It’s mostly sunny and super warm as the Minnesota Twins prepare to wrap up the first half of a home-and-home series with the Milwaukee Brewers. Youngster Adalberto Mejia (4.30 ERA, 4.85 FIP in 83.2 innings) will take the mound for the Twins, while former Twins righty Matt Garza (3.68 ERA, 4.03 FIP in 88 innings) will toe the rubber for the Brewers.

More on that in a bit.

Miguel Sano is back in the lineup after a three-game absence following being hit by a Tony Barnette pitch on Friday night at Target Field. Sano took batting practice with the team on Monday, and is ready to get back in the swing of things by hitting and playing third.

“No question,” Molitor said about the bump to the lineup Sano provides when he’s in the lineup. “We all know his impact on our club when he’s contributing and the things he can do to help us win. I thought his BP yesterday was a little tentative or timid. I think he was trying to feel his way out a little bit. I still thought that in the right situation I might give him a shot if it came up. But today he was out for early work in the 3 o’clock hour and you could see that there was more confidence, and the ball was really coming off his bat.”

Sano will wear a pad on the affected area, but Molitor doesn’t expect much of an adjustment period for the slugging third baseman. “Not too much,” Molitor said. “I’m sure they’ve toyed with it a little bit to make it feel right. It’ll be a bit of a different feel, but obviously your hands are in a position to hit and you just have a little more protection.”

Here’s how the Twins will line up against the Brewers:

Here’s how the Brewers will counter:

Mejia has struggled with pitch economy all season long, as he’s made 17 starts but is averaging under five innings per start. That was evident in his last start against the Rangers, when he ran up 91 pitches in just four innings of work. Mejia has completed six innings just twice since July 1, and not at all since July 8.

When he’s been on the mound, the results have been OK for the most part. Over his last nine starts — dating back to a brutal outing against the Mariners at Target Field — Mejia has a 3.21 ERA. However, that comes with a 38-20 K/BB ratio in 47.2 innings and a slash line against of .267/.343/.419. In other words, the results have been fine, but the process is still shaky. There’s obviously ample talent in place here — like a four-seam fastball he’s had up to 95 mph and a slider with a whiff rate of 17.2 percent — but he just needs to find a way to work on his pitch economy. That’s a point manager Paul Molitor has hammered on each time he’s started.  

“Well I think we’ve seen the stuff pretty much every time out there,” Molitor said. “At times it can be a bit more erratic than others. I think a big step for him will be when he learns how to economize a little better. It seems like even when the numbers are good in terms of final lines, it hasn’t often been very deep just because he runs counts up. He gets guys ahead and tries to maybe be too fine or whatever, and the next thing you know he’s expanding counts. I like it when he’s out there; I think it’s a challenge for any lineup to face his stuff. It’s just a matter of him staying aggressive and staying ahead and trying not to get too deep into counts too quickly as far as pitches.”

Garza has put together a nice bounce-back season for the Brewers as his four-year deal is coming to a close after 2017. He does have a vesting option, however, but if he keeps pitching like this the Brewers just might let that happen. The option is complicated, as he needs to pitch 115 innings this season and be healthy at season’s end or accumulate 110 starts over the four years (he’s at 87, so that isn’t happening). The Brewers can exercise a $1 million option for 2018 if Garza spends more than 130 days on the disabled list in any season during the four years of the deal, which will not be the case. Nevertheless, he’s been good this season.

He did battle a back injury early in the season and just recently came off the disabled list with a lower leg strain. Doesn’t throw nearly as hard as he used to (91.7 mph now, 93 mph average), but he’s still fastball heavy and relies on a slider as his preferred secondary. He’s been more fly ball heavy this season — right around his career rate — and somehow that hasn’t bit him A. at Miller Park or B. in this crazy long ball season. Either way, he’s done a fine job as he ages and should have some value on the open market if he hits it this offseason.

The slider still gets plenty of whiffs, too (20.1 percent).

Pressly Produces

Since returning from Triple-A Rochester on July 1, Twins reliever Ryan Pressly has looked much, much better after a rough start to the season. While no one will look at his 5.87 ERA with distinct admiration, it is backed with a much more stomachable FIP (4.26), strong strikeout rates (9.9 per nine) and a stellar WHIP (1.20). The long ball has bitten Pressly overall (1.6 HR/9) in a year where that has been a theme all season long, but again, he’s been good since coming back.

His latest stretch with the Twins is a 16.1 inning span in which he’s posted a 2.76 ERA, 16-1 K/BB ratio and an OPS against of just .646. His swinging-strike rate is a super elite 17 percent,  and he’s induced grounders at a ridiculous 66.7 percent rate.

That’s Trevor Hildenberger territory — and then some (54.5 percent).

But Pressly says not much has changed for him, with the exception of getting ahead in counts so that he doesn’t have to become predictable with his blazing fastball.

“It was a bit of mechanical stuff that was a little bit wrong,” Pressly said of his early-season struggles. “Pitches were coming across the middle of the plate and missing their spots, obviously. Now we’ve kind of fixed everything up mechanically, and the results are there. You throw some bad luck in there in beginning of the season and it doesn’t help your cause. Now you kind of have to roll with the punches. But everything is kind of falling into place.”

