Monday, May 31, 2010

Late night: Twins 5, Mariners 4

Game story here. Box score here.

I tend to attach a person's name to a general baseball principle or insight — somebody who illustrates the idea in question.

The Greg McMichael Rule, for example: If a pitcher gets outs, they'll find a role for him. Named for a guy who started 1993 in the minors for the Atlanta Braves; got outs; was called up to fill out the bullpen after an injury; got outs; moved into a setup role; got outs; ended the season as Atlanta's closer.

This Twins-Mariners game gave me a name to attach to a notion I've had for a while: That you can take most major league position players and play them out of position, and it might take a while for people to realize that, yep, he's out of position.

Call it the Michael Cuddyer Principle.

Cuddyer has bounced around the field in his professional career. He was drafted out of high school as a shortstop. He has, in the majors, seen considerable time at third base, first base, second base and (mostly) right field. He's been pressed into service at times in center field.

He's moved around, to be blunt, because of his shortcomings defensively. He's best in right field, but he's no Ichiro out there either. But those shortcomings aren't always obvious. There are still Twins fans who want him returned to third base. I know a fan with season tickets who seriously argued with me that Cuddy should win a Gold Glove as an outfielder.

With Orlando Hudson back in the Twin Cities to have his wrist examined in detail after Sunday night's game-ending collision, Cuddyer started Monday's game at second base.

The box score reveals no errors on his part, but it was not a smooth game afield for him. The photo above is him trying unsuccessfully to turn a double play; he bounced the relay throw, and Justin Morneau couldn't make the scoop. (If you look closely at the photo, he's flinching from the contact.) A two-run Mariners inning began with a bad-hop single that he played off his right shoulder.

But whatever damage he caused with his defense at his unaccustomed position, he undid with his bat: 2-for-4 with a homer, two runs and two RBIs.

End of the line for the D-Train?

The Detroit Tigers on Sunday designated Dontrelle Willis for assignment. You probably know the drill: He came off the roster immediately, and the team has 10 days to dispose of his contract —by trade, release or assignment to a minor league team.

Nothing too surprising here. Willis was once a star — entertaining and effective, a 22-game winner in '06 for the Florida Marlins — but his career went sour after that, and despite all the hopeful talk this spring about his comeback (including a pretty strong start against the Twins), he was still walking six men per nine innings this year.

What will happen, of course, is that Willis will clear waivers — nobody's going to pick up what remains of his $12 million salary for this season. The Tigers apparently will then release him rather than assign him to a minor league team — Willis would have the right to refuse such an assignment anyway — and pay him off, and Willis will be free to sign elsewhere.

Can he be fixed by somebody else? I doubt it ... but it would sure be interesting to see what the LaRussa-Duncan School for Failed Veterans can make of him in St. Louis.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Morales, Silva, Punto and a West Coast swing

This was bound to happen someday to somebody: Kendry Morales, the Anaheim first baseman, hit a game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the 10th Saturday and jumped into the mass of teammates waiting at home plate to pummel him — and now he's out indefinitely with a fractured leg.

"It'll change the way we celebrate," promised Angels manager Mike Scoscia. Gee, ya think?


Back in April I posted the first of my "Ex-Twins watch" items with Carlos Silva as the subject. The portly pitcher had won his first three starts with the Cubs, and I figured I'd better get him in while the getting was good.

I could have waited. Silva is now 7-0 — the rest of the staff is 17-26 — and he's even striking hitters out. He had 11 K's Saturday in his seven shutout innings against St. Louis.

It isn't just the weaker National League competition either. Judging from the ESPN highlights, he's got more movement on his pitches — especially his favored two-seamer — than I recall from his Twins days.


A comment to my Saturday post on Nick Punto said in part:

I see a poor base runner. Getting picked off vs. the Yankees last season in the play-offs is his norm.

It's OK to think poorly of Nick Punto, but the emperical, measurable evidence on his baserunning couldn't be more different. According to Baseball Info Systems, Punto in 2009 made one baserunning out. (The BIS numbers are regular season only; the playoff blunder wasn't included.) The blunder vs. the Yankees isn't his "norm," it was merely memorable.

Punto rated as a plus 27 as a baserunner last season, the best on the team. Only 11 players in the majors rated higher. In 2008 (the first season from which BIS publishes its baserunning analysis) he was a plus 11 — not the best on the team, but still good.

There are legitimate criticisms to be made of Punto. But if you look at him and see a poor baserunner, you've been blinded by something.

(The BIS numbers, incidentally, were gleaned from the annual Bill James Handbook. And I urge you not to view "plus 27" as suggesting that Punto's baserunning gained 27 runs or 27 bases or 27 specific anythings, because I don't think BIS is saying that. Their formula incorporates a variety of percentages and league averages.)


The Twins on Monday begin a week-long swing to Seattle and Oakland, with most of the games starting too late for The Free Press to get into its print edition. As usual under such circumstances, I'll post photos and links to the box scores and game stories here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A perfectly memorable day for Halladay

Roy Halladay (above) just wrapped up a perfect game against the Florida Marlins.

Not that you can ever expect a perfect game, or even a no-hitter, but one has to figure this was a lot more likely than Dallas Braden's perfecto. Halladay is an established star pitcher, one of the very best in the game. Braden, not so much.

An argument for Nick Punto

Bottom of the sixth inning Friday night, two outs, a man on third. J.J. Hardy, the Twins shortstop, hits a grounder to the right of Texas counterpart Elvis Andrus, who bobbles the ball, scoops it up, and bounces the throw to first, where Hardy is called out to end the inning.

And yes, the umpire missed the call, but you needed stop-motion replay to see that. The real takeaways from the play:

  • Andrus has a gun;
  • Hardy is not a fast runner.

We've seen plenty of indications of the latter point already this season. Hardy is mobile enough to be a quality shortstop defensively and he has a pair of 20-homer seasons on his stat sheet, but he's not going to be a first-to-third marvel on the bases, he's not going to steal bases (he has five steals in his career) and he's a chronic double play risk at the plate.

And when you look up and down the Twins lineup, that's the rule. There's not a lot of speed on this club.

As a general rule, there are four positions for "plus speed" — the scouting term for above-average runners: center field, shortstop, second base and left field. (Not right field — generally, if you have plus speed and throw well, you're a center fielder. If you can run but can't throw, you're a left fielder; throw but can't run, right field; can't do either, first base.)

The Twins have Denard Span in center — checkmark for plus speed there. They have Hardy at short, Orlando Hudson at second, and either Delmon Young or Jason Kubel in left. None of them are burners.

Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer aren't fast either. Catching is rapidly slowing Mauer; in 2008, Baseball Info Systems rated Mauer a plus 20 as a baserunner; in 2009, minus 1. This season's heel problem isn't going to help matters.

