Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pic of the Week

The relevant number in the scoreboard behind
Ervin Santana is the one in the hits column: 0

It wasn't a no-no — no hits, no runs — but it was a no-hitter on Wednesday for Ervin Santana against the Cleveland Indians, and that's worth more attention than I've given it – which was none until this post.

Santana has had an up and down career, largely due to periodic arm problems, but he's always had big-time stuff. Even though he's still below .500 for the season, his walk-to-strikeout rate is the best its been in three years.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A reader goes to Cooperstown

In the week leading to Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame induction, I put out two calls (one in the print column, one in the blog) looking for readers who were going to the ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., my idea being that I would stitch their tales together for a print column.

The Salge family outside the Hall of Fame entrance.
I heard from two. One was a retired gentleman from Hanska who was talking about making a road trip out there; his plan was sufficiently vague as not to be a plan (he asked me about the hotels in Cooperstown, and I had to tell him there isn't a lot there and what is there was spoken for long ago). If he made it out there, I haven't heard from him.

The other ...

Tara Salge and her husband grew up in Blue Earth County (one in Mapleton, the other in Good Thunder) and now live in Buffalo, N.Y., where they have apparently managed to resist the proximity of the Toronto Blue Jays and the gravitational pull of the Yankees to remain Twins fans.

Buffalo sounds close to Cooperstown, and it is closer than southern Minnesota, but in truth nothing is really in proximity to Cooperstown. In her first email she said it was a four-hour trip, and they hadn't been to the Hall of Fame before, but Blyleven's induction was the perfect excuse.

From there, I'll let Tara tell it, with a little editing:

I just wanted to touch base with you on our trip to Cooperstown. What a great sight to see! 
Saturday evening there was a parade with some of the past Hall of Fame inductees. Crowds lined Main Street in Cooperstown as the players made their way to the Hall of Fame Museum. Everyone was so excited to see some of their favorite players from the past. There were people of all ages, from all over the U.S. and Canada. I was proud to see such a large number of Twins fans there to cheer on Bert! 
We went into the Hall of Fame museum before the ceremony on Sunday. On our way in a gentleman held the door for us and I realized it was Dick Bremer there with his family. We didn't say anything at the time, but said thank you and went on our way. Once we got to Clarks Sports Complex and settled on a spot to the right of the stage, numerous people were already there with their chairs and blankets set up. It really was just an open field! 
Dick Bremer and Tara Salge
We talked to a man in front of us from San Antonio; he said he used to live in Minneapolis. I told him of our experience that morning with Dick Bremer, expecting him to ask who that was, and he told us that he and Dick are best friends and they were each other's best men in their weddings. He was even Dick's daughter's godfather! Before we knew it, he was on the phone with Dick and he made his way over towards us. So even though we didn't get close to Bert, I got my picture taken with his sidekick, Dick Bremer. He was also so excited to be there sharing the experience with his son. 
Maxwell in his Twins overall.
I found the atmosphere to be so great. There were people wearing shirts with all of the different teams, but there were no rivalries for the weekend. It was full of people who love the game of baseball and came to show support for their favorite team and player! My husband said that even though our son, Maxwell, age 16 months, won't remember the experience, there is something special about sharing the Hall of Fame experience with your son.
In Bert's speech, he said that all of us Twins fans there were hearby circled. I saw some fans had a big sign held up saying "Bert, we now circle you." Congrats to Bert and a great Hall of Fame experience!

Late night: Twins 9, Athletics 5

Michael Cuddyer hit his 16th homer of the season in the
top of the eighth inning. The Twins scored four times
that inning off Michael Wuertz, who pitched
his high school ball for Austin.
Game story here.

Box score here.

The good news for the Twins in this game: Trevor Plouffe, making his first major league start at second base, looked good at the keystone. He started a pair of double plays to help Francisco Liriano work out of jams. And at the plate he rapped a couple of hits, scored three times, drove in two.

One game isn't proof of anything, but it gives Ron Gardenhire reason to give him more time at the position while Alexi Casilla recovers from his hamstring injury.

Matt Tolbert acquitted himself well at shortstop as well, and had a couple of hits and a stolen base.

The sour part was Jose Mijares, who came in to pitch the bottom of the eighth after the Twins had opened a 9-2 lead. It was another ineffective outing for Mijares— three runs on two hits and a walk, including a three-run homer — and the portly LOOGY now has a a 6.26 ERA.

And when Alex Burnett walked the first man he saw in the ninth, Glen Perkins wound up pitching. That was not what Gardenhire wanted, not with a seven-run lead with six outs to go.

Liriano threw first pitch strikes to only nine of the 27 men he faced and barely threw more strikes than balls, but Oakland couldn't dent the plate against him after he gave up a two-run homer to Josh Willingham in the first. (Willingham also had the homer against Mijares.)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hideki Irabu, 1969-2011

Hideki Irabu had some good days
after coming to the States, and
some bad ones. Thursday, we can
assume, was a bad one.
Hideki Irabu was found dead Thursday, an apparent suicide.

He was a big star in his native Japan, and, as detailed here by Matthew Pouliot, an above-average starter in the U.S. for a couple of seasons. He was the fifth starter on the 1998 Yankees, a team I believe was the greatest team ever assembled.

But what Irabu is remembered for, and as, was George Steinbrenner's characterization of him during spring training 1999 as "a fat, pus-sy toad." The insult was too memorable; it clung to Irabu the rest of his life.

It is beyond my ability to know what effect Steinbrenner's public display of contempt had on Irabu's psyche, but it probably didn't help. I have never had to look for reasons to dislike Steinbrenner; the reasons just come, even after his death.

Irabu's U.S. pitching career was neither long nor brilliant, but he helped the Yankees win a couple of World Series. I'll try to keep
that as my primary memory of him.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The complicated value of Michael Cuddyer

Michael Cuddyer's pitching "skill" isn't a serious factor in
his value. His willingness/eagerness to help his team by
taking on such a task is.
Question: Should the Twins trade Michael Cuddyer this week?

Honest Answer: It depends. What are they getting back?

The notion being peddled by Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune — trade Cuddyer for whatever and then re-sign him as a free agent — isn't as clear cut as he pretends to think it is. (Maybe he really DOES think it's clear-cut, but in that case I'll pretend that I think he's actually knowledgeable ...)


  • Cuddyer currently projects as a Type A free agent.
  • Type A free agents aren't necessarily free; they can come with strings attached.
  • If the team with a Type A free agent offers him arbitration, they get two draft picks the following summer: A "sandwich pick" between the first and second rounds, and (if the signing team finished in the top half of the standings) the signing team's first round pick OR (if the signing team finished in the bottom half of the standings) the signing team's second round pick.
  • If the team doesn't offer arbitration, it gets nothing when the player jumps.

