February 2009

News and notes from Saturday

All right, now that my trip back from Tampa is complete — and I got some dinner — here are some of the other newsworthy things that happened on Saturday.

  • The Twins will use Monday’s off day as just that — an off day. Left-hander Francisco Liriano will come to the ballpark to throw a bullpen but otherwise there is no planned workout for the team. Manager Ron Gardenhire said that Joe Mauer might come in and catch Liriano’s bullpen, now that he’s advanced to doing that. But the team might also give him a day of rest since he’s been working out every day. The decision on whether Mauer will be the one to catch Liriano will be made by the trainers, Gardenhire said. The off day is one of four that is scheduled for the Twins during this prolonged Spring Training.
  • Any questions about whether the Twins might acquire reliever Juan Cruz were answered Saturday when he signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Royals. The contract includes a $4 million club option for 2011 with a $500,000 buyout. Although many Twins fans were hopeful that the club would sign Cruz, the two sides just never seemed to find a fit and now the Twins will move forward with Jesse Crain, Luis Ayala, and Jose Mijares as their primary setup options.
  • One of the hottest hitters for the Twins early in spring has been outfielder Delmon Young. After a 3-for-3 performance on Saturday, Young is now batting .857 (6-for-7) this spring. Although some of Young’s hits in previous games weren’t necessary bullets, he showed more power in his three hits agianst the Yankees. And Young isn’t the only one delivering hits. Brian Buscher is now 6-for-8 this spring with 4 RBIs, Jason Kubel is 2-for-4 with a home run and Carlos Gomez even delivered a home run to left field on Saturday… “The guys are swinging good,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after the club’s 7-3 win over the Yankees. “Delmon is whacking the crap out of it; Kubel looks like he’s been hitting all winter long. There have been some really good at-bats and good swings. A lot of guys look like they’ve really got it going, and it’s early. Only six or eight more weeks of spring.”  (The last part was Gardy joking…there are only five weeks left of spring –which is still plenty of time)
  • Quote of Day: Gardenhire on Nick Punto playing for Team Italy “I think he grew up in Little Italy in California. That’s why I thought I had a shot to manage the Canadian team, because I live in Little Canada.”

(And for those of you who didn’t learn why Punto is playing for the Italian team — his grandparents are from Italy)

Corey Koskie signs with Cubs

Corey Koskie’s comeback won’t just be limited to playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic.

The Cubs announced Saturday that they had signed the former Twins third baseman to a Minor League contract for the ’09 season, which includes an invitation to Major League camp. Koskie is scheduled to report to Cubs camp in Mesa, Ariz. when Canada’s run in the Classic comes to an end.

Koskie had been working out on the back fields of the Twins Minor League complex in Fort Myers, Fla. recently to get ready for Team Canada.

Yankees Part 2

Greetings from the pressbox at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, following a nice long drive up I-75 (although traffic was much better since it’s a Saturday). It’s the second straight day that the Twins and Yankees will face each other but this time, New York’s lineup looks more like it does during the regular season.

For now, here are the lineups and I’ll be back a little later to update on the interesting tidbits of the day.

Denard Span, RF
Nick Punto, SS
Delmon Young, LF
Jason Kubel, DH
Brian Buscher, 1B
Luke Hughes, 3B
Matt Tolbert, 2B
Drew Butera, C
Carlos Gomez, CF
Pitching: Francisco Liriano

Johnny Damon, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Nick Swisher, RF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jose Molina, C
Shelley Duncan, DH
Melky Cabrera, CF
Pitching: Joba Chamberlain

A debut and another small step

Friday’s game against the Yankees marked Joe Crede’s debut in a Twins uniform. But while many fans were focused on Crede’s big step, there was another player making strides in his attempt to return to the field — catcher Joe Mauer.

Mauer’s latest acheivement came on Friday when he caught one of Glen Perkins’ bullpen sessions. The catcher then took swings off a tee inside the batting cage. Around 40 people watched Mauer’s session in which he also took soft flips from bullpen catcher Nate Dammann.

There still is no expected timeline for when Mauer will rejoin his teammates on the field, but he’s making progress and that’s definitely positive news for the Twins.

Here are some other news and notes from Friday:

  • Scott Baker’s outing wasn’t pretty in the box score (3 earned runs on six hits over two innings, including a solo home run), but at this point in the spring it wasn’t anything that worried the coaching staff. Pitching coach Rick Anderson said Thursday that he’s asking his pitchers to work on one or two pitches in their early outings. Baker said he threw mostly fastballs, but that his troubles were a result of being a little amped up for his first start. Although he said he still doesn’t like “to get hit around,” Baker said he’s trying to focus on his pitches so that he’ll be ready for his Opening Day start.