This is part of why the Twins hit into so many double plays. Not only is the batter generally slow to first base, the baserunner is seldom going to get to second fast enough to disrupt the pivot man.

Third base is generally regarded as a power position, a place where marginal speed (or no speed) can play. The Twins do not have an obvious top-drawer option at third base — there's no Brooks Robinson or even Scott Rolen lurking on the roster. They have a collection of marginal talents.

And given the lack of speed elsewhere, it makes sense to give preference to a marginal player who can run — Nick Punto (photo above) or Matt Tolbert or Alexi Casilla — over Brendan Harris, who runs like Hardy but doesn't hit as well.

None of them have the power to be an above-average major league hitter. A lot of us fans have trouble seeing past that. This team doesn't need another lead-foot. There might be one too many in the lineup already.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ex-Twins watch: Kyle Lohse

Kyle Lohse is at one of those injury-induced career crossroads pitchers so often come to.

But in his case, it's an odd one — something called "exertional compartment syndrome," in which the sheath of a forearm muscle won't expand. There is said to be no precedent for a pitcher with this condition, which may simply mean it's never been diagnosed in a pitcher. (I figure there's no such thing as a new pitching injury, just more specific diagnoses and surgeries.)

So ... surgery today (Friday) and nobody knows when he'll be back, if ever.

If this is it, I'm afraid I'll remember Lohse more for what he wasn't than for what he was. In 2003 I figured he was about to take off — he had a strong stretch at the end of the season, and I thought that in 2004 he and Johan Santana would both move ahead of Brad Radke. Santana did, Lohse didn't.

He's had just one winning season since 2003 — 2008, when he hooked up with the LaRussa-Duncan school for failing veterans — and he sports a career record of 85-94 with a 4.71 ERA.

He could/should have been better than that.

Blackburn: W's without K's

Nick Blackburn had the textbook Nick Blackburn start on Thursday: Seven innings, nine hits, zero walks, two strikeouts. And the payoff stats — two runs and credit for the win.

One of my Free Press colleagues — a guy who likes to rattle cages and yank on chains, so I'm not sure how seriously he takes his own argument — tells me that Blackburn is the Twins best starter. Paraphrasing him from Thursday: Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano may have better stuff, but Blackburn is mentally tough, which is why he wins.

Blackburn is 6-1 now. He also has (in 61 innings) just 17 strikeouts and 13 walks allowed. That's just 2.5 K/9, and it is simply not possible to have sustained success in the major leagues with that K rate. (The BB/K ratio is equally bad, but the problem there, again, is that Blackburn's strikeout rate this season is so abysmal that it's impossible to have a good ratio.) The Yankees on Thursday had one —ONE — swing-and-a-miss against Blackburn.

This is not to ignore Blackburn's pluses. He has been Minnesota's most durable starter since Johan Santana left. There is value in 200 innings a year. Back-of-the-rotation value, not best- starter-on-the-staff value.

Baker didn't allow a run in the first game of the series (start shortened by rain) but didn't get the win because his teammates didn't score. Liriano, like Blackburn, allowed two runs in seven innings; he also got a no decision. Blackburn happened to pitch on a night when the Twins scored eight runs, so he gets a "W" in the box score.

That's not the result of mental toughness. That's the result of circumstance.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Your frustration's showing, Mr. Gardenhire

The Twins allowed four runs in 1.5 ball games Wednesday and lost both. They have been outhomered in Target Field by more than a 2-to-1 ratio, they lead the majors in grounding into double plays and their record against the Yankees just keeps getting worse.

And Ron Gardenhire lashes out at an age-old bit of gamesmanship by the Yankees.

Buying time at the start of the inning by having a pitcher won't actually pitch that inning take the mound for his warm-up tosses is nothing new. It was standard operating procedure once upon a time. It's fallen out of disuse now, largely (I suspect) because of the emphasis managers have put on planning out their bullpen use ahead of time. They're generally not winging it now, as they did 30 or 40 years ago.

Do the Yankees waste time and drag games out unnecessarily? Absolutely. Was this an egregious example? No.

We know what Gardenhire's really unhappy about -- double plays and men left on base and fly balls to the warning track. But he's not ready (yet) to rip into his hitters for public consumption.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ex-Twins watch: R.A. Dickey

A rather impressive outing on Tuesday from R.A. Dickey — six shutout innings with seven strikeouts. Against the Phillies.

More proof, I suppose, for the proposition that you really can't kill a knuckleballer.

Dickey, of course, had a pretty strong first half with the Twins last season before completely imploding in July. (On July 1 his ERA was 2.36; by Aug. 5 it was 4.62, and he was gone.) By September I could barely remember that he'd ever been on the roster.

But he's "only" 35 — old by baseball standards, young by knuckleball standards. It's possible he's got the flutterball worked out to the point where he can survive in the majors. More likely, he'll continue to bounce from organization to organization, from Triple A to the bigs and back again.

I root for knuckleballers. They're always the last to get a chance, and that chance usually comes with a bad team. Go get 'em, R.A.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Oswalt speculation

From the comments:

Any thoughts on why all the speculation centers on Oswalt and nobody is talking about the Twins outfield situation? The Twins have two outfielders (Span and Cuddyer) and two d.h.s who masquerade as defenders when they grab a glove. Cuddyer could probably use a day off and Span may not play today. I'd love to find a right-handed power bat who can play passable defense to spell the regulars. Such an upgrade is much more important than renting Oswalt at an outrageous price for a couple of months.

The Oswalt speculation is irrelevant to anything.

It's May. We're more than two months away from the trading deadline. I'm not sure the Astros' owner would allow Oswalt to be traded to begin with; if he does allow it, it's not going to be a hasty deal. They'll extract several pounds of flesh, and they should.

So why any speculation connecting Oswalt to Minnesota? (Incidentally, I don't see such speculation outside of Twins-specific coverage; the national baseball media sees more likely suitors.) A few possible factors:

  • The locals don't really trust the current rotation.
  • The Mauer contract (and the expanding payroll) has us all giddly thinking of the Twins as Yankee-like, or at least Red Sox-like, spenders.
  • Oswalt is a somebody.

I'm more or less in agreement on the lack of a true outfield reserve, and I may do a post on the subject in the next few days. But fourth outfielders by definition aren't name players, and only a real geek (such as me) is likely to get fired up over the difference between Ryan Langerhans and Dustin Martin.

Managerial shuffling

In the Monday print column, I took note of the extreme longevity of a number of current managers and suggested that well-run organizations are more loathe than ever to change managers for the sake of change.