Let's run this through various scenarios, assuming that Cuddyer is a Type A at season's end:

  • If the Twins retain Cuddyer for the rest of the season and offer him arbitration and he leaves, the Twins will get two picks.
  • If the Twins trade Cuddyer, his new club offers arbitration and the Twins sign him back during the winter, the Twins lose a pick — under their current status, their second-round pick.
The Twins are said to want to keep Cuddyer in 2012 (and, most likely, beyond), and I believe those reports. (Whether that's a wise position depends on the contract terms.) That's a further complicating factor. If they were willing to see Cuddyer walk, the asking price now in a deal should be roughly equivalent to two high draft picks. But if they re-sign him, that take will be lessened by the loss of their second-round pick.

Think you've got all that? Good.  Now consider this:

The rules may change before winter. There was a push to eliminate free-agent compensation when the current labor deal was being negotiated, and it's not guaranteed to remain. Even if it does, the rating system is likely to change, as too many "Type A" free agents in recent years haven't really merited that status.

So ... what do the Twins do?

I say that (a) they don't actively shop him; (b) they set a high price to those teams that call — two premium prospects, plus the acquiring team picks up Cuddyer's remaining salary.

Any trade for less than that should involve a pledge not to offer Cuddyer arbitration.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Eyeing the future: Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan has allowed two earned runs in
12.1 innings since returning from the disabled
list in late June.

It wasn't the prettiest save of Joe Nathan's distinguished career, but he got the job done Tuesday night against the Rangers. It was his 254th save with the Twins, tying the club record (Rick Aguilera).

Nathan has now collected saves in his last five appearances. He's given up a hit in four of those five games, and while he fanned the last two men he faced Tuesday he's still below a strikeout an inning, a figure he used to routinely exceed.

Is he back to where he was before his 2010 Tommy John surgery? My assessment is that he's a bit short of that, but he's plenty good enough.

Plenty good enough to be the current closer. Perhaps good enough, even, for the Twins to seriously consider exercising their 2012 option on his contract.

According to Baseball Reference, Nathan has been paid $11.25 million in each of 2009, '10 and '11. His 2012 option is for $12.5 million, with a $2 million buyout. (There are added clauses increasing the buyout for games finished in 2010 and '11, but he's not reaching those marks.) The Twins are going to pay him $2 million regardless, so if the Twins exercise that option, the true added cost is $10.5 million.

Barring a new injury (always possible), I can easily see the Twins deciding to base their 2012 bullpen on Nathan and Glen Perkins — reason to disregard any notion of moving Nathan this week in a trade deadline deal.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Can't take 'em seriously

It was just an ill-played game all around for
Minnesota on Monday.
Monday's loss was just one loss, not two or three. But coming as it did on the heels of a disappointing series split with Cleveland and disastrous series loss to Detroit, the 20-6 beatdown in Texas pretty much beat my 2011 illusions out of me.

This team ain't winning the division.

Those discouraging words having been heard, let's look at the facts.

Detroit, in first place by a single game, is 54-48, which leaves them 60 games to play. If they merely play .500 ball the rest of the way, they'll finish 84-78.

The Twins are 47-55, which also leaves them 60 games to play. To get to 84 wins, they'll have to go 37-23, a .617 pace.

But even that requires that the other two teams ahead of the Twins, Cleveland and Chicago, co-coperate. The Twins have three teams to leapfrog.

Michael Cuddyer, ace pitcher

The pitch-tracking system didn't know what
to do with Michael Cuddyer's offerings. It classified a high
proportion of his pitches as change-ups — upper 80s change-ups.
Michael Cuddyer wasn't the most effective pitcher the Twins sent to the mound Monday night. It only seemed that way.

Cuddy worked a scoreless eighth inning — scoreless despite the "efforts" of his defense, notably shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who allowed a popup to drop in short center for a leadoff hit and later bumped with left fielder Trevor Plouffe on the inning-ending popup.

Cuddyer wasn't the only pitcher who wasn't charged with a run allowed in the Twins 20-6 loss to Texas. Phil Dumatrait went 1.2 scoreless innings (although he did allow two inherited runners to score). Dumatrait got five outs and allowed four baserunners (three hits, one walk); Cuddyer got three outs and allowed three runners. And Dumatrait had the better strike-to-ball ratio.

But then, he should. Unlike Cuddyer, Dumatrait's a professional pitcher. So are Nick Blackburn, Jose Mijares, Chuck James and Alex Burnett, and they all were brutal Monday night.

Dumatrait was the fourth pitcher Ron Gardenhire called upon. He was the first to have a batting average allowed for the game under .500. It was merely .375.

Texas batted .519 for the game.

The one good thing about the fiasco — other than that Cuddyer didn't blow out an elbow ligament — is that Gardenhire protected the three men at the end of the bullpen. Glen Perkins, Matt Capps and Joe Nathan didn't waste any pitches in a lost cause.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Buyers or sellers? Maybe just stand pat

First things first: I promised in the Monday print column a link to this Joe Posnanski piece on the 2013 Hall of Fame class. Promise kept.


At this point, the Twins are better off hanging on to
Kevin Slowey than trading him.
That was an ugly start Sunday from Francisco Liriano, who pitched as if the strike zone was underground. In truth, it was an ugly series, and it left the Twins seven games behind Detroit — seven games out with three teams to climb over.

It's not an impossible task, but it is a difficult one. It's probably not worth sacrificing future assets to improve the immediate outlook. I remain reluctant to recommend the Twins go into sell mode, but I see no reason to add salary and veterans.

One move that seems to be taken for granted — that the Twins will move Kevin Slowey this week — now strikes me as a (probably) bad idea. Why?

  • Slowey — exiled to Triple A and bearing the whiff of a troublemaker — won't likely bring full value in a deal right now.
  • Kyle Gibson is apparently struggling, and the Twins are said to believe that he's wearing down. Should the big club need a starter in the next two months, Gibson is unlikely to get the call.
  • The Glen Perkins example should be too fresh in our minds to be eager to discard a quality arm. 

I say hang on to Slowey. Let him re-establish some value in Triple A. If something happens to one of the five big league starters, stick him back in the major league rotation. It the organization really believes he's more trouble than he's worth (and let me say that I doubt that he is), the offseason is time enough to peddle him.

Had the Twins a more successful homestand, had they trimmed their deficit in the division to three games or something along those lines, dealing Slowey now might make sense. It probably doesn't now.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pic(s) of the Week

Home plate umpire Gary Darling
wipes his face during the first game
of Monday's doubleheader.
Roy Halladay pitching (and suffering)
in Chicago on Monday: A face
of misery.
If you were in Minnesota this past week, you know it was hot, muggy, oppressive.

Such things aren't unheard of here, but it's been a while since it's been this bad in the Gopher State. I've been around enough to figure that those conditions are a bit more common in places like Baltimore, St. Louis and Cincinnati — and I've never been in Florida or Atlanta or Houston in the summer.

Still, as I read about how the Twins coped with the conditions, about their cool pools and IVs — and took note of Cleveland's Michael Brantley missing the Tuesday and Wednesday games because of heat illness, and (not in Minnesota) of Roy Halladay leaving a start in the fifth inning with heat illness — I again marvel at the toughness of previous generations.

