a bunt,” Gardenhire said. “If you’re trying to draw people in and then hit it by them, they’re already in. They’re already playing you for the bunt, you don’t need to fake bunt and swing.

“Maybe you fake swing and then bunt, but they’re already in, you don’t have to draw them in. Get a pitch and then hit it by them. Those are the things that I think Alexi was doing in spring, trying to hook balls by the first baseman and by the third baseman because they’re playing in.”

Cuddyer finally breaks loose at the plate

MINNEAPOLIS — Going into Tuesday’s series opener, Michael Cuddyer did not feel any different than he did in the nine previous games, but the difference in results was like night and day.

Cuddyer, who was batting .107 entering the game against the Royals, went 4-for-4 for the Twins, singling in each of his first four at-bats before drawing a walk in the 10th inning. That performance boosted his batting average more than 100 points, to .219.

“How do you get 4-for-4 and raise your batting average to .219?” Gardenhire asked. “So you started pretty low, right?”

The four hits for Cuddyer more than doubled his previous season total of three going into Tuesday’s game. Of course, it’s not like those four were the first balls Cuddyer hit well all season.

The only difference was that all four of them fell in safely.

“Baseball’s crazy,” Cuddyer said. “Sometimes they find the grass, sometimes they don’t. Three days ago, I hit a ball up the middle and Delmon [Young] was stealing, the second baseman was on top of the bag. Today, nobody was stealing.

“Those are the little things that make or break hits, especially this early in the season. You hit a few balls hard, line drives, they’re outs, now you’re hitting .100 on the scoreboard. You don’t have any at-bats behind you. It’s not like it’s June or July where there’s 300 at-bats, there’s 28.”

It was still encouraging for one of the Twins’ better hitters to finally get something going at the plate.

Over the last two games, the lineup has looked much improved offensively, collecting 23 hits and plating seven runs. The Twins have talked about staying patient and not panicking, and now, it looks like they’re getting back to normal this week.

“Hits are starting to come,” Gardenhire said. “Balls are starting to fall in and then the pressure goes away of trying to force things.

“It was just about adjustments. Early in the game, we didn’t make very many good adjustments. Cuddy did, he got up on the plate, covered the plate, sat on the changeup and ripped it. But that’s what the game’s all about, making a few adjustments as you see them the first time.”

Frustrated Twins finding fence hard to reach

MINNEAPOLIS — When asked about Jason Kubel’s long single Tuesday night, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he didn’t even want to get into it. Before Wednesday’s game, he shared some reactions from the dugout.

Both Kubel’s near home run and left fielder Delmon Young’s long fly out earlier in the game frustrated Twins players as they continued to have trouble hitting the ball out of Target Field.

“Some balls were hit pretty hard,” Gardenhire said. “Delmon said, ‘That’s all I’ve got.'”

Kubel and Young’s long fly balls that stayed in the park were just another example of how big the Twins’ ballpark plays. Of course, the wind Tuesday night did not help.

At game time, the wind was measured at just nine miles per hour, from right field to left, but it was clearly stronger at times, and certainly was blowing in.

“It was blowing around pretty good in there and it was knocking the balls down last night good, more so than most days or nights,” Gardenhire said. “But it was pretty entertaining to watch their reactions, win lose or draw. When Kubel hit that ball, I honestly almost turned away.

“I watched to see whether it was going to be a homer or how high it was going to hit off the wall. Then I look at the baserunner and I see him kind of catch it and I’m like ‘geez,’ because he crushed that ball. You can’t hit it any harder than he hit that one.”

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