Also on Monday, I heard Tim Kurkjian of ESPN say that by the start of next season, as many as 10 teams could have new managers.

These are not mutually exclusive thoughts. I specified "good organizations," which was meant to exclude the operations on the sub-.500 treadmill. And Kurkjian wasn't talking about firings exclusively, but also accounting for the pending retirement of Bobby Cox (photo above) in Atlanta and the speculation that Lou Piniella (Cubs) and Joe Torre (Dodgers) will walk away at the end of the season.

There is a certain self-destructive pattern to be seen in the fallen-and-can't-get-up operations:

  • New general manager takes helm, brings in his own manager (and other front office and coaching personnel) within a year.
  • Three years later, team continues to lose — no surprise, since even if the new organization is now drafting and developing players better than the previous regime, that's seldom going to be a quick fix.
  • The GM, now under pressure for immediate results, fires his handpicked manager, brings in a new guy.
  • A year or two later, the GM gets the ax, and his replacement tears up the organization and restarts the cycle.

Thus the Mets, for example. Omar Minaya hired Willie Randolph to manage, only to can him in a particularly messy way. The team continues to struggle, and Jerry Manuel, Randolph's successor, is almost certainly one of the managers on Kurkjian's at-risk list — and Minaya's grasp on his job is none too strong either.

The Twins, to the credit of the Pohlads (and particularly Carl) have avoided this treadmill. Even in the ugly days of the mid-to-late 90s, the organization remained stable, and when changes came, there weren't violent upheavals. Tom Kelly retired, and his third base coach was promoted to manager. Terry Ryan stepped aside, and his assistant GM took the helm.

It may not be a perfectly run operation, but it remains a coherent one, one with a notion of what it's about that everybody involved, including the fans, can grasp. That would seem an obvious thing, but it has long eluded the likes of the Royals and Pirates.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A lesson in deferred comp

You may remember that earlier this year, back before the Joe Mauer extension was worked out, Twins CEO Jim Pohlad publicly ruled out any sort of deferred comp.

Today provided a bit of lesson in why. The Texas Rangers filed what they describe as a "prepackaged" bankruptcy petition. Normally such filings aren't contested because the details have been worked out with the creditors, but there are indications that there are creditors willing to fight this one.

Which isn't the point here. What is: The six largest unsecured creditors — owed money by the Rangers but without a lien against the team and thus likely to take a haircut — are former or (ine one case) current Texas players.

The Rangers still owe Alex Rodriguez almost $25 million. Man, that was a contract that keeps on giving. Then there's Kevin Millwood, Michael Young, Vicente Padilla, Mickey Tettleton and Mark McLemore.

Tettleton? McLemore? Tettleton last played for Texas 13 years ago, McLemore 11 years ago — and the Rangers are still paying them.

Maybe not for long, though.

Loaded with small sample sizes

Jason Kubel said it Saturday after the Twins blew a big lead and came back to win the game in extra innings:

Keep getting guys on base and it'll work out.

It didn't work out Sunday; the Twins left 14 men on and lost 4-3. On Saturday, they left 17 men on but won.

So the coverage now has taken a predictable turn. The Twins lack "killer instinct." They fail in the clutch.

From the Strib's LaVelle Neal:

The Twins have some disturbing offensive statistics that can't be brushed off as a small sample size for much longer.

They entered Sunday batting .177 with the bases loaded — 29th in the majors — and went 0-for-3 on Sunday to drop to .169. They have had 65 at-bats with the bases loaded in 44 games. The league average with the bases loaded is .298. Just hitting closer to the league average would turn close games into blowouts and losses into a few more victories.

Memo to Mr. Neal: Sixty-five at-bats is indeed a small sample size. (It's actually 82 plate appearances, but hey, if you ignore the bases loaded walks and sac flies, you can make the situation look worse than it is.)

Yeah, they haven't hit well with the bases loaded — so far. It's not a sign of moral inferiority any more than the Twins' otherworldly performance with men in scoring position in 2008‚ when they hit almost 20 points above their total average with men on base, was a sign of superiority.

This RBI fixation is irritating. Kubel is right: Keep getting on base, and it will work out. Sixty-five cherry-picked at-bats out of a sea of 1,523 (to date) mean very little.

That the Twins, a third of the way through the season, are about half way to last season's count of such opportunities strikes me as more significant.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Plouffe's debut

Pretty solid way to break in: 2-for-5 with a double, a run scored, a couple of RBIs and no blatant misplays in the field.

One game doesn't make or break Trevor Plouffe as a major league shortstop. It will be the body of work that determines that, a body of work not only here but in Rochester, where he'll return when J.J. Hardy returns to the lineup.

I was too dismissive of Plouffe's future in Friday's post; I shouldn't have put the word prospect in quotation marks. He is not yet 24. He has the athletic gifts to be a first-round pick; he has the time to turn those gifts into baseball skills. Unlike Matt Tolbert, the Twins see him as regular material; if he's on the 25-man roster, he's going to play.

And yet ... even if the improvement in his hitting this season is genuine — his command of the strike zone, as measured in walks and strikeouts, has been essentially the same this year as in previous season — I'm still skeptical. Last winter, Mike Radcliffe, the Twins' top player evaluator, called Estarlin de los Santos the system's "only true shortstop," an assessment that implicitly dismissed Plouffe as the team's future at the position.

Here's how Baseball America described Plouffe coming into spring training:

His shortstop defense hasn't been good enough as a pro, despite a plus-plus arm that remains his best tool. He made 26 errors last year at Rochester, consistent with the 29 he made in Fort Myers in 2006 and 32 in '07 at New Britain. He was more of a utility infielder in 2008, but he lacks the energy or speed to lay that role in the majors. ... Plouffe still could be a second division regular ...

Second division regular. The Twins drafted him with Greg Gagne in mind. Pat Meares is more likely.

More likely but hardly certain.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The truffe on Plouffe and other matters

Thirteen pitchers no more: Jeff Manship sucked up four outs in what passed for a long-relief stint on Thursday and was immediately returned to Rochester, with shortstop "prospect" Trevor Plouffe getting the call.

Plouffe (pictured) was the first of three or five first-round picks (depending on how you count the "first-round supplement" picks) the Twins made in 2004. He was pushed through the system a rung at a time, never really standing out at any level but getting legitimate credit for holding his own while generally being one of the youngest players in the league.

That's not the case any more, although he's not yet 24 years old. This is his third season at Triple A, and maybe something's started to click -- he's hitting over .300 for the first time in his minor league career, and showing some power as well, and he did get a hit the other day against Steven Strasburg. Of course, it's only 170-some plate appearances.

Plouffe's callup will please Seth Stohs, at least; Stohs, who keeps pretty close tabs on the Twins farm system, was pretty displeased that Matt Tolbert got the original call-up when J.J. Hardy went on the disabled list.

