Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Triple triple

Three is obviously a big number in baseball.

Three strikes is out. Three outs make an inning. Three times three is nine, the number of defensive players in the field and the number of innings in a regulation game. Babe Ruth wore 3. So did Harmon Killebrew.

And Denard Span hit three three-baggers Tuesday.

That's not a record. There were a couple of 19th century players who hit four in a game, one a star (Bill Joyce, rated by Bill James the 61st best third baseman in history) and one a guy who makes Nick Punto, Al Newman and Jeff Reboulet look like sluggers (George Strief).

A good game for Span, to be sure. But if he ever gets an award for it, his acceptance speech should make sure to include thanks to Magglio Ordonez for making it all possible. Slow and disinterested is no way to play right field.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The agony (updated), the amusement and the bunts

The Twins are no longer in first place, but there are worse things than falling into second.

What happened in the eighth inning to Joel Zumaya, for example.

The Tigers reliever was diagnosed Tuesday with a fracture of the olecranon, the tip of the elbow. (I had no idea I had an olecranon, and I'll wager you didn't either.) He's out for the rest of the season.

He threw a 99-mph pitch to Delmon Young and collapsed in agony. The sight of his right hand convulsing was frightening to see. Bad as this is/was, it's probably better than the shredded elbow ligaments I expected.

Zumaya's string of significant injuries is one of my informal data points for the notion that some athletes are doing things that the human body simply cannot support. That he throws 100 mph consistently even after his shoulder has given way, even after his finger has given way, is remarkable. But he continues to go down with injuries.

Dick Bremer, during the postgame show, called Zumaya one of the game's top relief pitchers. That's overstating matters a bit. He's talented, to be sure. He's certainly one of the hardest-throwing hurlers. But he is out of action with injuries so often that he can't be rated above Matt Guerrier, for example, and Guerrier isn't making any All-Star teams.

I suspect that given the choice, the Tigers would rather have lost Monday's game and have a healthy Zumaya. They don't get that choice.


From the painful-to-witness to the hopelessly hilarious: Jim Thome's triple. I'm pretty sure Alex Voigt ran faster in his marathon a couple of weekends ago than Thome did Monday.

It's not that Thome isn't trying. He simply is about as swift as an anvil.


I've long been an advocate of bunting for hits on power pitchers, most of whom finish their delivery off balance and don't particularly like to run around. The Tigers laid down three bunts on Francisco Liriano without the Twins getting an out.

I can't even blame the right fielder-playing-third for any of them — all three were to the first-base side. These were on Liriano, Orlando Hudson and Justin Morneau. (And the Tigers deserve credit for some good bunts, too.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Still (barely) in first place

The photo above illustrates in a literal way what is wrong with the Twins right now: No pitching.

Interleague play for several years has been good to the Twins, or at least not harmful. This season has seen a once comfortable six-game lead over the Tigers dwindle to almost nothing and seen the White Sox arise from the dead.

Part of it has been a wildly uneven schedule — the Tigers played, in succession, the three last-place teams in the National League while the Twins saw none of them — but that's only part of it. The Twins won one of three from Atlanta; the White Sox won three of three from the Braves.

And now the schedule pits the Twins against the Tigers. The Twins need to get on track again, preferably immediately.

Two aspects of the past couple of weeks have struck me as significant: Ron Gardenhire's willingness to shuffle Michael Cuddyer around from position to position, and the collapse of Nick Blackburn.

On Cuddyer: I think playing him at third is a short-term thing that will end when or if J.J. Hardy returns. The best defensive infield the Twins can field has Hardy at short and Nick Punto at third, and Punto this month has even been an effective hitter (.300/.395/.400).

Cuddyer in June: .225/.286/.296. Cuddyer playing third base: .174/.240/.174. Small sample size to be sure — just 24 plate appearances — but I don't discount the possibility that playing the more difficult defensive position is undermining the rest of his game.

On Blackburn: The broadcasters have been talking the past couple of days about the possibility of pulling Blackburn from the rotation. He's still scheduled to take Tuesday's start against Detroit.

One of the regular commenters this weekend drew a parallel between Blackburn and Joe Mays, who like Blackburn got a multi-year deal despite red-flag statistical markers. There's merit in that comparison.

I think Brian Duensing is a better long-term bet as a starter than Blackburn. But the Twins have a fairly significant financial investment in Blackburn now.


Yes, the blog has a new header. I've got others on the way; it gives me a reason to play with cameras, memorabilia and computer software. Feel free to tell me why you dislike this one.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Poll stuff: Pitchers and catchers

Last week's poll — on the wisdom of swapping catching prospect Wilson Ramos for Cliff Lee — got 37 responses, 18 of whom said yes and 19 of whom said no.

That's heavier to the "no" side than I had expected, especially considering how poorly the Twins starters have fared in the past 10 days.


The Monday print column is on former Twins ace lefty Johan Santana, and so is this week's poll.

As background information on the question: Santana is 31 now and as of today has 127 lifetime wins.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pitchers gone wild

Edwin Jackson's no-hitter Friday was a bit of a throwback, what with a pitch count approaching 150 and eight walks. A perfect game it wasn't. He threw 79 strikes and 70 balls, a truly ugly ratio. But it worked.

Eight walks in a no-hitter is a lot, but hardly a record.

In 1967, Steve Barber and Stu Miller of the Baltimore Orioles combined for a no-hitter that included 10 walks, two hit batters and two fielding errors — 14 base runners in all. The Orioles lost 2-1. In 1965, Jim Maloney of the Cincinnati Reds walked 10 (and hit a batter) all by himself in a 10-inning no-no.

But my favorite, partly because I remember reading about the game when it occurred, was Dock Ellis' 1970 no-no for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the San Diego Padres. He walked eight and hit one — nine baserunners.

It later emerged that there was a reason for that; not a good one, but a reason. Ellis was tripping on LSD when he took the mound.


If there's a reason for Carlos Zambrano's dugout meltdown Friday, it's escaped pretty much everybody (except perhaps Ozzie Guillen, who may be trying to fan the flames a bit.)

This isn't anything new for Zambrano: The Chicago Tribune's coverage included this list of his five worst temper tantrums.

And this isn't anything new for the Cubs. Milton Bradley last year, Zambrano pretty much every year — the Cubs seem to have a boundless attraction for, and patience with, knuckleheads with no self-control.

How has Jim Hendry managed to refrain from picking up Elijah Dukes?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Shuffling the roster

Photo above: Orlando Hudson figured he can't hit Yovani Gallardo with a bat, so he tried it without one.