  • Twins manager Ron Gardenhire hasn’t given much indication as to what his lineup will look like in 2009, but on Friday he indicated that Justin Morneau will likely be back in the cleanup spot. When asked if he might separate Mauer and Morneau in the order, Gardenhire said, “I have no problem with it but you don’t have to do it because they hit both lefties and righties.”

  • Catching prospect Wilson Ramos, who was ranked the Twins No. 3 prospect by Baseball America, impressed the fans during Friday’s contest with his arm. He threw out two would-be basestealers after taking over for Mike Redmond behind the plate. But Ramos is known more for his offense than his defense. “He’s a pretty good player,” Gardenhire said. “He’s going to be a good one, we think. He’s got things to learn defensively, believe me.”

Sunny Sarasota

Greetings from Ed Smith Stadium where the Reds are hosting their final Spring Training opener in this ballpark. Cincinnati is moving its Spring Training to Goodyear, Ariz. next year and one sign of their impending departure was the “less than full” crowd on hand for Thursday’s opener.

Here are the lineups for today’s contest

Denard Span, LF
Carlos Gomez, CF
Brendan Harris, 3B
Brian Buscher, 1B
Luis Matos, RF
Dustin Martin, DH
Matt Tolbert, 2B
Jose Morales, C
Trevor Plouffe, SS
Pitching: Nick Blackburn

Willy Taveras, CF
Jerry Hairston Jr., SS
Joey Votto, 1B
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Jay Bruce, RF
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
Laynce Nix, LF
Ramon Hernandez, C
Jeff Keppinger, DH
Pitching: Micah Owings

Here is some other news and nuggets:

  • Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Thursday that the club will continue to take it slow with infielder Steve Tolleson (strained oblique). Although Tolleson has reported that the muscle is feeling better, the skipper doesn’t want to take any chances. “We are trying to tell him to calm down,” Gardenhire said. “They said three days and go from there. But I think we all know with the oblique, it’s like a 10-day or two-week thing if you’re lucky. It can go further if you bother it again. So I don’t want him to do too much right now.”  

  • Gardenhire also said that he’ll use the upcoming games to make sure all of his World Baseball Classic participants get in their work. Justin Morneau and Nick Punto each started on Wednesday night while Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain and Luis Ayala all threw out of the ‘pen. Infielder Luke Hughes, who will play for Australia in the event, was expected to see time at third base in Thursday’s game against the Reds.

  • Wayne “Big Fella” Hattaway celebrated his 69th birthday on Tuesday. Hattaway, a longtime clubhouse attendant in the organization, is considered now to be the Twins’ director of team morale and he’s beloved by all of the players. That’s why it was no surprise that Hattaway got a few special visitors to the clubhouse on Tuesday to give him birthday wishes in person — former Twins pitchers Brad Radke and Johan Santana. 

  • The MLB Network has announced that it will air a 96-minute documentary called “We Are Young: A Baseball Family” on Monday night at 8 p.m. CT. It focuses on Twins outfielder Delmon Young and his older borther, Dmitri, over a seven-year period. The documentary covers everything from the influence of their father, Larry, on their careers to Dmitri Young’s battle with diabetes and Delmon’s suspension for flipping a bat at an umpire.

  • The Twins Triple-A affiliate, the Rochester Red Wings, announced that the club will be filmed as part of a 13-episode reality show for PBS. The show will be filmed during the 2009 season but won’t be broadcast until 2010. Cameras will be allowed access to most areas of the Minor Leaguers life. The one exception is that cameras will not be allowed on long bus ride. The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle had a nice article on the show.

Hundred Dollar Bill

When manager Ron Gardenhire walked into his office after Wednesday night’s Spring Training opener against the Red Sox, he found a $100 bill sitting on top of his laptop.

Next to the bill was a note from first baseman Justin Morneau that read “Gardy, Forgot to run. I fined myself.”

Turns out that after Morneau had gone to the batting cages to get some extra swings after exiting the game with a strikeout in the fifth inning. But afterward, he forgot to go back out to the outfield and run.

The Twins have been talking all spring about Morneau’s increased leadership on the team. Perhaps no better sign of that is when the runner-up for last year’s AL MVP is fining himself in the first game of Spring Training.

Bonser likely out for the 2009 season

The Twins will likely be without pitcher Boof Bonser for
the entire 2009 season after doctors discovered partial tears in the labrum and
rotator cuff in his right shoulder during arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday.

