Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dissecting a meltdown

Shades of 2008 — the Twins take a sizable early lead, the starting pitcher falters, and a string of middle relievers provide no relief at all.

And yet, as I look back at it, I don't blame Ron Gardenhire on any of his moves. (Even though Gardy was officially out of the game during much of the horrendous sixth inning, I assume he was pulling the strings through his Scott Ullger puppet. If not, Ullger did what I would expect Gardenhire to do.)

Fifth inning: Scott Baker had given up four runs in the fourth inning. When his first pitch of the fifth was socked for a double, Gardenhire pulled him for rookie Alex Burnett to face the bottom of the Tigers order. It worked — grounder, strikeout, grounder.

Sixth inning: Burnett opens by getting the no. 9 hitter to pop up. Leadoff man Austin Jackson gets an infield single. Decision time: The Twins lead 6-5. The three most dangerous hitters in the Detroit lineup are coming up. Burnett is pitching well, but do you really want him facing Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera?

Gardy makes the obvious move. In comes his LOOGY, Ron Mahay, to face Damon. It's obvious because (1) this is the guy to use Mahay against and (2) if things go well, it's the only time to use Mahay. By the time Damon comes up again, it will be closer time.

Maybe Denard Span caught Damon's deep fly, maybe he didn't. I have no problem with Paul Emmel's call; Gardenhire has enough trouble with it to get ejected. Now there are two men in scoring position and one out.

Judging by the gamer from the Star Tribune's Joe Christensen, the Twins are dwelling on the call. Say Span hangs on to the ball, Damon's out and Jackson's still at first. Is Mahay going to face Ordonez? Not a chance. No matter what happened with Damon, Mahay is in and out. And the bulk of the disaster is still to come.

In comes Pat Neshek (photo above). He throws one strike in eight pitches. One. Walks Ordonez to load the bases, hits Cabrera to force in the tying run.

Neshek is a logical — the logical — choice for that spot. Ordonez hates to face him. But Neshek was so wild that one has to wonder if his finger is still an issue. (He says no.) And so wild that he has to be replaced.

In comes Jesse Crain. Four pitches, three doubles. He was throwing fastball strikes, and the Tigers liked it. After that he got eight straight outs, but the damage was long done.

One plus from this: Burnett continues to impress. For a variety of reasons, mostly dealing with contractual and roster status, he's unlikely to spend the full season in the majors, but he's got a real chance to be an impact reliever.


  1. But the inning also supports Bill James' warning about going to the bullpen too often. The more times to dip into it, the more likely you are to find the pitcher who doesn't have his stuff on that particular day. Today it seems Gardy found two pitchers off their games: Neshek and Crain.

  2. I don't think he found anybody in that inning who wasn't off his game. Span was charged with an error on the Damon play, but Damon hit it well. And as I said, I don't criticize Gardy for not riding Burnett into the teeth of the Detroit order. Not now, not at this stage of Burnett's career.

  3. My memory may be going, but has there ever been a time (in the last five years) when Crain could be trusted to be rock-solid in relief?