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Next year's schedule gives Twins the chills

Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton prepares for cold weather as snow flurries fall before an April 4 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO — Miguel Sano took one look at the Minnesota Twins' 2019 schedule, opened his eyes wide and shook his head.

"It's crazy," the Twins third baseman said Wednesday morning. "Too cold."

Thanks in part to the men's college basketball Final Four coming to U.S. Bank Stadium in early April, the Twins will open next season on March 28 at Target Field against the Cleveland Indians.

"Really?" Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "Maybe we can go to U.S. Bank and play baseball. That's an alternative."

After closing out a three-game series at Target Field against the class of the American League Central, all in March, the Twins head out on a seven-game road swing against Kansas City (two games), Philadelphia and the New York Mets. That means the cold-weather gear the Twins were wearing for most of April this season will be put to good use again in 2019.

"We don't seem to get a lot of West or South games early — ever," Molitor said. "I don't know (why)."

Partially to help mitigate that, the Twins will experiment next season with a 6:40 p.m. start time for home midweek games in April, May and September. There will be 15 such games on the schedule as the Twins seek to get fans back home a little sooner on school nights as the average game time continues to rise around the game.

"I think it's probably a little bit of everything," Molitor said. "You know (team president Dave St. Peter) and his staff are very sensitive to feedback from the fan base."

Twins infielder Ehire Adrianza likes the idea of an early start for night games, especially when there's an afternoon game scheduled the following day. He said the Venezuelan Winter League went to 6 p.m. start times this past offseason with good results.

"Everybody liked it," Adrianza said. "Actually, I think that's the perfect time to start the games."

The Twins open the second half against the Indians as well, facing them in Cleveland on the heels of the All-Star Game at Progressive Field. Thirteen of their final 22 games will be at home, including a three-game visit from the Washington Nationals (Sept. 10-12), but the Twins finish with six on the road at Detroit and Kansas City.

Other interleague visits from National League East foes will come July 16-17 (Mets) and Aug. 5-7 (Atlanta Braves). They also play three games at the Miami Marlins (July 30-Aug. 1) as well as the usual home-and-home interleague series with their natural rival, the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Brewers visit Target Field on May 27-28 and the Twins go to Miller Park on Aug. 13-14.

Tweet storm

Due to the lateness of Tuesday's rain-delayed game, Tyler Austin said he hadn't reached out yet to New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird about a pair of recently deleted tweets by his father, Chris Austin.

Bird, who has slumped mightily since the Twins acquired Austin and pitching prospect Luis Rijo for pending free agent Lance Lynn on July 30, was the target of some Twitter tweaking by Austin's father. New York tabloids noticed that and blew it up into a Lavar Ball-style rant, even as the younger Austin told his father to remove the tweets.

"(Bird) knows I had nothing to do with that," Austin said.

Pineda impresses

Michael Pineda remains on track to join the Twins rotation in early September after making two more starts at Triple-A Rochester.

He touched 94 mph against Tuesday in a four-inning stint for the Red Wings, averaging 93 mph with his fastball and showing a solid changeup and slider. Now 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery, the 6-foot-7 right-hander has circled the Sept. 10-12 home series against the New York Yankees, his former team.

Signed for next season at $8 million, Pineda should be able to remove a huge mental hurdle by returning to the big-league mound this season.

"It really changes the outlook for the winter for him," Molitor said. "Unless someone tells me otherwise, I would not be opposed to having him start a game. I don't think we're going to get him too extended here. I don't think there's a lot of purpose in that."

It's likely Pineda will be limited to 75 pitches in a single outing this season. Working in long relief is an option as well.

Briefly

Joe Mauer, one hit shy of tying Rod Carew for second on the Twins' all-time list, was not in Wednesday's starting lineup. He'll have a four-game series against surging Oakland to record the milestone at home before the Twins head back out on the road for the fifth of six three-city trips this year. ... Molitor celebrated his 62nd birthday on Wednesday. "My brother (David) told me it's my crosstown birthday — 62," Molitor said.

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