I have my doubts how much Plouffe will play these next few days. Brendan Harris isn't doing much, but Alexi Casilla has looked pretty good to these eyes. If Plouffe were still seen as the shortstop of the future, they'd clearly play him at whatever level he's at, but I doubt he's as well regarded now as he was six years ago.


Stohs is critical of the decision to option out Manship rather than Jose Mijares or dumping Jesse Crain, but it's the right move. Manship was up purely for a long-relief outing. He's a starter, not a bullpen guy, and needs to be ready to step into the Twins rotation if and when injury strikes.


Francisco Liriano through May 2: 4-0, 6 earned runs allowed in 36 innings, a 1.50 ERA.

Liriano since then: 0-3, 13 earned runs in 16.2 innings, 7.02 ERA.

He threw 123 pitches on May 2. Ron Gardenhire had reason to stretch him out that day -- the bullpen was in bad shape -- and one cannot say conclusively that the heavier use led to the slump, but it's another data point for the pitch count advocates.

We'll see if Bert Blyleven ever notices.


The Twins demoted a handful of prominent prospects this week -- Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee, Estarlin de los Santos -- and both Stohs and the Star Tribune's La Velle Neal were struck in particular by the demotion of Benson, who, at least by the stats, had recovered from a horrid start and was producing.

Something had to give. The New Britain (Conn.) team -- the Twins Double-A affiliate -- is just 9-29 this season, this despite having been loaded with a goodly percentage of the organization's top prospects.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Because 12 pitchers just aren't enough

The Twins shipped Matt Tolbert back to Triple A after the Toronto series and brought back Jeff Manship (photo left), who started as many games in his brief earlier tenure with the big club as Tolbert did during his time up.

This gives the Twins 13 pitchers, which is more than they really ought to have, but they had two short starts against the Blue Jays (five innings from Kevin Slowey, four innings from the Bad Carl Pavano) and were headed into Fenway Park, which is a graveyard for depleted bullpens.

And it's not like Tolbert was playing a vital role anyway.

This 13-pitcher crew won't last long; I don't know exactly when J.J. Hardy will be ready to play, but he's eligible to come off the disabled list now. When he's back, a pitcher will leave.

My guess is it will be Manship; my guess is that they're not ready to pull the plug on Jesse Crain. And I would hope that if they DO pull the plug on Crain that they'll fill his space with a bona fide relief pitcher -- Kyle Waldrop or Anthony Slama.

Manship, remember, is the rotation's Plan B now that Brian Duensing is pitching short relief. They need to keep him stretched out.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Do the hustle

By now you've probably seen the Hanley Ramirez embarrassment — how the Florida Marlins' superstar shortstop kicked a ball into the left field corner during Monday's loss to Arizona and did a slow trot after it. If you haven't, click on the link.

The embarrassment isn't the error. It's the sloth. I guarantee you, there will be people running faster in the Mankato Marathon this summer than Ramirez was going after that ball.

Ramirez then heightened the crisis by complaining that manager Fredi Gonzalez doesn't respect him, and added, by way of indictment: He never played in the major leagues.

Nothing good is going to come of this. Ramirez is a supremely talented and productive player, but no manager can tolerate that lack of effort. Gonzalez had to pull him, and has to bench him.

But ultimately, Gonzalez is going to get the ax over this. He's not particularly beloved by owner Jeffery Loria anyway — Loria, perhaps spoiled by the 2003 Fish's surprise World Series win, thinks the Marlins, flawed and low-budget as they are, should be a playoff team — and if this continues to be a superstar vs. manager power struggle, Ramirez will win. Loria needs Ramirez more than he needs Gonzalez.

And if Gonzalez doesn't have the respect and support of his best player, maybe he should go. There's a story about Joe McCarthy, the great manager, who had been hired to skipper the Boston Red Sox. McCarthy had a dress code with the Yankees; Ted Williams notoriously hated to wear ties. Friction was anticipated. And McCarthy diffused it immediately by showing up at spring training tieless. A manager who can't get along with a .400 hitter, he explained, isn't much of a manager.

Of course, dress codes are one thing and loafing on the field another.

I remember some 30 years ago a young, egocentric superstar shortstop who one day decided it would be a good idea to jog to first base on a grounder. The fans booed; he gave them the bird — and his manager ran onto the field, grabbed him and dragged him into the dugout. That winter, the young superstar was traded for a good field, no-hit shortstop. It looked like horridly one-sided trade. It turned out so.

The manager was Whitey Herzog. The superstar was Garry Templeton. The lesser talent was Ozzie Smith.

Two of those three are in the Hall of Fame today. Templeton is not.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ask and ye shall receive (bullpen edition)

Kevin Slowey had another five-and-fly start Monday in Toronto. Four or five weeks ago, this would probably mean Brian Duensing in the sixth; two weeks ago, probably Jesse Crain.

But Duensing is working later in the games now, and Crain has been ineffective. With a three-run lead, Alex Burnett (pictured) got the ball.

It wasn't brilliant — two innings, two hits, one walk, no strikeouts — but he got six outs and allowed no runs. It was his first major league "hold," and may there be many more.

Burnett reminds me of Juan Rincon, who had a nice little run as a top-grade set-up man for the Twins: Short righty (Burnett is listed at 6-feet, Rincon at 5-11) with a low-90s fastball and a good slider.

Burnett was followed in the eighth by Matt Guerrier with a five-run lead. I assume this was because when he started warming up it was still a "save situation" — Justin Morneau's two-run homer came with two outs. He was warmed, so they used him.

And Crain did get an inning, the ninth, with a comfy five-run cushion.

So Burnett appears to be ahead of Crain in the bullpen pecking order right now. But this can change. The discontent Ron Gardenhire voiced about Crain during the weekend was couched in terms of needing him turned around. Given that neither Pat Neshek nor Clay Condrey appear to have begun pitching in rehab assignments, Crain may be a long way from exhausting his chances.


My silly little TV poll Monday got the results I expected: 13 responses, 11 of who said they'd watch the Twins-Jays, one the NBA and one a dark screen.

Me? Twins-Jays, mostly, with occasional look-ins at Mythbusters (hey, I like watching Jamie and Adam blow stuff up). A bit of time pulling dandelions in the backyard with the radio (I decided to stick with it through the end of the top of the fourth; the Jays killed a lot of dandelions with their sloppy play). And after the Twins game ended, I saw the last two or three innings of the four-hour Yankees-Red Sox game.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Crain derailment (and poll stuff)

Middle relief, middle relief, middle relief.