The Twins get swept by the Brewers, and suddenly the Tigers are just a half-game back and the White Sox 2.5 back.

We can sum up Thursday's debacle thusly: Nick Blackburn (2010 ERA: 6.10) makes it easy to lose games, and Yovani Gallardo (12 strikeouts and no walks) made it impossible to win that game.

The TV boys started speculating about moving Blackburn to the bullpen to make room for Brian Duensing in the rotation. (Duensing had 3.1 shutout innings in relief Thursday, 47 pitches.) I have no idea if there's fire to that smoke, but 6.10 in late June is 6.10. Sidney Ponson didn't get this much rope.

And Brendan Harris finally got keelhauled, with the immortal Jason Repko called up. Repko isn't going to wedge his way into the lineup on a daily basis (I hope), but he is a legit center fielder and can't hit any worse than Harris has this season.

One thing this indicates is that Ron Gardenhire seems ever more intent on using Michael Cuddyer at third base. I am not enthused by that prospect. But this team isn't providing much reason to be enthused this week.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cuddyer at third

Michael Cuddyer is playing third base again today, and Joe Christensen (Star Tribune) says in his blog that Ron Gardenhire says Cuddy's open to playing there after interleague play is over.

Once the Twins get the DH back, of course, they won't need to play Cuddyer there to keep him, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young all in the lineup. It would open more time for Jim Thome, but Joe C. has Gardy saying that Thome physically can't do that on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, the question remains if Cuddyer is worth playing at third. In his first two games there, Cuddyer had one fielding chance. I wasn't able to pay sufficient attention to those games to see if there were base hits that became hits because of his defense.

Tonight — I'm writing this as I watch it — the Brewers' first run came on a hard-hit ball that got past Cuddyer for a double. Would a real (good) third baseman have made the play? I suspect so. The Brewers next two runs were set up by a bunt single by former Twin Carlos Gomez toward third. Go-go, of course, will bunt on anybody, but having Cuddyer there might be like having a neon bunt sign flashing.

And all this for the dubious benefit of having Jason Kubel in the lineup against a left-handed starter. I know Manny Parra is exhibiting an odd backwards platoon split this season, but I wouldn't put much weight on that continuing.

This doesn't say much for Danny Valencia or Brendan Harris, not that anything is going to speak well for Harris in 2010. I wonder how much Valencia's quick out in the first inning Tuesday night, when the Twins had Chris Narveson on the ropes, played into the decision to play Cuddyer tonight.


This is the 500th post since we moved my blog to Blogger a bit more than 12 months ago. I may not be real good, but I am prolific.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Notes, quotes and comments

Wilson Ramos, the Twins catching prospect and primo trade chip (pictured) , will miss at least a week with a strained oblique muscle.

This does not damage his trade value. It doesn't require the reconstruction of a joint, it doesn't require surgery, it doesn't figure to be long-lasting. Rest it, heal it, and nobody will remember it a week after he's back.


Rick Porcello, who did such a fine job for the Detroit Tigers last season as a 20-year-old rookie, has been returned to the minors.

Which happens with a 4-7, 6.14 line. His walk rate is about where it was last year, but his K rate is down — and it was too low last season.

The line on him last year was that he was deliberately avoiding strikeouts in order to keep his pitch counts down. But pitching just doesn't work that way. If he doesn't learn to miss bats, he will not become a star.


First Akinori Iwamura, now Edwin Encarnacion — another third baseman on the market. Encarnacion was DFA'd Monday by Toronto.

The Twins should pass on him too.

---'s Jerry Crasnick has this column on Justin Morneau.


Ron Gardenhire, from this Pioneer Press piece on Joe Mauer's "slump":

"We could watch video and I could show you probably 25 balls that he's lined out. I guarantee, most hitters, you might see 10. Mauer you'd see 25, maybe 30 balls where he's lined out. Rockets hit at people. It all evens out; that's what they say. Well, let me tell you, right now, Joe's got about two weeks of base hits (coming) to even out."

On Target: Home-road splits, take 3

Summer has now officially arrived, which is a bit of a reminder — even though the Twins have had more than 1,100 plate appearances in Target Field, it's far too soon to declare that we know how the park plays.

Too soon, and yet the impression has been made: The new park is seen as a tough home run park.

Here's the reality of the numbers so far:

Hitters, home: The Twins have played 36 games at Target Field, scoring 180 runs (5.00 runs per game). They've hit 19 home runs at home (.53 per game) and have slash stats of .286/.369/.416

Hitters, road: The Twins have scored 149 runs in 33 road games (4.52 R/G), hitting 42 home runs (1.27). Slash stats: .258/.326/.422

Pitchers, home: 124 runs allowed (3.44); 31 homers (.86); slash stats .247/.291/.390

Pitchers, road: 150 runs (4.55); 36 homers (1.09); .285/.331/.448

The Twins are being out-homered home and road, but the disparity has been much greater at home.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pavano, pitching

Sunday's was likely the best start Carl Pavano will have all year. It was hardly his first, or only strong outing.

One of the frequent rationales offered for signing a veteran starter is that he serves as a mentor to the younger pitchers. True or not, it has to be said that Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn have not improved with Pavano as a teammate, and in some ways appear to have regressed.

But Pavano is earning his keep on the days he starts. I don't have a serious problem with the "quality start" stat, but I have a slightly stricter standard for it in my mind -- six or more innings pitched with a game ERA under 4. (Six innings with three earned runs is a "quality start" by the conventional standard; my standard requires six inning of two earned runs or seven innings of three.)

By either standard, Pavano has racked up 10 quality starts in 14 tries. That's a very solid performance. Only seven American League pitchers have more conventional QS than Pavano.

He's fifth in the league this morning in innings pitched and sixth in WHIP -- Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched --largely because he walks about one man per nine innings. The strikeout rate is unimpressive but acceptable, and he's been vulnerable to the home run (11 so far).

He's had two lousy starts, two mediocre starts (if eight innings and four runs is mediocre) and, obviously 10 good ones. Not an ace, but a good starting pitcher.

And, given that I haven't shaved my upper lip since May 1975, I can't even beef about his moustache.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Fathers' Day, Sal Butera

The Sal Butera Principle holds that the best job in baseball is backup catcher. He plays infrequently but without high expectation when he does play. He is basically asked to avoid screwing up. A reserve catcher who can avoid flubs will last a lot longer than his stats would suggest.

