9/15 PREGAME NOTES: Colon vs. Happ, Big Sexy Night, Sano Update

Colon looks to return to form after a tough start against the Royals. (Photo Credit: Brian Curski, Cumulus Media)

Greetings from Target Field, where it is sunny and warm as the Twins look to make it two in a row over the visiting Toronto Blue Jays. It’ll be righty Bartolo Colon (4.69 ERA, 4.94 FIP in 63.1 innings with the Twins) on the mound for the Twins and the second lefty in a row on the mound for Toronto in J.A. Happ (3.73 ERA, 4.00 FIP in 125.1 innings).

More on that in a bit.

It’s Big Sexy night at Target Field, and it’s not just because Colon is taking the mound. The Twins had a special ticket package that included a ticket to the game and a special t-shirt, and it sold out in advance of Friday night’s game.

What exactly encompasses the mystique of Big Sexy? Manager Paul Molitor tried to describe it.

“I’m sure there are a lot of people who have tried to describe it,” Molitor offered. “The fact he’s been able to continually deny the odds and do what he’s done in the game, do it in a way that’s colorful, doing it in a way that’s obviously very fun-loving in terms of his attitude toward the game. he knows the seriousness of baseball, but he could just as well be playing a little sandlot ball with his buddies. you just never know what particular antic he’s going to bring to a game.”

It’s not just a sideshow, though, Molitor said. The burly righty has done a good job cutting the tension for a club that’s in the middle of a race to the postseason.

“Added to that, he’s pitching pretty good baseball,” Molitor said. “(Colon) along with other guys out there, are like ‘Hey, everything’s going to be fine.’ Guys, for the most part, are just doing what they’re doing. We haven’t seen too many guys show up in terms of pressure affecting how they pitch or hit. There’s going to be moments — the game gets pretty big at times. We just try to slow it down. But having those veteran presences certainly helps.”

On a nice note, Jose Berrios and his wife Jannieliz welcomed their second child on Friday afternoon around 2:20. It’s a healthy baby boy named Diego, and Molitor said that he told Jose to take some time to be with his family before showing up to the ballpark sometime tonight.

There had been some chatter about Berrios dealing with fatigue of late, though Molitor said that’s more of a general fatigue as opposed to arm fatigue.

“I think it’s more general fatigue than arm,” Molitor said. “We’re just going to try to be smart, whether it’s how long we let him go on a given day to the fact that we all know how he works out. We’ve been trying to get him to back off a little bit. Not to stop working out, but just to conserve the best you can for the days you pitch. We’ll have to see when he goes out there how he looks on a given day and how he’s feeling. I’m not concerned to the point where I have to back him off a start or anything, but you have to keep an eye on these things late in the year.”

Molitor added that Berrios is not throwing full bullpens at this point in the year, and that his last one was limited to just 15 pitches.

Here’s how the Twins line up against Happ:

Here’s how the Blue Jays will counter against Colon:

Colon will look to regroup after a tough start last time out against the Royals, where he allowed six earned runs while recording just five outs. That pushed his ERA as a Twin up from 3.94 to 4.69, and pushed his OPS against from .842 — still not particularly good — to .863.

In short, Colon works with a small margin for error due to his limited repertoire and velocity, but the stability he’s brought to the rotation while Kyle Gibson struggled earlier in the year and after Hector Santiago got hurt has been meaningful, in addition to the clubhouse stuff he’s done that is not tangible, but if you ask around is still valuable. He’ll have his hands full against the Blue Jays in this one.

Happ’s two starts thus far in September have gone well — 1.54 ERA in 11.2 innings with 12 strikeouts and five walks — though it did come against Boston and Detroit, two offenses that have not been overwhelmingly good to this point in the season. Happ basically is who he is though, as he’s got a 3.92 ERA since the All-Star break with a strikeout per inning.

He doesn’t have any overwhelming home/road or left/right splits, and he’s been just a little better after the break than before. Repertoire-wise, it’s lots of fastballs — he’ll mix four-seamers at 92-93 mph with a two-seamer at 90-91 — with a slider and a change every now and then and a curve just to keep hitters honest. He’s about league average (career-high 46 percent) this year at inducing grounders, and while he doesn’t really have a put-away pitch, he can get swinging strikes on his four-seam fastball more than most (11.2 percent). This will be a good litmus test for a Twins offense that has hit lefties better of late. This isn’t a Derek Holland or Travis Wood, that is.

Injury Updates

Miguel Sano hit in the cage, but other than that, there wasn’t much of an update from Molitor.

Jason Castro took a knock to the head on a backswing on Thursday, but came out of it no worse for the wear. “I was a little concerned,” Molitor said. “(Especially when) you see him stay down there for a second. i think it kind of stunned him more than anything. You’re not anticipating that whack on the back of the head too often. I checked with him every inning the rest of the game, and today he said he was good to go. I had him scheduled not to play today anyway.”

Molitor said Adalberto Mejia’s return from the disabled list on Thursday will probably put him in the 90-pitch range. “It’s been a week,” Molitor said of when Mejia pitched last for Chattanooga. “Which wasn’t ideal. But coming off his last outing, I think we probably — depending on how it goes and how stressful the innings go — could get him close to 90 pitches tomorrow.” With a 14-man bullpen, however, Molitor said that he could go with a quick hook if Mejia struggles, though that’ll also depend on what guys are/are not available based on usage Friday night in conjunction with the last couple evenings.

Molitor also added that it’s likely Matt Belisle won’t be available on Friday night, though that remains subject to change — or a player’s whim. Belisle is the kind of pitcher who’ll tell his manager he wants the ball, but Molitor also realizes the righty has thrown 28 high-stress pitches over the last two games.

Notes and Quotes

  • The expected attendance for Friday night’s game is around 28,000 fans.
  • The Twins have won three of four games against the Blue Jays this season.
  • The Twins are eight games over .500 — a high-water mark for the season.
  • The three-game winning streak for the Twins has pushed their record at home over .500 at 38-37. The Twins are 11-2 in their last 13 games at Target Field.
  • Eddie Rosario is on an eight-game hitting streak, and is hitting .419 over that stretch.
  • Infielder Engelb Vielma, who was designated for assignment by the Twins earlier in the week to make room on the 40-man roster for lefty reliever Gabriel Moya, was claimed by the San Francisco Giants. The Giants put outfielder Mike Morse on the 60-day DL to make room for Vielma on their 40-man roster.
  • Molitor on Buxton hitting in the lower middle part of the order: “I look for combinations. Base stealers are going to be able to steal wherever they are, for the most part. You think about left-handed hitters that follow, guys who can hit the ball in the three-hole, a guy that hits it over the fence and maybe you minimize your risk of getting caught if you have a two-run homer potentially sitting in your lap. But in general, he’s pretty much free to roam out there unless I put a hold sign on him, which doesn’t happen very often.”
  • Molitor on the team’s improvement against left-handed pitchers this season: “I think just the emergence of Buck and Polanco and some of the guys whose numbers have improved tremendously — even our left-handed hitters like Rosario, Castro and Mauer — they’ve all picked up the pace against left-handed pitching when they’ve gotten the chance to play. I don’t think we’ve really changed on what we’ve tried to do. I just think guys are trending the right way.”


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