Posted by: gravessack | June 13, 2018

Twins Snag Belisle Back

Apparently, not satisfied by how the bullpen has been pitching, the front office is keeping an eye on who may become available. Currently, the relief core is doing a fine job, adding to a 4.08 ERA to date. That is not going to cut it, though, if they are aiming to get in the play-offs for the second consecutive year. General Manager Thad Levine knows that too, and he showed that by signing another reliever in Matt Belisle.

After disappointing the Indians brass this year, the club outright released Belisle June 11. Seeing that Belisle was a free man, Minnesota quickly snatched him up the next day at a cost of $800,000 for the rest of this season. Belisle comes back to Minnesota where he had a decent year in 2017. Cleveland was hoping that he would perform better this year, but that was not the case, as the 38-year-old currently has an ERA of 5.06 with just 4 strike outs in 10.2 innings of work.

The Twins are counting on Belisle to become the pitcher he was last season. In 62 appearances, the Austin native pitched to a 4.03 ERA, which resulted in 54 strikeouts. He was also the substitute closer in which he totaled 9 saves. Belisle was not dominant, but could get the job done when he was called upon.

Belisle came up with the Cincinnati Reds in 2003, pitching 8.2 innings en route to a 1-1 record. Due to failures, he did not pitch in the majors the next year. However, in 2007, he rebounded and got to be the starter for thirty games with the Reds. Ever since then, the righty has been a reliever.

After going to the bullpen full-time, Belisle’s best year was in 2011 with Colorado. The pitcher went 10-4, had a 3.35 ERA, and struck out 58. Pitching for 15 years on 6 teams, he will bring in his career record of 51-57 and 690 knock outs to the Twins relief department.

Belisle is the first player to be brought in mid-season on a major league contract. This is saying two things: that the Twins bosses are not impressed with the pitching they have and they want the relievers to perform better. The Twins know that they must keep winning to have hope, and Levine and CBO Derek Falvey won’t be stagnant if they see something that needs improving. I just do not know how much Belisle has left in the tank; let us hope they do!

Nevertheless, Belisle is excited to have another MLB stint. “I’m honored and very grateful to be back with the Twins,” mentioned Belisle in a recent Star Tribune video.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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Posted by: gravessack | June 11, 2018

Bringing In Reinforcements

It is two-and-a-half months into the season, and the Twins are barely afloat. Thanks to a weak AL Central, they are still in the race. But, recent happenings have the organization nervous and looking for answers quickly. Cleveland’s slumber has ended as they are racking up wins and the Twins have injuries galore. The Twins front office knows that the offense needs to wake up to support the solid pitching. In the last several weeks, General Manager Thad Levine has bolstered the roster depth.

To kick things off, on May 4, the Twins signed left-handed pitcher Paco Rodriguez to a minor-league deal. Rodriguez debuted in 2012 with the Dodgers, throwing in 11 games. The 27-year-old appeared in 76 games a year after, pitching to a 3-4 mark and striking out 76. 2014 and 2015 were rough for him, as he pitched just 24.1 innings between the two years. Rodriguez missed all of 2016 because of a bone spur. Since the signing, he has a 3.68 ERA in 14.2 innings with two teams.

The Twins then swung a trade May 23 to get Chris Carter from the Angels, and immediately sent him to Triple-A Rochester. The eight-year veteran, who can play either first base or outfield, has some pop in his bat. After a rough three years in Oakland, Carter hit 37 home runs with the Astros in 2014. Two years later with Milwaukee, he slugged 41 home runs. Carter had just an average year in New York last season. On the negative side, Carter is very prone to strikeouts, as he has 951 in his career. The 31-year-old is hoping for a rejuvenation and to show what he can do with the Twins.

Four days later, the club sent depleting pitcher Phil Hughes to San Diego in exchange for catcher Janigson Villalobos. Hughes’ Twins tenure dwindled fast as he was struggling, and therefore, was put in the pen. Running into little opportunities to use him, they designated him for assignment and ultimately traded him. In Villalobos, the Twins get a catcher if they need one. He had 44 hits in two years in the Padres minor league system. Villalobos seems to be sidelined now, and is currently playing for the Gulf Coast League Twins.