I second-guessed Ron Gardenhire for his Friday decision to have Matt Guerrier pitch to Alex Rodriguez, and offered as an alternative a scenario in which Brian Duensing faced Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano.

What I didn't offer was a right-handed alternative to Guerrier facing A-Rod, because right now there isn't a good one.

Jesse Crain (above) demonstrated that Saturday with his horrid (three runs allowed, one out gotten) outing.

Exhibit No. 2,725,831 in defense of the adage you never have enough pitching: The Twins went into spring training figuring that they had bullpen depth stacked up. Joe Nathan to close; Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Crain as right-handed short men; Jose Mijares as a shut-down lefty; Clay Condrey to eat middle-relief innings; Pat Neshek returning from his surgery.

Middle of May: Nathan's done for the year, Condrey has yet to throw a major league pitch, Neshek's also on the disabled list, Mijares just came off the DL, Rauch is closing, Crain's ERA is 6.75 and rising ... Had Duensing not emerged as a late-inning reliever to join Guerrier, the bullpen would be in desperate straits indeed.

The Pioneer Press says Gardenhire is still counting on Crain. Le Velle Neal's Sunday post suggests patience with Crain is wearing thin.

A commenter on this blog earlier this year suggested that Crain hasn't been effective in five years. I suppose that depends on how one defines effective. His ERA in the second half last season (after his return from a minor league demotion) was 2.91. He hasn't become the stud set-up man I expected when he arrived, as LaTroy Hawkins and Juan Rincon were for a few years each, but he's been useful.

I don't know if the minor league route is available with Crain this year; he may well be out of options. I don't think Condrey's ready to return yet, and I know Neshek's not, and even if the Twins brought up somebody like Anthony Slama or Kyle Waldrop, Gardenhire is not going to throw either of them into the fire immediately.

Which leaves me looking at Alex Burnett, who has been pitching mostly low-leverage innings so far with some competence.

If he starts getting close-game use, we'll really know Crain's in the doghouse.


Last week's poll (on the best use of Wilson Ramos) had 38 participants and a solid plurality looking for a trade.

Eighteen (47 percent) said trade him; nine (23 percent) want him and Joe Mauer to split catching and DH duties; seven (18 percent) want him to emerge as Mauer's backup; and four (10 percent) think the Twins should move Mauer to a different position and install Ramos as the regular catcher.

I haven't a weekly poll idea I like right now, but I have a one-day wonder to offer.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Setting up the slam

"We're always aware of the numbers. I know (Alex Rodriguez) has been good against Matty (Guerrier). Sometimes you can't do anything about the numbers. We're going to go with our best pitcher at the time."
Ron Gardenhire

Really, once Derek Jeter's hit caromed off Scott Baker's leg and into short right field — giving new meaning to the term "leg double" — there were no real good choices for Gardenhire.

We know what he did in the seventh inning Friday with a 4-3 lead and Yankees on second and third, no outs.

1) He brought in Brian Duensing, lefty, who got Brett Gardner to pop up to short left. One down.

2) He had Duensing walk Mark Teixeira intentionally to load the bases.

3) He brought in Guerrier to face Rodriguez — who hit the second pitch over the left field fence.

Now, lets talk about those numbers. The ones getting the most attention in these second-guess post-mortems are these: Rodriguez was 4-for-6 lifetime against Guerrier — with three homers.

Now he's 5-for-7 with four homers against Guerrier.

Some other numbers: Teixeira is 1-for-5 in his career against Duensing. And Robinson Cano, the missing piece of this equation — the man hitting behind Rodriguez — entered the game 1-for-5 against Guerrier, 1-for-4 against Duensing.

I don't blame Gardenhire for not wanting to pitch to both Teixeira and A-Rod in such an obvious game situation. I understand his faith in Guerrier, and recognize that four homers in seven at-bats isn't something easily done in batting practice. Gardenhire played for the double play, and he got burned.

But still, I think the smarter move was to have Duensing pitch to Teixeira, walk Rodriguez, and face Cano. Of course, that requires getting two of the Yankees 3-4-5 men out rather than one — assuming they could get the DP on Rodriguez.

Granted: You can't have Duensing face Rodriguez with the game on the line.

You can't have Guerrier face him either.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On Trey Hillman

Trey Hillman finally got the ax in Kansas City on Thursday. It was inevitable, especially after the Sunday incident when Josh Hamilton of Texas advanced a base on a fly ball without tagging up and nobody — NOBODY — in a Royals uni noticed.

It was Joe Posnanski's piece about that play — well, that and the Twins weekend series with Baltimore — that prompted my post on the Royals and Orioles. And Pos, in his usual elongated style, gives a very reasonable macro-reason why Hillman failed.

There's no argument: The Royals' problems go beyond Hillman. Replacing him with Ned Yost is not a fix. They may get the baseball equivalent of a dead cat bounce, but the Royals have three to five high-quality players (Zach Grienke, Joakim Soria, Billy Butler, maybe David DeJesus and Gil Meche) surrounded by a bunch of guys who wouldn't make the Twins roster, much less lineup. That might be partly Hillman's fault, but the blame goes more on Dayton Moore, the general manager.

The Royals took Alex Gordon with the second overall pick in 2005, took him ahead of Ryan Braun and Tory Tulowitzki and Ryan Zimmerman and Ricky Romero and Andrew McCutcheon and Matt Garza ... and it wasn't a stupid pick. Most organizations, I dare say, would have taken Gordon there. It just didn't work. Gordon is back in the minors now; they're trying to make him a left fielder.

The Royals took Luke Hochevar with the first overall pick in 2006. This was not a consensus pick, and for a number of reasons I wouldn't have wanted the Twins to draft him had he been on the board when they took Chris Parmelee with the 20th pick, but still: The Royals thought Hochevar was worth the top pick, and it hasn't worked, and probably won't. Hochevar has had almost 60 starts, well past my 30-start "now you can start judging him as a major-league pitcher" rule, and he still has an ERA pushing 6.

(Among those the Royals passed up: Evan Longoria, Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Couglan, Joba Chamberlain.)

Neither player has developed under Hillman. They are no better, and perhaps a bit worse, now than when they arrived in Kansas City.

The players taken in those spots in the draft should be cornerstone players. Is the failure of Gordon and Hochevar to meet that standard the fault of the scouts? The minor league system? Hillman? A combination? I can't say for sure how to apportion the blame, but I know this: It's no way to rebuild the once-proud Royals.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On Target: Home and road splits, take 2

(Updated @ 8:50 a.m. Thursday)

On Tuesday, Justin Morneau crushed a ball just to the left of straight-away center field. It barely reached the warning track. Just a long out.

On Wednesday, Michael Cuddyer mashed a ball to left center — and Alex Rios made a very impressive over-the-fence grab (photo right).

