Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Liriano reset

Francisco Liriano threw 88 pitches in
six innings Wednesday, 51 of them
strikes. That's a ratio that works for him.
On the face of it, Francisco Liriano's start Wednesday validates the approach the Twins used to "fix" him.

He went six shutout innings, allowed three hits, struck out nine, walked two. He's back, right?

Well, maybe. The thing is, he was pitching against Oakland, and the A's entered the game with a .212 batting average. That's not a misprint; the team is hitting .212. It's like they're replaying 1968.

The batting averages for the A's lineup Wednesday are appalling:


The A's didn't use a pinch hitter, presumably because the options on the bench weren't any better.

So I'll wait a bit to declare Liriano back on track. Shutting down Oakland doesn't necessarily mean much.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Twins killings: Turning the double play

Jamey Carroll, playing second base on Tuesday,
turns a first inning double play.
The Twins turned double plays in the first and second innings Tuesday night — and none after that, breaking a four-game streak with at least three double plays.

Those two DPs gave the Twins 70 double plays on the season — by far the most in baseball. (Toronto has the next highest total at 58, a dozen behind Minnesota.)

This is a mixed blessing — a multitude of double plays is characteristic of a team that allows too many baserunners, and this is certainly the case with the Twins.

But it also has links to some strengths. The Twins' opponents entered Tuesday hitting ground balls in 35 percent of their plate appearances —a high figure, just slightly behind Cleveland for highest in the AL. (This is fueled in large part by Scott Diamond; according to Baseball Reference, Diamond in his five starts has gotten 65 ground balls and 38 air balls.)

And there can be no serious question that getting Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe out of the middle of the infield (and Jamey Carroll and Brian Dozier into the middle infield) has helped tremendously.

Plouffe was a disaster at shortstop last year,  but he has been pretty decent in his first dozen or so games at third base — considerably better than I expected when he started playing there with Danny Valencia's demotion. He has been charged with two errors at third and has had a hand in seven double plays. It's a rare third baseman who has even as many DPs as errors — to have that kind of ratio is almost unheard of.

Valencia, in more than twice the playing time at third, had two errors and eight double plays — last year, 18 and 20. The contrast in around-the-horn double plays from 2011 to 2012 suggests that the improvement may have less to do with the third baseman than with the second baseman.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Anthony Slama and the bullpen

Anthony Slama: An
ERA under a half-run
a game, and no major
league job.
The Monday print column discussed Anthony Slama's continued exile to the minor leagues despite absurdly good statistics.

On Monday afternoon, Slama added to those stats -- another inning of relief, three more strikeouts. He now has 36 Ks in 21.1 innings for Rochester.

Not that it will do him any good. The Twins have plenty of problems, but the bullpen isn't one of them.

Consider the individuals:

  • Matt Capps may be one of the least popular Twins after yielding the game-losing homer on Saturday, but he is 10-for-11 in save opportunities. 
  • Brian Duensing's ERA is 2.92.
  • Alex Burnett's ERA is 2.84.
  • Glen Perkins has 25 strikeouts in 20 innings.
  • Jeff Gray, if one excludes a horrid 5-runs-in-0-innings outing in a game already out of control, would have an ERA of 2.17.
  • Jared Burton had a streak of 34 outs without allowing a hit.
  • Anthony Swarzak, in his relief outings, has held hitters to a .164 batting average. (He's been nowhere near as effective in his starts.)

That's the seven-man bullpen core. I don't see the man there who deserves to lose his job.

The pitching problems -- and there are plenty -- have been in the starting rotation, and even Slama's most fervent admirers aren't about to call for him to enter the rotation.

At some point, there will be a bullpen opening. That's the nature of pitching; people get hurt, people change roles, people get traded. Slama, even if one takes his remarkable minor league record at face value, is not suited to all bullpen roles; he's not, for example, qualified to be a LOOGY. The Twins recalled Jeff Manship this weekend to be an eighth reliever, because their perceived need was for a long man, and Slama is a ill fit for that job.

And even for the roles Slama could logically fill, he has serious competition: Deolis Guerra and Lester Oliveros are having fine seasons themselves, and unlike Slama, they are on the 40-man roster. Kyle Waldrop, who may well have made the roster out of spring training had he been healthy, is starting a rehab assignment.