Two previous MRIs done on Bonser’s shoulder had revealed
no structural damage. But the tears were discovered and repaired during the arthroscopic
scope performed by Rays orthopedist Dr. Koko Eaton.

Bonser is expected to miss six to eight months recovering
from the surgery.

The pitcher first began experiencing shoulder discomfort
at the end of last season. An MRI performed at that time revealed no structural
damage, and Bonser was ordered to rest the shoulder and begin a rehabilitation

But the rehab didn’t help. Bonser tried to throw in early
January and felt the same discomfort. The right-hander received a cortisone
shot from Dr. Eaton just a few days before he reported for Spring Training, The
shot had little effect on the problem, and Bonser has not really thrown since
workouts began last Monday.

With Bonser out of the mix for the Twins bullpen,
right-handers Philip Humber, who is out of options and Jason Jones, a Rule 5
pick, are now the favorites to win the final spot if the Twins keep seven
relievers. R.A. Dickey, a knuckleballer, and left-hander Sean Henn are also
among those expected to compete for the job. 

There is a chance that the Twins could break camp with an
11-man pitching staff, meaning just six relievers will make the Opening Day
roster, but so far that appears to be a long shot.

Game Time

It’s now less than 24 hours before the Twins first game of the spring and like the players, I’m ready to see some real action on the field. While it’s always exciting to get down to Florida and to see the players report, the games are always what bring about the most intrigue in spring.

Manager Ron Gardenhire likely put it best during some of his post-workout comments on Tuesday.

“I think the guys are ready too,” Gardenhire said of the games starting. “They’re excited. They’re tired of facing each other. That gets old. Hitters facing the pitchers, that’s not a lot of fun. It’s a little more fun when you face the other guys.”

Glen Perkins will get the start in the Twins Graperfruit League opener against the Red Sox on Wednesday night at Hammond Stadium. Among the pitchers also expected to throw in the contest are Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, Luis Ayala, and Bobby Keppel. Mike Redmond will catch the first game and the infield will be Justin Morneau at first, Alexi Casilla at second, Nick Punto at shortstop and Brian Buscher at third. I haven’t yet heard who will be starting in the outfield.

Here are a few nuggets that came out of camp on Tuesday:

  • Other than Boof Bonser’s shoulder problems, the only other injury so far in camp belongs to infielder Steve Tolleson who has a strained oblique. Gardenhire said that Tolleson is expected to miss some time on the field but that he’ll be re-evaluated in 3-4 days.

  • Joe Mauer certainly seems excited by the progress he’s made over the last week. Along with playing catch and working on some light agility drills, Mauer is now beginning to take swings in the cage as well. It’s still unclear what Mauer’s timetable is for rejoining the team out on the field but for now, it’s just nice to see him encouraged by the steps he’s taken since Spring Training began.

  • Former Twins pitcher Brad Radke stopped by the team’s clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon. Radke, who resides in Largo, Fla. which is near Clearwater, was greeted with a hug and handshake from many of the veteran Twins players who were clearly excited to see him. There were also quite a few congratulations offered to Radke in regards to his selection to the Twins Hall of Fame. The normally modest pitcher seemed a little sheepish about the honor, but he said that he’s looking forward to being in Minnesota for the induction ceremony this summer.

Restaurant of the Day: The Mucky Duck 
Every Spring Training all of the Twins beat writers take a trip to Captiva Island to visit this restaurant for dinner. The goal is always to make it out there in time to see the sun set from the beach on which the restaurant sits. It’s hard to beat that view and the food is pretty good as well. Just know it’s a little bit of a drive to get out to the restaurant — particularly when there is vacation traffic out on both Sanibel Island and Captiva — but if you get the chance, it’s really worth the time.

Welcome to Minnesota, Joe Crede

It sure didn’t take long for the Twins new third baseman to get a little taste of Minnesota nice.

While Crede was standing alongside the batting cage on one of the fields at the Lee County Sports Complex on Sunday morning and waiting to take his first round of batting practice as a Twin, a fan sitting in the stands yelled out, “Welcome to Minnesota, Joe Crede.” And Crede responded with a wave of his bat and a head nod in the man’s direction.

Crede looked good during his first workout with the club. Many people commented on what a “big” guy Crede is, a statement based upon the third baseman’s athletic-build stature. He certainly looks like a ballplayer and if you didn’t know that he’d had back issues, you wouldn’t have been able to tell by Sunday’s workout.