Two long balls, two outs, and two more pieces of anecdotal evidence that Target Field plays long to center and the gaps.

The validity of that belief has yet to be fully established. We haven't seen summer yet.

Here are the Twins home/road splits — and again, it's too early to attach any real importance to these figures:

Home: The Twins have played 18 home games, scoring 88 runs (4.89 per game). They've hit 10 homers (.56 per game), slash stats .277/.362/.406.

They've allowed 63 runs (3.50), allowing 15 homers (.83), slash stats .252/.296/.393.

Road: The Twins have played 16 road games. They've scored 81 runs (5.06 per game), hit 22 homers (1.38), slash stats .276/.355/.452.

They've allowed 60 runs (3.75), 11 homers (.69), slash stats .270/.329/.406.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Three minor league pitchers

The Twins did considerable roster shuffling throughout the organization this week. If you want the details, I'll refer you to LeVelle Neal and Seth Strohs.

I'm struck by three pitchers:

Kyle Gibson, last year's first round pick, pitched poorly in the season opener at High-A Fort Myers, then grabbed the Florida State League by the windpipe until it turned blue. He'll next pitch for Double-A New Britain.

Gibson's a fast tracker, and the Twins are a slow track organization. Mike Leake, also a first-round collegiate pitcher last summer, opened this season in the Cincinnati rotation; Stephen Strasberg, last year's version of the Greatest Pitching Prospect Ever, opened in Double A, has moved up to Triple A, and if such financial issues as arbitration eligibility weren't a factor would have been in the Washington rotation in April.

One difference, of course, is that Gibson works for a team without an obvious hole in the starting rotation. The Twins don't need to push him along. He'll get here soon enough.

Deolis Guerra (photo above) — the one original piece of the Johan Santana trade still in the system — is now in Triple A. His luster dimmed after he joined the Twins organization — he repeated High A in 2008 and pitched worse than in 2007, opened 2009 in High A again and escaped to Double A in midseason with marginal statisical improvement.

He's been quite effective in New Britain this spring, especially in the strike-throwing department (four walks in 29-plus innings). And he's still just 21 — barely.

Gibson's probably the better prospect, but Guerra (who's on the 40-man roster) might beat him to the majors. Again, however, there's no rush.

Shooter Hunt is the other pitcher I wanted to mention, even though he didn't get promoted.

Hunt was a supplemental-round pick in 2008, the 31st overall pick, out of Tulane. The word was great stuff and uncertain command — which made him unusual for the Twins, who love "pitchability" and strikes more than sheer stuff.

He signed fast and ripped through four starts in the Appy League — 19 innings, six walks, 34 strikeouts, 0.47 ERA — and up he went to Low-A Beloit.

Where "the Thing" grabbed him. It hasn't been pretty: 27 walks in 31.1 innings in Beloit (2008), 33 walks in 17.2 innings in Beloit (2009), 25 walks in 15 innings in High Rookie Fort Myers (2009).

It was more of the same in his first outing this year in High A Fort Myers — three walks and no outs. But since then, he seems to have found the plate again, having walked six in 18.2 innings, all in relief.

He is definitely not a guy they're going to push.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Minding your O's and R's

It may be difficult to believe, but there was a time when baseball almost lost me.

It was the late 1970s-early '80s, the period between the Rod Carew trade (the fallout of Calvin Griffith's infamous Waseca speech — "I'll tell you why we moved to Minnesota. It was when we found out you only had 15,000 blacks here'') and the beginning of the Kirby Puckett-Kent Hrbek era.

The team was bad, the owner was unwilling or unable to evolve, the old Met appeared ready to fall apart and then was replaced by the Metrodome ... it was really difficult to be a Twins fan. It was too easy to wonder if the organization was trying.

Griffith chose to ignore free agency. He essentially punted the draft. A book on scouting published in the early 1980s described a "Twins draft" as an unathletic white guy, probably a college senior, with no or little negotiating leverage — Bryan Oelkers and Mike Sodders and Eddie Bane.

I never accepted Sid Hartman's defense of this — that Griffith had no choice, that it just wasn't possible for him to compete in the free agency era. (It was the early version of "small market" whining.)

I didn't accept it because there were these two teams in the American League, the Kansas City Royals and the Baltimore Orioles, that had at least similar financial strictures and thrived anyway. The Orioles didn't try to outbid the Yankees for free agents, but they won 90-plus games every year. The Royals dominated the Western Division despite a smaller population to draw fans from. The O's and the R's knew what they were doing.

The Orioles went to the World Series in 1979 and lost, went again in 1983 and won. The Royals went to the World Series in 1980 and lost, went again in 1985 and won.

And now? Out in Baltimore Andy MacPhail – who started the process of building the current Twins operation in 1986 — is trying to revive the old "Oriole Way," which is the basic template for what the Twins have been doing for the past decade. He has some big obstacles — the Yankees and Red Sox have a much larger financial advantage over the Orioles than they did when Paul Richards started building the Orioles operation, and it took a long time for that effort to come to fruition.

But at least there's signs of progress there. Kansas City is just a complete mess.

It's a cycle. Teams rise and fall, and few, no matter their resources, can outspend their mistakes. (The Yankees have, but they also don't make all that many mistakes either.) Managerial competency — field manager and general manager — count for a lot. Ownership that allows competent management is rarer than you might think. (There's probably a MBA thesis in that thought.)

There's a part of me saddened by the lowly status of the Orioles and Royals, because the young me thought they were model franchises. But baseball's a zero-sum game; the wins and losses have to even up, and not everybody can win 90 games every season. If the Twins are winning, somebody has to lose.

Perhaps in another 30 years the Twins will be the downtrodden again and those of us still around will wonder why they can't thrive like the O's and R's.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ex-Twins watch: Livan Hernandez

Livan Hernandez, now pitching for the Washington Nationals, allowed one run in seven innings Sunday against the Florida Marlins.

This raised his ERA to 1.04.

This ain't 1968, and even if it were, Livan has never reminded anybody of Bob Gibson.

Still, we're well into May, the rubber-armed Cuban has made six starts, and he's barely allowing a run per nine innings.

This too shall pass. He's struck out just 14 men in a bit more than 43 innings, and walked the same number.

He can't possibly maintain a low batting-average allowed with that puny strikeout rate — he's striking out fewer than three men per nine innings, yet opposing hitters aren't batting .200 against him. Nor is a 1-to-1 walk-to strikeout ratio consistent with good pitching.

Still, he's on a strong run.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A perfect game

Dallas Braden had been best known as a promising left-handed pitcher in the Oakland system.

He got a bit more attention earlier this year when he publicly called out Alex Rodriguez for running across the pitchers mound. A-Rod's sneering response: "How many games has he won?"

