Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Deciphering the bullpen

Glen Perkins is on the disabled list. So are Joe Nathan and Kevin Slowey. Jose Mijares was activated from the DL in time for Monday's game, although he did not pitch. Dusty Hughes is back in the minors, as is Jeff Manship.

That's six of the seven people who populated the Twins bullpen on Opening Day. Matt Capps, the last man standing.

I found it interesting that when Ron Gardenhire wanted a left-handed reliever in a game situation Monday — bases loaded, one out in the seventh with a tied score — he bypassed Mijares and went with Phil Dumatrait. And, equally interesting, Dumatrait got the Twins out of the inning unscored upon.

When Anthony Slama
gets into a game,
he will be the 15th Twin
used in relief this season.
That suggests that Dumatrait has moved ahead of Mijares in the pecking order and is staying there, at least until he fails.

Here's how I see the bullpen roles right now — recognizing that as people start coming off the DL, things are bound to change.

Closer: Capps
Setup1: Alex Burnett
Lefty 1: Dumatrait
Setup2/MR1: Jim Hoey
Lefty 2: Mijares
MR2: Anthony Slama
Long man: Chuck James

Pretty ugly. Slama was called up Monday when the Twins put Francisco Liriano on the disabled list; Anthony Swarzak gets at least one more start, probably two, out of this. (Slama may actually rank ahead of Hoey right now, since Slama hasn't failed yet.)

When the Twins called up James, they opened a spot on the 40-man roster by putting Tsuyoshi Nishioka on the 60-day disabled list. Nishioka is eligible to come back June 7. When he is ready, somebody will have to be taken off the 40. I have no shortage of deserving candidates for that, but considering how soured the Twins appear to be with Slowey, he may be the target.

Further complicating any attempt to divine ahead of time what the Twins will do: I have no idea of the option status of either James or Dumatrait. When Perkins is ready to return, it would figure that one of those two lefties will lose out. When Nathan is ready to return, I would think either Hoey or Slama will be optioned back to Rochester.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: The story of Eddie Grant

Edward Leslie "Harvard Eddie" Grant, third baseman, played all or part of 10 seasons with four major league teams, 1905-1915.

Eddie Grant hit .249/.300/.295
as a deadball era infielder.
He was a lawyer after his playing career ended and was an early enlistee when the United States entered World War I  in 1917, quickly becoming a captain in the 77th Infantry Division. He was killed in combat on Oct. 5, 1918, and is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Lorraine, France.

He remains, all these decades and all these wars later, baseball's most prominent combat death. 

When the Hall of Fame was being created in the 1930s, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wanted Grant to be one of the first inductees. That was a minority opinion; Grant was good enough a player to be a four-year regular in the major leagues, but he was not a star, much less what we think of as a Hall of Famer. His fame, such as it is, resulted from his death, not his baseball accomplishments.

A memorial in Grant's honor was erected in center field of the Polo Grounds, the home field of his final major league team, in the field of play some 470 feet from home plate. The plaque on that memorial vanished in the on-field scum after the Giants final home game there in 1957. It was reportedly found in the attic of a retired police officer a few years ago, although there is reason to doubt it is the same plaque that stood in center field for decades.

A replica of the original plaque is displayed in the Giants' current home park, a continent and a century away from where and when Grant played.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pic of the week

Buster Posey, the Giants' star catcher, may miss the rest
of the season after breaking his leg and suffering
ligament damage in this collision.

It's a rather gruesome photo, and Buster Posey is a significant player with significant injuries as a result of this play.

Still, I was surprised at the sudden call for a ban on blocking the plate as a means of protecting catchers.

Protecting catchers? Really? Most home plate collisions, of course, result in no injuries. Those that do, I suspect, lean heavily on the side of injuring the runner.

The catcher, after all, is armored. And if he's following the rules — which prohibit a fielder without the ball from obstructing the runner — he has possession of the ball and probably has had time to get set and braced.

Posey's injury is unfortunate. But I heard no such outcry when Robin Ventura broke his ankle in a home plate collision.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Division of labor

The Star Tribune's Joe Christensen had an interesting post-game post about what irritated Ron Gardenhire in Saturday's loss. As the headline says, it wasn't what you'd expect.

Fans are irked by the implosion of Alex Burnett, Dusty Hughes and Jim Hoey. Gardy was riled by base running blunders and mental errors.

When Gardenhire apparently shrugs off the Burnett-Hughes-Hoey incineration with "That's who we are. That's who has to pitch," he's vaguely referencing this reality: He has limited control over the roster. He's overworked Matt Capps; Joe Nathan may bound for the disabled list; Anthony Swarzak is apparently being reserved to start in place for Francisco Liriano, whose shoulder is bothering him.

Burnett, Hughes, Hoey and Phil Dumatrait were who Gardy had for the eighth. And he'll save his public criticism for the failure to get over to first base in time on the leadoff infield single, maybe for the walk to the next batter, certainly for the first-pitch cookie to the guy after that.

Those are issues of focus, not of talent. If Dusty Hughes can't get major leaguers out consistently enough to deserve a major league bullpen job, that's the front office's problem. If Danny Valencia doesn't know how many outs there are, that's something for the manager to get on.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Proximity to Greatness: Jim "Mudcat" Grant

Jim "Mudcat" Grant gets off the special Killebrew
light rail car that delivered the slugger's
old teammates to Thursday's memorial at Target Field 
Mudcat Grant had a long and distinguished major league pitching career, and he will long be remembered in Minnesota for his role on the 1965 World Series team — a 21-win regular season, two more in the Series against the Dodgers, a grand slam in Game 6.

I was struck by this sentence from him in this Pioneer Press piece from the coverage of the Killebrew memorial:

I counted up how many hall of famers I knew and played with, and it was 51.

Now, Grant played from 1958 to 1971, and he bounced around a lot -- he pitched for seven different major league teams -- and maybe he's counting winter ball and minor leagues, but 51 seems like a lot. And, in fact, off the reference in the same paragraph to Fergie Jenkins and Brooks Robinson, I think he's counting players he played against as well as teammates.

Anyway ... I went though his career and came up with 17 current members of the Hall of Fame who were teammates of his in the major leagues. There are a few others who will be -- Tony LaRussa, for example, and Joe Torre -- and quite a few for whom very good arguments can be made (Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva and Ted Simmons among them).

The 17, listed by the year in which he first played with them:

1958: Larry Doby, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bob Lemon
1959: No new names
1960: No new names
1961: No new names
1962: No new names
1963: Early Wynn
1964: Harmon Killebrew
1965: No new names
1966: No new names
1967: Rod Carew
1968: Don Drysdale, Don Sutton
1969: Lou Brock, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson
1970: Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Stargell, Robert Clemente
1971: No new names

Now, if we count his managers as teammates, we add Joe Gordon, Walter Alston, Red Schoendienst and Dick Williams, which puts him at 21.

Twenty-one ain't 51, but it's not bad, considering how much of his career was spent on some pretty blah Cleveland teams.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Problem spot: Rundowns after pickoffs

Finally, Alexi Casilla makes the tag.
It didn't cost them Wednesday's game — it didn't even cost an out, much less a run.

