Friday Camp Notes: Twins Trim Roster, Destroy Rays
Image courtesy of Jerome Miron, USA TODAY* Ervin Santana, who was recently appointed the Opening Day starter, was absolutely unsolvable as he ran through the Rays’ lineup. With eight strikeouts over seven innings (59 strikes on 85 pitches) Santana appeared sharp and ready for the real games to begin.
Keep the ball down and throw strikes was Santana’s blueprint but he mixed in a diving changeup and his biting slider which incited plenty of awkward swings off the Rays’ bats. Santana’s batterymate also noticed that the righty had been amping up the velocity.
“I think he was throwing a bit harder from the get go than I was used to,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said after Santana’s outing. “He was 94, 95 at the beginning so you can tell he’s starting to get to season form.”
* Trevor Plouffe and Kurt Suzuki tortured Rays’ starter Drew Smyly. Plouffe belted a pair of home runs to left while Suzuki had a double before launching his first of two home runs (he would get his second later in the seventh inning).
Suzuki had fouled a pitch off his Achilles heel and spent some time trying to shake it off. Twins trainers emerged from the spacious Charlotte Sports Park dugout to tend to the catcher. Suzuki eventually returned to the batters’ box and promptly jacked the first offering from Smyly into the boardwalk area over the left-center field wall.
“He has a way of beating himself up out there,” Molitor said in reference to Suzuki’s ability to absorb constant punishment from baseballs. Suzuki’s spring has not been necessarily strong but Molitor likes to see all the work Suzuki has been putting in trying to improve on his abysmal 2015 season.
“I’ve been working with Bruno and Rudy in the cages,” Suzuki said after the game. “So it’s nice to see stuff paying off.”
Suzuki says it is a work in progress but the coaches have been keeping his head still (something I pointed out at Twins Daily last month), not drifting to the ball and keeping a firm base in his swing. Suzuki’s success against Smyly and Jhan Martinez built some confidence in the process. Molitor said the team doesn’t expect Suzuki to hit for power but would like to see him continue to have strong at-bats.
“It hasn’t been a really good spring for him but he’s worked hard.”
* Bullpen coach Eddie Guardardo was beaming after the game. Why? “He threw BP to [Plouffe] and Suzuki today so he’s trying to take all the credit,” Molitor explained.
READ: Will Byron Buxton’s Swing Changes Lead To A Breakout Season?
* As expected, the Twins reassigned Max Kepler to the AAA roster. Kepler entered spring with an outside chance of winning a job but it was apparent that he was not going to beat out any of the existing position players for a spot. Still, the Twins were happy with what they saw from the 22-year-old, specifically his defensive chops.
“This is the first camp he’s gotten much activity,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said of his performance. “He played left, he played center, he played first. I felt like he did a decent job defensively.”
Ryan remarked he was impressed with Kepler’s throw from the outfield during Thursday’s game in Jupiter. “That’s probably the biggest part of his game. I don’t think there is any question that he can field, that he can run.”
Kepler is going to play all over the diamond in Rochester -- including time at first base -- but the emphasis will be on getting him time in the outfield.
* Earlier in the week, Kepler discussed his improved approach at the plate. He added the leg kick on his own but also said he has changed the mental side of his game as well. In the past he felt like he became timid when pitchers would get a strike on him. Now, he doesn’t let the strikes dictate his approach.
“I was more of a patient hitter, didn't like striking out a lot. I was more of a slap hitter once I got a strike on me. I didn't let that phase me in '15 and the leg kick kind of pushed that approach and be more aggressive.”
Kepler believes that he is capable of pumping out more home runs when he applies his new approach over a full season.
* Twins also announced they released outright Cedar Rapids native Ryan Sweeney. Initially he had told reporters that he was put through waivers but Ryan clarified. The Twins did not have conversations with him regarding a minor league assignment.
“Some of the other guys who are still in camp emerged,” Ryan said. “It’s not anything he did not do. He came in and had plenty of opportunity. We gave him a lot of exposure, we gave him a chance. We just got some people that are ahead of him.”
Sweeney went 10-for-37 (.270) with six walks (second only to Miguel Sano’s nine) in 16 Grapefruit League games.
READ: Minnesota Twins’ Roster Projection 4.0
* Tyler Duffey has been working diligently on mastering his change-up this spring. After allowing a home run on a 3-1 change to Jose Bautista in Toronto in his first major league start, Duffey shelved the pitch. In his most recent spring start, Duffey said he mixed in a decent amount but grounded them early in the outing. When he tried to make an in-game adjustment with the pitch, he hung one in the middle of the zone that was launched into the neighboring property.
In evaluating Duffey’s performance, Terry Ryan said that the staff is taking Duffey’s efforts to work on a new pitch into account rather than a review of his results. “You got to be careful about watching a guy out here when he’s working on a pitch,” Ryan said. “You have to take that into consideration. And he’s thrown a lot of change-ups.”
Duffey will get one more opportunity this spring in game action when he and Ricky Nolasco will pitch on Monday in separate games. Ryan dispelled the notion that the two are competing head-to-head but it is difficult not to view those two appearances as influential in the decision-making process.
* In minor league action, Jose Berrios threw in the AAA game. According to Twins Daily contributor Bob Sacamento, Berrios was sitting 93 but hit 95 with the fastball in his last inning of work. He also mixed in a slider (85 MPH) and change-up (around 75 MPH) to keep Oriole hitters off-balance. The right-hander finished the day with five innings of work, allowing two hits while strikeout out seven.
Twins’ 2014 first round draft pick, shortstop Nick Gordon, returned to game action after suffering a hamstring/back injury.
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