Notes: Neshek's second-half struggles
Manager believes mechanical issues are source of the problem
MINNEAPOLIS -- It was an All-Star caliber first half for reliever Pat Neshek.
He finished third in the Final Vote contest to determine the last All-Star roster spot after he stifled his opponents and held them to a .129 batting average.
Over 42 1/3 innings in the first half, Neshek put up a stingy 1.70 ERA. But something has changed.
Neshek was knocked around on Saturday, allowing two hits and an earned run in just two-thirds of an inning, bringing his post-break ERA up to 4.58.
Neshek, who has pitched 62 innings this year after only pitching 37 in 2006, has said that there is nothing wrong with his arm, and manager Ron Gardenhire blames the disparity on mechanical errors.
"He needs to use his fastball more. [Pitching coach Rick Anderson] has been talking about how mechanically he's just rushing out and trying to be too quick with everything. Throw a pitch, get back on the mound, throw another pitch," Gardenhire said. "He needs to take his time a little bit more. He's rushing now on his pitches, he's getting so far out in front of them now that he's got nothing on them."
Gardenhire recalled watching Tuesday's game on TV after being ejected in Cleveland and being able to see that Neshek's slider didn't have as much snap as it had earlier this season.
"He is throwing a lot of sliders, and that's what gets people out," Gardenhire said. "But if it's not snapping like it was in the beginning of the year, then he needs to use both pitches."
Another cause for the dropoff could be conditioning. Neshek has said that at some point after the All-Star break he stopped lifting weights, but has since started back up.
Gardenhire, citing Francisco Liriano as evidence, said that it is not uncommon for younger players to discontinue their conditioning program after seeing some success.
"If things start going good, they just sometimes forget about how to maintain," Gardenhire said. "They think, 'I'm doing good, so I don't need that,' You have to do the work. That's the only way you're going to get better, by doing the work the right way."
A little help? With no timetable in sight for the return of injured catcher Joe Mauer, the Twins could call up Jose Morales to give them another option at the backstop position.
Mauer ran on the treadmill on Saturday, but still has not run on the field, and Gardenhire said it could be another week before his injured hamstring is better.
Morales, who was named to the International League All-Star team, had a breakout offensive season. He compiled a .313 average and had 25 doubles.
Gardenhire said that according to scouting reports, the converted second baseman still has a little trouble behind the plate.
"We saw him in spring, and I liked the way he caught the ball," Gardenhire said. "Still, he's from a second baseman [background rather than that of] a catcher, so rather than shifting and blocking balls, he tries to backhand things -- stuff to learn, but he's done a good job."
Backup Chris Heintz is the only healthy catcher on the Twins roster, with Mike Redmond playing even though he has had an injured knuckle on his glove hand for close to two months.
Callups in the works: After Triple-A Rochester lost on Saturday to knock itself out of the playoffs, the Twins can expect a few more September callups to start arriving.
Gardenhire has said that he's expecting a couple more pitchers, an outfielder and possibly Morales at catcher, but he doesn't expect more than that.
Rochester's manager, Stan Cliburn, will join the Twins for the remainder of the season after the Red Wings officially end their season on Monday.
Making the most of it: After being called up in time for Saturday's game, Luis Rodriguez was penciled into the starting lineup and went 2-for-4 at the plate.
Gardenhire, who put Rodriguez back in the lineup again on Sunday, said that the utility man definitely benefited from consistent playing time in Rochester.
"Goodness gracious, he sits up here and does all of his work and plays very sparingly throughout the year, but every time you put him out there he seems to do OK," Gardenhire said. "He puts the bat on the ball and catches the ball. He went down there and got a few at-bats, and you can see his swing was definitely sharper [Saturday]."
Down on the farm: Triple-A Rochester dropped another game to Buffalo, 6-5, on Saturday to put an end to its playoff hopes. Shortstop Chris Basak went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Starter Brian Duensing gave up five earned runs over 6 2/3 innings before reliever Bobby Korecky came in and held Buffalo to one run over the final 3 1/3. ... Double-A New Britain broke out to an early lead and held on to beat Portland, 7-5, on Saturday. Matthew Allegra drew three of New Britain's 11 walks and scored two runs. Relievers Angel Garcia and Jose Mirajes combined to pitch five innings of one-run relief. Garcia got the win, his first, and Mijares earned his ninth save. ... Class A Fort Myers edged out Dunedin, 1-0, on Saturday. Erik Lis's solo home run in the fourth inning accounted for the game's only run. Starter Jeff Manship surrendered just five hits and two walks over his 5 1/3 innings of work.
Up next: The Twins begin their last series against the division-rival Indians on Monday with a marquee matchup. Aces Johan Santana (14-10, 3.06 ERA) and C.C. Sabathia (15-7, 3.37 ERA) will face off in the opener at 1:10 p.m. CT.
Leslie Parker is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.