I mean, Dizzy Dean didn't have cool pools, IVs or air conditioning in the clubhouse (or even in the hotels). He pitched in heavy flannel uniforms. He didn't have electrolyte-laden drinks in the dugout; heck, in that era, it was thought that water was bad for an athlete in competition, that it led to cramping. Double-headers were routine, and every game was played in the daytime.

Makes me wonder how it is that nobody died playing baseball in St. Louis.

And then, too, consider, the umpires. The players get to retreat to the shade of the dugout, even the AC of the clubhouse. The umps have to stand out there and bake.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Uh oh

It was a spectacular play by Alexi Casilla behind
second base on Ryan Raburn's grounder — spectacular
but ineffective, as Raburn easily beat it out.
The notion was floated here July 7 that we would know by the end of play on July 24 — 18 days, 16 games — if the Twins truly had a shot at winning another AL Central title.

We're still two days, two games, away from the 24th, but we know that the Twins won't hit the 12-4 mark I thought then was necessary. Nor will they go 11-5. They stand now 8-6. They entered this stretch eight games out of first place; they enter today seven games out.

Seven games behind Detroit, and 0-7 against Detroit. The correlation is obvious.

As was the case Thursday against Justin Verlander, the Twins couldn't do anything against Max Scherzer and his mid 90s fastball. I see a trend developing.


If there are any blog readers attending Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame induction Sunday, I'd like to hear from you. Send me an email at

Friday, July 22, 2011

Justin Verlander, pitcher

Justin Verlander: Nine strikeouts, no walks
in eight innings. He threw 126 pitches.
That was indeed an impressive outing Thursday night from Justin Verlander.

As I noted earlier this month when the Tigers changed pitching coaches, Verlander this year had learned to hold back his best stuff for when he needed it. He demonstrated that ability on Thursday, cruising along with a fastball around 93 most of the time mixed in with one of the best curveballs in the league. But when he needed it, he had 97-99 mph heaters to throw.

That much of the time it came with Jim Thome at the plate struck me. Go back a bit to last season, when the White Sox opted not to bring the big DH back in part because they had seen his bat slow down in 2009. When he hit that big August homer off a Matt Thornton fastball, one of the things Ozzie Guillen said was that Thome wouldn't have hit that pitch the year before.

I don't think he can now, either. Whether that's age or back problems or both, I don't know, but I just don't think Thome's getting to high velocity pitches as well as he did in 2010.

Which makes a matchup with Velander's velocity more emphatically unfair to Thome.


The more time Joe Mauer spends at first base, the less time Trevor Plouffe sees in right field. (Mauer at first means Michael Cuddyer in right.) And now that Jason Kubel is ready to come off the DL -- he's to be reactivated today -- it would seem a rather safe bet that there will be even fewer at-bats available for Plouffe.

This figures to be another test of Ron Gardenhire's willingness to use platoon strategy. Kubel and Thome both struggle against left-handed pitchers. If Plouffe is indeed a hitter worthy of time in a corner outfield, he should at least get starts against southpaws. But between Gardenhire's reluctance to platoon and Plouffe's thin track record as a quality hitter -- a track record essentially limited to his 2011 performance in Triple A -- I doubt he'll get that opportunity.

Not that platooning is a factor the rest of this series. Detroit will start righties the next three games. And Mauer, who has played first base the last three games, figures to move back behind the plate.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Salvaging a split

Luis Valbuena (left) and Ezekial Carrera demonstrate how
not to converge on a fly ball in the gap.
Wednesday's wasn't a particularly crisply played game by either team, but the bumbling and miscues pretty much canceled each other out.

The Twins gave away at least one run when Ben Revere dropped a fly ball and another when Drew Butera inexplicably hesitated to throw home on a passed ball.  Cleveland reciprocated with an Alphonse-and-Gaston routine in left-center that was no small part of the Twins' winning rally.

Luis Valbuena is not a particularly gifted defensive infielder who was pressed into duty as a left fielder the last two days because (a) Michael Brantley had a heat-related illness and (b) Travis Buck took a Francisco Liriano fastball to the noggin. The ball seemed to find Valbuena at the right times for the Twins in the late innings Tuesday and Wednesday.

(Buck was said Wednesday to have a headache, but the Indians insisted that he had no concussion. I'm not a doctor, but something doesn't smell right to me.)


Ron Gardenhire often talks about "piecing together" innings from his bullpen. Wednesday was prime example of it: Alex Burnett opened the seventh without much success, He left with men on second and third and one out. Jose Mijares, the master of ball one, entered — and got out of the inning on five pitches, all of them strikes.

I repeat: Mijares threw five ptiches, all of them strikes. I didn't think it could be done.

Of course, he couldn't replicate that when he started the eighth; he fell behind Asdrubal Cabrera 3-1 and gave up a double. The ever-popular Matt Capps eventually got the Twins out of the eighth without a run.


Brandon Inge demonstrates the value of
a baggy jersey: More HBP, less pain.
Detroit next, with Justin Verlander going today for the Tigers. Verlander's turn in the rotation was Wednesday, but the Tigers pushed him back a day so he'd pitch in the Minnesota series.

The Tiger have also swapped out third basemen. Brandon Inge (and his .177 batting average with 10 extra base hits) was designated for assignment Wednesday after Detroit traded a couple of prospects to Kansas City for Wilson Betemit.

Inge is one of those guys who is far more popular with the fans in a given city than his talents merit. Part of it, without a doubt, is that he was there when the Tigers were a godawful team in the early 2000s and he was there when they went to the World Series; part of it is that he moved, without complaint, from catcher to center field to third base to catcher to third base; part of it is that he's spent his career there and seems to like being a Detroit Tiger.

He's Detroit's version of Michael Cuddyer, and perhaps a warning on the risks involved in investing heavily in such a player as he enters his middle 30s.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mauer at first

Joe Mauer makes a play at first base in Game One
of Monday's doubleheader.
Joe Mauer has played first base in two of the last three games, and given the nonsense to be found in some corners of the Internet, I fully expect to start seeing references to him as the Twins new regular first sacker.

No. He's still primarily a catcher, overwhelmingly primarily a catcher. He's had the time at first base because:

  • The weather is brutal;
  • The Twins will today play their fifth game in four days, three of them day games;
  • They want to keep both him and Jim Thome in the lineup when he's not catching, and;
  • First base is the least demanding position and thus the easiest one to pick up in midseason.

He's not changing positions so much as he is adding one. And if/when he does change primary positions, it won't be to first base, at least not while Justin Morneau's still under contract.

I noticed one play Tuesday night — a ground ball hit to Mauer's right on which he barely flinched. He just trotted over to first to take Alexi Casilla's throw. Luke Hughes, who's been playing quite a bit at first during Morneau's absence, would almost certainly have gone after the ball and taken himself out of the play. Mauer appeared to know it was the second baseman's play, and he let the second baseman have it. Nice.

Just enough offense

Danny Valencia and Luke Hughes celebrate Valencia's
game-winning broken-bat single, and former Twin
Orlando Cabrera heads for the clubhouse,
jersey already untucked.
Should the Twins complete their rise from their April-May ash heap, should they overcome what was a 16.5 game deficit and win their third straight AL Central title, Tuesday night may well be remembered as a turning point.

