It was 94 degrees at first pitch on Friday night as the Minnesota Twins prepared to take on the Oakland Athletics at Target Field.
In a way, it was almost reminiscent of the wild series at Wrigley Field last year. The series — a Twins sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs — spanned from June 29 to July 1 and featured some of the hottest weather ever seen in a Twins game in club history.
The second game of the series came on Saturday, a 14-9 loss which saw Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Bobby Wilson all leave the game due to heat-related illness. As a result, Willians Astudillo played center field (!), Logan Morrison saw some time in left and the game ended with pinch-hitter Jake Odorizzi — Friday’s starter for the Twins — grounding out weakly back to the mound.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that again. The game-time temperature for that Saturday game was 91 degrees.
Manager Rocco Baldelli said the heat is definitely something they keep an eye on as it pertains not only to the playing of the game, but the preparation as well.
Twins players were permitted to wear shorts during batting practice on Friday, for instance.
“It’s something that we pay attention to,” Baldelli said. “I think it’s one of the variables as you get into the summer that you have to pay attention to. I think the heat and humidity and up here is a very serious thing.”
Baldelli added that he feels fortunate his team doesn’t have to deal with this oppressive heat for the bulk of the season, like some other teams do.
“We’ll adjust,” Baldelli said. “When we do go out on the field and work out, we’ll just pay attention to what’s going on and how guys are feeling and what the weather is. But in baseball, there are a lot of places — whether it’s major league baseball or minor league baseball — where it’s 100 degrees outside all the time. You go outside, get your work in, and then you get off the field. You don’t want to leave guys out there all day long to sweat it out before the game.”
Arraez and shine
Luis Arraez found himself on the receiving end of a few difficult plays on Thursday night — just his 32nd game in a big league uniform. On the first play of the game, Arraez was charged with an error when he knocked down a Marcus Semien line drive but threw wildly to second base, allowing the Oakland shortstop to reach second safely.
And while Semien was stranded at second base by starter Kyle Gibson, Arraez wasn’t so lucky in the sixth inning. With the game tied 1-1, Ramon Laureano hit a slicing liner that the second baseman was unable to corral. Four pitches later, Jurickson Profar deposited a Gibson pitch in the right field seats for a two-run homer to give the A’s their first lead of the night.
It wasn’t just on the defensive side where Arraez made a potential miscue. After the first two batters reached — Arraez on a walk and Sano on a single — in the fifth inning, Jake Cave squared around to bunt.
Cave didn’t make contact, and catcher Josh Phegley whiffed on the ball. Arraez promptly tried to advance to third, but was caught in no-man’s land after the ball ricocheted off home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman and back to the catcher. Arraez was out, and the Twins ended up squandering a prime scoring chance.
But instead of letting it affect how he played the rest of the night, Arraez wasted little time when he came to the plate in the seventh inning, drilling the fourth pitch he saw from Oakland starter Mike Fiers into center for a single. Miguel Sano followed with a walk, and both were driven home on Eddie Rosario’s first-pitch, pinch-hit homer off reliever Yusmeiro Petit.
The ability to flush mistakes like that shows maturity on the part of the 22-year-old Arraez, Baldelli said.
“His maturity level and his confidence in himself and his game is really impressive,” Baldelli said. “Nothing he did out there is truthfully his fault.”
Baldelli said the line drive in the sixth wasn’t the fault of Arraez — “if he could have caught it, he would have” — but his explanation for the pickoff was actually quite interesting.
“If I’m seeing it properly, I know it happened quickly — once the catcher misses the ball, the runners generally advance,” Baldelli said. “For him to try to advance, then realize it hit the umpire, and then the ball is banging back and forth between the umpire and catcher, and he makes an out at second base — that’s not Luis’ fault. That’s something that happens during the game that shouldn’t have happened, but you generally react once the catcher misses the ball that it’s going to go to the backstop more than 99 out of 100 times. And that’s just the time that it didn’t.
“The fact that Luis also realizes and that we don’t make him feel like he didn’t do anything wrong — because he didn’t — allows him to just go out there and do his job. His ability to do that is impressive.”
Baldelli offered injury updates on Byron Buxton and Jonathan Schoop as part of his daily media availability. Buxton is on the seven-day concussion injured list and has been shelved since leaving the July 13 game early after slamming his head on the ground making a diving catch.
Schoop, meanwhile, is dealing with an abdominal strain from his abbreviated plate appearance against Edwin Diaz on Monday night. Schoop tweaked the muscle on an 0-1 swing and had to come out of the game, and hasn’t played since.
Schoop remains day-to-day, though Baldelli said things were progressing to the point where if an IL decision was going to be made, it would have been around this time.
Thankfully for Schoop, it doesn’t appear to be heading down that road.
