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Twins notebook, 6/24

June 24, 2011 Comments off

Nathan feeling rejuvenated after DL stint

MILWAUKEE — Joe Nathan said that he felt as good on Friday as he has since before undergoing Tommy John surgery last March.

“Now it’s just a matter of getting pitching strength and getting that experience back, and getting out there and throwing every day,” Nathan said. “That was my first time throwing back-to-back [days since the surgery]. The more times you get out there and do that, I think the better it’s going to get.”

Nathan was activated from the 15-day disabled list after Thursday’s game, as right-hander Jim Hoey was optioned to Triple-A Rochester.

In three rehab games for the Red Wings, Nathan allowed one unearned run on two hits while striking out five and walking one in three innings. Before going on the DL, Nathan went 1-1 with a 7.63 ERA, allowed 13 earned runs in 17 appearances for the Twins.

“The biggest difference has been the confidence to get back out there and feel fine,” Nathan said. “Confidence, I think, came with the way it felt after the scar tissue started breaking up. I think my arm speed has been a lot better.

“I’ve always talked about finishing pitches, and I felt like I wasn’t finishing too well early on. When I threw in Rochester, it just felt like I was able to get out in front more and finish a lot more pitches. Even ones that I missed, a lot of times they were down.”

Thome off DL, activated for Saturday

MILWAUKEE — Jim Thome was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list after the Twins’ 4-3 loss to the Brewers on Friday. Outfielder Rene Tosoni was optioned to Triple-A Rochester.

Thome had been on the 15-day disabled list since June 2 with a strained left quad, which was related to his strained oblique in early May that kept him out for three weeks. After five at-bats in a simulated game on Wednesday, Thome was deemed healthy enough to return.

He was evaluated after taking batting practice and running the bases prior to Friday’s game at Miller Park. After the game, the Twins announced he had been activated for Saturday’s game.

“I got out and moved around, and if all goes well I’ll be activated tomorrow,” Thome said before the game.

Thome was on the DL during the Twins recent hot streak, which he said was fun to watch, and got him excited to return.

With the previous two injuries being related, Thome was also optimistic about his chances to stay injury-free for much, if not all, for the rest of the season.

“I hope so, yeah, that’s the goal,” Thome said. “I’ve had a history of lower back issues in the past, so the frustrating part is any time you’re rehabbing anything, you want to make sure that everything’s good.”

Kubel, Span expected to return soon

MILWAUKEE — Injured outfielders Jason Kubel and Denard Span both had great days back in Minnesota on Friday, according to Twins head trainer Rick McWane.

Kubel had a “very good day” of running on Friday and was scheduled to run the bases on Saturday.

“He’s very close,” McWane said. “Very encouraging news about him, and Denard as well.”

Span played catch on Friday, hit off a tee and, more importantly, had no concussion symptoms.

It was the first time since the concussion that Span had no concussion symptoms after participating in baseball activities.

McWane also updated the status of reliever Kevin Slowey, who continues to rehab in Florida. Slowey will pitch on Saturday night for Class A Advanced Fort Myers.

“Tomorrow night, actually, he’s going to pitch for the Miracle,” McWane said. “Two to three innings for the Miracle tomorrow night in Bradenton.”

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 notebook 6/12

June 12, 2011 Comments off

Thome to start rehab work on Monday

MINNEAPOLIS — Eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, designated hitter Jim Thome will begin rehab work in Fort Myers, Fla., on Monday.

Thome, sidelined since June 2 with a strained left quadriceps, has made progress over the weekend since receiving an epidural on Friday. Before the Twins’ series finale with the Rangers on Sunday, Thome even took some swings in the cage.

“I’m feeling good,” Thome said. “I swung and had no issues today. Everything went good.”

Manager Ron Gardenhire said before Sunday’s game that if everything went well, the club would send Thome to Florida.

“He said he would really like to get to Florida and start getting in that heat and start doing his rehab down there and get back to swinging,” Gardenhire said. “He likes that program down there because it’s controlled pretty well, but he can get a lot of work in because there are so many bodies down there that are willing to try to do something.”

Until he begins working in Fort Myers, though, Thome won’t know whether he’ll be ready to return to the Twins when he becomes eligible on Thursday.

Even if it takes Thome a few extra days to return, the Twins should have a pretty formidable lineup when he does, with Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka expected back from the 60-day DL in the next week.

“I think it’s exciting, yeah,” Thome said. “Especially with as hard as those guys have worked down there, Nishi and Joe, and the rest of the guys here obviously have done a great job lately. So it’s kind of exciting to see where our team could go.”

