LIVE ›
NEXT › 7 p.m. ESPN SportsCenter
7:05 p.m. The Beer Show
8 p.m. ESPN SportsCenter
8 p.m. Coming soon...
8:05 p.m. ESPN Radio Tonight
9 p.m. ESPN SportsCenter
Updated: February 19th, 2011 11:43am
Live from Florida, Day 3: Pat Neshek could be flying under the radar

Live from Florida, Day 3: Pat Neshek could be flying under the radar

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
Email | Twitter
SportsWire Daily

Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports

Signup!

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A rundown of the news, notes and quotes from Day 3 at Minnesota Twins spring training:

Catching up with ... Pat Neshek

Right-hander Pat Neshek hovers slightly beneath the radar as spring training commences. Much like the plane of his side-winding fastball.

From 2006 to 2007, Neshek was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, posting a 2.68 ERA with 127 strikeouts and only 33 walks in his first 107 1/3 major-league innings.

Then came the dreaded elbow pain in 2008, followed by Tommy John surgery in November of that year.

Neshek missed all of 2009 and navigated through a difficult 2010 season that saw him pitch only nine innings in the major leagues, due in part because of an early-season finger injury.

By the end of the year, his fastball -- which averaged 90-91 miles per hour in 2006-2007 -- barely reached the mid-80's.

"Last year I could tell his was out of gas," pitching coach Rick Anderson said.

"Like you saw at the end of last year, throwing 82 miles per hour, forcing everything, trying to create velocity, and he had no command of anything with it."

Neshek is now 30 months removed from surgery, and he's hoping 2011 will be that comeback season where things finally click.

And yes, he does pay attention to velocity.

"It does matter for me," Neshek said. "That's when I do good is when I have 89-90 coming out, or above.

"I want to throw 88, 89, 90. I know if I have that I know I'll do good. Even three miles per hour on my slider is huge, because they won't lay off it. (Hitters) are going to start their swings. Last year they were starting, but they were laying off. If I can just get it to bite a little bit more, that's how I was getting the strikeouts."

This past offseason, Neshek didn't pick up a baseball until mid-January -- one week before TwinsFest. Instead, he pushed hard with weights and cardio to get into the best possible physical condition.

"If I'm still throwing 85 (this year), then heck, I gave it everything I have," Neshek said.

He then paused and joked, "Then I might just have to drop down and be a submariner."

Neshek will be thrown into a group of 10-12 relievers all vying for bullpen spots behind Matt Capps, Joe Nathan and Jose Mijares.

"I've got a good base on me. I'm striding longer and I just feel a little bit more free."

Numbers game

4: Number of Japanese reporters still following IF Tsuyoshi Nishioka, down from 15 earlier in the week.

2: People wearing No. 36 jerseys during spring training. RP Joe Nathan wears the number regularly, and former Twins C Terry Steinbach, who is working for the Twins as an instructor, is wearing his old playing number, too.

Health watch

• Manager Ron Gardenhire said Saturday that LHP Francisco Liriano (shoulder) recently underwent an MRI at his own discretion in Miami. Twins doctors looked over the MRI and found no structural damage -- only some tendinitis.

"It's not that bad, not that sore," Liriano said. "I feel better today."

Liriano will undergo a re-examination by team doctors on Sunday, and if all goes well he said he will likely play catch within the next three days

• RHP Scott Baker (elbow) threw a full bullpen session on Saturday and he reported no issues. The Twins will check to see how Baker feels on Sunday, and if no red flags pop up he will have no restrictions moving forward.

"The only pitch that he has any issues with right now is a little bit of a changeup," Gardenhire said. "His fastball, his breaking ball -- no problems. His slider, no problems. His changeup... turns this way to throw a changeup and that's where it gets him a little bit. Everything else is fine. So, it's just working your way through that. I talked with Slowey -- Slowey, with his wrist, had the same thing. The last pitch that he was able to really finally work his way through was his changeup, and it's because you turn a different way than you do with the other pitches with a changeup, kind of like a screwgy, and it gets a little bit more in the elbow."

• RHP Joe Nathan (elbow) threw a light session Saturday after a 45-pitch bullpen on Friday. The right-hander said he wanted to get a feel for how his surgically-repaired elbow felt the day after his bullpen session.

• Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, who has been in the organization since 1980, recently underwent 3 1/2-hour surgery to repair a detached retina.

"He's got a patch on, and he says it's like having sandpaper in your eye at all times," Gardenhire said. "He's probably not going to be able to fly for probably 10 days, two weeks, I'm sure, at least."

Overheard

"Checka la casa! Checka la casa!"
-- Gardenhire to LHP Jose Mijares, after the Spanish-speaking reliever failed to check home during a drill

On deck

Twins pitchers and catchers are scheduled to work out on Sunday. Position players must report by Tuesday, with full squad work outs beginning Wednesday.

Tom Pelissero contributed to this report.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
1828