In the space of four batters (and without a single well-hit ball)  the Twins turned a 1-0 loss into a 2-1 win.

Which, I suppose, makes up for Friday's Matt Capps blown-save loss, a 1-0 game turned into a 2-1 defeat for the Twins.

The "W" doesn't obscure, however, this reality: The Twins, other than Joe Mauer, aren't hitting. They have netted a total of 16 runs in their last six games.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ron Gardenhire and the platoon advantage

David Huff shut out the Twins
for seven innings in the opener
of Monday's doubleheader.
On Monday morning, before the lineups for the first game of the Indians-Twins doubleheader were released, I posted a guess of what the Twins would do.

It wasn't very accurate.

Ron Gardenhire and I agreed on some important aspects for a doubleheader in oppressive heat and humidity:

  • Joe Mauer doesn't catch both games;
  • All 12 position players get at least one start.

Eighteen lineup slots to fill in the two games with 12 players meant six players would start both games. We agreed on five of the six: Mauer, Ben Revere, Michael Cuddyer, Danny Valencia and Delmon Young. (He had Alexi Casilla, I had Trevor Plouffe).

But we differed mightly on the platoon advantage. The lineups I designed used right-handed hitters Luke Hughes and Jason Repko against the left-handed David Huff and saved Jim Thome (left-handed) and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (switch-hitter) for the right-handed Fausto Carmona. Gardenhire did the opposite.

Huff entered the game with a career ERA of 5.84 in 38 starts, and his platoon splits are backwards — meaning that left-handed hitters have fared better against him than right-handed hitters. Jim Thome, according to Baseball Info Systems, was 4-for-6 against Huff with two homers coming into the game, and Gardenhire said Thome's eyes lit up when told he would start against Huff rather than Carmona.

Gardenhire put his trust in those individual numbers. It didn't work — which, to be sure, doesn't mean my lineup, based not on individual matchups but on the universal principle of platoon advantages, would have done any better.

But by using his marginal left-handed bats against Huff, Gardenhire was left with his marginal right-handed bats against Carmona, and Carmona has a pronounced traditional platoon split. This is not news; Carmona has actually faced more left-handed hitters over his career than righties, because managers generally stack their lineups with lefties for his starts.

Gardenhire has a pattern of downplaying the platoon strategy, and his lineups Monday are consistent with that. He'll put more weight on a handful of at-bats in an individual matchup than in the general principle of platoon differentials.

On Monday, his lineups combined for five runs in two games. That wasn't enough with two spot starters making credible but not dominating starts.

And the two losses dropped the Twins to seven games out of first.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Playing the lineups

As my Minnesota readers are well aware, we're having really miserable heat/humidity this week, with a heat index forecast today around 115 in the metro area. Really brutal conditions for a doubleheader.

There's no way to justify having Joe Mauer catch both games. I can't imagine Jim Thome playing both games. The shift to 13 pitchers for today means a short bench. Cleveland has a lefty starting the afternoon game, a righty the evening one. I expect every position player to start at least once today.

Let's guess the lineups:

Game 1 (vs David Huff)

1) Revere CF
2) Plouffe SS
3) Mauer DH
4) Cuddyer 1B
5) Valencia 3B
6) Young LF
7) Hughes 2B
8) Repko RF
9) Butera C

Game 2 (vs Fausto Carmona)

1) Revere CF
2) Casilla 2B
3) Mauer C
4) Cuddyer 1B
5) Thome DH
6) Valencia 3B
7) Young LF
8) Plouffe RF
9) Nishioka SS

That maximizes the righties against Huff.

UPDATE: The Twins have a completely different approach to Game One,  based on stats that show lefties hit Huff better than righties. Plouffe, Repko and Hughes are not in the lineup, and Mauer's at first base.

Shine on, you crazy Diamond

Interesting choice made Sunday by the Twins, although that choice may have been dictated by circumstances and timing:

Scott Diamond has
a 4-8, 4.70 record in
17 starts for Rochester,
but has decent
walk and strikeout
They had indicated that they would bring up a pitcher from Triple A Rochester for today's doubleheader. Scott Baker was to start the afternoon game and Anthony Swarzak the evening tilt; the idea was to add an arm for the bullpen. The immediate thought here was that Chuck James would be the choice, but there was a hint that the Twins wanted a stretched-out arm for long relief purposes, and James doesn't really fit that description.

But then Baker reported, apparently during the game Sunday, that he didn't think his elbow was ready. Remember, he missed his scheduled start exactly a week earlier. So the Twins put him on the disabled list (backdated as far as allowed), and brought up two pitchers, Scott Diamond and James.

So now it's Swarzak this afternoon, Diamond tonight, and if there's a short start they'll have to cobble things together with James, Phil Dumatrait and the rest.

They didn't call up Kyle Gibson, who was scheduled to start Sunday evening in Rochester. It would seem possible to have done that; the decision to sideline Baker probably came before the Triple-A game began. (Gibson got pounded for nine runs in four innings.) Kevin Slowey, still on rehab in Rochester, started Friday and wasn't a consideration.

The Twins went with the lefty Diamond instead, and here's a possible reason why: Cleveland's power dries up against southpaws. For the season, the Tribe is hitting .250/.321/.406 against right-handed pitchers, .253/.321/.367 against left-handers. Same batting averages, identical on-base percentages, and a big drop in slugging percentage.

If they wanted a long man for the Cleveland series, Diamond may have been the original intention, and it may be that it is James who got the call because of Baker's belated decision.

Gibson is clearly the better prospect, and if the Twins needed a multi-start rotation fix, he or Slowey would be superior choices to Diamond. But for this spot start, the numbers break in Diamond's favor.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pic of the Week

Prince Fielder limbers up with his MVP award:
Anybody want to throw some batting practice?
Prince Fielder was named the MVP of the All-star Game on the basis that

1) He hit a three-run homer off C.J. Wilson and

2) Justin Timberlake wasn't eligible.

Fielder is headed into free agency this winter, and since he has Scott Boras as his agent, the assumption is that he's not long for Milwaukee. Boras clients typically don't stick around.

But still ... It doesn't look like a real seller's market for first baseman/DH types. The biggest spenders, the Yankees and Red Sox, already have heavy investments in Mark Teixiera and Adrian Gonzalez, respectively, at first base, and DH is already spoken for with both those clubs as well.

Then there's Albert Pujols, who is also going on the market this offseason.

Say you're a general manager who has the leeway to make a really big investment on a first baseman. To whom do you want to commit years and dollars: Pujols, who is 31 and having the worst statistical season of his brilliant career, or Fielder, who at 27 is in the prime of his career but is never going to be in prime condition?

My basic belief is that you break the bank for a guy clearly on a Hall of Fame path, but not for a lesser player. My gut reaction is that Fielder is the latter. My gut reaction may well be wrong.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

One run is seldom enough

Another disaster for Matt Capps,
who now has been charged with
seven blown saves — and that doesn't
count two that Glen Perkins
bailed him out on.
The popular reaction is to blame Matt Capps for Friday night's 2-1 loss, and there is some justification for that: The Twins closer did not pitch well.