Last week, in a radio interview, Braden renewed his jabs at the Yankee star. A-Rod replied: "I don't want to extend his 15 minutes of fame."

On Sunday, Braden threw a perfect game at the Tampa Bay Rays. His fame is going to last a bit longer than 15 minutes. And for those foolish enough to judge someone's credibility by his stats, he rose a bit.

Box score here. Game story here.

Poll stuff: Pitchers and catchers

On the previous poll: Twenty-three people participated in the Hall of Fame question.

Sixteen (69 percent) think Jack Morris should be in; eight (39 percent) voted for Jim Bunning; five (21 percent) for Jamie Moyer; one each (4 percent) for Rube Marquard and Jesse Haines; zero for Ted Lyons.

Personally, I rank them Bunning, Morris, Lyons, Moyer, Haines and Marquard, and probably draw the line after Morris, but perhaps after Lyons.

The new poll, on Wilson Ramos, is up.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The new pet blog

This has little if anything to do with baseball, but a little self-promotion here:

I am part of the news Free Press blog. This one is Pets on Parade, dedicated to the animal companions of the area.

Baseball and beagles, baby. What can be better?

The young and the old

On Friday, Starlin Castro of the Cubs became the first major league player born in the 1990s. The shortstop merely hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat and followed that with a three-run triple, and yes, six RBIs is a record for a major league debut.

My sense of it is that calling up Castro was a panic move by the Cubs. He's had all of 57 games in Double-A, and despite the big debut has not displayed much power in the minors. Still, the really great talents don't have to spend much time in the bushes. We'll see if Castro is a really great talent.

Also on Friday, the venerable Jamie Moyer, famed in song and print columns, threw a two-hit shutout at the Atlanta Braves. Granted, the Braves lineup is rather depleted by injury these days, but a 28-batter complete game is impressive on any level, much less by somebody 27 years older than Starlin Castro.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Robin Roberts, Bert Blyleven and the Hall of Fame

Bert Blyleven has 287 wins to his credit -- 287 regular season wins, and five more in the postseason.

Robin Roberts, who died Thursday at age 83, had 286 wins and a goose egg in the World Series, which was the only postseason of his time.

Blyleven was charged with 250 losses; Roberts with 245. Blyleven's career ERA was 3.31; Roberts', 3.41.

Robin Roberts is in the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. Bert Blyleven is not but ought to be.

The similarities in their career totals -- and their mutual penchant for the gopher ball (Roberts holds the career record for home runs allowed, Blyleven the single-season record) -- aside, they are not really comparable pitchers.

Roberts relied on his fastball movement and control. The obituaries claim his velocity reached 100 mph; I wasn't there, but you can't see that in his strikeouts. A power pitcher, yes; a fly ball pitcher, most definitely, probably the most pronounced fly ball pitcher ever. Richie Ashburn, his center fielder during his salad days in Philadelphia, holds all kinds of putout records.

Blyleven had a good fastball, but his best pitch was his curve.

Roberts' career high in walks was 77 — and that was in an era when 100-plus walk seasons were fairly common for pitchers. Blyleven bested that figure four times. Roberts never stuck out 200 men in a season; Blyleven did so eight times.

The reason Roberts is in and Blyleven out: Roberts won 20 games six straight years, with a high of 28, and was widely considered the best pitcher of the early 1950s. Blyleven won 20 games once.

Big seasons. The Hall of Fame voters love big seasons from pitchers and career numbers from hitters.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sun, wind and roof

It's unlikely that Dick Bremer reads this blog, but on the off chance that he does, a challenge:

Explain why it is more aesthetically pleasing to see an outfielder lose a fly ball in the sun — or misjudge it because of erratic wind gusts, as happened Wednesday afternoon to Detroit's Brennan Boesch — than to lose it in the Metrodome roof.

As a practical matter, it's the same result. Boesch's bobble resulted in a pair of unearned runs in a game the Twins won by one.

There is no environment that doesn't affect the game. None. Indoors, outdoors, turf, grass, whatever — baseball is a subtle game, with fractions of inches making huge differences. The challenges confronting outfielders in Target Field are different from the ones confronting them in the Metrodome, and the gusty winds of Wednesday may have been worse for them than the dingy canvas of the Dome.

Later in the game, FSN showed a youngster in the stands, which (again) started Bremer off on the tragedy of generations denied the opportunity to see the Twins play home games outdoors. This continued whining about the Metrodome is a tired act. It's history. It's past. Let it go.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A void in the booth

The great ones are going, and they aren't being replaced.

Ernie Harwell on Tuesday became the latest baseball voice to fall permanently silent. There's been a string of them in recent years — Herb Carneal here, Harry Kalas in Philadelphia, Phil Rizzuto and Lindsey Nelson in New York, Herb Score in Cleveland, Jack Buck in St. Louis, Harry and Skip Carey ... They were all radio guys first and foremost. Most of them did TV, some of them a lot of TV, because that's where the audience has migrated over the years, but they all started on the radio side years ago, when the TV broadcasts were relatively rare.

On the same day that Harwell died, John Gordon completely and utterly botched the call on a key play of the Twins-Tigers game. In the ninth inning, with Detroit's Alex Avila on second, Ramon Santiago hit a grounder to the shortstop hole. Gordon's call went something like this:

Base hit! A diving stop by Everett! Oh!

At which point, perhaps because he was aware that he had just misidentified J.J. Hardy, he got all tongue-tied and unable to describe how Hardy saw Avila rounding third base, threw the ball to Nick Punto, who then ran Avila down.

You probably didn't hear Gordon butcher the call. If you did, you couldn't possibly have figured out what was going on. That's the thing about radio: If the announcer is inattentive or inarticulate, there's no visual to save the day.

It's tough work. I'm sure I'd be terrible at the job, starting with the limitations of my voice and including all the other aspects of it, including those that the listener is unaware of.

My real point: There are doubtless good, even great, young play-by-play men out there. But they're doing TV, not radio. It's easier and it pays better. And the guys who mastered the art in the era when radio was all we fans had most days — they are dying off.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Shows what I know

Contrary to my speculation of Monday morning, Nick Blackburn is back and starting today, with Jeff Manship (probably) returning to Rochester and the Twins riding with an 11-man pitching staff for the time being.

That time being until Joe Mauer is ready to roll again. Which is apparently likely to be sooner than the "week-to-week" floated Sunday by Ron Gardenhire, who apparently said that in hopes of dissuading media types from asking every day if Mauer was ready again.