I spent quite a bit of time around Crede while I was an MLB.com intern in Chicago during the ’05 season (yes, Twins fans, I spent a year writing about the White Sox — although I did spend time reporting on the Cubs and Brewers that season too). He’s a quiet and humble guy from Missouri who possesses a very strong work ethic. If there was a player who fits perfectly into the Twins clubhouse, it’s Crede. By watching Crede joke around with Justin Morneau during their BP
session and fist pumping with pitcher Joe Nathan, it’s easy to see that
he’ll mix right in with the group.

As for my initial thoughts on the move, it appears to be a great nab for the Twins. Considering that the Twins paid $6.6 million to Mike Lamb for 81 games last season, the $2.5 million guaranteed to Crede seems like a very low risk. Crede has shown to make some spectacular plays at third. And if he can stay healthy and produce a similar season to the one he had in 2006 when he recorded 30 homers and 94 RBIs, Crede would be well worth the $7 million he could earn.

Other news from the day:

  • I watched Corey Koskie take batting practice on one of the back fields of the Twins’ complex on Sunday. Koskie certainly has come a long way in his recovery and it appears he’s reached another big step — making Team Canada for this year’s World Baseball Classic. Although he wasn’t on Canada’s provisional roster, Koskie will join the team when camp opens on March 2 at the Blue Jays facility in Dunedin, Fla.

  • Gardenhire said he hasn’t yet considered how he might structure the lineup now with the addition of Crede. There seems to be a number of ways he could slot Crede into that group — and it would be interesting to hear all of your thoughts on what the Twins batting order might look like for Opening Day.

Restaurant of the Day: Patinella’s Chicken Grill.   Okay so this isn’t your typical sitdown restaurant (more like healthy fast food) but it’s one of the favorites of the Twins beat writers and also the team’s players and coaches. Located in the Plantation Shoppes, just down the street from the ballpark, it features a number of chicken and rice and gyro dishes. The #3 with yellow rice is one of my favorites. I would label this a must-visit place for anyone visiting Fort Myers.

Crede update plus Friday round-up

Just when it seemed like the Twins might be easing on their pursuit of Joe Crede, talks between the two sides are heating up once again.

As Jon Heyman of SI.com first reported, the Twins appear to be closing in on a deal with Crede. It was indicated to me that the two sides could be nearing a deal but I haven’t been able to get much info on what the possible deal might entail. It’s clear that Crede’s agent, Scott Boras, and Twins GM Bill Smith remain in discussions, although, I’m making sure to point out that I’ve heard nothing is finalized yet.

While Crede became the news on Friday night, there were a few interesting tidbits to pass along from the day.

  • Manager Ron Gardenhire said that one area he’d like to address this spring is his backup first baseman. Justin Morneau played all 163 games last season (155 at first base). And while Morneau was able to handle that workload, Gardenhire would like the option this season of giving him more rest from playing the field. Michael Cuddyer has held the backup duties at the spot in previous seasons, but Gardenhire would like to keep him in the outfield. So the likely candidates to see playing time at first will be Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris, who would make up the platoon at third base if the Twins don’t sign Crede.

  • Gardenhire also mentioned that it’s not necessarily a given that the team will go with 12 pitchers out of spring. It still seems the most likely scenario but Gardenhire won’t rule out the possibility of keeping an extra position player — “I’d like to go with 14 [position players]. But I have to talk to my pitching coach on that one. It’s going to be tough.”

  • In addition to the five Spring Training games already being televised, the Twins announced Friday that the MLB Network will be carrying four additional contests that were not previously scheduled to air on Fox Sports North or WFTC. They include the following games: Feb. 25 — Red Sox @ Twins – NESN, Feb. 28 — Twins @ NY Yankees – YES, March 1 — Red Sox @ Twins — NESN, March 17 – Twins @ Red Sox — NESN

  • Also of note, hitting coach Joe Vavra said that he’s been pleased with some of the early adjustments that he’s seen in Delmon Young’s swing. Vavra said that his stance is a little wider and that Young looks to be using his legs more. The hope is that these changes will allow Young to turn on the ball more and to use the natural power he generates with his quick hands.

I figured as something fun, I might recommend some good places to eat/see while visiting Fort Myers during Spring Training as a daily (or weekly) thing. A little warning — I don’t get out much other than to eat while I’m here so it will most likely be food related. However, I have played some nice golf courses during the few off days I have here so I’ll try to include those too. So here goes the first  recommendation.

Restaurant of the day: Cantino Laredo — a good Mexican restaurant that is located near the Bell Tower Shops at the corner of Daniels Parkway and U.S. 41. It’s first on my list because I’ve already eaten there a couple of times this trip. If you like guacamole, be sure to get it as they make it fresh at the table.