As outstanding as Slama has been this year, it's perfectly plausible that the Twins would rather turn to one of those three if a bullpen opening arises. They get outs by throwing strikes. Slama does not.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Listen to the money talk

Francisco Liriano's
bullpen time was
always supposed to
be limited.
The Twins have had 15 quality starts -- games of at least six innings pitched and no more then three earned runs allowed -- in 45 games this season. No American League team has fewer.

Seven of those QS -- almost half -- have come from starters who opened the season in Triple A: four from P.J. Walters, three from Scott Diamond. Another four have come from Carl Pavano, whose 10 starts are more than Walters and Diamond have combined (a total of eight coming into Diamond's start today). That's 11 of the 15; the other four are spread among six others who've started games for the Twins already.

The Twins have the dismal record they have today largely because their starting rotation has been incompetent (starters ERA 6.60; OPS allowed .915).

And now two of the biggest offenders are returning to the rotation. Oh joy.

The returns of Francisco Liriano -- who is to start Wednesday -- and Nick Blackburn -- who is to make the first of two rehab starts Tuesday, then return to the Twins rotation next week -- were inevitable. Each is getting paid in excess of $5 million; each is supposed to be a rotation foundation piece. And each sports an ERA floating close to a run per inning (Liriano 8.47, Blackburn 8.37).

Nick Blackburn has
had one quality start
in seven tries, and
it just made the
minimum standard.
Liriano has allowed exactly the same number of earned runs (32) in exactly the same number of innings (34) as Jason Marquis, who figures to be officially released today. Liriano has allowed more baserunners than Marquis but fewer homers. The results have been equal, but Liriano gets another shot and Marquis is gone.

It's about the money. The Twins will eat the remainder of Marquis' $3 million; they're not eager to do the same with Liriano's $5.5 million, and even less eager, one assumes, to pay off the $8 million or so left on Blackburn's multi-year deal.

And, to be sure, good options aren't readily available. Anthony Swarzak has been no improvement over either as a starter; Cole DeVries, who figures to drop out of the rotation when Blackburn returns, is marginal at best; Liam Hendriks, the best prospect of the healthy starters in the Twins system, will probably benefit more from time in Triple A than from getting kicked around in the majors.

So it's back to Liriano and Blackburn. They're getting paid to pitch. Time for them to do it.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pic of the Week

Tampa Bay relief pitchers Fernando Rodney (left) and
Joel Peralta take in Monday's game from the bench.
We have a few generations of experience now with relief pitchers who strive for an "intimidating," unconventional appearance on the mound.

I think it started with Al Hrabosky, "the Mad Hungarian," a left-hander with the St. Louis Cardinals in the mid-1970s who famously feuded with owner Gussie Busch over his long hair and Fu Manchu moustache.

Certainly the pattern over the years has been for relievers to favor facial hair. (Not that being clean-shaven has damaged Mariano Rivera's effectiveness any.)

I don't seriously believe major league hitters are frightened by a goatee. Somebody who tries to take the mound in one of these helmets ... that might be another matter, although the intimidation factor would be raised a bit if the pitcher were throwing a javelin.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Notes, quotes and comment

The Twins on Friday tweeted this photo of  Tom Kelly,
Jim Leyland and Tony LaRussa standing around
the batting cage talking golf. The three managers
account for six World Series titles among them. (The
fourth, No. 22, is Tigers coach Gene Lamont, himself a
former manager for eight years.)
Lots of baseball heavyweights at Target Field on Friday, and I'm not just talking about the rotund Prince Fielder.

Scott Boras, uberagent, was seen in Terry Ryan's suite with the Twins general manager; the assumption is that they were discussing the No. 2 pick in the draft. The new rules about bonuses installed by the labor deal have sharply decreased the importance of "advisors," but Boras is doubtless still a figure to be reckoned with.

Tony LaRussa put in an appearance. He's delivering World Series rings to players from last year's Cardinals team who aren't still with the Redbirds, and one such is P.J. Walters. Walters got into four games for St. Louis last year, and was long gone before the postseason, but his four innings (all in June) is enough to get a ring.

Walters isn't about to turn it down, of course, but I doubt he views it with as much pride as, let us say, Nick Punto does his. Punto was part of the team all year and played a lot (and well) during the postseason.


I mentioned the draft earlier. Baseball America's Jim Callis on Friday issued his second mock draft. He continues to have the Houston Astros taking Stanford RHP Mark Appel 1/1, with the Twins tabbing high school outfielder Bryon Buxton.

