February 2010

Rain, rain go away

By: Kelly Thesier/MLB.com

The Twins first full squad workout was today but some rain showers forced it to be halted a tad early.

Not before many of us writers got a little wet while standing behind the batting cage to watch some live batting practice. Carl Pavano and Scott Baker threw to an impressive group of hitters –Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Jim Thome and Michael Cuddyer.

We were still standing out in the elements when the second group of hitters came up to bat, including Brendan Harris, Denard Span and Rene Tosoni. But we didn’t last for that entire hitting session as the rain began to fall harder.

When Harris teased the reporters for being “growing soft” as we retreated to the dugout to get away from the rain, LaVelle Neal of the Star Tribune had an appropriate response. “We’re not paid to be in the rain,” he said.

 — Despite the rain, there were no injuries to report in camp other than shortstop  Estarlin De Los Santos, who  has some arm soreness and has been shut down from throwing for a couple days..

— While Tony Oliva has been around for a couple day, many of the other special instructors arrived before Saturday’s first full squad workout. Paul Molitor, Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew were all on hand for rainy day. Killebrew had to miss TwinsFest last month after having his gallblader removed but he said he’s starting to feel much better.

— Another heartwarming moment on Saturday was seeing Minor League hitting coach Ricardo Ingram walking around the clubhouse. Ingram had to take a leave of absence from Triple-A Rochester last year to undergo treatments at Duke University for a cancerous brain tumor. He’s been cleared to work this season and his role will be as a roving hitting instructor for Rochester and Double-A New Britain. Everyone seemed excited to see Ingram. He was greeted with hugs from many players and coaches and he spent a long time talking with Jacque Jones.

Follow me on Twitter @kellythesier

Bring on the Hitters

By: Kelly Thesier/MLB.com

Today marked the final day that only the Twins pitchers and catchers worked out. On Saturday the club will hold its first full squad workout and that means the annual team meeting will take place. It’s the time when manager Ron Gardenhire gives his speech to the team for the 2010 season.

Gardy was asked on Friday if the message was going to be pretty simple considering that expectations are high for his club in 2010.

“It’s the same every year. Our goal is to be consistent and try to win our division,” Gardenhire said. “If everything works out OK we should do just fine. Talking about it doesn’t get it done. It’s all about the work on the field and the games. Sure we have high expectations. Absolutely. I think I do and I think everybody should. We like our baseball team. We will see how it goes.

“The meeting tomorrow is about getting the work done. We have never rested on our laurels. We have never said that we are OK. We will continue to work our tails off and try to outwork everybody else.”

— As I wrote in a story for the website, Justin Morneau arrived to camp today. Surprisingly, though, there were no USA decorations in his locker when he showed up. I thought there would be since so many of his teammates seemed ready to trash talk about Team USA beating Canada in Olympic hockey last Sunday. The only gesture was that Brendan Harris put on a USA hockey hat and teased Morneau at his locker with it for a few minutes early in the morning.

So why no decorations?

“I think there probably was,” Morneau said. “Then they saw that Russia game and took them down.”

— The only position player who had not been spotted in the clubhouse by Friday afternoon was shortstop Estarlin De Los Santos. In addition to Morneau, outfielder Juan Portes also reported to camp on Friday.

— One sign that was spotted in a locker by day’s end was this “1st place Long and Mean: 55” by Joe Mauer’s stall. It was to celebrate that the catcher’s group won the charity golf tournament by shooting a 55 on the Long and Mean course at Fiddlesticks on Thursday afternoon. Mauer couldn’t resist putting it up.

“This is the first time I’ve won the thing,” Mauer said with a smile.

More tomorrow when pitchers start throwing live batting practice. It’s always a day of entertainment as the pitchers have a clear advantage over hitters early in camp.

Follow me on Twitter @kellythesier

Day 4: Time for a little golf

Every year during Spring Training the Twins host a charity golf tournament to benefit the Lee Memorial Regional Cancer Center. This year’s event took place on Thursday at the Fiddlesticks Country Club in Fort Myers.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to participate in the event in each of the past four years and it’s a chance for me to not only get in a round of golf, but also to have some fun while raising money for a very good cause.

More than 30 Twins players and coaches hit the links on Thursday, including manager Ron Gardenhire, Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Carl Pavano, Nick Punto, and Matt Guerrier.