The next day, on May 27, the Twins claimed shortstop Taylor Motter from Seattle. A three-year veteran in the league, Motter came up with Tampa Bay in 2016. During his first year in the majors, he batted just .188 in 93 plate appearances. He was traded to Seattle after one year. Motter’s 2017 debut season with the Mariners was a little more productive. In 92 games, Motter hit .198 and delivered 51 hits. Motter has not been in the majors much this season, playing in just seven games. The 28-year-old has played in eight games in Rochester since being traded to the Twins.

Their final addition, which will help bolster the catching department, came on June 8. The Twins signed catcher Cameron Rupp to a minor league deal.  Rupp debuted in 2013, appearing in 4 games. Having spent his entire career in Philadelphia, he has seen limited playing time. In his first three years in the NL, the 29-year-old played in 103 games. However, in 2016, Rupp’s 105 games produced a .252 average and 98 hits. Last season, he got into 88 games, hitting 14 home runs. Rupp will try to get back to the majors by improving his stroke at Triple-A.

These five players are hoping to contribute to their new club this year. Personally, I really want to see what Carter can do as he has the best potential out of the bunch. He can bring more power to the lineup. Meanwhile, Rupp will be a great asset that will probably be brought up sooner rather then later, especially if Mitch Garver and Bobby Wilson falter.

The Twins sit in third place at 28-34 in a very winnable division – it is time for them to get going!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | June 3, 2018

Remember To Shovel Sidewalks/Curb Cuts!

An unshoveled curb cutMost days when I go to work, I take the city bus. This time of year, when there is no snow on the ground, I usually have no problem getting to and from the bus stops. When there is snow on the ground (a common problem in Minnesota!), though, snow presents a big challenge for wheelchairs, whether it is getting to and from the bus stop or getting on and off the bus.

One of the main problems for me and probably others is that there can be so much snow on the curb cut by the bus stop that I sometimes end up having to drive with my PCA to work, just because I can’t get up on to the sidewalk.

This can be a major problem not just for me, but for all people who use wheelchairs. I understand this could still be a problem even if sidewalks and curb cuts are shoveled, but shoveling is an important first step.

Here is an article from the Minnesota Council on Disability about the importance of shoveling sidewalks/curb cuts. Doing so will benefit everyone, not just those with disabilities, by making it safer to walk in the snow. Please share your opinion in the poll below on whether unshoveled sidewalks/curb cuts make it hard for you to get around during the winter. If you think of a possible solution, such as stricter enforcement of shoveling laws, please share that in the comments below. Even though shoveling sidewalks/curb cuts may mean a little more work in the short term, it will save a lot of time and energy in the long run!

 

Written by: Sam Graves

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Posted by: gravessack | May 25, 2018

Romero To The Rescue

Minnesota Twins pitcher Fernando RomeroFor years now, up in the front office, Twins officials have been boasting about their pitching depth in the minor leagues. As seasons went by, those coveted pitchers stayed put as they needed more experience, making fans impatient. Theoretically, that makes sense, however there is so much they can prove before being summoned to the majors.

The club’s starting pitching this year has been fine, if you discard Lance Lynn’s very poor starts and Phil Hughes’ disappointing performances that has led to his ouster. Needless to say, the rotation was definitely in need of a boost and the Twins just happened to have the key waiting in Rochester.

When Manager Paul Molitor decided to move Hughes to the bullpen on April 30, the Twins called up starter Fernando Romero, their #2 overall prospect. After six years moving through the system, Romero made his major league debut May 2, showing patrons why he is considered one of the best pitchers. In 5.2 shutout innings, Romero gave up no runs and struck out 5. He was even better May 7, when he pitched brilliantly, surrendering zero runs yet again in six innings. Romero got awarded wins in each game.