Morneau, others making progress in recovery

MINNEAPOLIS — Hand specialist Dr. Thomas Varecka has not yet seen the MRI taken of Justin Morneau’s left wrist, but that should not delay Morneau’s scheduled return.

The MRI showed some fluid but did not reveal any structural damage. Morneau may receive a cortisone shot at some point, but he is expected back in the lineup on Tuesday after sitting out Saturday and Sunday and the Twins’ off-day on Monday.

“[Varecka] probably will see it [on Monday],” said Twins head trainer Rick McWane.

McWane also gave updates on the rest of the injured Twins, though there are no major changes for any of them.

Relievers Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) and Joe Nathan (elbow soreness) continue to work in Fort Myers, Fla., at extended spring training. Slowey was scheduled to throw off a mound on Sunday, and Nathan is set to face hitters on Monday.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka (fratured left fibula) and Glen Perkins (strained oblique) are with Triple-A Rochester in Toledo, with Perkins having thrown a scoreless first inning on Saturday, allowing one hit. Nishioka was scheduled to play on Sunday, and Perkins will throw two innings on Tuesday night in Toledo.

Nishioka is expected to return sometime this week, and Perkins could be back soon as well.

Center fielder Denard Span, on the seven-day DL with a concussion, is “getting better,” McWane said.

Eligible to return on Tuesday, Jason Kubel continues to feel better every day.

“He’s still doing well hitting, [but] he’s still a little bit sore running around,” McWane said. “We’re just progressing him as he tolerates.”

Twins notebook, 6/12

June 12, 2011 Comments off

Thome to start rehab work on Monday

MINNEAPOLIS — Eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, designated hitter Jim Thome will begin rehab work in Fort Myers, Fla., on Monday.

Thome, sidelined since June 2 with a strained left quadriceps, has made progress over the weekend since receiving an epidural on Friday. Before the Twins’ series finale with the Rangers on Sunday, Thome even took some swings in the cage.

“I’m feeling good,” Thome said. “I swung and had no issues today. Everything went good.”

Manager Ron Gardenhire said before Sunday’s game that if everything went well, the club would send Thome to Florida.

“He said he would really like to get to Florida and start getting in that heat and start doing his rehab down there and get back to swinging,” Gardenhire said. “He likes that program down there because it’s controlled pretty well, but he can get a lot of work in because there are so many bodies down there that are willing to try to do something.”

Until he begins working in Fort Myers, though, Thome won’t know whether he’ll be ready to return to the Twins when he becomes eligible on Thursday.

Even if it takes Thome a few extra days to return, the Twins should have a pretty formidable lineup when he does, with Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka expected back from the 60-day DL in the next week.

“I think it’s exciting, yeah,” Thome said. “Especially with as hard as those guys have worked down there, Nishi and Joe, and the rest of the guys here obviously have done a great job lately. So it’s kind of exciting to see where our team could go.”

Morneau, others making progress in recovery

MINNEAPOLIS — Hand specialist Dr. Thomas Varecka has not yet seen the MRI taken of Justin Morneau’s left wrist, but that should not delay Morneau’s scheduled return.

The MRI showed some fluid but did not reveal any structural damage. Morneau may receive a cortisone shot at some point, but he is expected back in the lineup on Tuesday after sitting out Saturday and Sunday and the Twins’ off-day on Monday.

“[Varecka] probably will see it [on Monday],” said Twins head trainer Rick McWane.

McWane also gave updates on the rest of the injured Twins, though there are no major changes for any of them.

Relievers Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) and Joe Nathan (elbow soreness) continue to work in Fort Myers, Fla., at extended spring training. Slowey was scheduled to throw off a mound on Sunday, and Nathan is set to face hitters on Monday.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka (fratured left fibula) and Glen Perkins (strained oblique) are with Triple-A Rochester in Toledo, with Perkins having thrown a scoreless first inning on Saturday, allowing one hit. Nishioka was scheduled to play on Sunday, and Perkins will throw two innings on Tuesday night in Toledo.

Nishioka is expected to return sometime this week, and Perkins could be back soon as well.

Center fielder Denard Span, on the seven-day DL with a concussion, is “getting better,” McWane said.

Eligible to return on Tuesday, Jason Kubel continues to feel better every day.

“He’s still doing well hitting, [but] he’s still a little bit sore running around,” McWane said. “We’re just progressing him as he tolerates.”

Mauer homers, ramps up rehab work

June 10, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins catcher Joe Mauer caught his third straight game for Fort Myers on Friday, marking the first time he had caught three days in a row during his rehab. In his first at-bat, he hit a three-run home run.