Meanwhile, we get to watch the legend of Wilson Ramos (above) continue to grow.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Twins roster issues

It's unclear at this point how long Joe Mauer's going to be out with his bone bruised heel. Ron Gardenhire described it Sunday as more week-to-week than day-to-day, which sounds like disabled list material, but the team website lists May 3 as his possible return date.

That seems overly optimistic, but there's been no move to DL him.

Meanwhile, Pat Neshek's on the DL -- that's the move that cleared a spot for Wilson Ramos -- and Nick Blackburn's on family emergency leave, with Jeff Manship (above) in his place.

The rules for Blackburn's leave say he has to be gone at least three days and no more than seven. So he could miss another start -- that spot in the rotation comes up Thursday against Baltimore -- and Manship would obviously pick that up.

Right now, the Twins have 11 pitchers and 14 position players active. This is not Gardenhire's preferred roster split, and even for those fans who think 12 pitchers are too many, it's not helping the bench either, since Mauer can't play.

I'm guessing that by the time Blackburn has to be reactivated, they'll decide to put Mauer on the DL. Then the question will be whether to keep Manship up to serve as a long reliever or return him to Rochester and bring up another guy for Gardenhire's preferred mix-and-match relief strategy.

It probably won't be Jose Mijares, whose possible return is listed on that same webpage as mid-May.

Poll stuff: Pitchers and catchers

Before I record the results of last week's poll, a few words about the new one:

It follows a tangent from the Monday print column, in which I suggest that Jamie Moyer's career is as worthy of Hall of Fame induction as that of some guys who are in the Hall.

So there are six names up there, four of them in and two out. I could easily have expanded this list in either direction — Billy Pierce, Bucky Walters, Lon Warneke among those left out, Burleigh Grimes, Vic Willis, Jack Chesbro and Catfish Hunter among those in. Among others.

In case you want to take this question seriously enough to look at the records of the six I selected, here they are:

Jim Bunning, 224-184, 3.27. Pitched 1955-71, mostly for Detroit and Philadelphia (NL). Now U.S. senator from Kentucky.

Jesse Haines, 210-158, 3.64. Pitched 1920-37 for St. Louis (NL). Threw a "knuckleball" that was probably more the knuckle curve of today.

Ted Lyons, 260-230, 3.67. Pitched 1923-42, 46 for Chicago (AL), the late interruption being for World War II. Famous "Sunday pitcher" the last six years or so of his career, starting once a week in the Sunday doubleheader.

Rube Marquard, 201-177, 3.08. Pitched 1908-25, mostly for New York (NL), Brooklyn and Boston (NL). Almost everything he told Lawrence Ritter for the book "Glory of Their Times" proved to be a lie.

Jack Morris, 254-186, 3.90. Pitched 1977-94, mostly for Detroit but with one memorable season with the Twins. Game Seven of 1991, baby.

Jamie Moyer, 261-197, 4.22 . Pitched 1986-present. Moved ahead of Lyons on the all-time wins list Sunday.

How old is Jamie Moyer? When he broke in with the Cubs, he was a teammate of Gary Matthews. Last night, he pitched against Gary Matthews Jr.— and Junior is 35 himself.


OK, back to the past. The question was who is the second-best catcher in Twins history. Earl Battey won a solid majority of the 41 votes (23, or 56 percent), as he should have.

Brian Harper had eight votes (19 percent), A.J. Pierzynski six (14 percent), Butch Wynegar two (4 percent) and None of the Above also had two votes.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Into the bullpen

Some curious moves, or non-moves, Saturday by Ron Gardenhire with his bullpen crew.

Going at it in chronological order:

* He pulled starter Jeff Manship after six innings and 86 pitches. Maybe a bit hasty, but it was a one-run game at that point, and Manship hasn't exactly established himself.

* Brian Duensing pitched the seventh, throwing just 10 pitches. And that was it for him for the night. Which, in retrospect, is curious because later — after the game had gone into extra innings — Dick Bremer talked about how Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson mentioned that they don't have a long man in the bullpen. Duensing should be the long man, but he has been used as a short man — in fact, that's probably why Manship got the start. Duensing isn't the rotation's Plan B now. Manship is.

My point being: If they want a long man, it would have made sense to stretch Duensing out a bit more and give him the eighth inning.

* Instead, they went with Matt Guerrier, and he blew up after getting two outs. Three hits, two runs, tied game. The big blows came from left-handed hitters, this with LOOGY Ron Mahay available.

It is rare for one of the Twins set up guys to start an inning, give up runs, and still finish the inning. Almost all the middle relief meltdowns I chronicle here involve three or four relievers, none of whom can get the first guy out. This blown lead was a reversal of Gardy's SOP.

* Mahay got the ball to open the ninth, but after three batters, one hit and two outs, he gave way to ... not Pat Neshek, not Jesse Crain, but Alex Burnett, the rookie who has been limited to low-leverage situations.

Crain had pitched the day before and, according to Bremer, did some more throwing on the side earlier Saturday, so it's not surprising that Gardenhire/Anderson wanted to hold him out. But choosing Burnett over Neshek suggests that Neshek slid down the totem pole with his lousy outing on Wednesday.

*Burnett got a long leash. He threw 36 pitches and ultimately took the loss, and only 12 of the 36 pitches were strikes (He had two intentional walks, but even if those eight pitches are ignored it's still 16 balls to 12 strikes). It took a big-time throw from Denard Span and catch-block-tag at the plate by Drew Butera (photo above) to keep the Tribe off the board in the 10th, and Burnett didn't get an out in the 11th.

* Crain pitched after all. Closer Jon Rauch warmed up in the eighth; Neshek didn't even do that much.

For the game, the Minnesota bullpen worked 4.2 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and four walks. The only one who truly pitched well was Duensing.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Errors vs. misplays

There were two failed defensive plays in Friday night's Twins-Indians game that resulted in six runs scoring.

Six runs that really shouldn't have scored, but are charged as earned runs anyway because the defensive players weren't charged with errors.

The first one came in the second inning, on what should have been a routine double play. Cleveland second baseman Luis Valbuena bounced his throw to first base, and first baseman Matt LaPorta didn't make the scoop. No error, but it kept the inning alive and brought home a run. Orlando Hudson followed with hits to chase home two more.

Then it was the Twins' turn. In the fifth inning, Mike Redmond hit a fly to right center, and Denard Span chased Michael Cuddyer off it. Redmond got a gift double. Kevin Slowey entered that inning with a shutout and a low pitch count; by the time he finally got out of it, he'd thrown more than 100 pitches and had given up three runs. Had Redmond's ball been caught, the inning would have been over much sooner, and without a run for Cleveland.

The traditional fielding stats make nothing of those misplays. Even the advanced metrics, as I understand them, don't penalize Valbuena for failing to turn that double play.

But they sure count on the scoreboard.