After giving up no runs in his first 15 2/3 innings, Romero finally gave one up in the May 13 match-up against the Angels. Despite having a smooth six strikeout outing, the Twins could not give him a third victory in a row. In Romero’s last outing May 19, he struggled, as the Dominican gave up four runs and a homer in five innings of work. In spite of Romero pitching like a rookie in his recent game, he has shown us his ability to get out of tense situations.

The Twins signed Romero as an international free agent in 2011. In the last three years, the 23-year-old rapidly moved from Single-A to Triple-A. Displaying an upper 90’s fastball and a wicked change-up, Romero had it easy with batters. Pitching for two teams in 2016, he had a record of 9-3 and whiffed 90 batters, which resulted in a 1.89 ERA. The rising star improved in 2017, striking out 120 batters at Double-A Chattanooga.

Romero proved that he can pitch, and the Twins had to oblige given their need. The five-man rotation is now looking promising with Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi in the loop. Ervin Santana, who has started a rehabilitation stint, is on deck to join the group. Slowly but surely, the Twins are creating a formidable gang of front men, and with the addition of Romero, they are one step closer!

Romero looks like a man on a mission. Going forth, though, does he have the ability to be the Twins first true ace in a long while? We shall see!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | May 13, 2018

Speechless Season 3 Is A Go

ABC's Speechless logo

Photo: ABC.com

There will be a third season of ABC’s sitcom Speechless! The Season 3 premiere date has not been announced, but there will be 22 episodes.

Season 2 ended with the DiMeos being evicted from their home. It will be very interesting to see where they move to and if J.J. is still living with them, since it seemed like he wanted more independence. Also, J.J. could not graduate high school in Season 2 because of his grades, I think, so it will be interesting to see if and where he goes to college after another year of high school.

I think it would be cool to see J.J. not live with his parents and for him to go to college to see how he handles that. Kenneth, J.J.’s aide, and Ray, J.J.’s brother, are my favorite characters, so I would like to see them a lot again next season (which seems very likely considering they’re both major characters). We’ll just have to wait and see what happens! Check back here for more details, including the premiere date, as they become available!

What are your hopes for Season 3?

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | May 6, 2018

Ohtani’s Shining Out West

Shohei Ohtani batting for the Los Angeles AngelsA foreigner is making an impact on a major league team, which is not surprising everyone. What could be shocking to some is how fast he has contributed to his club.

When Hokkaido Nippon-Ham, a team in Japan’s Pacific League, granted pitcher/DH Shohei Ohtani permission to negotiate with Major League Baseball clubs, multiple teams were interested. Each interested organization submitted a presentation to entice the Japanese phenom.

Since Ohtani is good at both pitching and hitting, American League teams were front-runners. In addition to Seattle, Texas and the Los Angeles Angels were on his tail. Because of his uniqueness, Ohtani wanted to join a team that was willing to let him pitch and bat. After a thorough process, Ohtani made the much-anticipated decision on December 8 to play for the Angels. The deal calls for him to make $545,000 or less for the next three years.

The Angels and Ohtani cranked out a program in which he can be the DH when he is not on the mound. That plan was trialed during spring training. His pitching performance was shaky at best, and Ohtani’s hitting was not all that wonderful either, as he just hit .125 in 32 at-bats. Despite poor numbers on both fronts, he made the 25-man roster to start the year.

Apparently, spring training did not bug the rookie as he has been great so far in the regular season. Ohtani made his pitching debut April 1, going six innings, striking out six, en route to his first win. His second outing was better, when he fanned 12 batters over 7 innings to get the April 8 victory. Ohtani’s next two starts weren’t as impressive. So this year pitching wise, Ohtani has an ERA of 4.43. I am sure that he is still hoping to improve his splitter, slider, and a fastball that can regularly approach 100 miles per hour.

When not on the mound, Ohtani is producing in the batter’s box. In his second game playing offense April 3, Ohtani clobbered his first home run off Cleveland’s starter Josh Tomlin, helping the Angels win. That game and the next two went really well for him at the plate. Ohtani notched 6 hits and 3 home runs, and drove in 7 runs. His productivity has been consistent, as he has reached base in most games. In Ohtani’s 59 at-bats this year, he has 20 hits, 4 home runs, and 14 RBIs, which have added up to a .339 average.