“Schoopy’s going to be out there on the field,” Baldelli said about the second baseman taking part in pregame activities on the field. “He’s going to take part. I think he’s swinging. I think he’s going to take some ground balls. He’s going to do a lot of baseball activity today. We’ll have a pretty good idea today about how everything’s going.
“Truthfully, if we thought he was going to go on the IL, we’d probably be close to making that decision right now. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I should probably wait until after today to really give an answer on that.”
Buxton, meanwhile, appeared to be having a day of rest and downtime as he continues to recover from his concussion.
“Today is basically like a day where he’s probably not going to do anything different than he’s been doing,” Baldelli said. “Truthfully, it might even be a day more of recovery than anything else. He went through a lot of the testing yesterday, (and it) went well. We still have a few more days to use to our benefit to allow him to get where he needs to be. I think he’s going to take part in some baseball activity this weekend and we’re going to start there.”
Baldelli conceded he wasn’t sure what, if any, role the heat might play in Buxton’s path to recovery.
Baldelli was quizzed a bit on a pair of his relievers, and how/when they might be used in the near future.
Rogers has recorded more than three outs in three of his five July appearances and in 13 of his 36 this season, but when asked if he might push it to as many as three innings, for instance, Baldelli suggested that he wasn’t really prepared for that level of commitment.
“I don’t think we’re at that point yet,” Baldelli said. “I don’t know if we’re going to get to that point. I think Rog has done, obviously, a fantastic job. I think he’s an elite reliever. I think he’s capable of anything. But also, we have to recognize what is most functional for him, for our group. There are limitations to what I think you would want to throw at somebody and ask them to do. I don’t think we’re prepared to ask them to do anything like that right now.
“But with a guy with that kind of ability,” Baldelli interjected, “he makes you want to ask different questions because he’s that good.”
Baldelli also made a good point as it related to situations like Thursday night. If Rogers comes into a tight game in the eighth and preserves the lead, and the offense scores runs in the bottom half, does it really make sense to go to another reliever when the lefty is already “hot” — a baseball term for any time a pitcher is in the game or is fully prepared in the bullpen — and just needs to get three more outs to end the game?
“You also know that with Rog being a pretty dominant bullpen guy, you don’t have the option of ever going back to him in the game if the circumstances change,” Baldelli said. “So you’d better feel confident if you’re going to have him in a game and then take him out of the game, I think. We have fully capable guys that can go in there and pitch the ninth inning and finish the game for us, but also knowing that Rog can recover and can go out there the day after going two innings — we’re not going to do it every time. But he’s capable of doing it.”
In other words, Baldelli is suggesting that if Rogers comes out of the game, and whoever replaces him gives up a run or two, the Twins don’t have the luxury of going back to Rogers to protect the new lead.
It’s an interesting thought.
May, on the other hand, is still going to be called on to get some big outs for the Twins despite his recent rough patch, the manager said.
“He has stuff that plays,” Baldelli said. “When he’s making the pitches that he’s aiming to make, he gets very positive results. He gets swings and misses. He gets uncomfortable swings, at that, from hitters. They’re good signs. The velocity is obviously very good.
“As time has gone on, he’s grown into dropping that breaking ball in there, at times, earlier in the count. He’s done a lot of really positive things. He’s made some really good adjustments. Again, we’re going to rely on him to get big outs for us. We could talk about the last week, but I’d prefer not to anymore, because, really, if he executes the pitch the way he wants to and the way he can, I think we’re in good shape. And truthfully, he has other weapons in those situations that could have played really well as well.”
Ultimately, Baldelli said, it’ll come down to fastball command and pitching off that. It makes plenty of sense, as May has gone from issuing 1.8 walks per nine innings last season to more than double that number (4.3) this season.
“I think his ability to locate the ball where he wants to locate the ball is important,” Baldelli said. “I think it plays up in certain spots in the zone. He’s able to find those spots. And then playing those other pitches — the curveball, and actually, he’s got four pitches. So playing those other pitches off of what he’s doing, I think, is important. I think everything kind of plays off of his fastball and commanding his fastball.”
- Per Twins PR chief Dustin Morse, the Twins came into Friday night’s game 11-2 in their home red jerseys this season.
- According to Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the first-pitch temperature of 94 degrees was tied for the second-hottest in Target Field history. The Twins beat the Baltimore Orioles in 97 degree weather on July 16, 2012 and beat the Cleveland Indians 2-1 in 94 degree weather on July 19, 2011.
- Twins right-handed pitching prospect Jesus Medina was suspended 72 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drug Stanozolol. The drug is the same one former Twins pitcher Ervin Santana was suspended for testing positive for prior to the 2015 season. The 17-year-old Medina was having a tough time in the Dominican Summer League, as he’d posted a 7.13 ERA in 17.2 innings with 14 earned runs, 24 strikeouts and 11 walks.