From Callis' subscription-only text:

As much as Minnesota needs pitching, it isn't expected to pass up the opportunity to take Buxton, who has the best all-around package of tools in the draft. If the Astros take Buxton, the Twins might take (San Francisco RHP Kyle) Zimmer over Appel or go with (Florida catcher Mike) Zunino and move Joe Mauer to another position.
Projected Pick: Byron Buxton.

The draft begins a week from Monday.


Anthony Swarzak, Friday's starter, worked despite flu-like symptoms, so his difficult outing might be forgiven. Francisco Liriano, on the other hand ... just not good.

It was being pointed out on Twitter that Swarzak's ERA as a starter this year is 8.34, as a reliever 3.06. We're only talking 18 innings or so in either catagory, but that's the kind of split that can get a guy pigeonholed.

Especially since he came into the game with a career ERA as a starter of 5.50 and as a reliever of 3.70.

I don't know of a specific reason he'd be better out of the bullpen, but the pattern is evident.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The franchise home run list

Justin Morneau cranks out the first of his two home runs
on Thursday. It was estimated at 451 feet, and ESPN
reported that it was the longest lefty-on-lefty homer of 2012.
Justin Morneau hit a pair of homers Thursday, which prompted a tweet from Dustin Morse noting that Morneau (193) had tied and passed Torii Hunter for seventh on the Twins all-time HR list.

Note the wording: The Twins list, not the franchise list. The Twins have been in Minnesota since 1961, which is a good stretch of years, but still shy of the 60 years in Washington.

When the Twins talk about their all-time leaders, they generally don't include the years in Washington. The all-time Twins leader in pitching wins, therefore, is Jim Kaat, with 190. But if you include the Senators years, it's Walter Johnson with 411. (Kaat's still second, and being second to the Big Train is no embarrassment.)

But when it comes to home runs, the Minnesota list is pretty much the franchise list. You have to get down to ninth on the list to find a player (Roy Sievers) whose career predated the shift to Minnesota.

The reason: Griffith Stadium. The long-departed Washington park was emphatically not conducive to power hitters. For most of its existence, it was 405 feet down the left field line — and got deeper from there. Right field wasn't so spacious, but it did sport a 30-foot wall.

In 1945, the Senators hit one home run at home all season — and it was an inside-the-parker. Sam Rice, who starred for Washington for 19 years and made the Hall of Fame, never hit a ground-rule homer in Griffith.

When Calvin Griffith inherited the team, he shortened the fences and made life a bit easier for right-handed sluggers like Sievers, Jim Lemon and a youngster named Killebrew.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Evaluating a Diamond

Jamie Carroll has had better games afield.
I started speculating back in March about the 2013 rotation, but I certainly didn't imagine then that the Twins would be auditioning candidates by May.

The offseason plan, heavy on starters with expiring contracts, has crumbled. And the rest of the season, in terms of the rotation, will be a combination of trying to find tradable value in the veterans and establish some newcomers.

Scott Diamond has now had four starts this season, and four starts isn't a lot. But it's been easy to like what we've seen from the lefty.

Even in defeat Wednesday, in a game in which he clearly wasn't at his best, he did the things he does well:

  • He threw ground balls — three GIDP, 10 ground outs in six innings.
  • He threw strikes — 61 of them in 94 pitches. The only walk was intentional.

He did allow nine hits and five runs, and did surrender a home run (the second off him in more than 25 innings). As I said, he wasn't at his best.

But his teammates' support wasn't at its best either — as the three unearned runs attest. It wasn't a good game in the field for the Twins, and Wednesday's boots and bobbles came from players who are normally good gloves.

These things happen. The point here is that Diamond, even in defeat, looked still like a reliable major league starter. The Twins don't have a lot of them right now.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The rotation merry-go-round

P.J. Walters embraces pitching coach
Rick Anderson after his complete game
five-hitter Tuesday night -- easily the
best outing of his unsubstantial
major league career.
Jason Marquis, out. Cole DeVries, in.

Marquis' grip on his job was slipping all season, and his dreadful start Sunday — and the strain it put on the bullpen — made his departure inevitable. Marquis is probably going to land another chance somewhere, most likely in the National League, but I doubt there'll be enough demand for his services for the Twins to trade him. I would expect him to be released.