Pressly has gotten strikeouts at an increasing rate in each of the last four seasons, but he doesn’t think of himself as a strikeout pitcher, per se.

“I just pitch how I pitch,” Pressly said when asked if he actively seeks strikeouts. “My job is just to execute pitches and get people out. Whether that’s a strikeout, fly out or groundout, I don’t care how I get you out, as long as I do. That’s what we get paid to do. Strikeouts are good and sometimes necessary — like if the bases are loaded with nobody out. That’s when you really need one. But for me, it’s whatever happens, happens. If I get you out, I get you out.”

Pressly said he hasn’t really changed up his repertoire to induce more grounders, either. “It’s keeping the ball down in the zone,” Pressly said. “Like I said, I refer back to mechanical problems. When I’m leaning back and dropping down, it almost looks like I’m sitting down on a stool. That’s when the ball rides up in the middle of the zone and when people are able to elevate and separate their hands from their body. That’s not what you want. With the high rate of home runs this year, it’s kind of bit me pretty hard. But it’s all about how you can make an adjustment. I think I did to keep the ball down in the zone. I have to keep living down there, and the groundballs will keep coming in.”

Closer Music

With Brandon Kintzler departing via a trade to the Washington Nationals, Matt Belisle has filled in for the last two save opportunities. He’s also got the typical closer entrance theme, like Kintzler had “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. Belisle’s is “People of the Sun” by Rage Against the Machine, but it’s not by choice.

“I didn’t even know they were playing anything,” Belisle confessed prior to Tuesday’s game. “I do like Rage Against the Machine, though.” An astute Twitter follower pointed out that Robbie Grossman used that song as his walk-up music last season, but Grossman said he didn’t choose that, either.

“I haven’t picked anything either year,” Grossman said. “I can’t hear it anyway.”

Oh well. We’ll still have some fun with it on Twitter. #FaceTheFunk

Notes and Quotes

  • The Twins are expecting 31,000 fans on Tuesday night.
  • The Rochester Red Wings announced on Twitter that Hector Santiago’s rehab start — which was originally scheduled for Tuesday — would be pushed back a day. Nik Turley is starting in his place. No reason was given.
  • MLB announced the 30 preliminary winners of the Heart and Hustle award. Byron Buxton won for the Twins, and will receive his award from Molitor prior to Tuesday’s game.
  • The Twins are 5-7 in interleague play this season.
  • The Twins are 225-217 all-time against Milwaukee according to the game notes, including 52-43 in interleague play, 11-8 at Target Field and 22-23 at Miller Park.
  • The Twins are 6-9 in their last 15 games.
  • Twins starters have a 5.52 ERA on the homestand which ends Tuesday night. Relievers have a 0.57 mark.
  • Molitor on an improved bullpen: “Since Brandon (Kintzler) left, we’ve had two games to save and they were back-to-back. Fortunately, we had Belisle available for both. Last night we had to mix it up with Taylor (Rogers) not being available. Tonight might be different. I don’t know how many times Matty has pitched three times in a row this year, if at all. That probably tells you how I’m thinking there. We’ll just have to see where we’re at. I think guys are rallying around the fact that each night be their night to be the guy there at or near the end of the game. I think you can feed off that.”
  • Molitor on Mejia maintaining his composure on the mound: “I would categorize it more as frustration than anger. I think you’re out there, and guys are accustomed before they get here to not have those types of fights — as far as ends of at-bats. It’s different; these guys know what you have, and know how to foul pitches off and extend at-bats. But that’s where the test comes in. Where you find that you aren’t as worried about finding that third strike as much as maybe weak contact and give us a chance to make the play. I think he’s learning to trust his catcher more; that’s been part of it too. To make that final pitch to get to the next hitter. Hopefully each time he goes out there, we see a little improvement.”
  • Polanco getting early work in after a four-hit night: “He was out there getting early work with a little bigger smile. I think we’re just happy to see that it’s turned here in the short-term for him in terms of just quality at-bats that have resulted in the reward of some hits. He’s been a guy who has been out there whether he’s going well or poorly. I think he just understands trying to stay sharp any way he can is the right way to go. Don’t get comfortable after four hits — go out there and get back to work.”
  • Molitor said he didn’t see any real advantage to having Mejia start Tuesday in an AL park as opposed to Wednesday in an NL park. With Mejia’s penchant for short outings, that can make managing a bench a bit more difficult with shorter pitcher outings needed to get through the game with pinch hitters being used every couple innings.

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Brandon Warne covers the Twins for Cold Omaha, and has had his work featured in numerous places across the United States. Locally, Warne’s work has appeared at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1500 ESPN and Go96.3 for writing and audio, and he’s also had written work appear on Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs and cited in the Los Angeles Times. Warne lives in the outer Twin Cities suburbs with his wife, Amanda. Listen to his Cold Omaha podcast Midwest Swing. Follow Brandon on Twitter @Brandon_Warne.

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