Since I am currently spending the opening weekend following the Cedar Rapids Kernels, that’s where we will start with our report. It will be followed by reports from the other Twins affiliates. As we did in 2012, there will be several writers composing these updates, so please let us know if you would like to see something specific in the report, and please feel free to ask questions in the Comments section.
Twins Minor League Hitter of the Day - Chris Colabello, Rochester Red Wings
Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Day - Tyler Jones, Cedar Rapids Kernels
Cedar Rapids Kernels 9, Beloit Snappers 7
On Wednesday night, Kernels pitching coach Gary Lucas told the crowd of media, “I think there’s potential to strike people out. Fans come to the ballpark looking for home runs and strikeouts a lot of times and from a pitching standpoint, we’ve got some arms and some velocity coming out of those arms.”
In Thursday night’s season opener at Perfect Game Field in Cedar Rapids, four pitchers combined to strikeout 16 Beloit Snappers hitters. The tone was set quickly when starter Taylor Rogers, who would not be classified as strikeout pitcher, struckout the side in the top of the first inning. He struckout seven batters in 3.2 innings.
Lucas said of Rogers, “He’s a location pitcher. When he’s on his game, he can throw it low and work both sides of the plate. I would say that he has a lot of savvy and ability to read at bats and read swings and work off of hitters’ weaknesses and strengths.”
His slider was terrific on this night, especially to lefties. “It was a good pitch, and when he’s on his game, he can double up and triple up on that slider, and he plays a little tune with them. If they go out to try to take the slider away, he has the ability to throw it in on their hands and jam them. He’s more of a finesse guy and a control pitcher compared to getting them to swing and miss bats.”
The Kernels grabbed an early lead with a three-run first inning. Byron Buxton led off with a single to center. He stole second, but one pitch later, second baseman Jorge Polanco hit a home run over the wall in right field. After the inning’s first out, Dalton Hicks hit a very long home run over both walls in right field. In the second, the Kernels tacked on another run when Niko Goodrum scored from third on a Buxton fielder’s choice (That was a tailor-made double play ball to shortstop that he simply beat out).
Unfortunately, Rogers was hurt by his defense in the top of the third inning, and it cost four runs and allowed the game to be tied. Manager Jake Mauer said, “It started with a leadoff error. That’s the thing we harp on all spring training. You have to protect that starting pitcher. Starting pitcher is making pitchers, we’ve got to get outs.”
Following the error, Rogers did make one mistake. As Lucas said, “He didn’t get away with the fastball inside, the one that (Renato) Nunez hit the home run off him. He tried to come inside there, and he didn’t get it in to where he wanted to get it.”
Rogers went 3.2 innings due to having met the 70 pitch limit. He left the game with a couple of runners on, and Tyler Jones came in and got the job done. He got out of that jam with a big strikeout. Jones said, “When I came in there the first half inning with two outs and men on 1st and 3rd, I was thinking strikeout. I didn’t want to let the guy get the bat to the ball because anything can happen.
Equally important, he was able to pitch very well for the next three innings. Mauer said that Jones’ performance was “Huge! Absolutely huge!”
“He attacked. Second time through the league. He’s carrying himself a little differently this year. To get that big out in that inning to stop the bleeding and calm things down, and then really dominate for three. He threw the ball very well. So I was very pleased. He threw a heck of a game.”
He is literally carrying himself differently. Jones pitched for Beloit last season, but did not get promoted to the Snappers until early May, and he knows why. “To be honest, it was really my own fault that I wasn’t on the Opening Day roster. I was out of shape.”
So, what did he do this past offseason to get ready? “I worked harder in the offseason, so I knew what to expect. The previous offseason, it was the first time I had time to myself. So, I didn’t work hard enough, not nearly hard enough and my diet wasn’t good. So, this past offseason, really ate healthy, worked harder and came in better shape. It paid dividends in spring training and I hope it continues throughout the whole season.”
Lucas added, “I was so happy that he gave us those innings. We had some long innings offensively while he was out there. He went out and shut them down and got our hitters back out there again. It was a good thing to see. He was keeping his focus, going after the first guy. It made his job a lot easier. He was in a real groove as far as attacking with fastballs, hitting the low, outside corner, using his slider so they didn’t know when it was coming. Just about the time he lost his feel on his fastball, He went to his slider. He was able to be a pitcher, rather than just overpowering people. So, it was nice to see.”
The Kernels answered with three runs in the fourth inning and two more runs in the fifth inning to gain a 9-4 edge.
Manuel Soliman came on to pitch in a game for the first time since last April when he threw in just two games for the Ft. Myers Miracle. He gave up two runs on three hits and a walk, but he got through the inning. Before the game, he told me that his shoulder felt “Good! Very, very good!” After the game, he said it felt great to get back on the mound, and that he really wasn’t even nervous.
Lucas said of Soliman’s game, “The thinking with Soliman was, give us two innings at the end, and I didn’t want to break his arm. He threw 25-30 innings in the inning, and I didn’t want to take a chance.”
Mauer added, “You get him out there. Get him out in the cold. Get him used to it. He got two quick outs, looking good, and then a base hit. He needs to understand he’s OK. He’s got good stuff. Just to trust it. Go right at guys. No one on base, they’re not going to hit a five run home run.”