DeVries is lined up to start Thursday. If we count Scott Baker, who never took the mound in the regular season, DeVries will be the Twins 10th starter -- and we haven't reached Memorial Day yet.

I am mildly surprised that DeVries got the call. Liam Hendriks would have seemed more likely. But I assume that the Twins don't want to yo-yo the Aussie up and down. When he comes back, it's with the intent that he stays.

And while Marquis isn't returning to the Twins rotation, there are two pitchers now out of it who do figure to return to it — Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn. I would expect that when Blackburn is ready to come off the DL, it will be into the rotation spot DeVries is about to fill.

Of course, the Greg McMichael Rule is always in effect: If you get outs, they'll find a role for you. 

DeVries -- who was so far down the totem pole this spring that he wasn't even in major league camp -- may look like a temp worker right now, but so did Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters when they showed up, and their status becomes more entrenched with each quality start.

There remains reason to be skeptical of Diamond and Walters. Their raw stuff is not imposing, and their records of success are limited. But they've been more effective this season than Blackburn or Liriano, and if they keep getting outs, they'll keep getting the ball. And if one or both splutters, their roles can vanish quickly.

And the same will apply to DeVries. If he gets outs, he'll get the ball. If not, somebody else will. This is his chance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Photos from the trip

I said early on during last week's venture into the Midwest League that we had photos but no easy way to get them from the camera to the blog.

Well, that is now rectified. Here's a small sampling. All photos, by the way, were taken by my wife, the wonderous Linda Vanderwerf.

Miguel Sano takes a rip at a pitch on Thursday.

Eddie Rosario fouls one off.

Matt Summers delivers.
Corey Williams works, with Sano in the
background at third base.

The scouts were easy to identify, and pretty plentiful,
at the sparsely attended games in Beloit.

Art Pennington, a former Negro Leaguer
 who played for about a decade in the
integrated minors before settling in
Cedar Rapids after his playing days ended
 threw out a first pitch Friday in honor of his
89th birthday.
Cam Bedrosian, son of former Twins pitcher and former
NL Cy Young winner Steve Bedrosian, started Friday
for the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
The Kernels, attired in their one-game special "Star Wars"
jerseys, begin their pre-game stretching Saturday.
The Star Wars jerseys were auctioned off during the game
for Make-A-Wish. Here Chevy Clarke signs some autographs
for the fan who won his jersey after the game.

After the game, fireworks. Most of the Kernels returned
to the field (or never left) to see the show.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The holes in the rotation

I missed out on almost all the Twins four-game winning streak last week while on my minor league journey. The games and my schedule were so aligned that even with the MLB At Bat app I was out of touch for all but a handful of innings.

So I missed the good stuff and was back in the loop for the latest -- and perhaps the last -- exhibition of pitching malpractice from Jason Marquis.

It may seem inarguable that Marquis should be out of his job, but the Twins haven't yet made it so. And it may be that putting Nick Blackburn on the disabled list has given Marquis a bit more rope.

The Twins have one (temporary) rotation hole to fill. Release Marquis, and they have a lasting hole to fill. What are their options?

1) Francisco Liriano. Ron Gardenhire has said that the Liriano-to-the-bullpen move was intended to be temporary, that he wants Liriano back in the rotation sooner rather than later.

Liriano got through some high-leverage outings during the winning streak. I don't know if he was so good that Gardenhire can feel confident that Liriano is ready to return to starting -- and I would think that they'd want to avoid starting him until they are sure they won't be pulling him out of the rotation again.

2) Liam Hendricks. The Aussie, demoted after four increasingly ineffective starts, has been impressive in three Triple A starts: 2-0, 1.93, 16 strikeouts in 18.2 innings. He remains the best long-term starting prospect in the upper levels of the system.

3) Cole DeVries, a right-handed pitcher, Minnesota native, 27 years old, at Rochester. His 1-4, 4.20 record  isn't impressive; his walk/strikeout ratio is. Seth Stohs, who knows the Twins system better than anybody else not employed by the team, is agitating for DeVries to get his shot.

4) Brian Duensing. He's been effective as a relief pitcher, and Gardenhire was talking a while back about returning him to the rotation on the throughly correct logic that his bullpen work was of little use if the starters were taking the team out of games early.

Duensing lost his starting job last year because he couldn't get right-handers out. So far, he's gotten the job done against righties.