An April 27 play resulted in Ohtani suffering a left ankle sprain that has hampered him, albeit it is not serious. In fact, the Oshu native returned and pitched into the seventh inning on Sunday before being taken out, 12 days after his last outing. Ohtani wants to prove to the experts, who are saying that he should pick just one position, that he can in fact be solid at pitching and hitting. The Angels are certainly hoping that he can keep improving after he is healed and help them in the tight AL West.

It is bittersweet that Ohtani is gaining attention now. Ichiro Suzuki, who has spent 18 years in MLB, is on the brink of retirement as he moved to a front office role May 3 for the remainder of the season. Suzuki is 44 years old and has been the longest tenured Japanese player that has had good numbers in MLB. If it is indeed the end of Suzuki’s career, Ohtani will be determined to give fans back in Japan something to cheer for and someone to look up to for years to come!

Next time you are able to watch an Angels game or when they make the trek to Target Field, be sure to look for Ohtani. We may be witnessing the beginning of a great career!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | April 30, 2018

The Day Baseball Took A Back Seat

Danny Farquhar pitching for the Chicago White Sox, and two White Sox players paying tribute to Farquhar after his brain aneurysmThey might not be noticeable to the thousands of fans who flock to ballparks, but emergency medical personnel are at each game. Those professionals are there to assist fans if they have a medical issue. Hoping to never be used, they typically just watch the action take place on the field. Nevertheless, when they are needed, the EMTs are ready to jump into action. That is exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago in a frantic life-threatening situation.

During the April 20 Chicago-Houston game, White Sox reliever Danny Farquhar came in to pitch the sixth inning. He gave up 2 runs on a home run and was struggling. Manager Rick Renteria made the decision to take him out for another pitcher. That is when the situation got dire. Once Farquhar reached the dugout, he collapsed. Medical staff rushed to his side and was able to assist him to the clubhouse. Staff determined that he was conscious. In spite of that observation, Farquhar was hurried to Rush University Medical Center, an approximate 4 mile drive from Guaranteed Rate Field.

Upon arrival, the 31-year-old immediately went through testing that resulted in a grim prognosis of a brain aneurysm, which is a bulge in a blood vessel. Farquhar was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit in stable but critical condition. The reliever received a surgery to repair a rupture in the brain. Afterwards, White Sox officials said that Farquhar was progressing well. He could talk and give answers to people, and move his arms and legs. For a time, it was reported that he was in a severe health state, but that has subsided, thankfully.

Once news broke about Farquhar, teams started enacting tributes. The White Sox hung his jersey in their dugout and bullpen. The Mariners did the same, displaying his old #40 jersey above their bench. Meanwhile, Twins starter Jake Odorizzi, who pitched with the father of two young children for two seasons, wrote “FARQ” on his cap bill. First baseman and DH Logan Morrison, who also was teammates with the pitcher, could not sleep the night that he heard the news. In a Pioneer Press article about what happened to Farquhar, Morrison said that “you just want to know how he’s going to be. Is he going to be all right?”

Farquhar is a seven-year veteran who has pitched on four teams. Debuting in 2011 with the Toronto Blue Jays, he went 0-1 and recorded an ERA of 13.50 in 3 games. The Florida native went on to pitch for Seattle and Tampa Bay. Farquhar hitched on with the White Sox in mid-2017 after the Rays released him days earlier. So far this season, Farquhar had pitched in eight games, going 1-1 while striking out 9, resulting in a 5.63 ERA. He has been just an average pitcher throughout his career. Due to poor performances, he spent all of 2012 in the minors.

Back up in the White Sox front offices, the team placed Farquhar on the 60-day disabled list April 23. That is really a technicality that must be done as they are far more concerned about his health. In reality, Chicago knows that it will take him much longer to recover once he is discharged from the hospital in the coming weeks. We must commend and thank the medical professionals for acting quickly and giving Farquhar the immediate care that he required. Their speedy response might have saved his life.