Like Sal Butera, who got nine seasons in the majors without ever getting 200 plate appearances in a season; he hit .227/.302/295, which is to say that Nick Punto had more power. And, maybe, like Drew Butera.

The younger Butera was one of the heroes in Saturday's bizzaro Twins win at Philadelphia, cranking a pinch-hit homer in the 10th inning.

The elder Butera, now a scout for Toronto, was at the game in his professional capacity. It was, according to the Star Tribune story, the first time S. Butera has seen D. Butera in the majors. And I think he can be forgiven if his professional demeanor cracked when his son homered.

Not screwing up may be the key nugget of the job description. A clutch hit once or twice a year doesn't hurt either.


Results of the Stephen Strasburg prediction poll: Twenty-six responses. One (4 percent) said he'll win at least 300 games; 1o (38 percent) said 200 to 299; 10 also picked 100-199; and five (19 percent) said less than 100.

The new poll is up. It relates to the Monday print column.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Testing the Michael Cuddyer Principle

This is an interesting experiment with a variety of potential benefits and pitfalls: At least during this nine-game interleague road trip (translation: no DH), Michael Cuddyer figures to spend considerable time at third base.

He's played there before, of course. He was the "regular" third baseman in 2005, but played himself off the position by September. He wasn't good there defensively then; he's hardly likely to have improved at third after four seasons in the outfield.

There is a vocal faction in Twins Territory — has been since he vacated the position and emerged as a middle-of-the-order bat — that has wanted him returned to the hot corner. Ron Gardenhire has resisted that notion until now.

I wrote about this a few weeks ago: The Cuddyer Principle holds that (within certain limits) a major league player can play out of position for a while without it being blindly obvious that he doesn't really belong there.

The Twins figure that Cuddyer has already established that he's not a legitimate third baseman. Right now, Gardenhire's willing to pay that price to keep Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young in the lineup.

I doubt Gardenhire will make this a permanent arrangement, even though it would (at least in theory) create a regular lineup spot for Jim Thome. But then, I didn't expect him to bend this much.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Resting Joe Mauer (and his power)

There was no shortage of griping Thursday (including from my esteemed colleague Chad Courrier) over Ron Gardenhire's decision to sit Joe Mauer.

It wasn't a surprising decision: day game after night game, getaway day, Mauer had taken numerous foul tips in the previous games. Catchers never play 162 games, seldom even 150. They shouldn't.

I have a certain sympathy with those fans who pay for big-dollar tickets and don't get to see Mauer play.

But I will never criticize Gardenhire for deciding that his star catcher needs a break, nor Mauer for taking one. I am far more likely to question the decision to play him under the circumstances of Thursday, as I did in April.

And I have my money where my mouth is. I have tickets for a game next month, $80 seats, a getaway-day midweek nooner, and while I always want to see Mauer catch, I do not expect to see him. I don't expect it, because I believe it's for the better of both Mauer and the Twins for him to get time off.


Here's a clear-eyed analysis of Joe Mauer's home run shortage this season.

This just in: Ubaldo Jimenez is GOOD

Thursday afternoon, Ubaldo Jimenez (pictured) allowed one run to the Twins in eight innings. This slightly lowered his ERA to 1.15 from its previously lofty 1.16.

Jimenez's on-base percentage allowed is a sparce .272. What's more, it's effectively better than that because he's so efficient at removing those runners once they reach base.

On Thursday, for example, he

  • got Danny Valencia to ground into a double play in the second inning
  • got Denard Span to ground into a double play in the third inning
  • got Jason Kubel to ground into a double play in the fourth inning
  • picked Span off second base in the sixth inning
  • got Joe Mauer to line into a double play in the eighth inning.

It's a perfect storm of double plays; the Twins lead baseball in GIDP anyway, and nobody in baseball has enticed more double play grounders than Jimenez (14), this despite the fact that few men reach base against him. He's also gotten seven caught stealing (five successful steal attempts), so he's cutting off the running game as well.

And, despite pitching his home games at altitude, he's allowed just three home runs.

Is he a realistic threat to challenge Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA of 1968? Probably not. His batting average on balls in play is exceedingly low; he is prone to walks; and Coors Field, humidor or not, is still Coors Field. And 2010, despite all the great pitching lines, is not 1968.

But Jimenez could allow 30 earned runs without recording an out and still have an ERA below 3. That's astounding.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Notes, quotes and comments

Akinori Iwamura (pictured) has been designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are going to use the roster space for primo prospect Pedro Alvarez.

Iwamura is the Pirates' highest paid player, but he's lost his second base job to Neil Walker and is blocked at third base by Alvarez.

Theoretically, Iwamura would be a good option for the Twins at third base. But I'm wary of him right now:

  • As poorly as Nick Punto has hit this year (.241/.314/.307), his numbers are better than Iwamura has (.182/.292/.262).
  • Iwamura had significant knee surgery last season, and his defensive range is said to have been lacking this year.

This probably isn't the time to grab him. (But if the Pirates will swap him for Brendan Harris, that's fine by me.)


Let's see ... noon game after a night game, both teams jetting out of town after the game, and a power pitcher matchup of Ubaldo Jimenez (1.19 ERA, 57 hits in 93.1 innings) versus Francisco Liriano.

Runs should be really scarce today at Target Field. (Now watch; it'll be a 9-7 final with neither starter making it out of the fourth inning.)


I don't know what's gone haywire with the poll. I do know I'm not unique.


Jamie Moyer, age 47, after beating the Yankees on Wednesday:

I don't think that I'm old. So I don't believe it. Regardless of what people think or say, I still feel like I can go out and compete, and that's my ultimate job.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The infield Rubik's Cube

See how easy it is? Trevor Plouffe and Brendan Harris sit, Matt Tolbert (pictured) and Danny Valencia play, and boom, the Twins score nine runs in a single game.


Three of the infielders on the opening day roster are on the disabled list, including two of the starters, and there's no real sense here that any of them are about to step back into the lineup. Orlando Hudson is the closest, but he still reports discomfort in his left wrist when hitting left-handed.

One wonders if the the Twins might not do well, when Hudson says he's ready, to send him out on a rehab assignment for a couple of days to make sure everything's fully functional. Hurrying J.J. Hardy back into the lineup after his injury didn't help anything and probably hurt.

Meanwhile, the Twins mix and match a collection of infield spare parts and prospects that don't really offer much opportunity to mix and match.

Nick Punto and Tolbert are essentially the same player, with very similar skills and deficits. Switch-hitters, good gloves at multiple positions, mobile, very limited offensively with little to no power.

