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Updated: August 15th, 2014 11:26pm
Wetmore: 5 thoughts, Nolasco's return, Mauer's streak, the Buxton plan

Wetmore: 5 thoughts, Nolasco's return, Mauer's streak, the Buxton plan

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by Derek Wetmore
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS - The Royals scored five runs off Ricky Nolasco in his first start since July 6. The Twins had jumped to a 2-0 lead, but Kansas City's five-run fourth inning flipped their fortunes and Minnesota lost, 6-5.

This column presents 5 thoughts from Friday's game.

As always, feel free to ask questions or make observations in the comments. If you have a unique baseball observation during a game, feel free to share it with me on Twitter (@DerekWetmore).

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1. Ricky Nolasco returned Friday and had one lousy inning but otherwise pitched all right. Things came unraveled in the fourth inning, when the Royals batted around and scored five runs to take the lead. The first six batters of the inning reached base, including two doubles, a triple and a hit batter.

Manager Ron Gardenhire called Nolasco's return a "work in progress."

"He threw a couple up there, 91, 92 miles an hour. He tried to locate it. He was painting just off the plate away. He had some decent breaking balls. I think he hung one to [Josh] Willingham, it was probably his worst pitch," Gardenhire said.

Nolasco said he did indeed hang the pitch to Willingham, which turned into a three-run double that Nolasco said he'd "like to have it back." Other than that pitch, he said, he liked the stuff he had Friday.

"I thought it was good. Everything was sharp and everything was real consistent and short like I wanted it to be."

As for the pain in his arm compared to when he hit the disabled list?

"It's not even close. So it's tough to explain but it's just night and day for me so it feels good."

He should get about seven starts or so the rest of the season if he's healthy. It will be interesting to see if he can improve his unsightly ERA and be closer to his career performances.

The Twins optioned Yohan Pino before the game to make room on the active roster for Nolasco.

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2. Nolasco's fastball on Friday sat from 90-92 mph. He also threw his slider, curve and split-finger fastball. 

Here's his velocity by month before he was put on the disabled list:

Month

Fastball velocity

March*

92.39

April

91.79

May

91.60

June

90.92

July

90.32

*One start, Opening Day.
Source: BrooksBaseball.net

Nolasco said he thought his velocity Friday was OK.

"I didn't really have to reach back too hard. It was just coming out nice and easy, I'm not trying too hard so that's the main thing," Nolasco said. "As I get my legs under me a little bit, start reaching back a little bit when I need it."

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3. Josh Willingham had the big hit in the fourth inning for Kansas City. He cleared the bases with a double in the fourth inning Friday in his first game at Target Field since being traded to the Royals on Monday.

The Twins were wise to take what they could get for Willingham. And his freed roster spot theoretically allows Kennys Vargas everyday plate appearances.

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4. Joe Mauer doubled in the eighth inning to extend his hitting streak to 16 games, which ties his career high. He hit the ball hard to left in the sixth inning but flew out. His double sliced toward the foul line and slick-fielding left fielder Alex Gordon dove to get his glove on the ball but dropped it and it kicked foul.

For some fun with numbers: the last time Mauer failed to get a hit in a game was June 18 vs. Boston when he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. That of course has a lot to do with the fact that Mauer didn't play a game between July 1 and August 11. He missed 34 games in that time. 

Here's some more fun with numbers, courtesy of my colleague, Pat Reusse:


Jokes aside, it appears Mauer's swing has returned to form. He batted .373/.422/.542 in the first 15 games of the streak and went 1-for-4 Friday.

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5. Byron Buxton will go to Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday to recover from his concussion. With roughly two weeks to go in Double-A New Britain's schedule, it would be surprising if he plays again this regular season.

"I can't put a time frame on [his return]," said Jack Goin, the Twins Manager of Major League Administration and Baseball Research. "As he gets healthy and he's able to do things, we'll let him do things."

"If he's feeling OK, we'll let him get back into activity as tolerated. It doesn't matter if that's Byron Buxton or any other player that's in a collision like this."

The Arizona Fall League starts the second week of October. If he's healthy, it would seem to make sense to get Buxton plate appearances this offseason to make up for lost time in this snake-bitten season.

Derek Wetmore is the senior editor for 1500ESPN.com. His previous stops include MLB.com and the Minnesota Daily.
Email Derek | @DerekWetmore
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