Sunday, June 26, 2016

Pic of the Week

Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts and TV reporter
Guerin Austin get doused in a postgame celebration Thursday,

This kind of thing is increasingly a job hazard for the on-field TV interviewers. Looks like she got it pretty solidly this time.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

Oswaldo Arcia's time in designated-for-assignment limbo ended Friday when the Twins traded him to Tampa Bay for cash or a player to be determined.

I expect to make this the topic of the Monday print column, so suffice it to say that I think the Rays are a good team for him. They're smart enough that they aren't likely to insist that he play outfield.

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Trevor Plouffe's most recent injury (groin) is probably behind the latest change in plans with Miguel Sano's rehab assignment. The description supplied earlier in the week was: third base on Friday, DH on Saturday, right field on Sunday, see where he's at. By Friday it had become: Five innings at third on Friday, seven innings at third on Saturday, DH on Sunday.

At which point they may well stick Plouffe back on the disabled list and bring Sano back.

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Alex Kirilloff, the high school outfielder the Twins selected with the 15th overall pick earlier in the month. signed for slot ($2.8 million) this week and is expected to make his debut today with Elizabethton in the Appy League.

The Twins have signed 28 of their 42 picks. That may be a higher-than-usual percentage, but they went heavy on collegians in the second and third day, and the bulk of draftees who don't sign are later-round high schoolers who can reasonably hope that a few years in college will boost their status.

Friday, June 24, 2016

On Perkins' surgery

I almost missed this one in Thursday's barrage of tweets about the NBA draft and Brexit:




I can't recall hearing before of a specific pitcher whose labrum had to be reattached, but it probably has happened before.

Neal says this likely stretches out the timeline for Perkins' return. My expectations were already so low that I'm not sure this dampens them. Shoulder surgeries of whatever ilk -- labrum, rotator cuff -- have a pretty poor track record. I can think of a few relievers who have had them and eventually recovered their form (Jesse Crain and Grant Balfour being two, although Balfour also had Tommy John at the same time), but they are the minority.

That the damage found once the joint was opened is worse is doubtless a blow to Perkins' hopes. It also, I dare say, illustrates the basic foolishness of hiding injuries.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The value of outfield defense

Byron Buxton goes into the wall
for an eighth-inning grab.
I wrote earlier this week of some notably declarative utterances by Twins general manager Terry Ryan about Miguel Sano on Sunday. Since then the Twins have been considerably more vague about Sano, who is slated to play Friday in a rehab assignment with Triple A Rochester.

Sano was quoted this week as saying that as far as he knows, he's still an outfielder. Paul Molitor suggested that the nature of Sano's injury (hamstring) may lead to keeping the big slugger out of the outfield. The word from the TV broadcasters Wednesday night was that Sano is to play various positions during his rehab stint.

Meanwhile, Trevor Plouffe has had games at first base and designated hitter as well as at third this week, and Byung Ho Park has sat a few times. To be sure, Molitor suddenly has a number of hot-hitting infielders to fit into the lineup, but the bulk of the where-does-Sano-fit chatter still leads to third base or designated hitter rather than the outfield.

Byron Buxton and Max Kepler combined to give a little demonstration in the eighth inning Wednesday of why that's a good idea,

First Kepler -- who did mishandle a ball earlier in the game that cost the Twins a pair of runs -- made a diving catch in right field. Buxton followed with the catch shown at right.

Lesser outfielders don't make those plays. And Sano is definitely a lesser outfielder.

To be sure, outfielders need to hit too. Kepler drove in a pair of runs Wednesday and Buxton singled, walked and scored, so that was good too.

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How insulated and absorbed in baseball is a major league general manager?





Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Contemplating Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey was a
5th-round pick in the
2012 draft.
Last season Tyler Duffey pitched 58 major league innings, posting a 3.10 ERA with four home runs allowed.

After Tuesday's ugly start (three innings, six runs, three homers), Duffey this season has worked 59.2 innings with a 6.18 ERA. Almost the same amount of innings, almost double the runs allowed.

I had been inclined to blame Duffey's spring training struggles on a one-size-fits-all coaching philosophy. Neil Allen wants everybody to throw a changeup, and Duffey didn't last season. He threw two fast balls (four seam and two seam) and two curves (one smaller and harder, the other larger and slower). Duffey entered camp with a rotation spot and was urged to spend spring training developing a straight change. He did so, got hammered, and wound up losing the rotation spot for a few weeks with a minor league demotion.

But now he's in the majors, he's not (apparently) getting hit on changeups, and he's nowhere near the out machine he was down the stretch in 2015.

His strikeout rate is slightly lower this year, but his walk rate has improved, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is much better. Those are the leading indicator stats that still give me some optimism about Duffey.

But those home runs are sure adding up: eleven and counting this year, after just four in his rookie year. He yielded three Tuesday night alone.

