Mejia is making his second MLB start -- both against the White Sox -- and first at Target Field. (photo credit: Brian Curski)

It’s murky, overcast and humid as all get out as the Minnesota Twins prepare to open a three-game set against the Chicago White Sox over Easter weekend. Left-hander Adalberto Mejia will start for the Twins, while righty Dylan Covey will make his MLB debut for the White Sox.

More on that in a bit.

The Twins are hitting on the field in preparation for the first night game of the season at Target Field. The weather forecast calls for a 56 percent chance of showers and a game-time temperature of 63 degrees, so things could get a little dicey as the teams look to resume the season series. The Twins took two of three from the White Sox on the South Side of Chicago and look to keep rolling to their seventh win in the first 10 games of the season.

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Three Twins teams have opened the season with eight wins in their first 10 games (1961, 1970 and 2001) while another seven teams have opened 7-3, including most recently in 2010 and 2005.

Because I give you the content that you crave, here’s the dates when the Twins won games No. 6 and 7 last year:

  • No. 6 – April 25 (6-14)
  • No. 7 – April 26 (7-14)

The winning pitcher in both of those games? None other than Kevin Jepsen, who entered a tie game against Cleveland in the first one and salvaged a win after a blown save in the other. At this rate, the Twins are 10 days ahead of last year’s pace. Eight wins by Tax Day remains a possibility.

Injury Updates

  • Manager Paul Molitor confirmed what I reported a couple days ago, and that is that 1B/DH ByungHo Park’s hamstring strain — which landed him on the seven-day disabled list at Rochester — is not considered serious. The person I spoke with thought there was a chance that Park might have evaded a stay on the disabled list with a little more luck, and Molitor confirmed that the issue is just “mild.” He should be back soon.
  • Utility infielder Ehire Adrianza (oblique) is expected to get into a game at extended spring training on Monday.
  • Reliever Ryan O’Rourke is playing catch in anticipation of throwing a bullpen within the next week or so.

A great story about Rod Carew receiving a heart from former Stanford football player Konrad Reuland is making the rounds today online. Do yourself a favor and read it.

According to Twins broadcaster Kris Atteberry, Reuland and Twins catcher Jason Castro were in the same class at Stanford.

#OldFriend Update

Casey Fien was outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma by the Seattle Mariners on Thursday after a span of five appearances that ended with disastrous results. Fien had an ERA of 11.12 and a WHIP of 1.77, and the straw that broke the camel’s back — one of them, anyway — was the reliever’s involvement in the Mariners blowing a six-run lead in the ninth inning on the road against the Angels. Fien didn’t record an out while allowing four earned runs with a pair of walks and a home run mixed in.

Oswaldo Arcia is off to a fast start at Triple-A Reno, as he’s hitting .292/.367/.458 through 30 plate appearances, including two doubles and a triple (!).

Anthony Swarzak was the winning pitcher for the White Sox in Thursday’s drubbing of the Cleveland Indians as starter Miguel Gonzalez was unable to pitch five innings after his offense staked him to a huge lead in the early innings. Swarzak has thrown 2.2 innings in relief for the Sox with two strikeouts, no walks and just one hit allowed. He’s working as the team’s long guy out of the bullpen.

Here’s how the Twins line up today:

Here’s how the White Sox will counter:

Your eyes do not deceive you; the White Sox are starting all Garcias in the outfield after Melky Cabrera went on the paternity list, giving way for Willy Garcia to join the team.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, this will be the first time in MLB history that a team has started the game with three players with the same last name in an outfield. The Alou brothers — Jesus, Matty and Felipe — appeared in three games in 1963 with the San Francisco Giants, but never started a game together.

Mejia is making his second big-league start, with both coming against the White Sox. The first one he’d just as soon forget, has he recorded just five outs with zero strikeouts, two hits, two walks and two earned runs. One positive to glean from the start was that Mejia’s fastball was popping; Fangraphs’ PITCHf/x had him averaging 94.1 mph on his four-seam fastball when he was at 90.7 mph last year.

Now there are clearly caveats at play here. First of all, how pitch speed is determined changed between the last two seasons as data providers have changed. Let’s not lose sight of this, either: Mejia has thrown four big league innings. FOUR! We know almost nothing about his repertoire at this level. Molitor even said that he thought Mejia didn’t throw many four-seamers with the big club last year, so it’s hard to gauge exact progress there.

With that said, Mejia’s name did turn up in an article by Fangraphs writer Jeff Sullivan on the biggest gainers and droppers — is that a word? — in terms of fastball velo. You can find that here. As with almost all early-season analysis, there are possible issues with drawing strong conclusions from any of this data. With that said, it’s still intriguing. A lefty who throws 93-94 mph is much, much more intriguing than one who throws 90-91, of course.

It’s worth wondering, however, if his spot in the rotation could become shakier based on not only how he pitches, but how another youngster breathing fire down his neck does at Triple-A Rochester.

Jose Berrios is the fire-breathing dragon behind Mejia, and he’s made two strong starts at Triple-A Rochester after being sent down following his WBC stint with Puerto Rico. Berrios has yet to allow an earned run in 14 innings with 13 strikeouts and just one walk, and opposing hitters are batting just .149/.163/.191 against him so far.