5) Drew Butera. OK, not really. But the catcher showed off mid-90s velocity in his inning of work mopping up Sunday's mess, and didn't appear to be working all that hard.

Sort of makes me wonder if he shouldn't have been made a pitcher from the get-go.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pic of the Week

Kerry Wood embraces his son Justin as
he left the Wrigley Field mound for the
last time on Friday.
Kerry Wood hung 'em up last week. He came off the disabled list, made one final appearance on Friday, struck out the one man he faced and called it quits.

A strikeout was an appropriate way for Wood to go out. I remember well the afternoon in 1998 in which the precocious Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros. I was watching that game on WGN, in no small part because I had his opposite number, Shane Reynolds, on a fantasy team. It was a very overcast day at Wrigley, about as dim as it gets -- and it was tough enough to hit Wood when you could see.

There's a case to be made for the proposition that Wood's game was the most dominanting pitching performance ever. The Astros of that era had a pretty imposing lineup: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Mosies Alou -- and they never had a chance. No walks, one infield hit, 20 K's.

Only two men have struck out their age: Bob Feller, who had a 17 strikeout game at age 17, and Wood, aged 20 for his masterpiece.

But Wood could not stay healthy. Jim Riggleman, then the Cubs manager, used him hard, and in spring training the next year Wood blew out his elbow.

It's an unanswerable question: Could Wood have been kept healthy with more cautious use early? My guess is not; he was never all that consistent with his delivery, and Feller to the contrary, history suggests that teenagers who throw as hard as Wood get hurt.

All told, Wood went on the disabled list 16 times in 14 seasons, some of them long stints.

And the high hopes and expectations for his career went unfulfilled. He made it through only two fulls easons in a rotation and gave up trying to be a starting pitcher after 2006.

He wound up with an 86-75 record and 1,583 strikeouts in 1,380 innings.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Midwest League journey: Cedar Rapids 7, Peoria 6

I'll go light on the scouting stuff tonight. You probably don't have much more interest than I in the low-A talents for the Angels (Cedar Rapids) and the Cubs (Peoria).

I'll hit a few bullet points:

  • Matt Scioscia, son of the Angels' manager, plays for Cedar Rapids. He DH'd Saturday, went 1-for-4 , killed a rally with a double play ball.
  • Chevy Clarke, the centerfielder I mentioned from Friday's game, had a long double. He also lost a fly ball in the lights in the seventh inning that resulted in a run that tied the game at 6.
  • The Peoria infield was just awful defensively. A double error by their third baseman keyed a five-run second inning. Then the pitcher balked home a run ...

OK, enough of the baseball. It was Star Wars Night, so the Kernels were wearing special uniforms. I've never bothered to see any of the Star Wars movies, so I don't really understand the connection, but it was apparently the biggest attendance in CR in five years.

The fireworks after the game probably didn't hurt any either.

Headed home Sunday. The regularly scheduled Pic of the Week post will not be pre-empted. And soon I'll get back to blogging about the Twins. I understand they've been winning since I stopped paying atttention,

Midwest League journey: Kane County 5, Cedar Rapids 4

Neither of these teams are Twins affiliates, so my rooting interests are slim at best and my knowledge of the players more sketchy than usual.

Which is OK by me. I have been known, in previous Midwest League jaunts, to go to games cold and try to figure out who is a real prospect off what I see.

I've had a few hits and a few misses. And I did look up the rosters for Friday's game before going to the park.

A few names I'll try to remember for the future:

Cam Bedrosian, the starting pitcher for Cedar Rapids, is the son of Steve Bedrosian, the 1988 NL Cy Young Award winner and a set-up man for the 1991 Twins. The younger Bedrosian, one of three first-round picks by the Angels in 2010 on the CR roster, hurt his elbow almost immediately and underwent ligament replacement surgery last May. This was his fourth start this year, so he's returned early from the Tommy John procedure.

How he fared: Five innings, three runs, four hits, one walk, one strikeout.

That he's pitching already is impressive enough. I thought he looked pretty good, actually. Twelve of his 15 outs came from his infielders. Two runs came on a play in which his centerfielder overran the carom of what should have been a double, then made a wild throw to third base.

That centerfielder, Chevy Clarke, probably looked more like an athlete than anybody else on the field. He had two hits, stole a base, scored a run. Raw, toolsy outfielder, also a 2010 first-rounder.

