It’s sunny and steamy as the Twins prepare to open a three-game set at Target Field against the New York Yankees. The Twins come in 46-45, with losses in four of their last five games including dropping two of three in Houston coming out of the All-Star break. The Yankees come in to open the season series against the Twins with a 47-43 record after splitting a four-game set against the Red Sox at Fenway Park to open the second half.
The Yankees figure to be a bit taxed coming into the series, as they crammed 43 innings into three days against the Red Sox. They didn’t announce Bryan Mitchell as Monday’s starter until late Sunday night, and certainly didn’t get into Minneapolis until the early morning hours on Monday.
Mitchell, a righty, will tangle with Twins lefty Adalberto Mejia in the series opener. More on that in a bit.
Here’s how the Twins will line up against the Yankees:
— Brandon Warne (@Brandon_Warne) July 17, 2017
Here’s how the Yankees will counter:
📝 Yankees lineup 📝
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) July 17, 2017
Mitchell is making his first start of the year after making all five of his appearances in the rotation for the Yankees last year. He’s got a 5.06 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 12 relief appearances this season, with 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings, 3.9 walks per nine and a WHIP of 1.38. Mitchell faced the Twins as a starter in 2015, lasting just 1.2 innings in an Aug. 17 start at Yankee Stadium in what ended up being an 8-7 win for the Yankees. It was a bullpen game for the Yankees — seven pitchers threw for them — while Kyle Gibson was bombed for six earned runs in five innings. Gibson left with the lead, but Brian Duensing allowed a solo home run to Carlos Beltran in the sixth inning to tie the game.
Mitchell throws very hard (95.5 mph career fastball average, 96.3 mph this year) and will mix in a cutter and a curve as well. In other words, he’s mostly fastball-curveball — a mix that works very well in the bullpen but may not be as good out of the rotation — we’ll see. He hasn’t gotten many strikeouts in his 81.2 career innings (6.2 K/9), but he has induced his fair share of grounders (49.4 percent).
Mejia’s season numbers aren’t terribly impressive — 4.43 ERA (5.30 FIP), 1.48 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9 — but he’s posted a 2.79 ERA over his last five starts. Those numbers are deceptively decent however, as opposing batters have hit .232/.317/.384 against Mejia with just a 21-13 K/BB ratio over those 29 innings. The Yankees offense will be a good test for him. They boast the No. 4 offense in baseball with a 109 wRC+.
“You all heard me throughout spring,” Molitor said about Mejia. “We liked how he went about his work. The stuff he brought was definitely a tick up from the one outing last year. I think he’s just kind of learned up here to do a few things that includes trusting his catcher. He had a tendency to shake off his catcher a lot and have ideas of how to get people out rather than maybe trusting the plan we put together before the game. I think he’s going with the flow. He knows his fastball plays — he can sink it and run it in. He just has to use that, and it makes his slider and changeup that much better.”
Polanco sits again
Shortstop Jorge Polanco will start the game on the bench for the second game in a row as Ehire Adrianza draws another start. Polanco’s season line is down to .222/.271/.319. May 22 is the last day Polanco’s OPS reached .700, and he’s hit just .174/.224/.250 in the 36 games he’s played since. For the most part he’s been decent defensively, but it seems like there is some concern his offensive struggles may have bled a bit into his play at short, as the game is speeding up on him a bit.
“I thought yesterday when I took Polanco out, I’d maybe back it up with two days,” Molitor said. “My thought was — coming out of the break — that maybe he had a chance to kind of slow things down and evaluate and remember he’s a good offensive player who is forcing the action just a little bit too much right now. Adrianza did a nice job yesterday — he had a couple good at-bats and played well in the field — and we’re just trying to get Jorge a chance to regroup for a couple days.”
Polanco, as well as designated hitter Kennys Vargas, was out for early work with hitting coach James Rowson prior to batting practice. “I had a talk with James the other day about a lot of our guys and things we need to focus on going into the second half,” Molitor said. “We don’t need a lot of details on that. Obviously, I think one of (Polanco’s) strengths is that he’s always known the strike zone pretty well. I think in the past, maybe a little tendency to expand on fastballs up. But was really good on recognizing offspeed pitches and keeping them in the zone, and it hasn’t been there for a while. He’s getting himself out more than the pitcher is right now, and that’s not who I believe he is. I’m sure he’s trying to concentrate on recognition and getting good pitches to hit.”
