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Cuddyer sets up Nathan to save Twins’ win

July 16, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — As he ran out Saturday from the bullpen, Joe Nathan entered his first ninth-inning save situation since April. Thrilled to see Nathan back in the closer’s role, the Twins crowd gave him a huge ovation with music blaring in the background.

Entering in the ninth inning with a lead provided a distinct difference for Nathan, who admitted he had to calm himself down a bit.

“Yeah, especially running in, it got a little louder than normal,” Nathan said. “Usually, it’s like advertisements going on in the eighth inning. So yeah, you’ve got to calm down a little bit more.”

Nathan pitched a scoreless ninth, giving up just one hit as he picked up his first save since April 8, and the Twins came away with the 4-3 victory over the Royals.

Getting a save in his first day back in the closer’s role since mid-April was a big moment for Nathan, who has been excellent since returning from the disabled list in June.

“I’ve been through that Tommy John surgery, and he came back really well,” said Twins starter Carl Pavano. “He had a little bit of a hiccup, which we all have in that surgery and now he looks like he’s returning to himself. And I think he’s feeling pretty good about it.”

Nathan’s save was the 250th of his career in a Twins uniform, putting him four saves away from tying Rick Aguilera for first on the Twins’ all-time list.

Facing the middle of the Royals’ order, Nathan only made one bad pitch, which resulted in a single to right by Eric Hosmer. Nathan got the other three batters he faced to pop out.

“He had a good slider,” said Royals manager Ned Yost. “His fastball’s down from what it used to be, but it still looks crisp. His breaking ball looks a lot sharper to me, but I hadn’t seen him for a long time.”

Nathan got the save opportunity thanks to a big hit in the eighth inning by Twins All-Star Michael Cuddyer.

Following a pair of singles by Alexi Casilla and Joe Mauer, Cuddyer stepped to the plate with two on and one out, facing All-Star reliever Aaron Crow. Cuddyer delivered with a single of his own into the gap in right field, scoring Casilla easily from third to put the Twins on top for good.

After the game, Cuddyer was asked if it ever gets old to come up in those situations.

“Never, from the time I was six in my driveway envisioning it ’til now, it never gets old,” Cuddyer said. “Especially when you succeed.”

Cuddyer fell behind Crow after chasing a slider out of the zone, but connected with the 1-2 pitch for the RBI single.

“Yeah, I was looking for the slider,” Cuddyer said. “Sometimes when you’re looking for the pitch you chase it no matter where it is, and that’s what I did on the 1-1. The two-strike one, I was able to get it up a little bit and fortunately was able to throw it out in the outfield.”

With the win, the Twins climbed back to within six games of first place in the American League Central and just six games under .500.

Ben Revere got things started for the Minnesota offense, leading off the first with a single and stealing third base before scoring on a groundout to second. Delmon Young then followed with an RBI double, scoring Cuddyer from first base.

Catcher Drew Butera also homered in the fourth for the Twins, his second of the year.

Pavano delivered a solid start for the Twins, allowing three runs on six hits over seven innings. The right-hander held the Royals scoreless until giving up a two-run home run to Alcides Escobar with two out in the fifth.

The Royals also added a third run off Pavano in the sixth to tie the game.

“I thought my stuff was alright tonight,” Pavano said. “I thought I made some good pitches, I thought I second-guessed myself a little bit. Me and Drew talked after the game, I definitely beat myself a couple times, that cost me some runs.”

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, 7/16

July 16, 2011 Comments off

Gardenhire falls ill, leaves game early

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire left Saturday’s game early due to illness, leaving the managerial duties to bench coach Scott Ullger.Gardenhire mentioned before the game that he had been dealing with a viral infection in his esophagus, and that he had spent portions of Friday night’s game in the clubhouse.

Ullger expected the skipper to be back on Sunday after getting some rest.

Nathan replaces Capps as Twins’ closer

MINNEAPOLIS — Joe Nathan is once again the Twins’ closer.

After watching Matt Capps blow his seventh save of the season Friday night, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson decided to make the change.

“To be back in this role is good,” Nathan said. “It’s where I want to be.”

Nathan converted on his first opportunity, tossing a scoreless ninth in Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Royals for his first save since April 8.

Nathan opened the season as the closer, recording saves in each of his first three chances. But after blowing two saves in April against the Rays, the former All-Star relinquished the role.

Capps took over from there, recording 15 saves in 22 chances.

In each of his last four appearances at home, Capps has struggled, blowing two saves and being pulled from two other games before he could do so. While he was not necessarily surprised by the move, Capps admitted he was not happy with being demoted.

“Disappointed is a very good way to put it,” Capps said. “But it is what it is. That’s about all I’m going to say, I guess.”

Gardenhire said Capps would be used in the eighth inning as a setup man for Nathan.

If Nathan is unavailable to close a game, Gardenhire said lefty Glen Perkins could see some chances as well, but Nathan is the Twins’ No. 1 option.

“Perk is going to be a setup guy like Capps, and Nathan’s going to close,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t think we want to start messing with Nathan’s head by screwing around with him if it calls for a save. We just got done telling Nathan he’s in there … so that’s where we’ll go.”

Twins may adjust roster for twin bill

MINNEAPOLIS — With a doubleheader against the Indians on Monday in the middle of a stretch of 19 games in 18 days, the Twins could make a roster move to add an extra pitcher.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said it would depend on who they used in the next two games out of the bullpen, but a roster move was definitely not out of the question.

