NOTEBOOK: Prince Night, Joe Mauer Weekend, Bullpen Switch and More

Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins face a unique challenge as they welcome the Kansas City Royals to Target Field for a three-game set starting with Prince Night and culminating with Joe Mauer‘s jersey retirement ceremony.

The Royals aren’t a particularly adept offensive team, but they can really run when they get on base. Adalberto Mondesi leads the American League with 26 stolen bases, and the Royals lead MLB with 68 steals.

Reframed, Mondesi has more stolen bases than the Twins have as a team (18).

But manager Rocco Baldelli said the Twins won’t let Kansas City’s team speed change too much about how they conduct their business.

At least not defensively.

“Not really,” Baldelli said when asked about if the Twins will switch up their shifting to address the Royals’ team speed. ‘But you have runners that if you look down, you don’t know when you look up where they’ll be. That’s kind of the brand of baseball they play. They’re going to make things happen. We just have to be prepared to make things happen too — in our own way. But we have to be prepared for them.”

With that said, that doesn’t mean the Twins don’t have to be aware and ready for whatever the Royals throw at them.

“You definitely have to go in with the mindset that you’re not sure what you’re going to see. You have to be prepared for pretty much everything,” Baldelli said. “There aren’t a ton of teams that play this brand of baseball. So it’s certainly something different. Anytime in this league when you see something different, it forces you to work. It forces you to think. It forces you to prepare a little bit of a different way.

“We’re going to go out there and try to do what we’ve been doing. We’re going to try to go out there and pitch well, make the plays. The very basic stuff we talk about every day. That’s how we approach this series, too. But if you aren’t on your toes and aware of what they can do, I’m sure they can catch you by surprise and they can make some things happen.

Joe Mauer Weekend/Prince Night

The Twins are honoring Prince with a theme night, with players wearing Prince-themed t-shirts with their names on the back and the crooner’s ubiquitous symbol synonymous with his identity during batting practice, while autographing a second shirt to give away to fans.

Then on Saturday, the Twins will retire Mauer’s No. 7 in a ceremony about a half-hour prior to scheduled first pitch on Saturday. A lot of players are rolling in for Mauer’s big weekend.

In all, it should make for a fun weekend.

“It’s gonna be a great weekend,” Baldelli said. “I know there are a lot of people that have been waiting for this weekend. Just the chance to see Joe and to celebrate and all of that. I think it is going to be special. I also think that you don’t really see these things very often. We’re in the game where we spent a lot of days here, many years for a lot of people. You think about the number of times where you see someone’s number get retired. You kinda feel honored just to be there and witness it.”

Baldelli’s career overlapped with Mauer’s from 2004-10, and he got a chance to see plenty of Joe while he played both for Tampa Bay early in his career and Boston toward the end.

“It was pretty obvious early on when Joe came in the league that he was a pretty unique guy with unique talents both on the field and had that personality that you knew he was just a terrific person, first and foremost,” Baldelli said. You see the way he interacts with his teammates, you watch the way that people look up to him. Not being here in Minnesota at the time, you also know he’s from the area and he grew up here and is the son of Minnesota. People love him and rightfully so.

“He’s earned everything he’s ever done, and he’s done everything the right way. It’s great to be int he same organization as him. We don’t get to see him a ton because he is enjoying his family and he is home and he’s doing his thing but every chance we do get to see him is very nice and very special.”

Bullpen Blitz

The Twins made a roster move prior to Friday’s game, sending out embattled reliever Fernando Romero and bringing up Zack Littell. Romero pitched on Thursday with the Twins up big, but failed to record an out on any of the four batters he faced with just six of his 16 pitches going for strikes.

“It’s an interesting conversation because it’s not easy,” Baldelli said about his message to Romero when they notified him of his demotion. “Any time a guy has an outing like that, it’s something where you know he’s disappointed in the outing, of course. Hopping on that, talking about, I don’t think accomplishes anything. I truthfully believe, the guy we saw out there is not the real Fernando Romero that we know is in there. He’s thrown the ball well. He was in Triple-A throwing the ball well. He was throwing strikes. He’s got tremendous stuff. He has swing-and-miss stuff. Pitching out of a major league bullpen, he has swing-and-miss stuff. We’ve all seen it. I don’t think we’ve seen it lately at the big league level, but he flashes it at the Triple-A level.

“I think it just comes down to being consistent. He is what he is. He’s got ability and when he’s able to show it more often than not, he’s going to be able to come up here and really help us.”