The Kernels' third first rounder, Kaleb Cowart, played third base, hit third, and went 0-for-4 with a walk. Grounded into a double play, lined into another. If I didn't know he was a first-rounder, I doubt I'd have noticed him.

A less heralded player who caught my eye was catcher Abel Baker -- a name that plays off the old U.S. Navy Radio Alphabet, in which Able stood for A and Baker for B. Baker looked good behind the plate, threw out a baserunner, had a walk and a double. And he hits left-handed, which never hurts a catcher.

His numbers so far aren't very good (.202/.306/.333 coming into the game). That I liked what I saw Friday means less than those figures.

Another player who impressed me was Kane County's start, Edwin Carl -- a 22-year-old undrafted free agent who entered the game with an ERA of 1.87 and tossed seven innings of one run, five-hit ball. He walked two, struck out four and got ground ball after ground ball.

Daniel Mateo, a 20-year-old Dominican who DH'd for Kane County, came in hitting .301; he went 3-for-4 with a walk, and none of them were bloops. He hit .348 last season in Rookie ball. He looks like a hitter.

One more game to the trip.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Beloit and attendance

Before I leave Beloit for the wonders of Iowa ...

Wednesday's announced attendance was 460. There is no missing digit there: Four hundred sixty. And that number seemed high. It was an audience of dozens.

The park had more people in it Thursday for an 11 a.m. start, boosted by groups from three schools. There were eight school buses in the parking lot after the game. Apparently the kids counted as paid attendance: 1,202.

Entering Thursday, Beloit was averaging 449 people per game, so Wednesday's turnout was actually a bit better than usual. Even the Thursday turnout was well below the average for most teams in the Midwest League.

It's by far the league's worst attendance record, and this with the most exciting player in the league on the roster. Something's not working there.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Midwest League journey: Beloit 7, Quad Cities 3

Eddie Rosario played second base and went hitless. Miguel Sano was 1-for-4, a single that rocketed past the shortstop before he could react, and also did some nice baserunning (taking second when the left fielder bobble the ball, then advancing to third on a foul popup to the first baseman).

But the Twins top prospects weren't the real factors in the Thursday game.

Matt Koch -- the catcher on Wednesday night, the DH on Thursday -- hit his second three-run homer in as many days. He also doubled and singled. (If he's at all superstitious, and if he had any idea I was there for both games, he'd be sorry we're leaving town today.)

Wang-Lei Lin, an outfielder out of Taiwan, led off the game with a homer. Beloit hit three homers on the day, the other coming from outfielder Jonathan Goncalves. I wouldn't have thought that I'd see five homers from the Snappers and none from Sano or Rosario.

A couple of high draft picks from 2011 did most of the mound work Thursday. Matt Summers (4th rounder), one of the handful of righties on the Snappers staff, started. He was mediocre for the first three innings, then found a nice groove. He retired the last 11 men he faced. He walked a guy in the first inning, then picked him off, and walked nobody after that.

Summers seems to throw hard -- an appearance doubtless helped by throwing motion that hides the ball very well. He seems to throw from behind his head. He's generally regarded as a bullpen prospect, but he's been a rotation fixture for Beloit, doubtless to get innings.

His successor was Corey Williams (3rd rounder), a lefty whose future is also in relief. He threw two innings, allowing three hits, one a solo homer. I wrote this about him at the time of the draft.

A few other comments:

*Tyler Grimes, a shortstop taken in the fifth round last summer, had a rough couple of games at the plate during my visit -- three strikeouts on Wednesday as the DH, 0-for-4 Thursday -- but turned in a high-quality play defensively. He went deep into the hole and threw out the Quad Cities leadoff man. Very nice.

*Grimes, as noted, spent one game at DH, the next at shortstop, hitting ninth both games. Adam Bryant played Wednesday at short, Thursday at first.

* I plan to write more about Sano and Rosario for the Monday print column.

Midwest League journey: Beloit 4, Quad Cities 2

It's been a few years since I last took in a Midwest League game, and the initial impression was: Man, these guys are scrawny.

That description emphatically does not apply to Miguel Sano. He looks like a full-grown major leaguer, physically.

Not that it helped him much Wednesday night on a coolish night. He flew out to center, struck out looking -- more on that at-bat later -- flew out to deep center and grounded weakly to second.