But the Twins infield still managed to embarrass itself trying to get a runner out after picking him off first base.

File this under "doing the little things wrong — repeatedly."

Wednesday's play came in the ninth inning, when Dusty Hughes picked off Franklin Gutierrez. The play was scored 1-3-4-3-6-4. That's at least two throws too many for that play, and it represented at least the fourth time the Twins have had difficulty executing a rundown between first and second base. At least this time they got the runner out.

I saw a similar screwed-up rundown during my spring training sojourn.  That one featured a collection of minor leaguers until Matt Tolbert got the ball and ran down the runner himself. I figured than that the next morning would feature the rundown until everybody in camp would have dreams about the play the following night. That would fix it.

It instead presaged one of the more irritating trends of the Twins season. It's basic stuff, and the infield is bollixing it on a regular basis.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Matt Capps and long save opportunities

Matt Capps' ERA is now 5.09 — and he's the most
reliable man in the Twins bullpen right now.
I was going to title this "The overworked Matt Capps," but I'm not casting a judgment on how he's been used so much as making observations about how he's been used.

What is obvious: Ron Gardenhire is using Capps differently than he has ever used his closer in the past. That is (my opinion) more a symptom of the problem than a cause — Gardenhire is reluctant to trust his other relievers with leads — but it's not working.

Capps opened the 2011 season as the primary set-up man to Joe Nathan and inherited the closer's mantle in mid April after Nathan flopped in consecutive save opportunities. Through that month, Gardenhire followed his usual protocol of bringing the closer, whichever man held the job,in at the start of the ninth inning -- three-out save opportunities.

That changed this month. Capps has been brought in four times in May in "long" save opportunities — before the ninth inning, seeking to get at least four outs. He converted the first of those four, blew the next three.

He had just one long save opp in his partial 2010 season with the Twins. His predecessor as closer in 2010, Jon Rauch, was never bought in for a save opp earlier than the ninth inning.

Nathan, the closer for several seasons before his elbow injury, had three long save chances in 2009 and two each in 2008, 2007 and 2006.

In the five previous seasons, Gardenhire's closers averaged two long save opps a year. He has doubled that this month alone.

Again: I'm not criticizing Gardenhire here. Other than Glen Perkins (now on the disabled list), nobody in his bullpen has emerged as a credible late-inning option. Gardenhire is using his best reliever earlier than he would prefer in an effort to win winnable games, and, at least in theory, I can't argue with that approach.

I do think that (a) these longer outings aren't good for Capps, and (b) they aren't protecting the leads.

And (c) it's time to try something else in the eighth inning. Who that might be ... that's the rub.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Can't get no relief

Earlier this season, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen concluded one of his trademark rants by knocking over his chair and declaring as he walked out: "I don't have any closer."

His Minnesota counterpart, Ron Gardenhire, isn't as mercurial as Ozzie, but he could well go deeper in complaining about his bullpen. Considering how good his previous bullpens have been and how ably the Twins have twice before reshaped their relief corps during his tenure, that's a major surprise.

Aaron Gleeman made a salient point on Monday: Gardenhire has twice built effective bullpens, and they were both built around unproven talent, not established closers. This bullpen features a pair of closers who will be paid a combined $19 million this year; Joe Nathan and Matt Capps have a combined ERA of 6.10 -- and what's worse, the other options available to Gardenhire right now aren't any more appealing.

I may be overly stubborn, but I still will not criticize the Twins for letting Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes leave as free agents. Committing the kind of money and years to that crew that they got on the open market would have been a long-term mistake.

The Twins expected to reload around Capps and Nathan and Jose Mijares. It hasn't worked. Tampa Bay, in contrast, let an even more productive crew of bullpen arms go last winter (Rafael Soriano, Jocquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and others) and rebuilt around an unlikely collection of castoffs headed by Kyle Farnsworth.

The Rays have made it work. The Twins have not.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ben Revere and another double switch that didn't happen

In the seventh inning Sunday, Alexi Casilla beat out a one-out bunt. Ron Gardenhire had Denard Span pinch-hit for Francisco Liriano. With Ben Revere, who started in center, on deck, I immediately started considering double switch options — keeping Span in the game and moving the pitchers' spot one place further down the order.

Ben Revere was 2-for-4
Sunday, but also had
a costly error.
Span flew out, and with Revere up, Casilla got thrown out trying to steal. So much for the double switch.

The steal attempt wasn't a bad idea. Revere is not a power threat, so it was probably going to take two hits to score Casilla from first base. And given that Gardenhire didn't avail himself of the opportunity to double switch on Saturday, when there was a more obvious advantage to be gained (seven spots in the batting order rather than one), the double switch probably wasn't intended in any event.

But ... in the bottom of the inning, Revere messed up a leadoff double and gave Arizona an extra base, which set up the sac fly from the next batter, and that was the decisive run.

It's been that kind of season for the Twins.


Revere has been returned to Rochester now, with Jason Repko coming off the disabled list, and there are indications that Gardenhire would rather have Revere on his roster than Repko.

Revere is a better hitter than Repko. Revere is faster than Repko. Revere has also made a couple of costly miscues in the outfield; while neither man has played a whole lot, I believe Repko is the more reliable defensive player. Repko certainly has the stronger arm.

Which man should be on the roster? I think it boils down to what the Twins have in mind for Revere long-term.

If they see Revere as a regular outfielder beginning in 2012, then he should be in Rochester getting regular at-bats and working on his defensive skills.

If they see Revere as a career fourth/fifth outfielder — and he certainly fits the prototype — there's not a lot of point in delaying his career path.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Late night: Diamondbacks 9, Twins 6

Arizona baserunner Gerald Parra celebrates teammate
Kelly Johnson's eighth-inning grand slam off Matt Capps.
Game story here

Box score here

A painful loss for the Twins. Painful for the loss itself and — perhaps worse — for the injury to Glen Perkins, who has been their most effective reliever and is now headed to the disabled list.

From LaVelle Neal's game story:

...The problems that doomed the Twins began in the middle innings.
That's when Scott Baker threw 102 pitches over five innings, then had to start the sixth because his spot was due up the next inning.

"Had to." Not really, sir. Not at all, in fact. Follow me:

Delmon Young was hitting seventh in the order. Baker, of course, was hitting ninth. In between was Drew Butera, who made the last out in the top of the sixth with Ben Revere on deck and Alex Burnett warming up. Had Butera kept the inning alive, Revere would have pinch hit.

What Gardenhire could have done — what I would have done in a Strat-O-Matic game — was double switch. Revere enters as the left fielder in the ninth slot, Burnett as the pitcher hitting seventh. Gardy instead kept Baker in —for two batters.

Then in came Phil Dumatrait, hitting ninth. And when Dumatrait retired only one of three batters, in came Burnett, hitting ninth. And in the top of the seventh, Revere hit for Burnett. When Joe Nathan took the hill, he too was hitting ninth and Revere was out of the game.

