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Day@Camp Daily Dispatch From Fort Myers

Pineda proceeds with caution but says he is ‘ready to pitch’

– Sweat was pouring off Michael Pineda’s forehead as he wrapped his valuable right arm in a towel. Pineda had just thrown a couple dozen pitches to Twins hitters, and was smiling as he contemplated his first step of the spring toward a return to the majors.

“The movement looked good for the first day,” Pineda said. “Fastball felt good, felt easy.” Told that Hammond Stadium’s radar system had clocked one fastball at 93 mph and another at 92, Pineda’s eyes widened.

“I don’t look at the velocity,” he said, “but 93 is pretty good.”

Pineda, who hasn’t faced major league hitters since July 5, 2017, thanks to a ruptured elbow ligament that required Tommy John surgery, is on track to return this spring as a member of the Twins rotation. The Twins are proceeding cautiously with him, but the fact that he’s throwing this hard so early is a positive sign.

When will the 6-7 righthander be ready to face opposing hitters? “I feel ready to pitch now,” he said, “but I’m following their program for me.”

Not your typical spring batting practice

Pineda allowed a couple of hard-hit balls during his live batting practice session. Matt Magill allowed a home run and Fernando Romero did, too. That’s unusual at this stage of camp — but the Twins were happy to see it.

“We gave up a few home runs today, which obviously is not good, but in this setting, it’s actually positive feedback,” assistant pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said. “Doing it this way helps us understand what we need to work on.”

By “this way,” he means encouraging hitters to take a hack at any pitch they like, a drastic change for such an early drill. Most batters use “live BP” to simply watch pitches go by, to observe the spin and velocity that they’ll face once the games begin. Joe Mauer, for instance, would sometimes take part in three or four batting practice sessions without ever swinging.

Manager Rocco Baldelli and his staff, though, have changed the emphasis. “We’re wanting it to be as gamelike as possible,” Hefner said. “All of the feedback, from pitchers and hitters, has been really good.”

It’s a better use of time, Jake Odorizzi said. “A lot of times, if you see take-take-take, that tells the pitcher to just treat it like a bullpen [workout],” Odorizzi said. “But when guys are swinging, the intensity goes up a little bit, and you get a better idea where you are. Even if a ball is hit hard, you can go back to the same pitch and try to execute the pitch a little better.”

De Jong gets the first start

It doesn’t have quite the prestige of an Opening Day start, but Chase De Jong will be the first Twin to pitch in a Grapefruit League game this year. De Jong will face the Orioles in Sarasota on Saturday afternoon. And Kohl Stewart will be on the mound first that night, in the Twins’ home opener against the Rays.

LET’S MEET randy cesar

Position: Third base/first base

Age: 24

2018 stats: Batted .296 with 25 doubles and 10 home runs for Houston’s Class AA affiliate in Corpus Christi.

Acquired: Signed a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training as a free agent in November.

Role: A leading candidate to spend the summer as starting third baseman for Class AAA Rochester.

Did you know? Cesar, who grew up about 25 miles from Twins third baseman Miguel Sano in the Dominican Republic, broke the Texas League record last summer by collecting a hit in 42 straight games, the fourth-longest streak in pro ball this century. He batted .391 during the streak and preserved it 10 times with a hit in the seventh inning or later.

Phil Miller