It's not just the gopher ball he threw to Eric Hosmer. It's the four-pitch walk he surrendered to the leadoff man in the ninth, which is just asking for trouble.

He was ineffective in his previous three outings at Target Field, and the fact that he fared well in Chicago in the series that led into the All-Star break doesn't hide what the home fans are seeing.

But ...

1) The Twins bullpen is not deep enough to shunt Capps into a low-leverage role. Even if Joe Nathan is capable physically of handling back-to-back(-to-back?) outings and thus of reclaiming the closer's role in full, Nathan and Glen Perkins are not bullpen enough to see this team through. If Capps isn't a third trustable arm, who is?

2) The Twins scored one run. One. Against Luke Hochever. Who entered the game with an ERA on the season of 5.46, which is about what he's done for his career (5.56), which is almost a match for what he's had against the Twins specifically (5.54).

The Twins mounted a few threats against Hochever, but never cashed in. The run they did score came on a two-out wild pitch. Minnesota's won a few 1-0 games this season, but that's a hard way to go.

So blame Capps. But save some of the blame for Alexi Casilla, and Michael Cuddyer, and Jim Thome, and Danny Valencia (who just missed duplicating Hosmer's ninth-inning home-run heroics) ... The lineup had chances for big innings, but didn't cash in.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The first pitch of Jose Mijares

Dick-N-Bert were talking during the eighth inning about Jose Mijares' struggles this season, a logical topic since Mijares was pitching that inning. At one point, Dick Bremer said something like: How many batters has he started 1-0?
Jose Mijares threw 22
pitches Thursday --
11 strikes, 11 balls.

Bremer merely wondered. I looked it up.

According to Baseball Reference, Mijares entered Thursday's play having faced exactly 99 hitters on the season.  Ten of those plate appearances ended on the first pitch, with split stats of .000/.200/.000 (he has hit two men with his first pitch). Of the other 89, 52 began 1-0; batters went .350/.500/.525 in those plate appearances. Only 37 started 0-1 (.258/.351/.323).

Mijares faced five men on Thursday. He started two off with Ball One, and he walked both of those hitters. He started three with Strike One, and retired them all (two strikeouts and a popup.) His updated stats by count can be found here; as I write this, B-R hasn't updated with Thursday's numbers, but that will come at some point Friday.

Mijares' ratios are out of whack. For the American League as a whole. there had been 48,173 plate appearances on the season. A bit less than 5,500 ended on the first pitch; more than 23,000 started 0-1; less than 19,800 started 1-0. He's also getting worse than average results when the first pitch is a ball, and not faring much better than average when the first pitch is a strike.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mid afternoon commentary

One of the most common suggestion to fix the All-Star Game (fix as in repair, not as in rig the outcome) is to lengthen the break to four days.

Thing is, that would give us another day without meaningful games, which means there would be another day in which the main topic of baseball conversation would be how to fix the All-StarGame.


New trend: I have received two emails this year, proportedly/implictly from the fathers of Twins players, defending their young'uns from criticism, be it mine or others. My favorite line: "(The player) has never let me down."

I find this odd, pleading the merits of one's son to a small town columnist/blogger as if he had any real influence on the Twins decision makers. If the player in question is capable of succeeding in the majors, it will happen with or without my say-so. 


Here's a well-reasoned piece from John Bonnes on why Michael Cuddyer will be back with the Twins in 2012. Of course, the piece assumes that (a) Cuddyer will be a Type A free agent after the season and (b) that the Twins either stay in the race the rest of the way or are underwhelmed by trade offers.

Trying to read the future for Cuddyer with the Twins, I think, requires reading the future for Jason Kubel and Delmon Young as well. And that's grist for a future print column.  

Revisiting the bullpen candidates

In the early days of spring training, I did a lengthy series of "Bullpen Candidate Profiles" -- 20 posts about 22 bullpen candidates in the Twins camp.

Of those 22 candidates, 15 have relieved at least once this season, and two others are no longer with the Twins. Only one reliever, Matt Capps, has been on the active roster from Opening Day to All Star Break. So far, the Twins have not brought in a reliever who wasn't in camp.

The 'pen always figured to be a work in progress -- all bullpens are -- but that amount of churn is impressive.

Let's review what's happened and see whose status has risen and whose has declined. The pitcher's name link will lead back to his candidate profile; a second link will lead to his season stats. I'll group the players by the role they contended for in Fort Myers:

Joe Nathan has been
charged with one run
since returning from
the disabled list. 
Joe Nathan opened with the job, then lost it, went on the disabled list, and has returned pitching far better ball than he had been.(His ERA was 7.63 when he went on the DL, and it is now 5.82).  His velocity is up, and he worked in back to back games for the first time last weekend.

I still doubt the Twins will pick up his option for 2012, but if he winds up reclaiming the closer's job and remains sound, it's no longer inconceivable. Arrow up.

Matt Capps has had two slumps, one in May when he was overused and another at the end of the recent homestand. He bounced back with a pair of relatively low-leverage saves in Chicago over the weekend. He's been there, which counts, but on the whole his season has to be regarded as at least mildly disappointing. Arrow down.


Glen Perkins has been the Twins best relief pitcher this season. Should the Twins cut their ties to Nathan and Capps, he would figure to inherit the closers job in 2012. Arrow up.

Chuck James might
be in line for another
Phil Dumatrait has been on the big league roster since mid May. His 5.71 ERA and the fact that he's walked more men than he has struck out suggests he's a marginal pitcher. But he's held the leads he's been asked to hold and has suffocated left-handed hitters (.536 OPS in 32 plate appearances, although with just one strikeout). Since I never expected him to be on the big club and he's made it through two months, I'll say arrow up.

Jose Mijares was expected to step up from his accustomed LOOGY role, but he has walked too many men and is once again testing the patience of the manager. He spent some time on the disabled list. It's possible that, if the Twins take Dumatrait's success against lefties seriously, that Mijares could be demoted. Arrow down.

Chuck James would figure to the beneficiary if Mijares loses his job. He had five shutout innings in an earlier call-up and has been dominating at Triple A (48 strikeouts in 40 innings, 2.25 ERA). Arrow up.

Dusty Hughes had a strong spring but was simply awful once the season opened. He has been dropped from the 40-man roster, although he remains in the Twins system at Rochester, where he hasn't been all that bad (3-0, 3.90, 32 strikeouts in 25 innings). Arrow down.

Scott Diamond was in camp as a Rule V draftee but didn't make the team. The Twins traded for his rights in a deal that was widely criticized, and he has not fared well at Rochester. (If it's any consolation, Billy Bullock, the power arm the Twins gave up for Diamond, isn't doing much better in Double A.) Arrow down.

Right-handed middle men

Pat Neshek was waived during spring training and picked up by San Diego. He has a deceptively good 3.52 ERA (helped by Petco Park) and way too many walks. Arrow irrelevant.