“Two Men On” would sincerely like to wish the right-hander a swift recovery! To see where to send get-well messages to him, please check out this White Sox twitter update on Farquhar.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | April 25, 2018

The Unexpected Bench Contributer

Ryan LaMarre preparing to catch fly ball for the Minnesota TwinsTypically, once late March rolls around and the sun descends on spring training, minor league invitees are searching for their next job opportunity. Every once in a while, an unfortunate situation occurs that puts clubs in a pickle, which can be gold to a lucky wannabe. That was the case a month ago when outfielder Zach Granite suffered a bruised shoulder and his track got derailed. Having witnessed Ryan LaMarre’s stellar spring in which he batted .475, the Twins had no choice to reward him.

LaMarre’s Twins journey started November 30 when he signed on with the Twins for an unknown dollar amount. The pact was not major league guaranteed, so he had to prove to the club that he was ready. Given how his career had gone, the prospect of him making the Twins’ opening day roster looked bleak. LaMarre appeared in the big leagues for the first time with the Reds in 2015, where in 25 at-bats, he had an abysmal average of .080. After Cincinnati granted him free agency, the 29-year-old hooked up with Boston and Oakland the next two seasons. LaMarre’s production was non-existent. In those two years, he recorded no hits, striking out 5 times in eight games. The Athletics released him last June.

LaMarre was hoping to get another opportunity when the Twins picked him. After he performed out of his mind in 24 spring games, he did not take his promotion for granted. Coming off the bench can be hard for players because their timing gets funky as they bat less frequent. That has not been a problem for LaMarre, as he has performed solidly. While LaMarre has struggled against Tampa Bay and New York, he still has a .421 average, thanks to 8 singles in 21 plate appearances.

An April 13 demotion did not bug him, as LaMarre was brought right back up three days later for the Twins’ Puerto Rico trip. That set the stage for his best moment in his young career during the April 18 game. With the score even at one in the bottom of the 16th inning, LaMarre singled up the middle that brought in Eddie Rosario for the game winning run. Players were ecstatic for LaMarre; however, maybe too much.

The Twins went onto face the Rays and lost every game, and laid an egg in the first two at Yankee Stadium. Things have transpired so badly that LaMarre, with Monday’s game out of reach, pitched in the bottom of the eighth. It didn’t go well as he gave up a two-run bomb to Tyler Austin en route to a 14-1 thumping. Let us hope that the Twins do not need to pitch him often.

Fans should be cautious in making a proclamation that LaMarre can be as productive as he has been. For now, LaMarre seems like a legit backup outfielder and a decent hitter. The Twins should feel confident with his at-bats. Hopefully, the Michigander gets more playing time to see if this is really his breakout year, or if this hot streak is only an illusion.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | April 15, 2018

Snow Whomps Target Field In Weekend Showdown

Snow covered streets and cars as an April blizzard barreled by.

There was a competition over at Target Field over the last few days. The duel was not between any teams, but instead, mother nature came to play. In a month where baseball games have been put on hold by the weather, Minneapolis and its nine-year-old stadium were crushed by a wicked April storm.

After the Twins beat the White Sox in game 1 of the series on April 12, the Twins held out hope that they could play some this weekend. The weather forecasters gave a grim prognosis: Winter Storm Xanto, which was predicted to bring around 15 inches of snow to the Twin Cities, would be barreling in from the west starting Friday. Sure enough, sleet started falling in the afternoon, which turned into snow late in the evening. The Twins cancelled that day’s game around 3 pm.

Snow continued to roar down all night. As inches piled up, there was a game to be played at 1 pm Saturday, April 14. The storm was turning ugly, and it gave the club no choice but to postpone a second straight game. Around lunchtime, the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Hennepin County, the first since 2005. Target Field’s state-of-the-art underground heating system was struggling to keep up. It was not melting the snow fast enough. Shovelers were also having tough time. In the end, the inner workings of the complex gave up, prompting the Twins to cancel Sunday’s match-up later that afternoon.