To me, this suggests that control and stuff aren't the issue. Command is. Drawing a connection between his 2016 struggles and his big increase in innings (majors and minors combined) in 2015 may not be accurate, but it's possible the latter caused the former.

So where do the Twins and Duffey go from here? Duffey has to be considered a candidate for demotion, but Jose Berrios hasn't exactly been tearing it up in Triple A since his demotion,  and the only other healthy starters left on the 40-man roster are the just-demoted Pat Dean (not eligible yet for recall) and Randy Rosario, who is in high A ball and not anywhere near the radar screen for a callup.

Between the shortage of viable alternatives and the still-respectable walk and strikeout stats, I would advocate patience with Duffey at this point, but I can't say I'm very enthusiastic about that recommendation.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

Look closely at the bat knob, and you might see something
odd about Kurt Suzuki's current bat.
Interesting piece by the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino about Kurt Suzuki's switch to an "axe-handle" bat. I had read a Baseball America piece on the (slightly) increasing use of the handle earlier this year, but I can't say I've spotted one in use.

Judging by the above photo, taken since Suzuki is said to have converted to the new bat full time, there may not be enough difference to really notice, especially when the hitter has both hands on the bat.

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Zack Jones, a high-velocity arm the Twins lost in the Rule 5 draft last offseason, was returned to the Minnesota organization by the Brewers over the weekend. He had shoulder problems early in spring training and never actually pitched for the Brewers, but he did get about two-and-a-half months of major league (minimum) salary while on the disabled list. (Jones did make a few minor league appearances on a rehab assignment.)

Jones has been assigned to Double-A Chattanooga, and we'll obviously see what happens from here.

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The Twins were off Monday, and I spent the evening running errands and mowing, but I did catch an inning of Steven Wright's knuckleball pitching. He went nine innings of one-run ball (unearned) against the White Sox, but the White Sox won in 10, beating Craig Kimbrel. ("Hey, a fast ball. I know how to hit something hard and straight!") The run was unearned because it scored on a passed ball, but really -- passed balls with a knuckleballer on the mound are more the fault of the pitch than of the catcher.

Wright has now made 14 starts for Boston this year, 98.1 innings with an ERA of 2.01. There is speculation that he might start the All Star game next month.

It's fun to watch a flutterballer work, partly because it looks easy enough. I can watch, say, Ervin Santana pitch and know I could never throw with that velocity (and he isn't a particularly hard thrower).

Looks easy but it obviously isn't. There are only two true knuckleballers in the bigs now -- Wright and R.D. Dickey of Toronto -- and they both spent years in the minors refining the pitch.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The (apparent) end of Sano in the outfield

Terry Ryan, in his semi-regular radio appearance Sunday, said that the current plan is for Miguel Sano to go on a rehab assignment later in the week. And when the big guy returns to the majors, it won't be as an outfielder.

He'll DH, the general manager said, while deferring to the absent manager, Paul Molitor. He'll play third base some. He might even play some first base. But not right field, which was Sano's usual position before his hamstring pull, because of the leg issues. Sano's future? Said Ryan: "No question, it's third base."

No question? Really, Mr. Ryan?

I am, let us say, dubious of the implication that it will be easier to keep Sano healthy and in the lineup as a third baseman. I can, off the top of my head, rattle off the names of several third basemen whose careers were curtailed or limited by back problems, from John Castino to Ryan Zimmerman. Anecdotally, the position seems to be tough on backs.  And personal experience tells me than hamstring issues and back issues tend to go hand in hand; an injury to one often presages an injury to the other.

That said, Ryan has more qualified medical and training advisors than me. And Sano obviously did not fare well in the outfield. I've said before that there is probably never going to be a position at which Sano is the best defensive option; wherever he plays, there's going to be a trade off of defense for offense. Which makes the question: Where does Sano least hurt the club? The Twins brain trust decided early in the offseason that the answer was right field, in part because that allowed Trevor Plouffe to remain the third baseman.

Another question: How do the Twins reshape the roster if Sano is no longer to play outfield? Ryan has in the past suggested that maintaining Sano's weight is a reason to have him playing a position and not be primarily a designated hitter. In the short term, DH may have to be the fall back, as it was in the second half of 2015. If he's going to be the DH the rest of the way, there's no real purpose to Byung Ho Park's presence on the roster.

But if Sano is "no question" a third baseman in the future, that takes away Plouffe's position. (And if he's no longer an outfielder, that makes it easier to give Max Kepler a sustained opportunity.) I said in today's print column that I will be disappointed if the Twins don't deal away at least one of their veteran infielders before the trading deadline, and I focused on Plouffe and Brian Dozier.

I wrote that before hearing Ryan. Nothing I heard him say contradicts my thinking, even though his concern is fitting Sano into the lineup rather than Jorge Polanco. Third question: Why not both?

Bottom line: The Twins shaped their 2016 plans around Sano in the outfield. 2016 has not gone well, and that plan is being jettisoned. But the roster has to be reworked to reflect that new reality.