Molitor said he read the comments on the minor league reports and it sounded like Berrios was commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate against Buffalo on Thursday night. Berrios threw eight solid innings, fanning six batters and walking none while throwing 64 of his 84 pitches for strikes. Molitor also said Berrios used his breaking and offspeed stuff to get back into counts, and in general was doing the things they were hoping to see from him down there. Molitor added that he wasn’t worried about strikeouts as much — since players in the minors have a tendency to expand the strike zone — but rather some of the less obvious things Berrios needed to do to get back into form. If he’s up to 90-95 pitches for his next outing — a reasonable jump from Thursday’s 84 — it wouldn’t be impossible for his next start to come in a Twins uniform. That’s not to say it will happen, but that it could. The primary worry about him coming out of the WBC was how much he was stretched out, and it looks like he’s getting close in that respect. They’re going to want him firing his bullets in big-league parks soon, it seems.

Covey will make his first big-league start against the Twins on Friday night, though it hasn’t been for a lack of effort. Covey — a type-1 diabetic since 2010 — was originally slated to start last Saturday against the Twins, but with two rain delays in three days, he’s been held up until this point. Of course, it looks like it could rain tonight as well.

Whenever Covey makes his debut, he’ll bring with him a pretty good fastball that Molitor said he heard could be run up into the mid-90s. Covey, who was a first-round pick of the Brewers in 2010 but did not sign, was selected by the White Sox from the A’s in the Rule 5 draft after he opted to go to college when his deal with the Brewers fell through due to the exam that told him he first had diabetes.  

After seven years, his MLB journey is finally ready to come full-circle.

According to Bernie Pleskoff of FanRag Sports, Covey sits 89-93 mph with his four-seam fastball and will throw it most often. He’ll mix in a sinker, cutter, curve and changeup, and is not much of a strikeout pitcher. In 29.1 innings at Double-A Midland last year, Covey fanned 8.0 batters per nine innings but also walked 5.2 with a 1.84 ERA. For his minor-league career, he’s fanned just 6.4 batters per nine, but is capable of inducing grounders. Between his Double-A stint and the Arizona Fall League last year, Covey induced grounders at a 59 percent rate.

That’s well above Kyle Gibson territory, for what it’s worth.

Notes and Quotes

  • Saturday will mark the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s MLB debut (April 15, 1947), and for the ninth season in a row, every player in the league will wear his No. 42 in appreciation for his efforts in breaking the color barrier in the game.
  • The Twins (plus-20) have the second-best run differential in MLB.
  • How’s this for an oddity? Via Elias and the Twins pregame notes, Justin Haley is the first player to record six strikeouts in his first MLB save since the statistical became official in 1969. Nice!
  • The Twins lead the AL with 44 walks drawn and are second in MLB. The Twins are first in walk rate as an offense (12.9 percent) and tied for 16th in strikeout rate (21.7 percent).
  • Despite leading the league in walk rate, the Twins are only ninth in total OBP. That’s because the team as a whole is hitting just .231 — tied for 10th worst in baseball with Milwaukee.
  • The Twins are fourth in MLB in ERA (2.77); that parses out to the 11th-best ERA for starters (3.66) and the fourth-best among relievers (1.44).
  • Twins starters have allowed the lowest batting average in MLB (.192)
  • The Twins bullpen on the whole has been incredible with a 1.44 ERA (2.89 FIP), 9.2 K/9 and a respectable 44.4 percent groundball rate.
  • Attendance figures will be interesting for the Twins this series. The team is expecting 20,000 fans on Friday night. It’s Good Friday of Easter weekend and kids were not in school, but it also probably hurts that Game 2 of the first round of the Western Conference playoff series between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues is taking place this evening just down the road at Xcel Energy Center.
  • Molitor on facing a pitcher in his debut: “I think that you try to be as prepared as you can for a guy you haven’t seen live. We have a little bit of knowledge on him from the guys who have seen him somewhere along the way, like in the Fall League last year. We’ve talked to some people; we have a little video on him. But you have to see how he responds to being out there for the first time. I’m sure he’s excited. We’re going to try to do what we’ve been doing; try to get good pitches. If he shows he’s having trouble with the strike zone, hopefully we can make him work and get his pitch count up there.”
  • Molitor on if Mejia battled nerves in his first start: “I’m not a big believer on nerves being a huge factor in that game. I don’t think he threw the ball horribly. His line was kind of a strange one for getting out of the game with that many pitches. It was just one of those things where an inning kind of unraveled. He made a lot of pitches and a lot were fouled off. You just kind of hopefully learn from that a bit. He might have been a little amped up because we saw a few more fastballs than we’re accustomed to seeing from him. But I’m looking forward to seeing him get another shot at (the White Sox).”
  • Molitor on Haley: “Watching him throughout the spring and having a chance to have some talks with him about kind of the unique circumstances surrounding his situation, he’s handled it well. As much as he’s thrown the ball well, they haven’t been in overly close games yet. I think the fact that he’s throwing strikes and using all his pitches, he’s got the same things that are working up here that we thought would play. Get ahead with the curve if he needs to. He mixes in the changeup. His fastball up in the zone seems to play even at 90-91. He’s eating up some big outs for us. Yesterday I had some thoughts about getting somebody some work there in the ninth inning, but I thought heading into this stretch of games at home….a fresh bullpen early in the year is a good thing. He was feeling strong and able to finish it out.”
  • Molitor on Miguel Sano defensively thus far: “We’re nine games in. There hasn’t been things that have made you go ‘Man, we’ve got a long way to go here.’ He’s made the routine plays for the most part. He had one deflect off his glove and he had one judgement error on the rundown. A ball to the five-hole that he couldn’t flag down one day that was a hit. He’s moving along, he’s doing his work. He’s out there early today with Polanco getting some extra work. You always talk about separating offense and defense, but I think the fact that he’s gotten off to a good start with the bat has helped him stay very in tune on the defensive side for now.”

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