Over on Twitter, people were wondering if the Twins ever thought of installing a retractable roof on Target Field after it was constructed. LaVelle E. Neal, a Star Tribune columnist, put that to rest sarcastically, by saying “there’s no staging area for materials or equipment to build the thing. Unless you borrow technology from Captain America: Winter Soldier, and build a hovering construction platform to build it, then drop it on top of Target.” It should be mentioned that the Twins vetoed the idea of a movable roof because it would cost substantially more to build the stadium.

Also, on social media, there was a picture of Fernando Rodney having fun in the snow. Twins fans and players sure have creativity while witnessing a Target Field first, postponing three consecutive games!

No make-up dates have been announced yet. Meanwhile, as Twin City residents dig out, the Twins get to escape the state, and the country, as they are set to take on Cleveland Tuesday and Wednesday at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. With the temperature expected to hover around 85 degrees both days, Joe Mauer, a Minnesota native, will take a break from showing his new teammates how to cope in conditions not designed for baseball.

As I end this piece, snow continues to glisten down west of the Mississippi.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | April 13, 2018

Mauer Reaches Big Milestone

Joe Mauer batting for the Minnesota TwinsIn the Twins-White Sox game on April 12, bundled up fans witnessed history as fan favorite Joe Mauer collected his 2,000th major league hit!

Mauer, a St. Paul native, started high school at Cretin-Derham Hall in 1997. He made a huge impact while playing baseball, as he struck out just once in four years. That superb performance caused his hometown team to scout him. Ultimately, with the first pick of the 2001 MLB draft, the Twins picked Mauer.

April 5, 2004. That was the date when Mauer singled up the middle off Cleveland’s Rafael Betancourt to claim his first hit in the major leagues. He went 2-for-3 that day. Ever since then, the Florida resident has been hitting very well. Over the next decade, Mauer went on to win 5 Silver Sluggers, 3 Gold Gloves, 3 batting titles, and made 6 All-Star Game appearances.

However, in 2014, the Twins permanently moved Mauer from catcher to first base due to concussion and other health concerns. It looked like Mauer’s production was dwindling, but he rebounded to have a couple solid seasons, making this big occasion come to fruition.

Having singled already in that brisk game at Target Field, Mauer came to bat against White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer in the 7th inning with two men on. The count was 2-2, but that did not phase Mauer. Bummer tried to slither a fastball by him, but Mauer smoked the ball into center field with the infield in for a two-run single and the milestone hit. The hit also added key insurance runs. Once at first, the attendees gave him a standing ovation, and Mauer’s teammates applauded him. After the inning, Mauer reluctantly stood by first base as the patrons continued to acknowledge what had just transpired.

Mauer’s quest at achieving the celebrated feat took just a little more than 14 years. He ignored the complainers who said that he should be playing when he was experiencing nagging injuries. There were plenty of fans who thought Mauer was lackadaisical after signing the massive eight year, $184 million contract before the 2010 campaign. Knowing what he could accomplish, he proved his skeptics wrong. In his journey, Mauer also has doubled 405 times, tripled 19 times, and has hit 137 home runs, en route to an overall batting average of .309.

Our hometown hero now joins a list of 284 other major leaguers who have achieved the feat. Among Twins’ history two other players, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett, had more than 2,000 hits as members of the Twins.

Mauer’s 2,000th hit came in the year in which his contract is expiring. Over the years, he has appeared in commercials, been an amazing advocate for Gillette Specialty Healthcare, and took part in numerous community functions. The Twins should be smart about Mauer’s next contract, but they absolutely need to re-sign him. Mauer deserves to spend the rest of his playing days in the Twin Cities.

Little did we know that the boy who was playing around with his brothers, Jake and Billy, on St. Paul’s diamonds in the early 1990s, would become this great. Maybe one day, Mauer will have a statue outside Target Field! In the meantime, we would like to congratulate him on a momentous event that will go in Twins books forever!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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