The strikeout was an interesting at-bat because he took change-ups for strike two and strike three. The first of those two had him fooled so obviously that I fully expected to see another. That Sano didn't foresee it is, perhaps, indicative of what it means to be a 19-year-old in pro ball.

Beloit won, with catcher Matt Koch hitting his first homer of the season in the seventh inning (and running his RBI total from two to five with that one swing). A.J. Pettersen, probably the smallest man on the field, homer for the insurance run in the eighth. Eddie Rosario, who with Sano is the reason I wanted to catch the Snappers, did not play; he spent a couple innings coaching first base, and the last two innings down in the Snappers bullpen swinging a bat.

Beloit's roster sheet lists 11 pitchers; only four of them are right handed. Three men pitched for the Snappers Wednesday, all southpaws. Jason Wheeler was decent in his six innings (seven hits, no walks, three strikeouts, two earned runs). He's another big guy -- the roster sheet says he's 6-6, 250. David Hurlbut threw two perfect innings (two Ks) to get credit for the win, and Ryan O'Roarke allowed a harmless single for the save.

There are photos; however, I neglected to pack the connective cable for the camera, so the pics will have to wait until next week.

Day game Thursday.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A minor league state of mind

I could, I suppose, comment today on Tuesday's Twins developments, but I haven't anything new to say. Jason Marquis is a disappointment, Justin Morneau better be ready to play a lot more first base, Chris Parmelee may well benefit from playing in Triple A as opposed to sitting on the major league bench ... let's move on.

I'm beginning today a brief minor-league road trip -- two games in Beloit, Wis., to give Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario a chance to reinstill hope in the Twins future, and two games in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a stop that is at least as much about visiting the Amana Colonies again as about seeing the Kernels play.

Beloit will be playing Quad Cities, a Cardinals affiliate; Cedar Rapids, an Angels affiliate, will face Kane County (A's Royals; used to be an Oakland affiliate) and Peoria (Cubs). All these teams are in the Midwest League, a Low A league.

So that's what the rest of this week is going to be about here. The minors and the future, not the Twins in the present.

While thinking about the minors, I thought I'd look up the stats for Billy Bullock, the hard-throwing relief prospect the Twins traded at the end of spring training 2011 for Scott Diamond. That deal drew immediate criticism from many of us Internet know-it-alls. I had my share of skepticism, but tried to keep an open mind about why the Twins would prefer Diamond.

Bullock is repeating Double A for the Atlanta Braves. He has, as of Tuesday, a 2.29 ERA in 19.2 innings, which looks good. But he also has 19 walks (and 16 strikeouts), and that walk number is emphatically not good.

Granting that two good starts from Diamond is a small sample size, this trade isn't looking so bad right now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My $20 Diamond

It only took two
strong starts to get
me to sponsor
Scott Diamond's
B-R page.
Back in March, when I decided on my Baseball Reference sponsorship choice, I said here: "There are a couple of guys who might make the team I may make a play on if they do."

I didn't have Scott Diamond in mind when I wrote that. I was thinking Brian Dozier in particular.  I never acted on Dozier. But on Monday morning I had reason to visit Diamond's page and noticed that

  • The sponsorship was available and
  • It was $20.

I'll take it. You can see it here.

(And, by the way, as of Monday Michael Cuddyer's price was down to $180.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Notes from the weekend

It's gotta be the shoes: Brian Dozier and his
pink cleats on Mother's Day. Dozier hit his
first major league homer.
I spent more time Sunday listening to the radio broadcast (yard work) than the TV one, but Dick-n-Bert apparently drew a Scott Diamond-Cliff Lee comparison.

This elicited some jeers in my Twitter feed, but I'm not about to ridicule that comparison. I made it here last September.

That particular post, as it turns out, is one of the more highly-viewed posts in this blog's tenure. For all I know, my observation may have trickled to the broadcasters and contaminated their analysis. Or not. Either way, they're responsible for what they say on the air, and I'm responsible for what I write here.


Wilson Ramos, the young catcher the Twins gave up during the 2010 season to acquire Matt Capps, blew out his knee Saturday while pursuing a passed ball and will miss the remainder of the 2012 season.

This is another blow to the Nationals, who have lost outfielder Jayson Werth to a broken wrist, been without Ryan Zimmerman for much of the season and haven't had Mike Morse (31 homers last year) in the lineup yet. And it can't be much fun for Ramos either.