Alex Burnett was the first pitcher called up from the minors and he's stuck, but his numbers are not impressive. He's had trouble in his major league tenure when he finishes an inning and come out to start the next, and he's been pummeled by lefties this year. He has to deal with those problems if he's going to remain. Arrow down; his role is more prominent than he merits.

Kyle Waldrop may
not be enough of
a power pitcher to
suit the Twins.
Jim Hoey has the best fastball velocity in this group, but lacks the command or movement to survive on that alone, and his secondary pitches aren't getting outs either. Awful major league numbers, but his Rochester stats aren't bad. Arrow down.

Anthony Slama missed much of training camp with an injury, did OK in a brief call-up, and is having a good season in Rochester. His primary problem: He doesn't throw as hard as Burnett or Hoey, and the Twins seem to want a power arm for matchups with power hitters. Arrow down; the Twins are more likely to import a new arm than give Slama a clear shot at a set-up job.

Kyle Waldrop, for a time in camp, appeared to have a shot at a job, but his status as a nonroster player apparently worked against him. The sinkerballer was instead assigned to Rochester, and he has not fared as well there in 2011 as he did in 2010. Not only has his ERA nearly doubled, his strikeout rate has dropped. Arrow down.

Carlos Guterriez, like Waldrop, is a sinkerballer working at Rochester who is not on the 40-man roster. He's having a better year than Waldrop, he throws harder than Waldrop, but also walks more men than Waldrop. My guess is that he's moved ahead of Waldrop in the pecking order, and my further guess is that, since they are similar pitchers, there's only room for one (at most) on the big league roster. Arrow up, but more for 2012 than for 2011.
Longmen and long shots

Yorman Bazardo opened the season with Rochester and was released after nine games and 21 innings. He has not resurfaced. Arrow down.

Deolis Guerra's
ERA is inflated, but
his walk/strikeout
ratios are actually
Eric Hacker had a brief call up -- two games, one unearned run allowed -- but has not had a good season in Rochester. Arrow down.

David Bromberg was mentioned early in spring training as a possible bullpen candidate, but was quickly optioned out to Double A New Britain, where he suffered a fractured forearm when hit by a line drive. He's not a factor for 2011. Arrow down, but only for this season.

Jeff Manship opened the season on the Twins active roster but was shipped out after just 3.1 innings. He's been Rochester's disabled list. Arrow down.

Anthony Swarzak didn't figure to be a factor in the Twins bullpen, but he has emerged as the long man and sport starter. Arrow up.

Deolis Guerra is the sole remaining direct acquisition from the Johan Santana trade. He was reportedly impressive in spring training, but his minor league struggles continue. Arrow down.

Transplanted starter

Kevin Slowey was the man left out of the starting rotation (rather than Brian Duensing, who had pitched out of the bullpen before with some success). Moving Slowey to the bullpen proved rocky both in results and attitude. Arrow down.

Duensing has made one relief appearance himself.


Going through this really underlines the idea that the biggest gap in the bullpen is the right-handed middle reliever, the power arm to deal with right-handed hitters in the seventh inning. That's Alex Burnett's job right now, but he hasn't fared all that well in it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

About the All-Star Game broadcast

I've never been a big fan of the work of broadcaster Joe Buck, partly because of his admitted preference for the NFL and disinterest in baseball, partly because he symbolizes Fox's devotion to nepotism among its play by play voices, partly because he's a handy front man for Fox's various production sins -- which logically aren't his responsibilities.

But I felt for him during Tuesday night's telecast. He came down last winter (shortly after calling the Super Bowl) with a virus that weakened a nerve in his left vocal chord, and he continues to recover from it. On Tuesday he was hoarse, and at times I thought I could discern an echo, as if he were being rebroadcast into the arena -- but which was, I think, the result of his mic being set loud enough to pick up the sounds coming off the booth walls.

There cannot be a more stressful thing for an announcer than a voice problem. Buck describes his voice as 85-90 percent recovered and says full recovery is just a matter of time and rehab. Good for him.


Did you notice Justin Timberlake's subtle subversion of  his poolside interview during the game? He kept telling Buck You're calling a great game, adding "You're a classy guy with a classy voice." Then he dragged the merits of beer into the interview, which had to be extremely disconcerting to interviewer Mark Grace, who was recently arrested for DUI in Arizona. And he was disinterested in promoting his new movie, which was supposed to be the point of the "chat."

About the only thing he left out was asking these minions of Rupert Murdoch how their phone-hacking was coming along.

Transcript here.


At one point during the game, shortly after one of several airings of the new Joe Mauer ad for Gatorade, Fox aired a panning shot of the National League bullpen, showing the backs of various pitchers -- Bell, Hanahran, Kimbrel -- and concluding with a loving, lingering closeup of ... a Gatorade jug.

That was no accident. That was product placement, a subtle ad built into the game coverage. And an example of why I despise Fox.

UPDATE: Here's something I didn't comment on because I didn't realize it at the time I saw/heard it, and is all the more insidious because it was completely plausible: Buck and/or Fox Sports attributed to Willie Mays a criticism he didn't make.

It came out of Buck's mouth on the air, so he's responsible for this inaccuracy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Anthony Swarzak vs. Kevin Slowey vs. Glen Perkins

Kevin Slowey is
0-1. 3.26 in six
outings, all starts,
on his rehab
There are, I'm  sure, sound medical reasons for the unhurried pace of Kevin Slowey's rehab from his abdominal strain.

But beyond the physiological is this: There is no current place for Slowey in the major league rotation, and there is apparent agreement between the pitcher and the organization that he does not fit in the bullpen.

So when his 20-day rehab assignment to Triple-A Rochester expires, the expectation is that Slowey will be optioned to the Red Wings, perhaps as preliminary to a trading-deadline deal. Or perhaps not; pretty much everybody expected the Twins to dump Glen Perkins during his 2009-10 exile, and no deal was ever done.

Perkins has obviously found a home in the bullpen. His fastball velocity is markedly higher than as a starter, and his somewhat limited repertoire plays better in brief outings.

Slowey's record as a major league starter is superior to Perkins. Perkins has 44 major league starts on his resume with an 18-12 record and 5.09 ERA; Slowey, in 82 starts, is 39-21, 4.42. But like Perkins, Slowey has a limited selection of pitches, has had difficulty going deep into games and has never made it through a full season in the rotation.

It wasn't outrageous for the Twins to decide that Slowey was the odd man out for their rotation this spring, but their spring training decision to make him a key component of their bullpen plans backfired. Perkins, whose very career appeared to be on the line this spring, earned his current role by getting outs in relief. For him, set-up work is a step up from where he was; for Slowey, it probably looked like a demotion.

In four major league starts this year,
Anthony Swarzak is 2-1, 2.84.
Then there's Anthony Swarzak, like Perkins a product of the 2004 draft, like Slowey a second-round draft pick. Swarzak's career also appeared to be going nowhere after last season, when he went 5-12, 6.21 for Rochester.

He went to winter ball, got sick, lost a lot of weight, decided to keep it off — which is a tough way to go about it. He pitched well in training camp but was demoted early, pitched well in Rochester (his strikeout rate jumped, his walk rate plummeted), got called up for a spot start late in April, didn't fare well, got another call up in mid May and has stuck.