And in the fatal eighth inning, Young — who has less range than Revere — failed to get to a catchable fly. 

A double switch at any point in that Baker-Dumatrait-Burnett sequence of pitchers would have improved the left field defense and, perhaps, saved a bullpen move. 

To some degree, such second-guessing of Gardenhire is beside the point. That he burned two relievers in the sixth probably doesn't affect who was pitching in the decisive eighth. He had Nathan start the inning, then Perkins, then Matt Capps. Those are the three guys Gardy has some faith in for the late innings of a winnable game, and they didn't get the job done. Saving Dumatrait or Burnett in the sixth doesn't change that.

We can't know what would have happened had Gardenhire double switched at some point in the sixth inning — he had three chances to do so, and passed on each. We do know that the pitchers he used that inning gave up two runs, that the outfielder he left in the game later butchered a fly ball, and that his bullpen is once again a shambles.

Pic of the Week

A young Twins fan takes a photo of Rod Carew
with an iPad2 outside the church in Peoria, Ariz.,
where the Harmon Killebrew funeral was held.

There are several things about this photo for me to think about, not the least of which is the technology the girl is employing.

But the big one, for me at least: Rod Carew last played in the major leagues in 1986, almost 25 years ago.  Not only is she too young to have seen him play, her dad (depending on how old he is) may not remember seeing him play. Yet she knows enough about him to want to get his photo.

The thread of baseball, tying the generations together.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Late night: Diamondbacks 8, Twins 7

Luke Hughes touches the Harmon Killebrew jersey the
Twins plan to hang in their dugout the rest of the season.
Game story here.

Box score here.

A tough day for the Twins — the Harmon Killebrew funeral in the morning, and this loss at night.

Glen Perkins couldn't quite get the job done in relief of Brian Duensing, and the two-out, bases loaded double he gave up to Ryan Roberts in the seventh inning broke the game open. Even more, Kevin Slowey was ineffective in the eighth, which allowed Arizona to balloon the lead back up to four.

The Twins rallied repeatedly, but the configuration of the Arizona park — the center field wall is 25 feet tall — kept a Jason Kubel drive in the yard in the eighth. He didn't score after his triple.

And in the ninth inning, the Twins loaded the bases with one out and had Kubel and Justin Morneau up with the tying run at third, the go-ahead run at second and insurance at first. Joe Paterson, a lefty reliever who throws sidearm, fanned Kubel and got Morneau to ground out.

Paterson threw each at least one eminently hittable pitch, but got away with both, probably because of his delivery. On TV, Dick Bremer kept talking about how J.J. Putz, the D'backs closer, was apparently unavailable;  I daresay both Kubel and Morneau would rather have faced Putz, who has outstanding stuff with a conventional delivery, than the southpaw sidearmer.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Alex Burnett's opportunity

Alex Burnett is  0-2,
6.52 so far this season,
and the Twins have
not won any game
in which he has
First, a note: Harmon Killebrew's funeral at noon CDT today will be carried by Fox Sports North, both on TV and on its website.
(Update: It appears that all the metro TV stations will carry the funeral, and I assume they'll all stream it on their websites as well.)

Between the suddenly lively Twins lineup and a solid outing from Nick Blackburn, the Twins had no need to call Thursday on any reliever in a game situation. Phil Dumatrait and Anthony Swarzak pitched, but both were just getting some work in in a game already decided. The two-to-three guys Ron Gardenhire trusts in the late innings (Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Joe Nathan) all got the day off, and Kevin Slowey now has had a starter's rest.

But it remains true that the Twins are short at least one reliable arm. Their bullpen revamp counted on Nathan's return to form, and that hasn't fully happened. It counted on Jose Mijares at least remaining a competent LOOGY, if not more; instead, he's gone backwards. Even Perkins's emergence was part of the plan -- not necessarily that Perkins would emerge, but that SOMEBODY would.

The Mijares/Nathan struggles mean that there's a need for a second emergence. Capps has had more one-plus inning save opportunities already this season than Eddie Guardado had in two years as closer.

The most likely candidate on the current 25-man roster is Alex Burnett. Gardenhire has repeatedly tried to wedge Burnett into a four-to-six outs role, and I doubt that kind of use fits him. I think Burnett could thrive if used for one to three outs at a time. But given the use restrictions on the post-surgical Nathan and the apparent difficulties Slowey has had bouncing back from relief outings, it's difficult to limit Burnett to "optimal" use. Having Swarzak on the roster gives the Twins two long men, so that might help.

I said it before the season started, and it remains true: The bullpen is a work in progress. That's no great insight. Bullpens are always works in progress. This one is merely more obviously so than most. I fully expect that at some point we're going to see Kyle Waldrop and/or Carlos Gutierrez, but right now neither is even on the 40-man roster.

Burnett has the opportunity to make the Greg McMichael rule work for him. Get outs, and they'll find a job for you. So far, he hasn't taken advantage of it.

Musings on blog hits

Do not underestimate the power of the Gleeman.

Earlier this week I put up a post about a play on which Delmon Young displayed a decided lack of hustle. It drew no comments, and the blog got hits at its usual rate.

On Thursday, Aaron Gleeman linked to that post. And the hits went through the roof almost immediately — three times the normal rate.

(I check my stats with a frequency that belies the advice I give anyone silly enough to ask me for advice about their blogs: Don't worry about hits. Write and post things that you like. If it's good, it will find an audience, or an audience will find it. And if the audience doesn't flock to it, at least you like it. In truth, I believe that -- but I sure know if my audience is finding me.)

Things settled back into a more normal range Thursday evening, but the Young post had already become this blog's third most visited post, with every likelihood of becoming the second most visited.

The photo they all
want to see.
But it has no chance of catching the leader. That belongs to a post from last June, shortly after Danny Valencia was called up. Titled "Contemplating Danny Valencia," it took a skeptical view of the rookie third baseman's minor league record.

And it contained a photo, the team mugshot taken during spring training.

That photo is the draw. Image searches on Yahoo and Google are bringing multiple visitors to that post every day. In almost any given week, "Contemplating Danny Valencia" is my most visited post. It had 43 visitors in the past week, and that's fairly typical.

There are either a lot of people contemplating Valencia's face, or, perhaps, a few obsessives contemplating it repeatedly.

I guess this is proof that I do, in fact, follow my own advice. If I were just looking for more hits, I'd post more Valencia photos. I have yet to post his 2011 mug;  I'm waiting for a post good enough to want it seen thousands of times.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A short bullpen

Let's get this up before this afternoon's game: This figures to be a tough game for Ron Gardenhire to manage his bullpen.

Glen Perkins and Matt Capps each worked the previous two days. Joe Nathan pitched Wednesday, and I don't think he's worked consecutive days. Kevin Slowey had a six-inning stint three days ago. I would think Gardy would be loath to use any of them.

Which leave him with three available relievers: Alex Burnett, Phil Dumatrait and Anthony Swarzak. None of them should have Gardenhire's confidence.

Late night: Twins 4, Oakland 3 (10 innings)

Trevor Plouffe hits
his 10th-inning sac fly.
Game story here.

