Nolasco tosses two scoreless innings in spring training debut

Ricky Nolasco, the biggest free agent signing in Twins history, allowed a pair of hits but limited the damage in Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Rays.

Steven Senne/Steven Senne/Associated Press

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — The biggest free agent signing in Twins history made his spring training debut Sunday as Ricky Nolasco tossed two scoreless innings against Tampa Bay.

Nolasco, signed this offseason to help shore up a starting rotation that ranked last in the majors last year, allowed a pair of hits but limited the damage in Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Rays. The two hits Nolasco did allow were doubles — to David DeJesus in the first and Yunel Escobar in the second — but they allowed the Twins right-hander to work on pitching out of jams.

"I thought it went OK. Nothing crazy," Nolasco said. "I know it’s spring training. You just go and keep doing your repetitions and get your pitch count up. By the time the season comes around, everything will start clicking."

The 31-year-old Nolasco inked a four-year, $49 contract with the Twins this offseason, the most money ever given by the club to a free agent. Minnesota also signed right-hander Phil Hughes and re-signed Mike Pelfrey with the hopes of improving the rotation.

Sunday marked manager Ron Gardenhire’s first chance to watch Nolasco pitch in a game, and Nolasco’s new skipper was pleased with the results.

"You can see he moves the ball around, up and down in the zone. He changes speeds," Gardenhire said. "He’s going to be fun to watch."

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Reliever Anthony Swarzak gave up a two-run homer in the third inning to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria as Tampa Bay took an early 3-0 lead. Twins right fielder Oswaldo Arcia launched a solo homer in the fifth and Brandon Waring tattooed a solo shot to left-center in the seventh. Those two home runs weren’t enough for Minnesota, though, as the Twins dropped their first game of the spring.

Pitching prospect Alex Meyer, who could debut in 2014, threw two innings in Sunday’s loss. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed two runs on four hits, but his fastball reached 98 mph on the Charlotte Sports Park radar gun.

"I was pretty excited to be out there today," Meyer said. "First time out since the (Arizona) Fall League, so it was good. I feel good; I feel healthy."

No date set for Sano’s surgery: Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said Sunday that no date has been set for third base prospect Miguel Sano to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Sano flew home to the Dominican Republic on Sunday to spend time with family and friends and will likely have the procedure done in the next few weeks. He’ll return to Fort Myers on Friday.

Antony also said it’s likely that Dr. David Altchek will perform Sano’s surgery, but the team is waiting to find out Altchek’s availability. The Twins have used Altchek for previous Tommy John surgeries, including Kyle Gibson and Scott Baker.

"He’s had a lot of successful surgeries," Antony said.

The recovery time for the surgery is eight months, meaning there’s no chance Sano will play third base during the 2014 season. But the Twins haven’t ruled out the possibility that Sano could play as a designated hitter late in the season, and winter ball or the Arizona Fall League also remain possibilities for the offseason.

"At the same time, if there’s any risk of that irritating or bothering him or slowing the progress, then we won’t do it," Antony said. "We’ll have to see how he progresses. That’s kind of the goal. You’re hoping that eight months from now he can maybe go play a little winter ball, do some things. But the biggest thing is just having him ready for spring training next year."

Florimon still sidelined from appendectomy: Minnesota shortstop Pedro Florimon still hasn’t participated in baseball activities since having an appendectomy in mid-February, but the Twins hope he’ll be able to get back onto the field soon.

"Hopefully this week he’ll be able to do some," Antony said. "It’s going to be close if he’s ready to start the season or not. He’s got to get some at-bats. He’s got to be game shape, ready to go."

The 27-year-old Florimon started 127 games at shortstop for Minnesota last year and appeared to have the shortstop job locked down heading into spring despite batting just .221 last year. The Twins don’t have many immediate long-term options at the position, but they may have to find someone who can hold down that spot until Florimon is ready to return.

"I think we’d be looking at that anyway," Antony said. "When you’re looking at a utility player, you want to have somebody that if you need him, if somebody goes down, you don’t want to go looking elsewhere to try and find somebody. That’s why a utility player who has the ability to play shortstop is important."

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Santana draws rave reviews: Shortstop Danny Santana, who started Sunday’s game against the Rays, was a topic of discussion before the game as manager Ron Gardenhire was asked for his thoughts on the 23-year-old prospect.

Gardenhire had nothing but positives to say about Santana, who was 1-for-3 with a stolen base Sunday.

"I like him. I like the kid a lot," Gardenhire said. "He can fly, as advertised. Short swing, chops it. He can run. And he can pick it. He’s got a cannon. He’s got all the tools. Now if he can slow the game down."

A native of the Dominican Republic, Santana is now in his seventh season in the Twins’ system. He spent the 2013 season at Double-A New Britain, where he batted .297 with 45 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 131 games with the Rock Cats. As much as Gardenhire raved about Santana’s defense, he also believes the young shortstop can hit.

"He really doesn’t walk much and he still hit .300. That says a lot," Gardenhire said. "Two years ago until now, night and day.  . . . Nicest kid in the world. Always with a smile on his face."

Hammond Stadium set for replay test run: Major League Baseball will roll out expanded instant replay this season. But just like the players, the replay system will need a few spring training games before it’s fully ready for Opening Day.

The Twins will get their first look at the new replay rules on Monday at Hammond Stadium. Minnesota will host a split squad game against Toronto, and managers will have the chance to challenge plays that they feel should be reviewed.

"It’s very rudimentary in spring training because they don’t have everything set up," Antony said. "Our person will be in the clubhouse with a walkie talkie, literally, and somebody on the bench will have the other walkie talkie. When they see something they’d say, ‘Hey, this is something we would challenge in the regular season. Let’s go ahead and challenge it.’ So then Gardy can go out and do it. It gives the umpires and staff and instant replay people a practice run in spring training."

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