Harris, Plouffe and Valencia are all right-handed hitters, limited defensively, with more power than the Punto-Tolbert duo but with less discerning eyes at the plate.

Running time-shares in his lineup has never been an obvious strength of Ron Gardenhire, but it this case that's a function of roster makeup. Earl Weaver and Casey Stengel would have trouble turning these five into useful platoons. Too many of them don't have a specific skill that you'd want them in the lineup for.

It's like doing a Rubik's Cube with just two colors.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ex-Twins watch: Garrett Jones

One of my enduring memories of my one and only spring training trip — late March, 2008 — is that of being around the minor league fields the day Garrett Jones was passed through waivers and outrighted to the Twins Triple A team.

Jones was out of options. He clearly had expected to either make the Twins major league roster or get picked up on waivers by another big league team. Neither had happened.

And now he was standing on the sidelines as the Triple A infielders took fielding practice with manager Stan Cliburn talking to him. Or maybe at him; Jones wasn't making eye contact with Cliburn. He was staring vacantly in the direction of the teammates he didn't want to be with.

Quadruple A. That's a label no player wants to be stuck with. It means he's good enough to put up numbers in the highest level of the minors but not good enough to stick in the majors. And in 2008, Garrett Jones appeared to be Quadruple A.

He spent 2008 with Rochester, hit 23 homers, batted .279 and — this was always a problem for him in the minors — had a mediocre on-base percentage. He became a minor league free agent, latched on with the Pirates organization for 2009, did basically more of the same for a half season in Triple A, got called up to Pittsburgh.

And immediately started hitting like an MVP. Seriously: 21 homers in 358 at-bats, an on-base percentage of .372, a slugging percentage of .567.

He's receded this season to a line akin to his Triple A numbers, but with the Pirates, that's plenty good enough to remain in the middle of their lineup.

The Twins hardly miss him; he was a left-handed 1B/OF on a team with Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, and they're both better than he is. His numbers fall off pretty sharply against southpaws, and he's not a defensive whiz.

But one thing Jones' story — like that of Denard Span — suggests is that the environment of the Twins farm system is sufficiently pitcher-friendly that the numbers hitters put up in Rochester and New Britain may actually understate what they can do in the majors.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Imagining a trade

The idea with both Danny Valencia and Trevor Plouffe has been: If they're on the 25-man roster, they're playing.

So it struck me that Brendan Harris (above) was in the starting lineup both Saturday and Sunday, with Valencia on the bench. Not that Valencia has been incredible since he came up, but ...

Then the germ of an idea struck me.

Harris has a bit more than 1.5 years left on his contract with the Twins. Let's estimate he has $3 million coming on that.

Mike Lowell, the third-wheel third baseman of the Boston Red Sox, has a bit more than half the season left of his $12.5 million contract. Let's ballpark that as $7 million left.

The Twins aren't happy with their third base play. The Red Sox have had injury and depth issues in their middle infield all year.

Lowell and $4 million for Harris? Yeah, I think I'd do that if I were the Twins.

If I were the Red Sox ... well, I'd be curious about why Harris is hitting .160. Curious enough to want to scout him specifically.

Where the Twins showcasing Harris for a trade? Maybe. I'd feel more confident in this theory if he'd played one of those games at shortstop.

New poll, new look

The poll question stems from the Monday print column.

The new look to the blog is a bit inadvertent. I was fooling around Sunday with Blogger's new templates, clicked on the wrong button, and suddenly I couldn't go back to the old look.

I think I like this one more, but I may want to redo the header. Tell me what you think.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Mike Lowell rumors

The Internet, or at least some of the baseball-oriented part of it, was buzzing Saturday with the notion that the Boston Red Sox are about to unload Mike Lowell — and one big part of that buzz is that the Twins are very interested in acquiring the veteran third baseman.

Lowell is in an awkward point of his career. He's 36, has had repeated injuries in recent years, is being paid more than $12 million this season and has no real function on the Red Sox roster.

He still sees himself as a regular and has been vocally unhappy about his limited role in Boston. But he makes too much and carries too much injury risk to be readily tradeable.

It's not too difficult to see why the Twins would be interested. Their third basemen — Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert and Danny Valencia have all started at least one game at the position — have combined to hit .210/.278/.278. Lowell, as long as he can stay in the lineup, can certainly hit better than that.

But I've noted before that the Twins have morphed into a slow lineup. Sticking Lowell into the lineup would worsen that; I don't know who would win a lap around the bases, Lowell or Jim Thome, but I suspect you could go get a hot dog and be back in your seat for the conclusion.

Not that that is going to be a deal breaker. The real issues are money (which is probably tied to the price to land him; the more money the Sox have to put up to pay his salary, the better the player they'll demand in return) and health.

As we survey a Twins roster with both Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy on the disabled list, I find it difficult to get enthused about adding another injury-prone veteran.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

That's more like it

One day after an atrocious display of sloppy baseball, the Twins played (and won) an exceedingly crisp 2-1 game.

Francisco Liriano stuck out 11 and walked zero. Jon Rauch, who has been less-than-dominant while sticking up the saves, fanned the side in the ninth — 14 Ks for the Twins with no walks.

The lineup managed to bunch enough bleeders and bloops together in the seventh to scratch out their two runs. They got seven hits in the game against Tim Hudson; five of them came in the seventh.

A few random comments:

* Liriano got 15 swinging strikes. That's a lot. He struggled for a while after his 123-pitch outing on May 2, but in his last two games he's worked 15 innings, struck out 21, walked two and allowed two runs. I think he's recovered.

* The Twins could only play station-to-station on the base paths during their seventh inning rally. Nobody went second to home or first to third. Morneau's single was to left, and Mauer stopped at second. Cuddyer's was a swinging bunt. They didn't want to challenge Jason Heyward's arm on Kubel's single to right, and I don't think Cuddyer got a good read on Delmon Young's single to left.

But I was thinking yet again — beyond Denard Span and Nick Punto, this is not a lineup that's going to take a lot of extra bases. And we know how Span and Punto did on the bases Thursday.

* The interleague schedule appears unkind to the Twins. Atlanta is now 35-27; the Twins also play Colorado (31-30), the Mets (33-28), the Phillies (31-28) and Milwaukee (26-35). That's a combined 156-148.

The Tigers also have the Mets and the Braves, but the rest of their NL opponents are current opponent Pittsburgh (23-38), Washington (30-32) and Arizona (24-38), a combined 145-163.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A game they deserved to lose

Three errors by the middle infield. Three unearned runs allowed. Two home runs — not one, but two — given up to Wilson Betemit.

