Notes: Neshek honing new weapon
Twins reliever hopes changeup fools left-handed hitters
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Sidearmer Pat Neshek had no problems getting right-handers in 2006, his rookie season, but when it came to lefties, the task wasn't so easy.Neshek held right-handers to a .140 batting average. But left-handers hit .244 against him, so the goal this offseason was to work on a pitch that could help change that statistic. "When you have just a fastball or slider, your ball is moving away and they'll foul it off all day," Neshek said. "So I wanted to do something different. What Neshek discovered was a different kind of changeup, and it's something that he used successfully during the inning he worked in the Twins' 4-3 win against the Devil Rays on Saturday. The right-hander said he had used a changeup before, but never quite from the unique angle from which he delivers most of his pitches. He began working on this changeup over the winter, but it wasn't until the first week of Spring Training that he started to debut it. Neshek said he started to feel comfortable with the pitch just before the Grapefruit League games began but he continues to work on getting the delivery completely smooth. "Anytime I face a lefty right now, it's going to come first or second pitch," Neshek said. "I just want to get where I'm really comfortable with it and I have good control. That's what I'm working on." It's a pitch Neshek has been mixing in more and more throughout spring workouts. He said it wasn't until his outing Thursday against the Cardinals that he first saw just how effective the pitch might be. The mission now is to perfect the pitch over the final weeks of Spring Training so he can use it without any concern during the regular season. "By getting that pitch [down], I think it's going to get quicker outs and give them at least another pitch to think about," Neshek said. Twice as nice: After a less than stellar spring debut, right-hander J.D. Durbin bounced back in his second outing and put some pressure on the Twins to keep 12 pitchers on the team's Opening Day roster. Durbin, a second-round pick by the Twins in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, struck out two of the three batters he faced during his lone inning in Saturday's game. Out of options, Durbin must make the Twins' 25-man roster out of spring or else the club will likely lose him to waivers. And this performance was at least a good start in earning that nod. "I was really happy for him to go out there and to have a good inning, a clean inning like that," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's a confidence booster for him. We'll get a chance to put him out there more and more as we go along, but that was good to see."
Re-do: The Twins had a unique scenario unfold in the third inning of Saturday's game. It appeared as if Ramon Ortiz would get through three innings by facing just nine batters, but a strikeout to Ben Zobrist went awry.Umpire Tim Tschida was behind home plate and called the strike, but when the team began running off the field, Tschida told catcher Mike Redmond that he needed to tag Zobrist. When that was said, Zobrist began running to first. When Redmond went to throw the ball there, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau was already halfway across the infield, so Zobrist reached safely and the inning was extended. Gardenhire said that Tschida thought the ball hit the ground even though the team believed it was caught cleanly by Redmond. The miscommunication was a bit of a lesson to the club. "We screwed up because Morneau should have went to the bag," Gardenhire said. "It's a given, just go to the bag. It was just a reminder for us not to take that for granted." Twins tidbits: Ortiz continued his strong spring as he allowed just one unearned run in three innings while striking out four. ... First baseman/DH Ken Harvey is expected to return to game action on Monday after missing 1 1/2 weeks with a pulled chest muscle. ... Michael Cuddyer's 2-for-3 performance Saturday raised his spring batting average to .368. Quotable: "It's unbelievable, this team here. I've never seen a team like Minnesota. Everyone is together and everyone is happy. There are no superstars here. Everybody is the same. They make me feel very good." -- Ortiz, who signed a one-year deal with the Twins this past offseason Coming up: The Twins head up to Dunedin on Sunday to take on the Blue Jays in a 12:05 p.m. CT contest. Left-hander Glen Perkins will make his first start of the spring and the Twins lineup will face yet another challenge as Toronto starts its ace, Roy Halladay.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.