“We were talking about it, we might make an adjustment here,” Gardenhire said. “It’s a good possibility we might go with an extra pitcher for those two games.”

The biggest issue with making a move is that any position player sent down to make room for another pitcher would not be able to return to the big league club for 10 days.

And if the Twins play the doubleheader with only 12 position players, they would have just a three-man bench and there would be a good chance every one of them would get in one if not both games.

With that in mind, Gardenhire noted that utility man Luke Hughes was the team’s third catcher if needed.

“He’s catching bullpens and doing all those things,” Gardenhire said. “He’s caught before. We’re trying to work our way through it.”

Gardy wants Kubel, Span at full strength

MINNEAPOLIS — Manager Ron Gardenhire wants to see both Denard Span and Jason Kubel get plenty of swings at Triple-A Rochester before they return to the Twins.

Pointing to left fielder Delmon Young as evidence of what an extended rehab assignment can do for a hitter, Gardenhire said that he does not want them to come back unless they’ve shown they’re ready at the plate.

“We’ll go through a week of playing games, see how everything goes with both of them,” Gardenhire said. “Six to 10 games, I want to see them get at least 30 to 45 at-bats.

“If they’re not swinging good after six games and they’re both still scuffling along, we’ll add on. … I can’t afford to bring people up here and let them work their way back into shape here. We have to get ’em ready down there.”

Span is scheduled to play five innings in center field on Sunday for the Red Wings, his first game action since going on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion in early June. Kubel will play nine innings as the designated hitter.

Twins head trainer Rick McWane gave a brief update on the Twins’ injured players, and noted that time off during the All-Star break was a big help for Kubel and his sprained left foot.

“As soon as the break was over, he came back Wednesday and showed a huge improvement running around the outifeld,” McWane said.

Right-hander Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) is scheduled to pitch again Wednesday, with no pitch count restrictions.

First baseman Justin Morneau continues to do well after having surgery on June 29 to relieve a pinched nerve in his neck, and will be reevaluated on Monday.

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

Capps allows two-run shot as Twins fall

July 15, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins’ closer controversy doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon.

After a quick eighth inning by Joe Nathan, closer Matt Capps entered with the Twins holding a one-run lead. Capps opened the ninth with a four-pitch walk before retiring the next two batters.

Capps got ahead of Eric Hosmer, but Hosmer crushed his next offering off the batter’s eye in center field, and the Twins lost, 2-1, to the Royals.

“Any time you’re facing a good closer like Capps, especially with a good fastball like his, you’ve got to try to jump on it early,” Hosmer said. “The first one didn’t work out as planned, so I told myself, ‘Just step out and relax. Just take a deep breath.'”

The first pitch from Capps was a 92-mph fastball up in the zone, which Hosmer swung and missed at.

With the home crowd on its feet cheering for Capps with two outs, he tried to come back with the same thing. But Capps’ location was not as good the second time, and Hosmer hit it 421 feet to dead center field.

“Same thing, yeah. Just ran back over the plate, and he was able to get it,” Capps said. “I don’t know. Maybe he was looking up there after swinging through it, too, but whatever happened it wasn’t good for us. For me, us.”

It was Capps’ seventh blown save of the season, and his fourth straight bad outing at home. Capps recorded saves in the Twins’ last two wins in Chicago before the All-Star break, but that success did not carry over upon returning to Target Field.

“We scored one run tonight. In defense of [Capps], we scored one run, we had plenty of opportunities to score more runs,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “Everything gets thrown on the closer. Sure, he gave it up at the end, but a lot of people misfired, too.

“So, let’s not cut him down too awful much here. The young man’s a very good pitcher and our closer. We give him the ball and we have all the trust in the world in him. He didn’t get it done tonight, that’s all that happened.”

After being retired in order the first time through the lineup, the Twins broke through for their only run in the fourth as leadoff hitter Ben Revere singled, stole second, and eventually scored on a wild pitch.

The Twins threatened again in the sixth and seventh, but Royals starter Luke Hochevar pitched out of both jams. Revere tripled to right with one out in the sixth — and did not even miss a beat as he did an accidental somersault between second and third — but the Twins could not drive in the run.

“I thought I was going to be on ‘Not Top 10’ for a second, but then I looked at the third baseman, and he was still kind of waving to get the ball in,” Revere said. “Luckily it went pretty good at that. It’s not the first time I’ve done that [stumbled] either, so I need to quit doing that.”

Hochevar finished with one run allowed on just three hits over seven innings, with four strikeouts.

He also walked three batters, but two were intentional passes to catcher Joe Mauer, a strategy that paid off twice as Hochevar retired All-Star right fielder Michael Cuddyer after each one.

Before Capps gave the game back to the Royals, the story of the night was Nick Blackburn, who was brilliant in his first outing of the second half.

Blackburn tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits and two walks, while striking out three batters. He outdueled Hochevar, delivering his best start in nearly a month.

It was the first time since June 22 that Blackburn allowed three or fewer runs. Blackburn had been 1-1 with a 12.15 ERA over his last three starts, giving up 18 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings pitched.

“Everything was just down. That hasn’t been the case for probably the last four or five starts,” Blackburn said. “Today my fastball was below the knees more often than it has been in a long time.”

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, 6/24

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.”