He's had three more spot starts and the Twins have won all three. He hasn't been marvelous in his long relief role (he's had seven relief appearances and allowed runs in five of them; another way of looking at it is that his ERA has been lower after four of the seven outings, higher after three).

Swarzak has the bullpen role that Slowey ideally would have started with —  long relief, spot starter.  In a real sense, he benefited from lower expectations.

I'm still not completely sold on Swarzak. It's only 40 innings, but his strikeout rate (4.3 K/9) isn't good, and his BB/K ratio is roughly where it was in his first go-round in the majors in 2009. He has the job for now, but I'm not sure how secure his grip is. I remain convinced that Slowey is the better pitcher.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The return of Trevor Plouffe

The Twins entered the All-Star break with a flurry of in-house moves: Delmon Young was activated from the disabled list, Trevor Plouffe was recalled after about a month in Triple A, and the Renes (Tosoni and Rivera) were returned to Triple A.

Trevor Plouffe hit 15
homers last season
for Rochester; he
has 15 this year in
less than half the
It's fairly obvious what's ahead for Young, at least in the short term: He returns to the starting lineup as the left fielder. Tosoni, who pretty clearly has a future of some sort with the Twins, will get regular at-bats in Rochester. What happens with Young when Denard Span and Jason Kubel return from their DL stints is less obvious, but that's for the future.

Plouffe's role, short or long term, is less certain. He forced his return to the majors with his bat, but he had more than 3,000 minor league at-bats that say he's a mediocre hitter at best. He HAS this year sharply increased his walk rate at Triple A, which suggests that at least some of the power improvement is real.

Be that as it may, I cannot imagine that he's going to get another shot at playing shortstop. He may be the most brutal defensive shortstop I've ever seen the Twins use, and the Twins need their shortstop to help keep the starting pitcher in the game.

The Twins right now, with Justin Morneau accompanying Span and Kubel on the disabled list and Jim Thome obvious limited to extremely limited part-time play, have Michael Cuddyer and Young to fill four power positions (left field, right field, first base, DH). The demotion of Rivera coupled with Joe Mauer's clean play in his debut at first base suggest that Mauer, on his non-catching days, is more likely to be deployed at first than at DH.

OK, let's sort out the active position players:


Mauer (c, 1b)
Tsuyoshi Nishioka (ss)
Alexi Casilla (2b)
Danny Valencia (3b)
Michael Cuddyer (rf, 1b)
Ben Revere (cf)
Young (lf)


Jason Repko (of)
Luke Hughes (1b, 2b, 3b, theoretically of)
Matt Tolbert (3b, 2b, ss)
Thome (dh)
Plouffe (ss, 2b, 1b, of, 3b)
Drew Butera (c)

And that draws a clearer picture for Plouffe's immediate role. He's competing for playing time with Repko, Thome and Hughes (and indirectly with Butera) in the first base-dh-corner outfield nexus.

It brings to mind a Bill James comment about the 1986 Twins and their use of Roy Smalley as a shortstop/DH that year: "This is a new role on a major league roster." It didn't work well in '86, and I expect it won't last long in 2011 either.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pic(s) of the Week

A sign of respect for
Derek Jeter.
A pretty big week for Derek Jeter, big enough to justify two Pics of the Week.

Jeter started the week in Double A on a rehab assignment; he ended it having one of the highlight days of his  brilliant career, going 5-for-5 and hitting a homer for his 3,000th hit. And true to his reputation as a clutch player, his homer tied the game; his fifth hit drove in the winning run.

This has not been a great season for Jeter; a snarky commenter on one blog I frequent congratulated him on his second good game of the season. But Saturday was certainly a day that added to his legend.

And getting his 3,000th hit ends what has probably been the most overhyped milestone march since Cal Ripken's consecutive game streak.

Derek Jeter on a rehab assignment last weekend
with the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees' affiliate
in the Double-A Eastern League.
Two things grabbed me about this shot:

1) The ridiculous star-spangled jersey the Thunder made their players wear for the holiday weekend.

2) The Plastic-Man stretch of his glove arm. It just doesn't look like a match for his throwing arm, does it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

TK as a broadcaster

Judging from what I hear, a lot of fans are enjoying Tom Kelly's brief sojourn into the Twins broadcasting booth.

TK in 1987, when the manager
was younger than some
of his players.
I'm among them, although I suspect that a lot of it is Blyleven fatigue. A full season (or more) of Kelly's mumbling would probably grow just as tiresome as Bert's repeated pitch count rants and assertions that "you have to do the little things" "at the major league level" even if you're "the best athlete on the field."

In that sense, just about anybody would do in the booth. ABB -- Anybody But Bert -- would make the broadcasts fresh and different. Whether that's what Fox Sports North, the Twins (who have the final say over the broadcast crew) or the audience want is another matter.

For myself, I want to learn something more about the game, and at risk of bragging, at this stage that's a high bar to set. I can't remember the last truly novel insight to the game I gleaned from Blyleven.

Kelly and his stopwatch (for timing the pitcher's delivery, a means of determining if the base runner can steal) is a dose of real-time scouting in the booth. His thoughts Friday on Gavin Floyd's inconsistent use of the slide step — that Floyd would be better off if he made it his standard stretch delivery — was both common-sensical and delivered with an acknowledgement of the potential trade-off. Kelly's enthusiasm for both Rene Tosoni and Ben Revere belied his reputation as a hard man for young players to please.

There are times when Kelly doesn't go far enough, when he softens or blurs his point, I assume to avoid criticizing somebody. Example: On Thursday, Ron Gardenhire had Jason Repko pinch-hit for Tosoni, and Dick "Richard" Bremer asked Kelly if it might not be wiser to keep Repko available, since the Twins had the lead. Kelly's response focused on the immediate opportunity to add runs against a left-handed pitcher, and didn't mention that the change would also strengthen the outfield defense. (To be fair, Repko went out on the first pitch to end the inning, so Kelly may not have had time to get to the defensive gain from the switch.)

Bremer is clearly amused by Kelly's sarcastic digs at one of  Blyleven's favorite chestnuts, that "best athlete on the field" line. I don't know that he's so amused by Kelly calling him "Richard" all the time. (I had theorized that TK simply doesn't want to say "Dick" on the air, especially when he initially identified 1970s White Sox slugger Dick Allen as "Richard Allen," but then a bit later Kelly called the old player "Dick.")

TK in the booth is clearly not going to be a long-term thing. I'm pretty sure he prefers his scouting/teaching/evaluating role. But I do wonder if the positive reaction to his stint in the booth might lead the organization to ponder the possibility of replacing Blyleven.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Dick Williams' parade of second basemen and pinch-hitters

Dick Williams in 1972.
Dick Williams, Hall of Fame manager, died on Thursday.

He was, obviously, a manager of accomplishment -- two World Series titles with the Moustache Gang A's, a pennant with the "Impossible Dream" 1967 Red Sox (a season that really is the basis for New England's thriving obsession with the Sawx), franchise turnarounds in Montreal and San Diego.