May 10, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins pitcher Fernando Romero (77) celebrates with catcher Mitch Garver (18) after defeating the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Littell, meanwhile, returns after a very strong stint working exclusively in relief for the Red Wings at Triple-A. In four appearances since the Twins sent him back, Littell had a 2.35 ERA in 7.2 innings (two earned runs) with a stellar 13-1 K/BB ratio. Opposing batters hit just .115/.148/.423 against Littell, with two of the three hits he allowed leaving the ballpark.

Still, it was a workman-like effort that got him back to the big leagues as the arms churn continued. Just one day earlier, Ryan Eades was shipped out to get Romero back up.

“Just in general terms, the goal was to shorten him up, (in terms of) duration of outing,” Baldelli said of Littell’s recent Rochester stint. “Get him out there for one or two, or 2 and 1/3 or something more along those lines as opposed to just starting him and letting him go. Really, shortening up kind of his repertoire, as well.

“He’s a guy that can do some different things, but I think he’s probably at his best when you’re seeing the good fastball in shorter stints, and a good, hard breaking ball and probably relying more on that than anything else. Not that that’s all he’s going to use when he goes out there. But when you’re seeing the best version of him, it’s probably a shortened up version with the stuff picking up.”

The hope is that Littell can be a more permanent fixture in a topsy-turvy bullpen which comes into Friday’s action with a 6.81 ERA in June — fourth-worst in MLB.

What does he need to do to make that happen?

“I think it’s more exactly what we’re talking about — when his stuff ticks up,” Baldelli said of Littell. “When he moves into those shorter stints. When he’s throwing an inning or two and you see the guy, when he’s 93, 94 mph with a good, hard slider, that looks pretty good. That looks good and that can go out there and get some swings and misses, and attack guys late in the game. Just getting more comfortable in that role. Sometimes it’s just getting comfortable when you haven’t done that before in the role.”

Injury Updates

Taylor Rogers is a full-go for Friday night’s game and moving forward, Baldelli said. He was dealing with a back issue earlier in the week, but warmed up and was potentially going into the game on Thursday before the Twins blew it open.

Baldelli also said that Adalberto Mejia has been champing at the bit to get into more action in his rehab stint with High-A Fort Myers. Mejia pitched one inning for the Miracle on Monday, fanning two batters, but hasn’t seen action since.

“He’s going OK,” Baldelli said. “He’s dealing with some weather. It’s not always easy trying to get on the mound when you’re in Florida or you start traveling around to some of these cities where they catch a lot of rain.

Apr 27, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Adalberto Mejia (49) throws a pitch in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

“He’s healthy as can be, he’s feeling good, his arm feels good. I think he’s ready to start getting in some sort of consistent routine and start throwing in some games. I think he’s pretty eager to do that. From getting a chance to see him in Tampa, I know Wes and Hef have talked to him a little bit. He’s ready to go.”

The Miracle were rained out on Thursday and off Friday before the Florida State League All-Star Game on Saturday. Fort Myers is back in action on Monday against Charlotte at Hammond Stadium.

Notes and Quotes 
  • Jorge Polanco‘s 14-game hitting streak is the longest active streak in MLB. He’s reached base in a career-high 27 straight games.
  • The Twins lead MLB with 404 runs scored, well ahead of No. 2 Texas (386).
  • With 5 and 2/3 innings on Friday night, Kyle Gibson would reach 1,000 for his career.
  • Baldelli on the value utility man Ehire Adrianza provides: “In that clubhouse, he’s a big piece. And, truthfully, he’s done a phenomenal job lately. He was doing a phenomenal job early on. He would hit balls hard and not get anything. Guys play well and you don’t always get the results you feel you have earned. The hard-hit balls don’t always equate to hits. I think he’s had a great year offensively. And the fact that we can put basically anywhere on the field. He goes out there. He prepares very well at all these different spots. He does a lot of different things to help you. And that’s not even talking about his awareness and feel as a baseball player. He’s a pretty special player.”
  • Baldelli on the Rochester bullpen shuttle the past few days: “Yeah, it is part of the game. It is part of the way that rosters are kind of handled these days. Is it always easy? No, it’s not easy on the players especially. It’s not easy on the organization. It’s definitely not easy on the players. But it’s something that sometimes you do have to do because you have to protect everybody involved. You have to protect all of your pitchers and make sure that you’re treating them right and not overusing them in any way and that’s one way to do it and so you do it. I consider it kind of a necessary evil in some ways.”
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