Box score here.

The obvious hook to this game is Trevor Plouffe, whose throwing error in the second inning extended the inning and led to two unearned runs, and who also drove in the final three runs of the game for the Twins.

The ribbies are nice, but Plouffe has to do a better job in the field if he's going to remain the Twins shortstop. Against Seattle on Monday, he laid back on a grounder by the speedy Chone Figgins, and the resulting infield single led to a run.

Alexi Casilla lost the shortstop job by failing to make the plays that are there to make. Plouffe has not demonstrated that he's any more reliable in the field.

He was not the only Twin involved in a miscue defensively. Carl Pavano — again — failed to get to first base on a grounder to the right side. He's been with the Twins since August 2009, and I'm certain he's  committed that gaffe more often than all the rest of the Minnesota pitchers combined.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Late night: Twins 2, Mariners 1

Francisco Liriano, with the
Killebrew memorial patch on
his shoulder,  unloads.
Game story here.

Box score here.

It wasn't a complete game or a shutout -- much less a no-hitter. But Francisco Liriano pitched better Tuesday than he did in his no-hitter.

Seven innings of three-hit ball, with one walk and nine strikeouts. Of his 110 pitches, 72 were strikes.

That's the kind of pitching he provided last season, and the kind of pitching that has been absent all season.

And let us also note the efficient work of Glen Perkins and Matt Capps, who combined to throw just 20 pitches in getting the final six outs -- 20 pitches and 15 strikes.

So the losing streak is over. And for the first time this year, there is serious reason to be encouraged by Liriano.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Harmon Killebrew, 1936-2011

A moment of silence before Tuesday night's game in Seattle.
Harmon Killebrew died this morning.

We'll miss him.

More Killebrew links

Moe eulogies written before the subject is dead:

Here's Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times with a Killebrew tribute and some Killebrew trivia.

Here's the great Joe Posnanski on "The Gentleman called Killer."

One more: Michael Cuddyer on Killebrew's influence on him -- with a mention of Mankato.

Late night: Mariners 5, Twins 2

Scott Baker walked two and fanned
eight Monday in six innings.
Game story here.

Box score here.

Nine straight losses for the Twins. I didn't see any of this one, and quit listening in the sixth after the Twins failed to get anything out of a bases-loaded, two-out situation.

Scott Baker wasn't bad, but he gave up a couple of homers, and Michael Pineda is impressing a lot of people. Prince Michael on Monday, King Felix Hernandez on Tuesday -- the Twins certainly caught no breaks in the Mariners rotation for this two-game series.

Phil Dumatrait -- that's Du-ma-trey -- made his Twins debut. He gave up no hits but walked two and allowed a run. His first 1.1 innings would fit right in with the season work of Jose Mijares (11 walks in 11.2 innings), whose roster place he took.

Mijares went on the DL with a sore elbow; I get the impression that the Twins regard this soreness as an excuse for Mijares' poor pitching this season, not as a reason for it. They were hoping that he'd step up to a bigger role this season; he has been unable to meet his previous standards. He represents a piece of the collapse.

Replacing Mijares and Jim Hoey in the pen with Dumatrait and Anthony Swarzak appears to give Ron Gardenhire this set of roles:

Closer: Matt Capps
Setup 1: Glen Perkins
Setup 2/MR 1: Joe Nathan
LOOGY: Dumatrait
MR2: Alex Burnett
Long man 1/ MR 3: Kevin Slowey
Long man 2: Swarzak

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Delmon Young "play"

Second inning Sunday. Twins are already behind 2-0, and Toronto has the lead-footed Jose Molina on first base with two outs. Yunel Escobar crushes a ball off the left field fence, and the carom eludes Delmon Young.

And as the ball rolls back into left field, Young merely points to it. See the video here. Molina scored.

The nonhustle was bad enough that the radio boys started ridiculing Young (although it was Ted Robinson, not John Gordon, involved).

I didn't see the play live, but when I saw the replay, I wondered if Ron Gardenhire considered pulling Young in mid-inning.  Managers have been known to do that — send a message: If you're going to embarrass me by not hustling, I'm going to embarrass you.

The wisdom of such a move depends on the individuals involved. Back in 1969, Mets manager Gil Hodges rather famously did that to Cleon Jones. Jones, in Hodges' eyes, loafed on a fly ball, and Hodges immediately replaced Jones.  Jones wasn't happy about it, but he went on to hit .340 that year and the Mets won the World Series.

On the other hand, last year Fredi Gonzalez pulled Hanley Ramirez after the Marlins star shortstop jogged after a ball he'd kicked into the left field corner. The resulting acrimony probably sealed Gonzalez' fate as Florida manager.

Young is not as important to the Twins as Ramirez is to the Marlins, or even as Jones was to the Mets. Gardenhire, right or wrong, chose not to make an immediate confrontational move Sunday.

Gardy's quote on the play: "You can't just stand there and watch it bounce back. You have to go get it. He knew he screwed up." In a season rapidly going sour, Gardenhire may not have the luxury of forgiving such faux pas in the future. Losing is bad enough. Losing without effort is worse.

Battered by Jose Bautista

Jose Bautista didn't begin to emerge as a top power hitter
until late in the 2009 season.
This is how it goes for the Twins: Jose Bautista is a dead pull hitter. He has now hit 70 homers since the 2010 season began;  three of them have gone the opposite way.

And all three came against the Twins.

I'm not about to claim that the Twins pitched Bautista this weekend exactly as they wanted;  the man hit five homers in the three games, and he pulled three of them. But one has to figure that part of the book on him is "make him go to right field." The Twins did that, and still got burned. Literally, it happens to nobody but the Twins.


Bill James wrote long ago about the concept of "free talent" — that there are always players stuck in the minors or on a bench somewhere who can play but aren't getting the chance who are available to the discerning for a low price.

Bautista was free talent. Drafted and signed by the Pirates in 2000, he was plucked in the 2003 Rule V draft by Baltimore. This began a weird 2004 odyssey in which he was waived and claimed, with each team  obligated by his Rule V status to keep him in the majors for the season. Twelve plate appearances for the Orioles, waived, claimed by Tampa Bay; 15 PAs for the Rays, sold to Kansas City; 26 trips to the plate for the Royals, traded back to Pittsburgh at the end of July in a transaction that included the Mets. He played for four major league teams that year.

Free talent; four bottom feeders had him, none cared enough about him to hang on to him.


Programming note: The Twins today begin a West Coast road swing — Seattle, Oakland, Arizona — and the night games figure to run afoul of the tyranny of the press start.

In recent years I have provided here links to game stories, a photo and commentary when the games can't get into the Free Press print edition. But I have a family obligation tonight and Tuesday — I will be out of town helping my mother through some surgery— and between uncertain Internet access and schedule, I doubt I will be able to do that for the Seattle games.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pic of the Week

The Killebrew statue got the swing right
but not the face.
Two red roses adorned the plaque at the base of the statue of Harmon Killebrew on the plaza outside Target Field on Friday, the day Killebrew made it known that his esophageal cancer is terminal, that treatment has been ceased and that he was entering hospice care.