But the player who drew the most attention on the driving range before the tournament was Twins outfield prospect Aaron Hicks. The California native is a scratch golfer and was blasting drives past the end of the driving range — and mind you, they were straight shots that would land in the middle of the fairway. Other players such as Cuddyer gathered around to watch Hicks hit, and they were clearly impressed.

However it was Mauer’s foursome that took the top spot of the day, as they shot the lowest score of any group — 55.

Due to the golf tournament, Thursday’s workout was quick and the players were off the field a little earlier than usual.

That meant there wasn’t much news from the workout. Alexi Casilla was the one position player who reported to camp, leaving just three players — Justin Morneau, Estarlin De Los Santos and Juan Portes — missing. The buzz in camp is that Morneau is in Florida but just hasn’t attended a workout yet. For manager Ron Gardenhire, that’s actually a positive because it means that Morneau is listening to the advice that he needs to back off his excessive workload at Spring Training. The first baseman has often been one of the first position players to report and is at the complex nearly every morning by 7 a.m. to hit in the cages. Yet the team wants that to change a little this spring following Morneau’s back injury last year.

He knows he’s got a long spring training and a long
season. It’s good that he’s taking his time,” Gardenhire said. “He’s
not supposed to report until Friday and work out Saturday, and that’s
good. Stay away, it’s less stress on his back.”

Day 3: A quiet camp day and a prank

The third day of pitchers and catchers workouts is in the books and the good news for the Twins is that so far there have been no injuries to report. Despite an overcast, foggy day early in the morning, he Twins were able to get in their workout before a heavy rain shower hit the complex this afternoon.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said that things should get a little more interesting on Thursday in camp as pitchers will finally start throwing to bases during their PFP [pitcher’s fielding practice] rather than fake throwing. (Yep, you can tell that we’re still very early in camp when that’s the excitement of the day.)

Without much going on in camp, the players and coaching staff have to turn to other forms of amusement. That’s exactly what Gardenhire did on Wednesday morning.

The manager was all too excited to share a video with the reporters as we gathered in his office after the workout. On his laptop was proof of a prank that he and some of the other coaches pulled on first base coach Jerry White (or JW as he’s known to most of the players).

It’s well known thoughout the clubhouse that White is a relatively easy man to scare. The team has pulled pranks on him before, which included having something written on the mirror of his hotel room in some of the hotels they’ve stayed at which are supposedly haunted.

This time, Gardenhire had White meet him at the ballpark early because he said they were going to put on a clinic. With one of the coaches up on the stairs of the stadium filming with a video camera, Gardenhire had visiting clubhouse manager Troy Matchan hiding while dressed up in a gorilla suit. So as Gardenhire and White walked by, Matchan burst out in front of White, causing the coach to nearly jump out of his own skin. Everyone watching nearly doubled over in laughter, especially when they saw that White even dropped the glove he was carrying.

Needless to say this is a prank that will be re-lived many times over again. (Gardenhire even shouted to White as he walked by the manager’s office during the media session to “watch out for gorillas”)

As for real camp news, the unofficial count of players in camp appears to be 52 with only four having yet to be seen yet — Justin Morneau, Alexi Casilla, Estarlin De Los Santos and Juan Portes. Gardy said that Morneau is in Florida, but we just haven’t seen him there for a workout yet. Perhaps he’s hoping that Canada can beat Russia in Olympic hockey tonight and he might not have to take as much ribbing about the Canucks loss to the U.S. on Sunday night. (I don’t think he’s going to be able to avoid that one.)

One other tidbit, Gardy said that Jim Thome won’t be working out at first base during spring. While Thome could possibly be a late-inning option at the position if needed this season, Gardy said it would only be as an emergency. Thome will get most of his work this spring as a DH and focus on just his swinging early in camp. The goal is to make sure Thome gets to the season healthy, Gardy said.

 The Twins annual charity fundraiser golf outing is scheduled to take place on Thursday so that always means a quick workout. The club gets a tremendous turnout of players for the event and the guys enjoy having an excuse to hit the links.

Day 2: Camp roster is growing

By: Kelly Thesier/MLB.com

As Friday’s reporting date for position players draws closer, the clubhouse inside Hammond Stadium is slowly starting to fill up.