And one of the most atrocious baserunning gaffes I've ever seen.

The wonder is that the Twins came as close to winning Thursday's game as they did.

Physical errors happen. I'm not inclined to come down on Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert for their fielding slips.

But the Denard Span-Nick Punto brain lock on the bases — they both deserve castigation.

The Twins are down 3-0. Punto is on third, Span on second with one out. Joe Mauer hits a fly to deep center, and Mitch Maier makes the catch on the warning track. Punto is tagging up, as he should, but he pauses to wave Span back to second. Then Punto jogs home, but doesn't get there before Span is doubled off second.

Span's brain lock started the problem. One of two things is going to happen on that play; one, the ball is going fall in, in which case he can score from second base. Two, the ball is going to be caught, in which case he needs to tag up. There's no point in tearing off for third.

Punto also screwed up. He knew Span had goofed. He needed to hustle himself. Even if he doesn't know the rule, run the play out and let the umps sort it out.

The Twins lost by one run — the run Span and Punto combined to give away.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The third base hole

Danny Valencia wears No. 19 on his back, which is oddly appropriate. He happens to be the 19th man to start at least once at third base for the Twins since Corey Koskie's departure after the 2004 season.

He's played all of six games, 22 official at-bats — not anywhere near enough to put any weight on the stats. But so far, he hasn't given the appearance of being the guy to end the revolving door at the position.

Yes, he's hitting .318. He's also slugging .318 — all seven hits have been singles. He's had one walk and six strikeouts. And he wasn't racking up the extra base hits in Triple A either.

The infield remains a sore spot right now, with Orlando Hudson on the disabled list and J.J. Hardy, while not on the DL, a candidate to join him. The current alignment — Matt Tolbert at second, Valencia at third and Nick Punto at short, with slumping Brendan Harris in reserve — is pretty punchless.

Get Hardy and Hudson healthy, and the Twins can readily carry a defense-oriented third baseman. Both Tolbert and Punto have had stretches of everyday play in which they contributed solid on-base percentages. (And they've had stretches in which they haven't.)

What will be interesting to see is who falls off the roster when Hudson and Hardy return to the lineup. Valencia would seem a likely candidate to return to the minors, with Tolbert sliding into the deep-reserve role played initially by the now-injured Alexi Casilla and the Punto-Harris combo returning to play third.

Or perhaps the decision makers have tired of watching Punto (.219) and Harris (.162) fail at the plate. Perhaps Tolbert goes back to Rochester and Valencia gets a longer look at third, with Punto and Harris as the bench guys.

I'd prefer Punto or even Tolbert at third. But my vote doesn't count.


For the record, here are the 19 men (in alphabetical order) who've started at least one game at third base for the Twins since 2004:

Tony Batista, Brian Buscher, Alexi Casilla, Juan Castro, Jeff Cirillo, Howie Clark, Joe Crede, Michael Cuddyer, Brendan Harris, Luke Hughes, Mike Lamb, Matt Macri, Nick Punto, Luis Rodriguez, Terry Tiffee, Matt Tolbert, Danny Valencia, Tommy Watkins and Glenn Williams.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The draft, Day 2

Monday was the flashy day of the baseball draft, one round (well, the first round plus the supplemental round) taking more than three hours for the sake of television — even though it's not widely seen television, relatively few of us having MLB Network.

Tuesday was the meat of the draft — the old-school teleconference, with picks following each other like bullets on D-Day. Twenty-nine-plus rounds on Tuesday, rounds 2 through 30 with three more supplemental rounds for good measure.

A few comments:

* The Twins, as usual, focused on college pitchers — with good command and at least the beginnings of a quality changeup — and on high school position players. Also as usual, the middle infielders they drafted are generally expected to move to other positions.

They're good at finding and developing these kinds of players. Sometimes I wish they'd break their mold and pick a bona fide shortstop prospect, or a pitcher with major velocity but control issues. Good teams have more than one kind of player on their rosters. You need some speed, some power, some hard throwers, some junkballers.

But they play to their strengths, and there's justification for that. If they're not good at finding the wild hard thrower who can be taught to harness his stuff, let somebody else draft him — and then find a way to pick him up later.

* The Dodgers used their first-round pick on Zach Lee, who is expected to bypass pro baseball to play quarterback (and baseball) for LSU.

The Dodgers say they'll make a good-faith effort to sign him. I have my doubts. If they don't sign him, they'll get a compensation pick in about the same place in next year's draft (Lee was the 28th selection; the comp pick, if it happens, would be 29th), and the 2011 draft is reckoned to be a deeper draft than this year's.

So in effect, they may be trading this year's pick for a similar pick next year, sparing themselves the hassle of paying a bonus during the bitter ownership divorce fight. If Lee signs for a lower-than-expected price, great; if not, the Dodgers might still be the winners.

*The Twins' ninth-round pick, Kyle Knutson, was the Gophers' catcher this year. It occurs to me that there are few worse organizations for a catcher to be drafted into right now — Joe Mauer and Wilson Ramos are formidable roadblocks, not to mention Jose Morales, Drew Butera and Chris Herrmann (a 2009 draft pick). Still, one never knows exactly what the future holds.

* Pitcher Bret Mitchell of MSU went in the 12th round to the New York Mets, number 362 overall.

Wimmers, Radke and the Twins philosophy

Alex Wimmers it is.

From the Baseball America scouting report on the Twins' first round pick (subscription only):

...Few pitchers in this draft can match the depth of his repertoire. He has the best changeup in the 2010 draft crop, and one area scout said it's the best he has ever seen from an amateur. His fastball sits at 90-92 mph and touches 94, and he could add a little more velocity if he builds arm strength by using it more in pro ball. His third pitch is a curveball that he easily throws for strikes. He's an athletic, 6-foot-2, 195-pounder who holds the record for career batting average (.457) at Cincinnati's storied Moeller High--the alma mater of Buddy Bell, Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin.

Brad Radke is the quick comp for Wimmers, and that seems almost too easy. Really, Radke is the mold for the organization's starters, at least the right-handers; at one point or another, I've cited Radke as the comp for Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn as they made their way to the Minnesota rotation, and Carl Pavano is probably more Radke-like than any of the other three.