But when I think of Williams, I think first of a bizzarely innovative strategy he deployed in September 1972, the season he won his first World Series with Oakland.

He had, that month, with the expanded roster, a flock of weak-hitting middle infielders and another flock of pinch-hitters. He responded to those circumstances by starting one second baseman (perhaps Dick Green) and pinch hitting for him when he came up. In would come another infielder (maybe Ted Kubiak); when he came up, Williams would pinch-hit for him. Now Dal Maxvil might play second, and when he came up, another pinch hitter, with Tim Cullen coming in ...

Williams could go entire games without letting his second baseman actually hit. Here's one such box score.

And then, on Sept. 19, he ran out of second basemen with this stunt. The game went 15 innings and Williams used two catchers, Gene Tenace and Larry Haney, at second base to cover the final five innings. The White Ssx scored two runs in the 13th in an inning that turned on Tenace failing to cover first base on a sac bunt.

The next year, with the DH rule in effect (and thus no need to pinch-hit for pitchers), one might have expected Williams to repeat the strategy, but he generally gave the second baseman an at-bat or two before beginning the parade -- perhaps to avoid running out of legitimate infielders.

The idea has stuck with me for decades. I can envision this year's Twins doing something similar this year if Alexi Casilla slumps again or if Tsuyoshi Nishioka never really gets his bat going. I doubt Ron Gardenhire is interested in irritating his infielders to that extent -- Williams was never accused of being a players manager -- but the personnel (if healthy) matches what Williams had in Oakland: Plenty of outfielders to pinch hit with, plenty of light-hitting infielders to pinch-hit for.

He could do it — but Williams never lasted long in any job, and his penchant for creating excessive friction was a significant reason. Pinch hitting for starters in the second or third inning is one way to create friction.

First things first

Joe Mauer played first base Thursday, and played it rather well.

Joe Mauer had a nice, clean
first baseman's glove for
his major league debut at the
That he didn't embarrass himself should surprise nobody; first base is the least demanding defensive position, and he is an extraordinarily gifted athlete.

Thursday's experiment ought not be viewed as the first step of a position change, but I suspect it will be trumpeted as such in various corners of our World Wide Web of Media.

It is widely expected that Mauer will not finish his contract as a catcher, and in our current don't-wait culture, that expectation is taken to mean that he should be moved immediately, if not last month.

On this, Mauer and the organization speak in one voice:  He signed to catch, and he's going to catch.

I agree. He's more valuable as a catcher than he would be as a first baseman or even as a corner outfielder. There are many first basemen who produce runs as well as he does; there are few if any catchers who come close to his level of production at the plate, and those who do rival him as hitters are inferior defenders.

Even if he and the Twins were secretly in agreement that he's got to move out soon from behind the plate — and there is no reason to believe that to be the case — first base is not Mauer's ultimate destination, not while Justin Morneau remains under contract.

A sporadic spot start at first base, or right field, ought not be such a big deal. It becomes one, I suspect because so many outside voices have been calling for a position change for Mauer, and the result has been a defensive stubbornness about remaining a catcher.

We'll all be a lot better off if we just let nature take its course.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sixteen games to decide the course of the season

If the Twins can sweep Ozzie Guillen's White Sox in
their four-game series starting tonight, Minnesota will
go into the All-Star break in third place. Anything less, fourth.
The Twins this morning stand nine games below .500. They have the fifth worst record in the 14-team American League and are eight games out of first place in the AL Central.

Yet, considering their history of late-season improvement, their record of dominance in head-to-head play in the division, and the fact that they lead the majors in wins since June 1, they are hardly out of the running.

Not out of it, but not truly in it, at least right now.

That, plus the creeping proximity of the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of the month, makes this stretch of the schedule so crucial.

Sixteen games in 18 days (including the All-Star break and a make-up doubleheader), all against division opponents, the bulk of them in the suddenly Twins-friendly environment of Target Field.

Contenders or pretenders? We'll have a decision by the end of these 16 games. Merely breaking even won't be enough for this team, not with the hole they dug for themselves in April and May. Even 10-6 seems inadequate in this context. I'm looking for something along the lines of 12-4.

That's a high standard, but it's the result of their poor play in the first two months. If they're still fourth after these 16 games, if they still trail the leader by their current eight games, the front office should be in sell mode at months end.

Burnett's drawback

Alex Burnett took the loss Wednesday afternoon, and his outing fell apart in a way that is becoming almost cliche for him — a way that really limits his usefulness as a middle reliever.

Alex Burnett has five holds
and a 2-5 record after
taking the loss Wednesday.
He came in with men on base and two outs in the seventh inning and got his man (on one pitch). So far, so good.

But then he was called upon to pitch in the eighth inning, and things unraveled.

That fits a pattern he established in 2010  — he could finish an inning, even pitch a full inning, but when asked to come back out of the dugout and take the hill for the next inning, he struggled.

That was particularly bad for him in 2010, when he was shoehorned into the long man's role. The Twins last season had Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain (and, after Matt Capps arrived, Jon Rauch) as right-handed set-up men. They had no need for another short reliever, and that's the kind of role Burnett appears best suited for.

This year, Ron Gardenhire has gotten some mileage out of Burnett by trying not to have him cross innings —which is how Burnett racked up just 24 innings in his first 31 games. That's a lot of partial innings.

But on Wednesday, that wasn't really an option. Francisco Liriano didn't make it out of the fifth inning, the bullpen had pitched four innings the day before, and Gardenhire had little appetite for using Capps in a game situation after Capps' last three outings. The bullpen needed four outs from Burnett on Wednesday, and got them — but at the cost of four runs allowed.

Burnett, judging from his quote in this story, doesn't think there's an issue for him crossing innings. But he's not convincing Gardenhire (or me) that he's adept at such outings. And to become a prime set-up man  — and I think he can be a very good one in time — he needs to be able to do a bit more than finish an inning.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The closer conundrum

Matt Capps (center)
retired two of the five
hitters he faced Tuesday.
Tuesday marked the third straight save opportunity that Matt Capps was unable to close out, and the second time that Glen Perkins had to trot in to seal the deal for the Twins.

Obviously, this cannot be allowed to continue. But the immediate alternatives to Capps as closer create other problems.

Joe Nathan is an obvious possibility -- but Ron Gardenhire has yet to use Nathan in consecutive games. As long as such ginger use is the rule for the post-surgical Nathan, it will be difficult to run the bullpen with an eye to getting him the ball for the ninth inning.

Perkins is another possibility -- but that creates a major void in the setup job, where Perkins is currently doing double duty, covering the eighth inning when Nathan's not available and serving as the top lefty as well.

If Jose Mijares were doing what he's supposed to be doing, Perkins wouldn't be so vital in the seventh and eighth innings. But Mijares hasn't pitched since June 27, and I assume that he's spent the past week trying to find and eliminate whatever flaw has robbed him of his command.

One way or another, the Twins need to get Capps straightened out, and soon. Their bullpen isn't sufficiently deep to allow them to hold him out of winnable games, especially if Mijares remains untrustworthy.