Mauer, who is on the 60-day disabled list with bilateral leg weakness, was scheduled for a full workout on Saturday before catching again Sunday, after which he’ll be eligible to return.

“I talked to him today, he feels great,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Arm feels good, his body feels good after catching two days. … He actually says he’s feeling really good, better than he has in a long time.”

Gardenhire said they would decide on the next step in Mauer’s rehab process after he caught on Sunday.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka led off and played shortstop at Fort Myers for the third straight game as well on Friday. Nishioka went 1-for-3 with a stolen base Thursday night.

Gardenhire said he had talked on the phone with Nishioka on Friday as well, discussing his likely trip to Triple-A Rochester before rejoining the Twins.

“It’s a little faster game at Triple-A than in the lower Minor Leagues,” Gardenhire said. “We’ll see what happens from there. They tell me he’s been moving around really good out there, hopefully that’s the case.”

Reliever Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) took a day off from throwing Friday. His return date is still TBD.

Twins head trainer Rick McWane said Jason Kubel continued to make progress, hitting in the cage on Friday and progressing his running. He is eligible to return next Friday.

Joe Nathan is still scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday and will fly to Fort Myers later Saturday afternoon. Lefty reliever Glen Perkins will throw one inning Saturday in Toledo for Triple-A Rochester.

McWane also gave an update on center fielder Denard Span, who continues to receive treatment for his whiplash and concussion symptoms.

“He’s getting treatment on his neck,” McWane said. “He’s also going to go continue testing for his concussion symptoms and doing balance work.”

Designated hitter Jim Thome had an epidural Friday morning, and said after the Twins’ 9-2 loss to the Rangers that he hopes to begin baseball activities in a few days.

“It was just a little of pain in my lower back and the inflammation around my disk had to calm down,” said Thome, who received a similar shot in 2002. “So that was the process and that’s why they went in and did what they did. So we’ll see where we’re at. The discomfort has definitely calmed down, so that’s a good thing.”

Twins show fight, but drop fifth straight

May 12, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — As he saw Matt Tolbert’s double headed to the gap in right, the only thing on Twins outfielder Ben Revere’s mind was scoring from first base. With his head down, Revere took off, quickly rounding second and then third.

With the relay coming in, Revere slid between the legs of catcher Alex Avila, as the throw from Tigers second baseman Scott Sizemore went wide. Revere was safe, tying the game, but he paid a price for his efforts, taking a hard hit to the chin from Avila’s knee.

“I was running top speed trying to tie this game, and luckily I was able to tie the game at that point,” Revere said. “I really did not know. Some guys said I flipped the catcher over, but I got hit in the chin a little bit. It looked like I got more of the collision than he did, but I did anything I could to sacrifice my body to score that run.”

That hustle and determination from Revere, which drew a standing ovation from the crowd of 38,938 at Target Field, was a little like the way Wednesday’s game went for the Twins. Every time they worked hard to come back from a deficit, they were knocked back down by the Tigers, who came away with the 9-7 victory for the two-game series sweep.

“Kind of a wild one out there today,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “Opportunities lost and we also picked up some big hits and battled our tails off to get back in it. But we didn’t make enough pitches.”

After coming from behind three times to tie the game or take the lead on Wednesday, the Twins were all out of comebacks in the ninth inning.

Entering the inning tied at seven runs apiece, closer Matt Capps surrendered a pair of runs in the final frame, giving the game back to the Tigers yet again.

It was a forgettable outing for Capps, who served up a two-run blast in the eighth to Jhonny Peralta, but still had a chance to pick up the win after the Twins tied it in the bottom half of the inning on Tolbert’s RBI double.

“It was a slider that I left up,” Capps said. “I just left it up over the plate and he hit it.”

According to Peralta, there was a bit of luck involved, too.

“I’m not looking for that pitch,” Peralta said. “I’m looking for a sinker and he threw me a slider right there. I don’t know how I made good contact, but it’s working.”

Peralta’s home run came just after the Twins appeared to have made the comeback needed for a thrilling victory.

Following a one-out RBI double in the seventh that cut the lead to two runs, designated hitter Jason Kubel crushed a 1-1 sinker from Tigers reliever Daniel Schlereth 460 feet into the right field seats for a three-run blast. In their 35th game, it was the Twins’ first three-run home run of the year.

Kubel’s home run was his team-leading fourth of the season, and his four RBIs in the game also put him in the team lead with 20. He added a single and a walk on a 2-for-4 day as the Twins broke out the bats for a couple late rallies that were all for naught.