Radke is the personification of the strengths and limitations of the Twins pitching philosophy: Throw strikes, change speeds, keep it simple. I linked this spring to a New York Times piece in which career backup catcher Chad Moeller talked about what he's learned from handling various pitchers, and this is him on Radke:

Wouldn’t walk anybody, never had a concern that he was going to. Didn’t try to throw balls by guys, and he just caught on at an earlier age than most guys do about what pitching actually is. Everything went away from the plate. Guys have watched Greg Maddux; they all want their ball to look like it’s going at them and come this way, over the plate. He just wanted to have everything going away from the middle of the plate. I’d say, ‘Brad, what do you want to do today?’ He’d say: “Get outs. Just put it down, I’ll throw it.” That was it. I was a rookie. All right, let’s go.

I mentioned a few days ago a Jerry Crasnick piece in Baseball America about the Twins pitching approach, and he has Rick Anderson hitting the same point:

Twins pitchers focus on on keeping the ball low and down the middle, with the understanding that natural movement and variations in deliveries will carry it away from the heart of the plate.

Crasnick goes on to suggest that the lack of true power arms works against the Twins in October. If that's a concern for the organization, it's a chance they're willing to take.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Countdown to the draft

Monday's print column examined how hit-and-miss the baseball draft can be.

Ne'er the less, the draft is a major focus of any organization, and particularly for the Twins, who are systematically inclined to try to solve their problems through their farm system as opposed to importing veterans from the outside.

We're less than three hours away from the start of the draft, and the Twins have the 21st pick of the first round.

This is apparently seen as a thin draft. Bryce Harper is probably the most hyped amateur player ever, and there is no way the Washington Nationals will pass him up. There's a clear consensus on who the next two players will be, if not on the order. And after that, who knows? Baseball America, which does a bang-up job monitoring the conventional wisdom on scouting and prospects, recently suggested that there are really just 15 true "first round talents"available this year.

Such circumstances make a greater mockery of mock drafts than usual, not that it keeps people from trying.

Baseball America's Jim Callis had consistently had the Twins landing Alex Wimmers, a right-handed pitcher from Ohio State, with that pick in his first three mock drafts, but this morning had Wimmers going much earlier, to the Cincinnati Reds.

Wimmers (pictured) appears to be a prototypical Twins pitcher — good command, fastball in the low 90s, good change up. Callis is certain that Wimmers is Minnesota's target, and if he's gone, that another college pitcher will be the pick. (UPDATE: Callis' final mock draft has Wimmers again going to the Twins)

Callis is plugged in, and I'm not, but it seems to me that if the Twins are among those who see a shortage of players who deserve first-round money, that's a situation that lends itself to another Ben Revere-type pick. Back in 2007 the Twins picked 29th, and they took a "second round" talent they really liked (Revere) and signed him cheaply.

With the Twins now making a splash in international signings, they could do that again and use the money they save in the Dominican.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Yogi Berra and D-Day

Today is June 6, and June 6, 1944, was D-Day — the start of the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France.

I know of three baseball Hall of Famers who saw considerable combat during World War II — Bob Feller, Warren Spahn and Yogi Berra.

Berra was part of the invasion 66 years ago. He was a seaman 1st class on a LCSS — Landing Craft Support Small — which fired rockets to protect the landing troops.

Here's Lawrence Peter Berra, Navy veteran and (my opinion) the greatest catcher in major league history, talking about D-Day with Keith Olbermann in 2004.

Dire straits in the Twins infield

That was quite the infield Ron Gardenhire started Saturday in Oakland:

Granting that Tolbert and Valencia had combined for just 21 major league plate appearances entering the game, it's a pretty grim state of affairs when Nick Punto is the slugger of the infield.

Behind such a makeshift alignment: Injuries, absences and weariness.

  • Orlando Hudson, who the Twins had expected/hoped would be ready to return to the lineup in Oakland, isn't; I rather expect him to go on the disabled list Tuesday when Michael Cuddyer returns from the bereavement list.
  • Justin Morneau needed a day off, and came a pinch-hitting appearance short of actually getting one.
  • J.J. Hardy, who is just 5 for 38 since returning from the disabled list, was scratched with a sore wrist but wound up pinch-running for Morneau and scored the winning run.
  • And Cuddyer, who has started games at first and second this season, is gone for his father-in-law's funeral.

That strange asemblage worked. Tolbert drove home the winning run. The infield played cleanly, with Harris making a savvy play to turn an off-target throw from Punto into a tag out. Valencia and Punto each had a single and a walk.


The winning rally featured an odd managerial decision: With the score tied, the bases empty and one out in the top of the ninth and Brad Ziegler pitching for Oakland, Morneau pinch-hit for Harris. Ziegler is a submarine righty vulnerable to left-handed hitters, and Morneau has been on a tear.

Oakland manager Bob Geren defied the convention that says you don't put the winning run on. He had Ziegler issue an intentional walk. Hardy ran for Morneau. Then Punto walked, putting runners on first and second. Denard Span grounded into a force play, moving Hardy to third, and Tolbert singled.

Counting Morneau, Ziegler had to face four straight left-handed hitters, two of them with the go-ahead run in scoring position; he got one of them out.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

More musings about replay

To expand a bit on the last thought in my quasi-philosophical post of Friday:

The only people in the park for whom the correct call is the priority are the umpires. The players, managers, coaches, even the fans — what they want is the call that helps their team.

I'm bound to complain about whatever form of replay eventually infects major league baseball. No matter the format, it will be an imperfect pursuit of perfection.

But I will complain most bitterly if the format relies (as does the NFL's) on a challenge system. Baseball would do better to squeeze more of the dead time out of the game, not add to it. There are certain managers — Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Joe Girardi, Terry Francona — who have made stalling the game an art form. Giving them another tool to do that is a really bad idea.

Install an NFL-type system, and I guarantee you that on some 35-degree World Series night some manager will use a challenge to make the opposing pitcher freeze in his own sweat while an umpire goes into the peep-show booth.

Keep the managers out of the system. Their interests are not baseball's interests.

Late night: Twins 5, Athletics 4 (11 innings)

Box score here. Game story here.

I may be overly inclined to find fault with Danny Valencia, but I was not pleased when he overran a foul popup by Kevin Kouzmanoff in the seventh inning. Kouzmanoff then hit a long two-run homer that made the score 4-3 and set up a game-tying homer the next inning, which forced the game into extra innings.

It was a long run to that foul pop, but Valencia got there. No error was charged on the play, but it probably should have been caught, and catching it definitely would have made the game much easier for the Twins.