The plaque reads:

Harmon Killebrew
Minnesota Twins

From the book The Power Hitters 
by Donald Honig

"If ever anyone yielded a blunt instrument
at home plate, it was Harmon Killebrew.
There was nothing subtle about the Idaho 
strong boy. It was always his intention to
mash a pitched ball as far as he could."

"Yielded" isn't the right word.  "Wielded" is.  But the sense of the quote — and the basic thrust of the statue — is dead on. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What they're saying about Harmon Killebrew (updated)

Harmon Killebrew and his Target Plaza statue last year.
No. 3 ain't dead yet, but the news that he's entering hospice care is triggering eulogies anyway. Which gives him the chance, if he's interested, to hear what would be said at his funeral.

So I thought I'd collect some links here. (I had intended to write my Monday print column on the Twins pitchers and walks, but I'll have a Harmon piece of my own instead.)

The Philadelphia Inquirer reprinted (or reposted) this 2007 piece by Jim Salisbury. The part about Danny Thompson seems particularly poignant in light of current events. Also from the Inquirer: Phillies manager Charlie Manuel talks about his old teammate: "I took him for granted. If I didn't see him hit a home run, I was disappointed. It seemed like he hit one every night."

This New York Times piece links Killebrew's farewell statement to those of Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston. It also contains memories of pitching to Killebrew from Gary Peters and Mel Stottlemyre, two pretty good 1960s pitchers.

Rick Telander writes about "Death with dignity" in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Jim Kaat tells the New York Daily News he knew this was coming.

Broadcaster Paul Kennedy writes of Killebrew in the context of 1968's unrest. Mel Antonen writes of growing up a Twins fan and imitating the Killer's stance -- and of seeing him in spring training this year, in his last day wearing a Twins uniform.

ESPN.com's David Schonfield says Killebrew had the perfect name for a slugger.

(Links added Sunday morning below)

The Hardball Times' Bruce Markuson recalls Killebrew at the Hall of Fame. (And there's a comment from a reader describing his encounter with Killebrew at St. Peter.)

From the Arizona Republic, Killebrew and the MLB logo. Also in that story, Joe Garagiola's reaction to the red seat in the old Met marking a long Killebrew homer -- you lnow, the seat that still hangs in the Mall of America.

Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman celebrates a homestate hero who hit home runs when home runs meant something.

Doing the math

Another game, another failure
for the Twins.
The rule of thumb here is to ignore the standings until Memorial Day. This is a time to break that rule.

The Twins lost Friday night (six straight losses), giving them a record of 12-14, .333 — the worst record in the majors. The Cleveland Indians (still in first place) won, making them 24-13 — the best record in the American League.

Last year the Twins won 94 games. Let's say it will take that many to win the division title. In that case, the Twins would have to go 82-44 the rest of the way; the Indians would have to go 70-55.

Say it will take just 90 wins to take the division. Then the Twins need a 78-48 mark for the rest of the season, while the Tribe would get there with a 66-59 record.

Finally, say it takes 86 wins, which is roughly where Rob Neyer projected the division winner to be. The Twins would get there if they go 74-52, while the Indians would reach that mark by going just 62-63.

It doesn't have to be the Indians. I've been clinging for weeks to the comforting notion that the likely threats to the Twins domination of the division, Chicago and Detroit, weren't doing much better than Minnesota.  But the Tigers have won six straight while the Twins have lost their six, and they are now 7.5 games up on the Twins.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Harmon Killebrew enters hospice care

The Twins hung Harmon Killebrew's No. 3
in their dougout before Friday's game
There is little good, but much of the inevitable, in this news.

Nobody lives forever, not even a baseball "immortal," but that does not remove the sting in the Killer's imminent demise for Twins fans of a certain age.

This is small beans compared to the Killebrew news, but I want to fill my loyal readers in regarding this blog.

The Blogger service that hosts this blog had some problems beyond this user's understanding this week. The techies took it to read-only sometime Thursday and ultimately removed all posts since a specific time Wednesday evening. They say those posts will be restored, but as of this writing two of my posts -- Thursday morning's "The mid-afternoon run of Ben Revere" and a post written in advance and timed to publish early Friday, "Contemplating Rene Tosoni" -- are lost in the Google ether.

The Revere post was at least up for most of a day. The Tosoni one hasn't been seen by anybody but the author, and events have already overtaken it. He was, as the post predicted, returned to Rochester today to make room on the roster for Delmon Young.

Anyway, if you come here during the weekend, those may be back.

Contemplating Rene Tosoni

Rene Tosoni: A home run
on Tuesday, four strikeouts
on Wednesday. He's hitting
.171 in 35 at-bats.
A while back, in a post about the stalled career of New Ulm native Jamie Hoffmann, I outlined the traditional model of the fourth or fifth outfielder — left-handed (or switch-hitter) with the speed to play center field but lacking the bat to play regularly.

Rene Tosoni, who has been getting semi-regular playing time while Delmon Young is on the disabled list, does not exactly fill those requirements. Left-handed, yes. Center fielder, not so much. The prospect books suggest he could play there, but off what little we've seen during this brief trial, he's as much a center fielder as Michael Cuddyer is.

He looks like a 'tweener to me — not enough defense to play center regularly, not enough bat for an outfield corner. I suspect he's about 40 or 30 years late, that his tools would have been a better fit with the platoon-oriented managers of the '70s and '80s.

But in a future Twins outfield that could feature multiple regulars with center-field speed — Denard Span, Ben Revere, Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks — Tosoni might fit a bench role. On the current team, he doesn't offer anything the Young-Cuddyer-Jason Kubel troika is missing.

Which makes him a likely demotion if Young is indeed activated before today's game. Revere should stick because he can play center and goes back to Rochester when Jason Repko is ready.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The late afternoon run of Ben Revere

Ben Revere is listed (perhaps generously) at 5-9, 175 lb;
Detroit catcher Alex Avila is 5-11, 210.  But Revere sent
Avila airborne in their collision Wednesday.
Pitcher walks are real topic of the Twins latest fiasco — the Twins walked eight men Wednesday — and the topic is probably the hanging curveball of this misbegotten season. (LaVelle Neal took a swing at the topic this week and did no better than foul it off.)

But I'm going to save the issue for the Monday print column, partly because I believe that still has the wider readership (print isn't completely dead) and partly because I don't want to think about it right now.

Instead, I want to talk about Ben Revere and Matt Tolbert.

Bottom of the eighth inning, Twins down a run. Revere pinch hits for Rene Rivera, hits a grounder, is called safe at first and given credit for an infield hit. Matt Tolbert shoots a ball into the right-center gap, and Brendan Boesch kicks it around a bit. The speedy Revere is if anything trying to go too fast, starting to stumble as he heads home. Revere and Boesch's throw reach catcher Alex Avila at about the same time, but Revere's slide takes Avila's legs out and the ball rolls away. Tolbert winds up at third, but Denard Span and Luke Hughes leave him there, the Tigers score twice in the ninth off Matt Capps, and the Twins lose 9-7.