Among the notable names arriving at camp on Tuesday were Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, and Nick Punto. There was also another familiar face when Jacque Jones arrived, taking over the locker stall that Torii Hunter occupied for many years. Some other prospects have also unpacked stuff into their lockers including third baseman Danny Valencia and 2006 first-round pick Chris Parmelee.

Position players take part in their own informal workouts on the back fields of the Minor League complex during the early days of camp. Every year the hitters are behind the pitchers early in Spring Training, which always makes for some entertainment when live batting practice starts. And the pitchers enjoy getting to rag on the position players a little about it as well.

So it was no surprise to hear this exchange in the clubhouse today between Thome and reliever Jon Rauch as the veteran slugger was putting some bats back in his locker.

Rauch: “Just like riding a bike?”

Thome: “Some years. [laughs] But not this early.”

Joe Mauer even joked about getting his swing back. As the catcher grabbed a couple of bats to take part in catcher’s batting practice on Tuesday morning, he said, “We’ll see if I can still remember how to do this.”

Just a guess, but I think the three-time AL batting champion will be OK.

Here are a few other notes and tidbits from Day 2 of camp.

— Prospect Estarlin De Los Santos hasn’t arrived at camp yet but manager Ron Gardenhire said that he’s heard the shortstop is battling a little tendinitis in his shoulder. The club will know more once he reports but Gardenhire said the infield is already starting to get thin, and position players aren’t even officially in camp yet.

–Since pitchers are still just throwing bullpens, it’s difficult for the coaches to get much of a sense of how they’re doing. But the questions about Francisco Liriano are already starting due to his strong performance in winter ball. Gardenhire had this to say about Liriano today.

“He looks good,
his body is in great shape,” the manager said. “It’s just going to get down to how we go through Spring Training, facing hitters and all that stuff. Really, he’s past this
point [of bullpens], he’s pitched all winter long. This is kind of something that he’s not
here to get in shape like everyone else because he played all winter. It’s just
about getting through it now, getting in games and continuing where he left off
during the winter for him.”

–A common sight during the first two days of camp has been a herd of fans moving around the Lee County Sports Complex whenever Mauer switches fields. The catcher has always been a big attraction at camp but this year the crowds seem to be even more interested in the reigning AL MVP.

— The Twins are also expected to officially announce on Wednesday that the first game at Target Field will be a contest between the University of Minnesota and Louisiana Tech on March 27. More details will be unveiled in a press conference at Target Field. Hall of Famer and former Twin Paul Molitor will be on hand for the announcement.

You can follow me on Twitter @kellythesier

Monday camp tidbits: Injury updates, tall pitchers and Team USA

By: Kelly Thesier/MLB.com

Day 1 of Twins camp is in the books and it was the most beautiful day weather-wise since I arrived in Fort Myers, Fla. a little over a week ago. The sun was shining and temperatures were in the mid-70s for the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers. Now that actual workouts are underway, it’s a good time to empty the notebook with some interesting tidbits and stories.

— The only injury concern currently in camp is pitcher Loek Van Mil, who is battling some soreness in his right shoulder. Van Mil is going to be limited to long toss for the next couple days so he won’t be throwing in the bullpen during that time.

— Catcher Jose Morales sat in the dugout bench on Field 5 and watched as pitchers and catchers stretched before the start of Monday’s workout. Morales’ right arm is still in a cast following surgery at the end of last month to stabilize a tendon in his wrist. Morales said that the cast is scheduled to come off in a week. The switch-hitter said he should be able to start swinging from the right side in about two weeks and the left side in about four.

— Infielder Nick Punto has not yet reported to camp, as position players don’t officially have to be here until Friday, but Twins general manager Bill Smith said that the team plans to take it easy with him early in camp. Punto underwent a cleanup surgery on his right wrist at the end of last month and had been expected to be ready to go on the first day of full squad workouts.  But Smith said there is no rush for Punto to be 100 percent.

“He’s such a high energy player. We’re just going to try to slow him down,” Smith said. “We’ll make sure we take out time. Opening Day is a long ways away.”

— When talking about Van Mil’s sore shoulder, manager Ron Gardenhire was asked what it’s like to have so many tall pitchers in camp this spring. Van Mil is 7-foot-1 and reliever Jon Rauch is 6-foot-11. The two pitchers weren’t in the same throwing group but everyone laughed at how Van Mil made one member of his group — Joe Nathan, who is 6-foot-4 — look short.