Other comments:

  • Craig Breslow, cut loose by the Twins last year around this time in a fit of panic, struck out four for Oakland and now has an ERA of 2.55.
  • The TV boys were talking about how Denard Span and Justin Morneau need days off. But how that can happen when Michael Cuddyer, who is both the No. 2 center fielder and the No. 2 first baseman, is absent is a mystery to me.

From Peter Gammons' column in the Baseball America that arrived in my mail Friday:

Not only are the Twins 137 games over .500 since 2001, but their scouting staff has resisted attempts by bigger-market teams to raid them.

"It's practically impossible to get one of their scouts to leave," a big-market general manager said. "It's never about money — it's about the respect that (Terry) Ryan and (Mike) Radcliffe imparted, even when they were near the bottom of the standings."

That same issue includes a Jerry Crasnick column on how the Twins maintain, year after year, pitching staffs that avoid walks. And its regular Twins item tells how Bert Blyleven has helped fellow Dutchman Tom Stuifbergen, a pitching prospect with the Twins Low-A team in Beloit.

Good stuff.


Blog programming note: Tonight's Twins game is scheduled to start an hour earlier than has been the norm during this West Coast swing, so there's a very good chance we'll get some game coverage into the paper. If so, I won't do the late-night update.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Umpires and the pursuit of perfection

A veteran umpire (the story goes) noted that at one city the same leather-lunged fan berated him constantly. He made a few inquiries and learned that the loudmouth was a prominent local physician.

Next day, the ump worked the plate with the fan doing his abrasive thing — until the veteran arbiter approached him: "Doctor, you get to bury your mistakes. Mine live forever."

Jim Joyce's mistake on Wednesday will certainly live forever. Indeed, Armando Galarraga's imperfect game is likely to be remembered longer than Dallas Braden's perfecto because of Joyce's miscue.

There's an umpiring adage that says it's the only job at which you're expected to be perfect on the first day and then improve. Actually, that's true for the conscientious worker in any field, be it copy editing, pitching or haircutting. If the people putting cars together on the assembly line slip up, bad things can happen.

We pursue perfection, but achieving it is another matter, and sustaining it well-neigh impossible. Even when an individual is doing everything right, perfection can hinge on somebody else doing his job right. Had one of Galarraga's infielders let a grounder go through the wickets or overthrown the first baseman, there would have been no perfect game for Joyce to wreck on the 27th batter.

The people demanding instant replay are seeking perfection from technology. I'm not an advocate of instant replay; I don't believe that perfection is any more possible from machines than it is from humans. It's going to happen; the Galarraga-Joyce game has probably made the pressure for it too strong for even Bud Selig to resist much longer, and even if Bud does continue to hold out, the next commissioner probably won't.

The broadcasters like to tell us that the idea is to get the call right. They forget, or conveniently ignore, the reality that the only people in the park for whom the correct call is the priority are the umpires. The players, managers, coaches, even the fans — what they want is the call that helps their team.

Late night: Mariners 4, Twins 1

Box score here. Game story here.

One run per game just doesn't work well in 21st century baseball. And that's the starvation diet the Twins lineup has served up to the pitching staff the past three games.

Not that Carl Pavano was all that wonderful Thursday. He had his habitual problem holding runners on base. Ichiro Suzuki (above) swiped three bases by himself. Seattle stole five bases in the first three innings.

And King Felix reigned over the Twins hitters, striking out four men in the eighth inning (Joe Mauer reached on a third strike that eluded catcher Rob Johnson).

Danny Valencia picked up his first major league hit. The plan for him is to return to Triple A when Michael Cuddyer returns from his bereavement leave on Tuesday.

Jesse Crain had another shutout inning. He has made eight appearances since May 18, allowing one run and four hits in eight innings with one walk and seven strikeouts.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Contemplating Danny Valencia

With Michael Cuddyer gone for the rest of the road trip — he's on bereavement leave after the death of his father-in-law — the Twins filled his roster spot not with an outfielder but with a third baseman, Danny Valencia (pictured).

Valencia has been called the Twins third baseman of the future, but he's 25, is not a notable defensive player and hasn't hit a homer yet this season in Triple A. His future isn't all that promising.

Still, it's a pretty good bet that he'll start every game that he's up for.

A few other thoughts:

  • Who's the fourth outfielder? Nick Punto? Matt Tolbert? Ugh. This team is even more vulnerable now to an outfield injury or ejection.
  • One reason to call up Valencia rather than an outfielder: There are no minor league outfielders on the 40-man roster. The Twins aren't going to waive somebody else to bring an outfielder up for four games.
  • Another reason: As unimpressive as Valencia's minor league numbers appear on closer examination, with Cuddyer out for the next four games, the Twins badly need some right-handed thump, especially against Oakland. Today's game is against a right-handed starter (Felix Hernandez); no real problem with having Jim Thome DH with an outfield of Delmon Young-Denard-Span-Jason Kubel. Oakland, however, has a lot of lefties in its rotation, and two of them (Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez) are scheduled to face the Twins this weekend. Neither Thome nor Kubel hit southpaws all that well. Cuddyer will be missed in those games.
  • Unlike Trevor Plouffe, who got a brief stretch in the lineup in J.J. Hardy's stead, Valencia plays a position at which the Twins cannot be satisfied with what they've gotten so far. If he hits, might he displace Punto and Brendan Harris? (If he does, Tolbert loses his spot again when Cuddyer returns next week.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Late night: Mariners 2, Twins 1 (10 innings)

Box score here. Game story here.

It won't get the national attention that the Jim Joyce call in the Cleveland-Detroit game got, but there was a blown call at second base on the final play of this one as well.

But the run scored for more than the odd final play — men on second and first, two down, Ichiro grounds one up the middle, Matt Tolbert makes a diving stop, flips to J.J. Hardy at second only to have Dale Scott blow the call while pinch runner Ryan Langerhans scores from second. That run scored because Matt Guerrier couldn't navigate through the weakest bottom of the lineup in the league.

And more than that, the game went into extra innings because in the fourth inning, after Joe Mauer singled and Justin Morneau doubled, neither Michael Cuddyer nor Jason Kubel could do anything with Cliff Lee. It happens; Lee's a quality pitcher. And Seattle's only run in regulation scored because Kevin Slowey did a lousy job of holding Milton Bradley on base.

The Twins faced two lefties the last two games and scored a run in each game. Safeco's a tough park to hit in, and Cliff Lee is Cliff Lee, but that's not going to get it done very often.