For a moment I envisioned the play as the potential equivalent of the Torii Hunter-Jamie Burke play of 2004, a famous home-plate collision that reverberates still in the Twins-White Sox rivalry. (Among other ramifications, it cemented the notion that the Sox of that time were soft; they traded some big boppers and let others go in an effort to become more hard-nosed and, really, Twins-like — and they won the 2005 World Series.) It was the "best" Twins collision I can recall since that play, at least, but the Twins didn't win the game, so it's hardly a turning point to their season as the Burke play was.

Revere and Avila after the collision.
Revere: It's not easy to tell exactly what the Twins have in him, or how he fits into their future. He has some obvious tools — he's very fast, he has hit for average at every level — and some obvious weaknesses — he has no power and doesn't throw well.  The general consensus is that he can be the next Juan Pierre, which isn't great but is hardly an embarrassment.

The problem is that the Twins already have a left-handed slap-hitting center fielder/leadoff man (Denard Span). Can (should) they justify playing two of them, Revere in left and Span in center?

That's not a logical move immediately. Delmon Young is supposedly to be activated Friday, and he'll reclaim the left field job. Revere still has room to develop and should be playing in the minors still. This is an issue more relevant to 2012.

Tolbert: The Twins clearly don't regard him as highly as they did the departed Nick Punto, and they may well be correct, although I find Ron Gardenhire's track record at assessing the abilities of unproven players increasingly suspect.

Tolbert and Punto come from the same mold: Switch-hitting multi-position infielders who can run a bit and field but aren't strong hitters and tend to get nicked up. Punto was probably a bit faster and better with the glove, while Tolbert has slightly more power.

But Gardenhire always seemed to find ways to put Punto in the lineup, and he's reluctant to do so with Tolbert.

I keep remembering, though, that in September 2009 Tolbert played every day at third base, and his .333./.365/.464 line that month played no small role in that memorable stretch drive. The next spring the Twins started with Punto and Brendan Harris at third base and switched in midseason to Danny Valencia; Tolbert spent most of 2010 in Triple A.

There's no real reason to think Tolbert is as good as his one month of regular play suggests. But it's not like the other infielders have taken jobs and run with them.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The hail you say

More hailstones than hits for the Twins at Target Field.
Another embarrassment for the Twins on Tuesday night. So many things going wrong this season ...

I'm going to set aside Francisco Liriano's failure for now, because his stats won't change in the next few days, and focus instead on Michael Cuddyer, because his stats may.

This seems an improbable stat, but it's still true: Cuddyer has three home runs and just four RBIs. He has driven in exactly one of his teammates, and, according to Howard Sinker of the Star Tribune, that came on a groundout.

According to Baseball Reference this morning, he has 62 plate appearances on the season with men on base -- 55 official at-bats, six walks, one HBP. He has nine hits for a .162 batting average with men on base, and none of those hits have driven in anybody. He is just 3-for-29 with men in scoring position -- .103 batting average, .103 slugging percentage.

Cuddyer is not, never has been, a huge offensive producer. He drove in more than 100 runs one season, more than 90 another, more than 80 in two other seasons. That's not particularly impressive for a right fielder/first baseman who generally hits in the middle of the lineup. Still, combined with his non-statistical contributions as a team leader and his willingness to shift positions, he's been a valuable component of the Twins for the past decade.

But this is improbably bad.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Problem spot: Power

As I write this, Baseball Reference has yet to update with the results from Monday. Inasmuch as the Twins had just 10 singles in 11 innings Monday — not a single extra-base hit in Fenway Park — it hardly undermines the premise.
The Twins had a total of five extra bases hits in their
four-game series in Boston.

The Twins' slugging percentage through 32 games: .323. That's last in the American League; only Seattle — a team without the established hitters the Twins have — is within 30 points.

The Twins are also last in the AL in batting average and on-base percentage —they're last in runs scored on merit — but I want to focus on the lack of power here.

It's not that surprising that the Twins aren't hitting home runs; even last season, when they were fifth in the AL in run scored, they were below average in homers. But while Target Field limits homers, it yields doubles and triples (the 2010 Twins led the AL in three-baggers and were third in doubles, just one two-bagger out of second place).

This year? Last in homers, second worst in doubles, 10th in triples.

Jason Kubel is doing his part. Denard Span is doing his job in the leadoff spot, which doesn't include a lot of extra-base hits. But between the injuries and the slumps, nobody else is producing up to par. Not counting Trevor Plouffe and his 10 at-bats, the second highest slugging percentage on the team is .375 (Jim Thome, currently on the disabled list). The AVERAGE slugging percentage in the AL in 2010 was .407.

Can this turn around? Logically, it should. Taking J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson out of the lineup shouldn't take almost a hundred points off the slugging percentage.

But ... Justin Morneau's clearly not where he was before his concussion. Thome's 40 and wasn't a real good bet to replicate 2010. Danny Valencia's minor league record suggests he overproduced last season. Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young have never than all that consistent. Nobody knows when Joe Mauer will be back.  Lord knows why anybody pitches to Kubel at this point.

And that's the pop. The rest of the roster is, as hitters, not designed to garner extra base hits. They;re supposed to get on base, run and help keep the Twins starters in the game. How well they're doing that is another matter.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Problem spot: Infield defense

This dropped fly ball in left field by Ben Revere
was one of three errors charged against the Twins
Sunday. There were other unmade plays, not
scored as errors, that hurt their chances.
A basic rule of thumb: Shuffling middle infielders in and out of the lineup is bad for the defense. Double play combos thrive on familiarity.

So it shouldn't be overly surprising that that the Twins have had poor middle infield defense this season. They've played five different men at second base (Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Michael Cuddyer, Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla) and three different men at shortstop (Tolbert, Casilla and Trevor Plouffe).

Plouffe is supposed to be the regular at short for now -- at least until Nishioka is ready to play, and maybe beyond. But his play afield Sunday was somewhat less than airtight.

Not that he was alone. Consider the third inning, in which the Red Sox scored four runs and took a 5-3 lead. All four runs were earned, but the Twins had numerous opportunities to get out of the inning. (I should note here that  I saw none of the disaster; I was, at that point, following the game on the radio and hence a hostage to the observations of Gladden and Gordon; this is less than optimal.)

Carl Crawford triples. The radio boys suggested that Denard Span might have been able to catch the ball but instead settled for trying to play the carom instead. Said carom got away from him, allowing Crawford to reach third. So Span passed on the risky play of trying for the out, then failed in the fallback position of holding Crawford to a double.

Jason Varitek grounds to first, scoring Crawford. In an alternative universe in which Span catches Crawford's ball, there are now two outs; in the one in which Span holds Crawford to two bases, Crawford advances to third.

Jacoby Ellsbury singles past Plouffe.The radio boys and Joe Christensen of the Strib agree: This could have been ruled an error on Plouffe. (The ruling of single extended Ellbury's hitting streak.) Hsad this play bene made ... it could be the third out in one scenario, or it could have scored Crawford in another, or it could have left him at third. I'll assume it would have scored Crawford. But at least there'd be two outs and nobody on.