“I’m already prepping them on, if I come up to the mound they have to back off the mound so I can look at them eye to eye,” Gardenhire said with a laugh. “Too many guys I’m going to have to look up to on this staff.”

— There was one additional position player who reported to camp on Monday — outfielder Delmon Young. While Gardenhire was meeting with the media, Young stuck his head in the manager’s office to say hello. Young, who has dropped at least 30 pounds from last season, surprised his skipper by his new svelte look and it led to a humorous exchange.

“What happened brother? You go to a shrink machine?” Gardenhire joked with Young.

“[Carl] Pavano is on our staff,” Young said. “I need to catch the fly balls on the warning track.”

— Young wasn’t the only player that Gardenhire enjoyed teasing on Monday. Even though first baseman Justin Morneau has yet to report to camp, he wasn’t exempt from getting a few jabs from the manager.

Gardenhire said he was texting Morneau during the USA-Canada Olympic hockey game on Sunday night. The U.S. pulled off the upset, defeating Canada 5-3 and Gardenhire couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to get on British Columbia-native Morneau, who shares his Canadian pride with everyone.

“He’s catching a lot of heat,” Gardenhire said.

Morneau’s wife, Krista, is from Minnesota and the first baseman told Gardenhire that this was one of the times it was hard to be married to an American. But there will likely be some more ribbing awaiting Morneau when he arrives at camp, as many of his teammates were ready to continue the trash-talking about Team USA’s win. Morneau is rumored to be arriving to camp tomorrow so it’s possible that he could arrive to a little red, white and blue tribute in his locker. 

Mijares is absent from camp

By: Kelly Thesier/MLB.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. –Left-hander Jose Mijares was not in camp on Monday for the first workout for Twins pitchers and catchers due to an unexpected issue.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that he hopes that Mijares will be able to fly from his home in Venezuela to Fort Myers, Fla.on Tuesday.

Mijares also missed TwinsFest last month after missing his visa appointment and the Twins are disappointed that he’s making this a continual problem.

“He’s got to be a little more accountable,” Gardenhire said.

The mandatory MLB reporting date is not until March 2 so the team cannot fine Mijares for his absence. But the left-hander missed his scheduled bullpen session on Monday and every day that he’s absent from camp will put him a little further behind some of the other pitchers.

The Twins are also curious to see what shape Mijares is in because the pitcher did not participate in winter ball in Venezuela this offseason. Last Spring Training, the Twins were upset with Mijares because he reported to camp having put on a few pounds and he was out of shape. Their hope is that will not be the case again this year.

Countdown to Pitchers and Catchers

By: Kelly Thesier/MLB.com

Sunday is the report date for Twins pitchers and catchers and it’s often typical for players not to come out to the ballpark on the day before the report date as it’s their final day off before Spring Training really begins. But this year there were actually quite a few players working out at the Lee County Sports Complex on Saturday.

When I arrived at the ballpark around 10:00 a.m. there were a number of pitchers long tossing on the field behind the Minor League complex. Among the new arrivals (or players I had yet to see) were Nick Blackburn and Jesse Crain. Blackburn threw a bullpen session and many fans gathered around to watch him throw.

It was hard to miss Orlando Hudson’s smile as he warmed up on one of the fields. Hudson took part in a hitting session that included Michael Cuddyer, Matt Tolbert, Luke Hughes, Toby Gardenhire, Drew Butera, and Rene Tosoni. Cuddyer and Hudson spent quite a bit of time talking and it looked like Hudson will fit right in with this clubhouse.

I spoke with Joe Nathan for a little awhile inside the Twins clubhouse about how his elbow is feeling and his outlook heading into the start of Spring Training. There will be a story up on twinsbaseball.com later with more on that. One thing we discussed was Nathan’s workout program this winter. He worked with the new baseball strength and conditioning coach at the University of Tennessee, Herman Demmink, and raved about the difference that the new workouts made for him. Demmink, who spent three years in the Phillies farm system, played college baseball at Clemson and actually competed against current Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey.

Nathan talked about how he and the other Major Leaguers who worked out
with him were impressed by Demmink’s personal conditioning and said
that I should check out some video of Demmink’s workouts. So I googled
it and found the video on You Tube. Here is the link, and I’ll admit some of the exercises are pretty impressive.

That’s about it for today. I’ll have more tomorrow when pitchers and catchers officially report to Hammond Stadium.