Chris Mazza came in and gave up a run in the ninth. Once he gave up a couple of hits, he came on strong and ended the game with two strikeouts to end the game. Mauer said, “Honestly, we didn’t want to get him out there, but we had him in our back pocket. Any time you have a six-man rotation, you’re always scared of using your bullpen and using three guys is probably too many.”
It was a nice win for the hometown team in their first night as a Minnesota Twins affiliate. Jim Rantz was in attendance to throw out the first pitch. Over 1,900 fans were at the game, and it was a fun evening.
The offensive highlights included:
- Jorge Polanco went 3-5 with that first inning home run and drove in three runs. Mauer said, “Nice two-strike approach there, right? I saw him as a 16-year-old and this is the first I’ve seen him three years later, and he’s starting to physically mature, and he’s swinging the bat like we think he can.
- Byron Buxton went 2-5 with a stolen base and two RBI. Mauer said, “A couple hits. Stole as base. Went first to third. Did a nice job. I thought a couple of balls in the dirt read, he could have been a little more aggressive on, but that might be nitpicking. Did a nice job in center. Paid attention to him moving outfielders and being in control, noticing swings. He’s further along than a lot of the guys I had previously, and he’s a lot younger. So, he’s pretty exciting.”
- Jairo Rodriguez does a very nice job behind the plate. In spring, he was yet to catch more than five innings in a game, and tonight he caught all nine innings. He also hit the ball well, with two hits including a line drive double down the left field line.
- JD Williams is back in the Midwest League and he is all about fun. In this game, he also went 2-3 and had a sacrifice fly.
- Dalton Hicks hit a big, long home run in the first inning. He has asked to be called by his first name, Dalton, rather than his nickname of DJ. His final at bat of the 2012 season resulted in a walk-off grand slam to win the Appalachian League championship for Elizabethton. His first at bat of the 2013 season was also a home run.
- Niko Goodrum went 1-3 with a walk. Travis Harrison added a double.
The Kernels will send RHP Hudson Boyd to the mound on Friday night to square off with A’s young prospect, Michael Ynoa.
If you leave the Twin Cities by about noon on Friday, you can be at the stadium in Cedar Rapids by about the time the gates open. They also play at 2:05 on Saturday and Sunday. If you’re going to be there, be sure to say Hi.
Rochester Red Wings 7, Buffalo Bisons 12
The Red Wings traveled over to Buffalo to take on the Bisons (Blue Jays affiliate) in the first minor league game to be played in the 2013 season. PJ Walters made his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Red Wings. He gave up five runs on nine hits and a walk in four innings. He struckout just one. He was relieved by lefty Caleb Thielbar who, in one inning, gave up two runs on three hits and a walk. Bruce Pugh then made his AAA debut and gave up two runs on four hits and a walk in two innings. Daniel Turpen came in for the 8th and got two outs. However, he walked two and hit one and all three of those runners scored. Luis Perdomo came in and gave up a hit that scored the final runs before getting the final out.
It was a terrific AAA debut for a couple of minor leaguers who were talked about a lot this spring. Oswaldo Arcia went 2-4 with a walk, a double, a home run, and he also threw out two runners trying to advance to second base. Chris Colabello debuted by going 3-4 with his first home runs of the season. Both homers went to dead center. Ray Olmedo went 3-4. Mark Sobolewski went 2-4 with a double and two RBI.
Alex Burnett, who the Blue Jays claimed last week when the Twins DFAd him, pitched 1.1 innings for the Bisons, giving up just one hit.
On Friday, Kyle Gibson will make his season debut against former Twins starter Ramon Ortiz.
New Britain Rock Cats 0, Richmond Flying Squirrels 0 (Game Suspended in the 4th due to rain)
With two outs in the bottom of the 4th inning, the rains came and the game ended for the night. It will be made up, starting where they left off. Logan Darnell started the opener for the Rock Cats. He did not give up a run despite giving up four hits and walking two. He struckout two.
Danny Santana made his Eastern League debut, with two hits in his two at bats. Antoan Richardson doubled for the Rock Cats. Those were the only three hits to this point in the game.
Ft. Myers Miracle 4, Bradenton Marauders 3
It was a back and forth game through, but in the end, the Miracle closed out a 4-3 win. Tom Stuifbergen started and gave up three runs on six hits in five innings. He gave up solo home runs in the first and second innings which is interesting because his ground ball to fly ball ratio was 8:1. Ryan O’Rourke came on with a runner on in the sixth and allowed the inherited runner to score. But he worked two innings and gave up just one hit. He struckout two. Chad Rodgers made his Twins organization debut and struckout the side. Then hard-throwing Zack Jones came in for the ninth with a one run lead. He went 1-2-3, striking out one to record his first save of the season.
Jhon Goncalves led the offense, going 3-4 with a double. Stephen Wickens was 2-4. Twins Daily’s AJ Pettersen started in left field for the Miracle and was the leadoff hitter. He led off the first inning with a walk, then went 0-3. Miguel Sano was 1-3 with a walk. Eddie Rosario went 0-3 with a walk.
Feel free to leave any questions or comments.