Ellsbury steals second. Of course he did; Pavano is notoriously poor at holding runners. In a cleanly played inning, of course, there's no steal because he's not on base.

Dustin Pedroia walks. No defense for the base on balls. Adrian Gonzalez singles. Ellsbury scores, Pedroia to third.

Kevin Youkilis grounds into a force out. Gordon's initial call anticipated an inning-ending double play, but Plouffe and Casilla couldn't turn it. Pedroia scores.

At this point there have been multiple ways out of the inning. Maybe Span catches Crawford's triple. Maybe Plouffe snares Ellsbury's grounder. Maybe the double play is turned. Maybe the Twins yield one run, maybe two. Instead, they've yielded three, and the inning is still alive.

And it goes on to include two more singles and a throwing error by Drew Butera trying to pick Youkilis off. The wonder isn't that they gave up four runs in the inning, but that it was only four runs.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pic(s) of the Week

Twins fans at the final game of the Kansas City series.
Minnesota lost that game 10-3  and was swept by the Royals.
Two photos for you this week, because I decided not to decide between them.

What a difference two days make. Above, traveling Twins fans comment Sunday on the play of their team.

Below, a mere two days later, Francisco Liriano and Drew Butera celebrate Liriano's no-hitter.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Three in a row

Happy happy joy joy happy happy joy
Three games isn't much, especially given the travails of the opponents involved. The White Sox were playing, if anything, worse than the Twins, and the Red Sox had their pitching staff blown apart in their previous series.

But ... as I said in commenting on Liriano's no-hitter, results matter, and so does process. And the process that I'm  noticing here is:

  • Alexi Casilla is playing second base
  • Ron Gardenhire says he's keeping Michael Cuddyer in the outfield
  • The Twins turned seven double plays in the three games

I've long chafed at the broadcaster boilerplate about teams "lacking an identity" or "finding their identity." This Twins team is making me reconsider. Gardenhire appeared to enter the season with the idea that the Twins were going to be an offensive machine: Speed at the top and bottom of the lineup, power in the middle.

It didn't happen in April. Injuries, illness, just plain ineffectiveness got in the way. And in trying to make the offensive juggernaut happen, the defense got stretched too far, especially with a low-strikeout staff.

Maybe the Twins have found their way back to what they've been. Or maybe this is a small-sample size mirage.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The catcher shuffle

With Joe Mauer on the shelf, the spring training question of "who is the Twins No. 3 catcher" has taken an importance that wasn't fully appreciated in March.

Rene Rivera was the
Mariners' 2nd-round
draft pick in 2001,
the same year the Twins
signed Joe Mauer.
It also, it would appear, wasn't correctly answered.

The answer the Twins came up with in Fort Myers was Steve Holm. The 31-year-old career minor leaguer got the call, went 2-for-17 and failed to throw out a basestealer. He started five games; the Twins lost four of them and gave up double-digit runs in the last two.

To say that Holm wasn't the correct answer to the question implies that there was a correct one. Rene Rivera is getting his chance now; there's little reason to believe that he's any better than Holm.

Of the three upper level catchers who got serious looks in spring training, the one who has the best chance of carving out a career in the majors is Danny Lehmann, who is younger and less experienced than Rivera and Holm. And Lehmann profiles as a Drew Butera type — a catch-and-throw guy without much to offer at the plate.

The Twins this spring made a pair of moves — Pat Neshek to the Padres and trading for Scott Diamond's Rule V rights — designed to open a pair of spots on the 40-man roster. The catcher moves have filled both those slots — Holm remains on the 40-man roster— and that seems a high price to pay for misjudging the quality of Holm as a hitter. Ron Gardenhire said Holm "can swing it," as assessment that had to have been based on 15 spring training at-bats rather than totality of his record.

Problem spot: Carl Pavano

(This was originally set up to publish early Wednesday morning.  But then Francisco Liriano threw his no-hitter, and I pushed to back a day. Then the Twins won again on Wednesday, and I decided,  hey, let's not post "problem spot" pieces the day after a Twins win. So here it is, the day after an off day. Hey, it had to go sometime.)

Carl Pavano after his bat-swinging attack on a dugout trash can on Sunday:

"The (bat) wouldn't break. I couldn't break a bat in the dugout and I couldn't break any out there (on the mound). It was embarrassing."

An illuminating comment, that: It raises the notion, which I should have thought of earlier, that breaking bats is a way those who "pitch to contact" gauge their effectiveness.

Pavano's strikeout rate after five starts is 4.1 K/9, which is down some from last season's K rate and down sharply from his 7.2 K/9 with the Twins in 2009. The 2009 rate was a bit of fluke; Pavano's career rate is 5.7. (Stats line here.) Last season's decline is why I would have preferred to see the Twins let Pavano sign elsewhere during the winter.

Pavano was, as we know, effective last season (3.75 ERA in 221 innings) and ineffective so far this season (5.84 ERA). That's a two-runs per nine innings swing, which is pretty significant.

Without question, part of that swing is explained by the deteriorating Minnesota infield defense. But I suspect that part of it is that Pavano isn't breaking bats — which means batters are hitting more line drives against him, and fewer pop-ups and weak grounders.

Pavano is never going to be a high strikeout guy. He's got to keep the ball off the sweet spot of the bat. This is something I'm going to start watching for with Pavano — and, for that matter, Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing, two other Twins starters whose strikeout rates are either subpar (Blackburn) or just barely acceptable (Duensing).

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sorting through the infield options

The Twins didn't get to their first home game before Plan A for their middle infield took its first hit with the injury to Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Now, not quite a full week into May, Plan A is dead.

And Plan B is ... complicated.

Trevor Plouffe seems
certain to get at least
a few weeks of regular
duty at short.
It seems safe to say that the Alexi Casilla era at shortstop -- should we call it the Casilla error? -- is over. The Twins swept the White Sox with Matt Tolbert at short and Casilla at second. That duo wasn't perfect afield, but the Twins did turn three double plays (one with the aid of a missed call by an umpire) in the Tuesday no-hitter and added two more on Wednesday.

Still, Tolbert is hitting .180/.196/.260 on the season, which makes Casilla's .183/.244/.268 look almost respectable. I don't think this is going to be the regular alignment while the Twins await Nishioka's return.

The callup of Trevor Plouffe suggests that the former first-round draftee is going to get a shot at short. I see no reason for optimism. The Plouffe I saw in my brief time in spring training made Casilla look like Ozzie Smith with the glove. Plouffe has more than 800 games in the minors and has never made much of an impression.

But this is his turn. He gets the job, at least until Nishioka's ready to return. If Plouffe plays well, Nishioka returns as the second baseman; if Plouffe does not, Nishioka might return as the shortstop.

Then there's the flock of second base options. There have been indications that Ron Gardenhire wants to lean heavily on Michael Cuddyer there. But with Delmon Young and Jim Thome both on the disabled list, Cuddyer might be more likely to be in the outfield for the next couple of weeks, which is fine by me. If I see reason to be wary of Plouffe at short, I see even more reason to be wary of playing a 32-year-old outfielder at second.