Reminder that you can follow me on Twitter @kellythesier

Welcome to the Fort

Greetings everyone from sunny Fort Myers, Fla. (I can’t say warm because it hasn’t exactly been that way over the past week. I know, I know, no complaining to those who are still in Minnesota).

I was on vacation for the last seven days, although I spent that time down here in Florida –working on my golf game. (It’s training time for everyone, right?) Today was my first day back at the ballpark and so I thought I’d share a few of the sights and sounds at the Lee County Sports Complex two days before the club’s official reporting date for pitchers and catchers.

While I’d heard that players had been slowly trickling in all week, there was quite a bit of activity there today. Among the notable names who were working out at the ballpark today were Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, Michael Cuddyer, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Brian Duensing and Pat Neshek. A few of them, including Nathan and Guerrier threw bullpen sessions while Neshek threw some live batting practice. In addition to the numerous players on the fields, there were plenty of fans wandering about. I got a chance to catch up with a few of them and always enjoy hearing about their enthusiasm for the upcoming season.

After hanging around the fields, I headed over to the main clubhouse to see who might be dropping off stuff at their lockers. Joe Mauer and J.J. Hardy were there, having just returned from a week up in Minnesota. As I tweeted earlier, Mauer was sporting a new beard that he grew while spending time up at his cabin. Mauer took Hardy to the cabin where they worked out and even did some ice fishing there. Hardy said he can’t believe how famous Mauer’s cabin has become, but did add that it was a pretty impressive place to visit.

Golf was a common topic of conversation in the clubhouse, and not just from me talking about how my swing was feeling this week. Nathan and Carl Pavano were headed out to play 18 holes — one of many rounds of golf that they’ll likely play this spring. While my golf game goes on hiatus pretty much over the course of Spring Training, the players get to enjoy their time on the links (especially during the short workout days early in camp). So I’m sure I’ll get to hear quite a bit about how their golf games are progressing.

One person who was only too happy to share his golf story was manager Ron Gardenhire, who got the opportunity to play Augusta National on Friday. The timing was not ideal as the South was hit by a massive snowstorm on Friday afternoon, and Gardy’s playing group had to golf in the snow for the final three holes. He said he got some pictures of the group on hole No. 18 with the snow falling. Augusta got a total of four inches — something that hadn’t happened in 37 years — so Gardy was proud to at least have pictures of the event. He didn’t shoot too shabby either, telling me he was only one over after the front nine

Tomorrow will be the final day for players to work out before the official reporting day. It’s often a little quieter around the ballpark as guys enjoy their final day off before things really get underway. I’ll be back out at the complex tomorrow to start working on a few stories so I’ll share more at that time.

Twins bring back Jacque Jones, lose Pridie

The Twins said goodbye to one outfielder on Tuesday and welcomed back another one into the organization.

The team announced that outfielder Jason Pridie was claimed off waivers by the Mets and that they had signed former outfielder Jacque Jones, who played for the team from 1999-2005, to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

Pridie was placed on waivers to open up a spot on the 40-man roster for
second baseman Orlando Hudson, who signed a one-year $5 million
contract with the club last week.
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Jones, who turns 35 in April, is returning to baseball after not playing in the Majors in 2009. A career .277 hitter with 165 home runs in 10 big league seasons with the Twins, Cubs, Tigers and Marlins, Jones spent last season playing independent baseball for the Newark Bears.

The outfielder broke into the Majors in 1999 with the Twins and batted .279 in parts of seven seasons in Minnesota before signing with the Cubs as a free agent prior to the 2006 season. In 2008, his last year in the Majors, Jones batted a combined .147 with one home run and seven RBIs in 42 games for the Tigers and Marlins.

Twins general manager Bill Smith said that Jones approached the team earlier this winter about an opportunity to get back into the game. Jones even flew to the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis this past December to meet face-to-face with the club.

“He’s looking to continue his career,” Smith said. “He’s one of the good hard working guys that we’ve had in this organization and he’s one of the guys that helped us become a playoff team. So we’re looking forward to having him back in the organization in Spring Training.”

The Twins have also extended one more invitation to big league camp. Catcher/infielder Toby Gardenhire has been added to the club’s list of non-roster invitees. Gardenhire, the son of the Twins manager, will give the team an extra catcher to use in Spring Training with Jose Morales expected to miss most of camp due to wrist surgery.