Hardy's been hitting second with Orlando Hudson out. Here's a little quiz for you: Who has the higher OBP this year, Delmon Young or Hardy? How about Nick Punto or Hardy?

Answer: Young's on-base percentage is .314; Punto's .298; Hardy's .275.

Young has drawn 13 walks already this year. Not that 13 is a huge number — it's eighth on the team — but he had 12 all of last season.

Imperfect umpiring; Griffey retires

I feel for Armando Galarraga, who would have had a perfect game tonight had Jim Joyce gotten the call right on the 27th batter.

And I feel for Joyce, generally regarded as one of the better umpires. It was not — at least for a well-trained major league umpire — a particularly difficult call. There was nothing out of the ordinary about it; it wasn't a case where he was looking at the feet but the out made on a tag.

Joyce should have gotten it right. He didn't. And in a different era, we wouldn't be as certain that he got it wrong as we are.

That said, I reject the Joe Morgan contention that umpires should favor the pitcher throwing a not-hitter or perfect game. The umpires should be trying to make the right call, no matter who it favors. Joyce failed, but it was an honest failure.


The second shoe from the Griffey-napping story fell today. Ken Griffey Jr. retired, saying he never wanted to be a distraction.

He was no longer a productive player, and he was no longer playing.

A great player, a joy to watch. I will remember him from his first tour of duty with Seattle. And for throwing out Michael Cuddyer at home in Game 163 of the 2008 season, when Junior was with the White Sox.

Around the division

Even after last night's whupping at the hands of the lowly Mariners. the Twins still have the largest lead of any division leader.

And that's hardly unnoticed elsewhere in the AL Central. The blogs I keep an eye on have essentially conceded that it will take some sort of disaster for the Twins to lose the division title, or even for there to be a serious race in September.

The Chicago White Sox are the subject of multiple trade rumors, particularly surrounding A.J. Pierzynski, who (a) is in the last year of his contract; (b) gains automatic no-trade status on June 14, when he becomes a 10-and-5 players (10 years of service time, five year with his current team; and (c) as a well-used 33-year-old catcher may be at the point where his current .217 batting average is not a mere slump.

The Detroit Tigers, to the surprise of almost everybody, found a market for Dontrelle Willis. They shipped the troubled former all-star to Arizona for pitching quasi-prospect Billy Buckner, who at 26 and with more than 130 major league innings isn't much of a prospect anymore. But the Tigers got something for Willis, and Buckner strikes me as a reasonable replacement (eventually) for Zach Miner, who is out with ligament replacment surgery.

The Tigers have installed Carlos Guillen (above) as their regular second baseman — or, perhaps more accurately, he'll play second until he gets hurt again. He had played second in a dozen major league games before this — all of them in the previous century.

I would assume they're not expecting quality glovework from him. This is about getting another bat in the lineup.

The Cleveland Indians are seeing their season roil down the toilet. Grady Sizemore needs surgery for a bone bruise in his knee, and there's talk of more surgery ahead for their roster centerpiece.

Meanwhile, there's this: They drew 1.7 million last year; factoring in the economy, they budgeted for an attendance of 1.5 million; they're on pace to draw 1.1 million.

The Kansas City Royals aren't just a bad team, they're an uninteresting bad team. But Rany Jazayerli sees hope in a burgeoning farm system.

Late night: Mariners 7, Twins 1

Box score here. Game story here.

Before I get into Brendan Harris (above), a couple pitching notes.

This was the fourth time this season that Nick Blackburn failed to record even one strikeout in a start. He had one good outing doing that (May 9, seven shutout innings against Baltimore) and now three lousy ones. All told, in his zero-strikeout starts, he has allowed 15 runs in 22.6 innings — ERA of 5.96. I'm going to guess that's actually a pretty low ERA for games cherry-picked for a compete lack of domination.

Then there's Ron Mahay, who was broken out of his LOOGY role and asked to pitch a full inning. It didn't go well— two runs allowed — and his ERA in his last four outings has gone from perfection (0.00) to 6.73. That reflects nine earned runs in 3.3 IP.

He's still dominating lefties (.390 OPS) but the righties are killing him. He's definitely fallen behind both Brian Duensing and Jose Mijares in the bullpen pecking order.


As I surmised Tuesday morning, Harris got the start against Jason Vargas. The result was another 0-fer. He's now hitting .163. He can't be that bad, but he didn't have a well-struck ball, even with all four at-bats coming against lefties. I wonder if he'll start against Cliff Lee tonight, or if Matt Tolbert will get the call.

But what really struck me came before the game, when the lineup had Nick Punto playing second and Harris third.

Remember: Ron Gardenhire doesn't like moving his regulars from one position to another. He has resisted moving Punto off third base this year; when J.J. Hardy was out, Gardenhire played other infielders at short — Harris, Alexi Castilla, Trevor Plouffe— but not Punto. On Monday, he put Michael Cuddyer at second and left Punto at third, even though second base is the more important defensive spot and even though Cuddyer has spent more time in his career at third base than at second.

But on Tuesday, there was Punto at second and Harris at third. Which tells me a lot about how Gardenhire rates Harris as a second baseman. He'd rather play an outfielder there.

Harris did make a couple of nice plays at third base.

The dirt flying off the ball in the above photo reminds me of the stories told of Honus Wagner, the greatest shortstop ever, who had huge hands and was said to scoop up infield dirt along with the ball and fling the whole mess at the first baseman. This might be the only time Harris is compared to Wagner.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Casilla out, Tolbert in

After last night's game, the Twins put Alexi Casilla (pictured) on the disabled list and recalled Matt Tolbert.

Tolbert figures to play the same role as Casilla, which is to say not much of one at all. Pinch-running, occasional defensive work when one of the regular infielders is out — which is the case today, with Orlando Hudson's immediate status uncertain.

At this point, I'd rather not see Brendan Harris playing at all, although I expect he'll get a start today, as Seattle's got a left-hander scheduled to start. Harris is in the major leagues largely because his career batting average vs. LHP is .289. But he's just 2 for 22 over the past two weeks, and he's hit lefties worse than righties so far this season.

That shouldn't continue forever, but he looks like a mess at the plate right now. Still, if he doesn't play against Jason Vargas, I don't know how the Twins justify his roster spot.

Harris' slump makes this a particularly bad time for Casilla to go on the shelf. He's actually looked fairly competent at the plate so far in his limited opportunities — his OPB is .370 — and I was struck by his three-walk performance May 22 against Milwaukee. Three walks in a game isn't something that just happens.

A healthy Casilla might have gotten more opportunities.