“It definitely shifted the momentum on our side,” Kubel said of the home run. “But they came right back and put us back down. But we fought back, and then it got away from us again.”

With a thin bullpen, the Twins were hoping for a quality start from right-hander Scott Baker. Instead, Baker delivered a shaky, walk-filled 4 1/3 innings that put his team in a 5-2 hole through five innings.

Baker had been brilliant in his last four starts, going 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA while averaging seven innings per game. Over that span, Baker racked up 25 strikeouts against only four walks.

He continued to add to his strikeout total on Wednesday, recording six, but walks became a problem again for Baker, just as they have been for the rest of the Twins pitching staff early this season. Baker issued five bases on balls, marking a career high for the right-hander.

“Just a couple mechanical issues where at times mechanically you’re not where you need to be,” Baker said. “That translates to your hand not being where it needs to be which translates to the ball not going where you want it to go.

“Obviously we’re not robots, we’re human beings. So sometimes it’s harder to make that adjustment than others. Today, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make that adjustment.”

Baker’s walks were not the only ones that hurt the Twins on the day.

Lefty reliever Jose Mijares walked Brennan Boesch with one out in the eighth, which set up Peralta’s two-run, pinch-hit blast off Capps one batter later. With his team issuing eight walks on the day, Gardenhire was not at all pleased.

“You walk people there at the end of the ballgame, you don’t want to put anybody on base,” Gardenhire said. “That’s not being too fine, that’s just not throwing it over. You’ve got to have courage, too. Courage is throwing the ball over the plate, making them swing the bat and hopefully we’ll catch it. Sometimes you back away and you shy away and that’s not good enough.”

Gardenhire also was unhappy with the missed opportunities in the game offensively. In particular, he could not understand how center fielder Denard Span was unable to score from second base on Luke Hughes’ double in the seventh.

As Gardenhire saw it, Span should have been at least halfway to third on the play, and as the team’s fastest runner, should have scored easily.

Span eventually scored on Kubel’s home run, but it was a mistake that could have cost the Twins had it not been for their designated hitter’s three-run blast. As much as injuries, illnesses and offensive struggles have been an issue for the Twins early this season, fundamental lapses have found their way into the mix as well.

That, Gardenhire says, is something that needs to be fixed for them to start winning games.

“The fundamental stuff and the little stuff we have done so well, these guys have been part of that,” he said. “There are not any guys out there on the field who have not been part of that through Spring Training and part of the season.

“So you can’t tell me you don’t know. You can’t tell me that. It’s just not getting it done.”

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

Rare hailstorm delays Tigers and Twins

May 10, 2011 Comments off

By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS — When Tuesday’s game began at Target Field, it was an unseasonably warm 87 degrees and very humid, but it was an otherwise beautiful evening for baseball.That all changed about an hour into the game when severe storms started rolling into the area. Dark skies poured rain down on the Tigers and Twins, causing the game to be stopped at 8:17 p.m. CT, during the bottom of the fourth inning, and things got even more interesting during the 62-minute delay.

As tornado warnings were issued for the area and funnel clouds were spotted in other parts of the city, rain gave way to hail, ranging in size from pebbles to golf balls, which covered the field.

“That was a first in the big leagues, no doubt,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of the hail delay.

Gardenhire was not the only one who saw a hail delay for the first time. On both sides, players who were asked about it said they’d never seen anything like it.

“I’ve never seen that. It was big. First time for me that I’ve seen that in a game,” said the Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta, who has spent his career in the American League Central and has seen plenty of wintry weather during games. “I’ve seen everything. I’ve seen a lot of snow. I’ve seen ice rain.”

A good portion of the delay was due to the time needed to clear the hailstones from the field. In addition to putting down Quick Dry on wet spots in the infield, the grounds crew grabbed rakes, shovels and buckets to collect the hailstones that had fallen in the outfield and in foul territory. Detroit won the game, 10-2.

Twins designated hitter Jason Kubel thought the hailstorm was fitting, considering everything else that has gone wrong this season for the club.

“It just makes perfect sense,” Kubel said. “Why not?”

Many had fun with the storm, including a few players.

Young fans could be seen throughout various parts of the stadium having the hail equivalent of snowball fights, tossing the small balls of ice at each other.

In the visitors’ dugout, Tigers ace Justin Verlander could be seen tossing hailstones back onto the field. Later, Verlander broke out the fungo bat and took a few swings as teammate Phil Coke pitched the balls of ice to him.

“They were big ones,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of the hail. “When somebody talks about golf ball-sized hail, that was it, to the fact.”

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 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.