Granted, Luke Hughes hasn't done much with the bat (.234/.265/.319) and isn't much better defensively than Cuddyer, and as already noted, Tolbert and Casilla haven't hit at all

For that matter, neither has Cuddyer, who has three home runs and four RBIs. That is not a misprint. He's driven in one of his teammates all year.

Bottom line: The middle infield is going to remain in flux for a while. Expect Plouffe to get regular time at short and a grab bag at second -- and more turnover when Nishioka is ready to return.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

More no-hitter stuff

Drew Butera (41) and Francisco Liriano in the
dugout during Tuesday's no-hitter.
"Don't you lie to me, Frankie."
Here's Ozzie Guillen on Tuesday' night's no-hitter:

"As a manager, I was bad during the game. I was worse before the game because I made out the lineup.''

Here's Drew Butera on Francisco Lirano saying that he didn't know he had a no-hitter until the eighth inning:

"He’s lying. I think they all realize it."
The Twins are considering using Thursday's off day to give Liriano an extra day after he threw 123 pitches Tuesday. That pitch count matches his career high, set almost exactly a year earlier (May 2). That was followed by three straight poor outings -- 15.2 innings, 13 runs allowed.

I would be surprised if they didn't give Liriano the extra day.
Matt Capps was warming up in the ninth inning Tuesday, and considering the score (1-0) and the pitch count, I've no doubt that he'd have come in had Liriano given up a hit.

But think about this dilemma that Ron Gardenhire almost had to face. Liriano in the ninth faced a few left-handed hitters: Juan Pierre (who walked) and Adam Dunn (now 0-for-17 versus lefties). Liriano fell behind Dunn 3-0, then got him to line to short to end the game.

What if he'd walked Dunn? Tying run in scoring position, 120-plus pitches, and Paul Konerko up. Do you pull Liriano with the no-hitter intact? Do you let him (admittedly exhausted) face such a dangerous right-handed hitter with the game on the line?

Neither option is particularly appealing.

Frankkie Liriano-no

Francisco Liriano's no-hitter Tuesday
was his first complete game.
A no-hitter, by definition, is a dominant pitching performance.

But this was about as unimpressive a no-hitter as one can envision.

Francisco Liriano threw 123 pitches Tuesday night;  66 were strikes and 57 were balls. He faced 30 men and threw a first-pitch strike to just 11 of them.

He walked six and struck out just two.

He took the mound on a chilly Chicago evening Tuesday with the very real possibility that his job was on the line. He entered with an ERA of 9.13 and 18 walks allowed in fewer than 24 innings. A couple days ago I heard Ron Gardenhire say on the radio that Kevin Slowey was being stretched out on his rehab assignment "in case we decide to do something," and he said that in the context of talking about Liriano's struggles.

Results matter, of course, and Liriano did throw a no-hitter, did shut out the White Sox. It's reasonable to assume that if Slowey is going to dislodge one of the current starters when he returns to the active roster, it won't be Liriano.

Results matter, but so does the process. The walks, the strike/ball ratio, the lack of swings-and-misses (12 for the game, and, Aaron Gleeman points out, just four swinging strikes on his slider) – these things suggest strongly that Liriano has not solved his problems.


A commenter on my earlier post wondered how many pitchers have had no-hitters for their first complete game.

Off the top of my head I had three nominees, and as it turned out, for two of the three their no-hitters were their only complete game.

One was Bobo Holloman, who threw a no-hitter in 1953 for the St. Louis Browns. He has a degree of notoriety as the absolute worst pitcher to throw a no-hitter; Holloman had just the one season in the majors, going 3-7 in 10 starts and 12 relief appearances and walking 50 men (with 25 strikeouts) in just 65 innings. (Consider this: He pitched nine of his 65 innings in one start; he needed nine starts and 12 relief appearances to get another 54 innings. If he averaged one inning in the 12 relief appearances, that leaves 42 innings for the nine starts. Brutal.)

Another was Bud Smith, who threw a no-no at age 21 for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001. A prime prospect, he wrecked his arm the next season. (Young pitchers and Tony LaRussa don't mix well.)

My third nominee, Mike Warren, had three complete games before he too ran afoul of injuries. I don't know if his no-hitter was his first compete game, and having Smith and Holloman wrapped up, I'm not interested enough to chase it down.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Never doubted ya, Frankie

Francisco Liriano has just completed one of the strangest no-hitters I'll ever see.

I'll blog more about it after I get done with work. Right now, I have to figure out how to get this on Page One.

Problem spot: First base

The Twins enter today's game with the White Sox 9-18 and 10 games out of first place.

As bad as that sounds — as bad as that IS — it's not fatal. Cleveland and Kansas City still don't look like long-term contenders to me, and the Twins are within two games of both Chicago and Detroit.

But, obviously, the Twins can't keep playing .333 ball. They're in last place on merit, failing and flailing in almost every category. There are, I think, six players — Denard Span and Jason Kubel among the position players, Scott Baker and Brian Duensing among the starting pitchers, Matt Capps and Glen Perkins in the bullpen — who are doing what they're expected to do (or, in Perkins' case, exceeding expectations).

Justin Morneau hit
his first homer of the
season on Sunday.
Everybody else is part of the problem. And the sheer bulk of problems is itself a problem.

Today I'll start examining specific issues. And I'm going to start with one of the former MVPs, Justin Morneau.

I'm no doctor, but it seems fairly obvious that last season's concussion remains a problem. Even without considering his month-long slump (.225/.289/.338 with one homer), the defensive sloppiness suggests a certain lack of acuity.

Twice this season the Twins have picked a runner off first base and lost him in the rundown. Both failed rundowns began to break down when Morneau made a wrong decision. Against Toronto — in the very first inning of the very first game — he gave up the ball too soon; against Kansas City on Sunday he held the ball too long. A rundown is a rather fluid play, and he seems unable to keep up with it.

It was reported this weekend that he remains on medication and subject to fatigue. Obviously he has been cleared by the medical people to play, and I accept the assertion that he's at no greater risk of injury than anybody else, even with the meds.

But to this decidedly non-medical set of eyes, he's not ready to play.

I don't expect him to bench himself. The man has taken far too much criticism the past couple of years for missing games, he's medically cleared to play, he wants to try to earn his pay, he's important to the team.

He's not producing, and I doubt that he's physically capable of producing — not only to his accustomed standards, but merely to the level of a major-league first baseman.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Baseball to the back burner

I had a couple of ideas Sunday afternoon for today's post, and I suppose that if I think hard enough I could even remember what they were. It's even possible that I'll compose something about the Twins, or something else baseball oriented, later today.

But right now, I'm not complaining about anything. Osama bin Laden finally got what he had coming, and I'm not about to spoil my appreciation for that by thinking about the Twins' failings.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pic of the Week

Jose Reyes of the New York Mets wishes to register
a mild objection to Marvin Hudson's call on Wednesday.

Again, no deep thoughts here, just the realization that we don't need the details of the play to know what happened.