Bartolo Colon arrived at Target Field and got some work in earlier on Monday, and headed home before the clubhouse opened with the blessing of manager Paul Molitor. Molitor said Colon threw off flat ground to get acclimated a bit, then asked if he could head home early, something the manager had no objection to since the pitcher can’t technically be in the dugout during the game anyway. Look for a roster move after Monday night’s game to make room for Colon — both of the 25- and 40-man varieties.
“I talked to Colon (after he threw),” Molitor said. “He said he was excited for the opportunity and he was looking forward to helping us out and pitching.”
“We reminisced a bit about how many teams he’s played for. I asked if he remembered facing me. He said, “Yeah, I broke three of your bats.” I said I didn’t remember that part of the story,” Molitor added with a laugh. “I trust his memory more than mine,” he said.”
Colon will wear No. 40, a number previously donned by first-base coach Jeff Smith. Smith will wear No. 37 moving forward, and didn’t put up much of a fuss over handing the number over. “Nothin’! It’s his,” Smith said with a big smile when asked what he had to haggle for in order for Colon to have the number.
The Twins will be the 10th big-league team for Colon, who has pitched 20 seasons in the big leagues and has thrown more than 3,000 MLB innings. Colon has never pitched at Target Field. Molitor said he thinks Colon can possibly get through five or six innings, but there won’t be a specific pitch count for the righty. It’ll be based more on game flow and feel.
Hector Santiago (shoulder) played catch with assistant athletic trainer Lanning Tucker before batting practice, and got the go-ahead to throw a bullpen on Tuesday. “He’s good,” Molitor said. “He’s throwing a bullpen tomorrow and probably will back it up with another one on Friday. Then we’ll start to plan how we can proceed facing hitters and getting him built back up. He told me he feels good. That’s the first step to working your way back. We just have to see how he progresses each time he takes the rubber.”
Rochester outfielder Daniel Palka — who is on the 40-man roster — has been assigned to the GCL Twins to begin a rehab stint. Palka has been sidelined with a broken left index finger since late May.
Notes and Quotes
- With a pair of leadoff home runs in Houston, Brian Dozier became the team’s all-time leader in that category, passing Jacque Jones. He’ll pass Jones again with his next home run, as the two are tied for 12th on the team’s all-time long ball list with 132.
- Justin Morneau paid the Twins a visit prior to Monday’s game. Morneau isn’t officially retired, but hasn’t played since facing the Twins as a member of the Chicago White Sox on Oct. 2, 2016.
- Fort Myers starting pitcher Sean Poppen was named Florida State League Pitcher of the Week for July 10-16. Tom Hackimer won the award the previous week, and Poppen threw 14.1 innings of one-run ball to win last week’s honors.
- Molitor on facing Aaron Judge, Yankees: “We have some ideas (on how to handle him). A lot of teams have tried different approaches to try contain only him, but the entire offense which has done a nice job producing all year. We’re coming back from a really quick trip to Houston. It felt like we were at the park pretty much the whole time we were gone. We come back and have a chance to open our first homestand post-break, and it’ll be fun to play the Yankees. It always is, regardless. It just seems like when you get a franchise of that magnitude, it makes it kind of special. We’re looking forward to competing against these guys. Hopefully we have some things from our pitching staff that we can implement and execute so we can minimize the damage.”
- Molitor on Judge and where he fits at this point in the league: “Those stories are good for the game. There’s always going to be a constant process of transitional stardom. We’ve seen guys like Harper and Trout and others who’ve come up and impacted the game. It helps. It brings people out to watch. You need stars. This guy is unique; he’s big in stature and size and from what we’ve heard and seen he plays the game way over and above just being a power guy. He knows how to hit, run the bases, play defense…I hadn’t really heard a lot about him until last year. He came up and struggled a little bit, but he’s amazingly done a lot through the first half of the season. He’s warranted all the attention he’s gotten.”