Greetings from Target Field, where the sky is gloomy but the field is in otherwise solid condition. Diamond dust is out in ample supply, but everything appears to be in order for the first part of this home-and-home series with Milwaukee to go off without a hitch.
Phil Hughes joked in the clubhouse that Monday night was his fifth career complete game — and his third that was rain-shortened. He’s slated to start against the Washington Nationals on the upcoming road trip. He faced the Nationals during the exhibition series that led into the regular season opener in Baltimore, fans may remember.
The upcoming swing of NL-rules games means a crunch of position players for a team that has suddenly seen one even with the disabled list in play. Manager Paul Molitor said he’s been thinking about how that’ll play out — especially how he’ll use the bat of suddenly-hot designated hitter Byung Ho Park — but he suggested Park would get at least one start on the road trip. Maybe more, he noted, since Mauer — who is celebrating his 33rd birthday today — has yet to have an off day with this being the 14th team game.
Fun fact: Mauer is one-day younger than Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera.
The Twins also called up Jorge Polanco from Triple-A Rochester to replace third baseman Trevor Plouffe, who hit the DL with a strained intercostal.
Here’s how the Twins line up today:
Santana (0-1, 3.00) gets the start for the Twins, and through three starts has pitched rather well despite not having a win. He’s struck out 16 batters in 15 innings, and has allowed just one home run. According to PITCHf/x, Santana’s velocity has been very good; his 92.3 mph average fastball is right around his career average, and he’s throwing his slider (84.5 mph) faster than ever before. The slider is also inducing plenty of swings and misses; through three starts he already has 17 swinging strikes with the slider, compared to just three combined on the four-seam fastball and changeup.
Opposing the Twins for Milwaukee today is righty Wily Peralta (0-3, 10.13), who by the numbers has been hit around pretty hard this year. When he’s not allowing hits he’s allowing walks, and for the season, he’s allowed opposing batters to hit .385/.446/.712. That’s not a misprint, that’s an over 1100 OPS, or in other words, roughly what Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado has done to opposing pitchers this year. Peralta throws plenty hard (94.3 mph average fastball), but three of his pitches are allowing an OPS over 1000. In fact, his changeup has allowed an unthinkable 3417 OPS; to reframe that, he’s allowed two batted balls on changeups — they were both home runs.
Molitor’s media session was a lively one. Here are some of the more notable quotes:
On roster moves: “In fairness to Trevor, I’d love to be able to wait a couple days. We’re just not in a position to do that…so Trev will be shut down here and try to get that thing cleared up as fast as we can. Hopefully he’ll be ready when his days are up. As far as Fernando (Abad) being reinstated, it’s a good thing for us. He’s gotten off to a good start here, and given us some good appearances early in the year. We talked about Taylor (Rogers) Monday night, he’s still adjusting to becoming a bullpen guy instead of a starter, and we’re just not giving him enough work. I thought in fairness to him, it was time to get him back down there and get a little more consistency.”
Polanco’s MLB future: “I think long-term he’s best suited for second base or the outfield, but he can handle the left side of the infield in short bursts. We’ll see if we can get him in there somewhere along the way before Danny comes back next Monday.
“There’s a lot of debate about how that’s going to pan out; part of it is the makeup of your team, and where it might fit if the guy proves offensively that he’s going to be a guy you want to get in there. His avenue here, it’s not overly clear. We have a fairly good stable of young outfielders; we’ve got a second baseman that’s locked in. Esco is establishing himself, as is Trevor.
“So I can’t tell you exactly where it’s going to be. With his skillset, I think he’s better at second base than the left side of the infield. Not that he won’t improve himself enough to be considered to do something like that down the road. I think Terry (Ryan) and I had the discussion about him getting some outfield play this year just to see. When he was younger, he looked like a guy who could potentially be a gap-to-gap guy, but he’s starting to look like maybe a bit more than that. He’s gotten a lot stronger, and he can put a charge into the ball.”
On how much going to NL parks affected Plouffe’s status: “It played.There’s no doubt about that. I know that going down there, we have an extra person because of the DH not being in the game, but you want to have as much flexibility as you can in terms of when you need to pinch hit for pitchers or double switch and guys that can play around a little bit, so it made sense for us.”
Sano’s progression: “It’s a lot of what we saw he’s capable of. Last year it seemed like he had a lot of those (tough) counts, even when he’d get behind he’d work them back to full. Sometimes he’d strike out, sometimes he’d walk and sometimes he’d get a hit. There’s something about getting that first (home run) on the board that I think just mentally allows you to go back to being a hitter.
“Even when you don’t hit a home run — not that I would know that feeling very well — that it’s a subconscious thing, you know you haven’t hit one yet. He just kind of let it happen in that at-bat, which was good to see. It wasn’t like he overswung and tried to hit it into the upper deck, he just put a good swing on it and carried into the bullpen.”
Defensive versatility on roster, and if it makes Molitor’s job easier or harder: “It’s challenging but it’s a better option than not having them. I would say it’s a good thing to have more guys I can play around.”
Difficulty on getting Max Kepler into the lineup: “It’s really hard. I think when we first brought him up here, my initial thought was that I was going to try get him some at-bats and see how I could get him in there. That was before Oswaldo (Arcia) had really gotten an opportunity. Since he has and done well, it’s kind of minimized the opportunity I’ve had to get Max in there.”
Keys for Arcia’s emergence: “I think he understood after last year that he had to kind of change his mindset about being a professional baseball player. Everything from how he handles himself to how he takes care of his body…understanding that just being able to hit a ball 500 feet is not enough. At least for me visually, it’s been a conscious effort to do things better all across the board.
“We saw him as a young player hit some home runs, but he also did a good job of hitting some balls to left field and other things that he kind of got away from. I just see a guy who’s seeing the ball a little bit longer, he’s trusting himself a little bit more. When you get feedback in the terms of positive results, it just kind of reaffirms the things he set his mind to going about accomplishing. We all know it’s just been four games or whatever it has been, but he’s playing well and it makes sense to keep running him out there right now.”
Park playing in NL parks? “I’ve thought about that some. Joe’s played every day in some capacity so far. There’s probably at least one day that Park’s going to get to play, if not two. We’ll see how it goes over the next couple days. We have three day games on this trip, and it’s still April. I have to be a little careful with Joe: I’m trying to protect him a little bit with the DH thing. So Park will play first sometime on the trip.”
On John Ryan Murphy handling pitching staff: “He’s been great. Guys like throwing to him. They like throwing to Kurt (Suzuki) too. But Murphy has a nice little feel back there. I think he’s got all our pitchers’ trust that he established in spring with how he communicates with them. It’s been a tough start offensively, trying to find a way to get hits. I know he’s been working on his swing. His dad assured me the other night that he’s a much better hitter than what we’ve seen so far, so I take some solace in that (laughs).”