Wilson Ramos is helped off the field after
tearing a knee ligament.
The Ramos-Capps trade is widely regarded as a disaster for the Twins. I'm not that down on it. It did what it was intended to at the time — solidify the then-softening bullpen for the stretch run. Capps did have a worse 2011 season than Ramos did, but the odds are that Capps' 2012 will be better than Ramos'.


Carl Pavano had an MRI on his shoulder, which is said to have found minor inflammation. This may or may not explain his decreased velocity; inflammation pretty much comes with the territory of being a major league pitcher.

The results are being forwarded to another, outside, specialist (the one who determined that Scott Baker was indeed injured and needed elbow surgery), and in the meantime Pavano is to make his scheduled start today.

It's a situation worth watching. The two best starters this season at Rochester, Diamond and P.J. Walters, are already up; their places have been taken by Liam Hendriks and Matt Maloney (the latter having cleared waivers), and I wouldn't expect an early call-up for either of them.

Francisco Liriano hasn't had a bullpen outing yet, so he's not a likely option if Pavano must miss time. Which would appear to leave Anthony Swarzak or Brian Duensing — and there are indications that Duensing is the likely choice. Duensing has been very good in the bullpen, but if the starters can't get to him, he's not helping the cause much.

The Twins say the goal with Liriano is to eventually return him to the starting rotation. It figures to be difficult to swap out any more struggling starters without bringing him back into the mix.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pic of the Week

Zach Greinke of the Milwaukee Brewers in a start
against the Cincinnati Reds

Another photo chosen for a photographic effect. The ball appears to be past the blurred out hitter — the AP didn't even bother to identify him — but it is really still on its way to the plate.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Late night: Twins 7, Blue Jays 6

Friday's game was delayed one hour and 51 minutes by rain,
which made it impossible to get the result in the print edition.
Game story here

Box score here

Nine walks. That's the key number for the Twins in this game — they drew nine walks from the Toronto pitchers. The Blue Jays pitchers threw 174 pitches, a figure that should make somebody's arm throb.

Which is how they could be out-homered four to zero and still come away with the W.

Nick Blackburn had a serious gopher ball problem, giving up three dingers in five innings. He also walked three men himself. Five earned runs in five innings ... he got credit for the win (his first since last July), but he shouldn't feel good about his outing.

But the bullpen was pretty solid. Glen Perkins wasn't sharp, but the three right-handers (Alex Burnett, Jared Burton and Matt Capps) each threw shutout innings.

Burnett is having an interesting season. His ERA is down to 2.89, about half what it was last season, but his hit rate and home run rates aren't improved, and his strikeout rate continues a steep decline (7.0 K/9 in 2010, 5.9 in 2011, 4.3 to date this year). But he's also knocked his walk rate under two per nine innings.

Friday marked his 14th appearance of the season, but only the second in a game the Twins won, and the first time, I believe, that he was entrusted with a lead. Not that the starters have turned a lot of leads over to the bullpen.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dumping a failing player is only half the battle

Jason Marquis has
walked 11 and
struck out 10 this year.
The middle third of May is when the Twins in years past axed the likes of Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz. It's when when they dumped the left side of their infield in '06.

The Twins made some significant changes in roster and roles already this week — Brian Dozier, Danny Valencia, Francisco Liriano. After the travesty that was Thursday's performance, one has to expect more changes.

Jason Marquis was billed when he signed as a guy who threw strikes — a description that did not match his statistical record, and has been flatly contradicted by his 2012 performance. As Aaron Gleeman noted on Twitter Thursday, Marquis has thrown strikes at the same rate this year as Francisco Liriano.

As wild as Liriano, but without Liriano's stuff — that's not a workable combo for a major league pitcher.

Liriano lost his starting job. Marquis ought to lose his.

The problem is: With whom do you replace him?

The same question hovers over the Valencia demotion. He wasn't getting the job done. But it's a sound principle to know what Plan B is when Plan A is jettisoned. If there is a clear plan for third base now, I don't see it.

Playing Trevor Plouffe there is ... well, it's an engraved invitation to low comedy like the pop-up "base hit" Thursday. Catcher Ryan Doumit never saw it. Marquis ran in and was in position to catch it, and then he backed off. It appeared, from Marquis' actions, that Plouffe called him off. But Plouffe wasn't anywhere near the ball when it dropped.

The handling of Plouffe this year has been baffling. He's supposed to be an outfielder, on the theory that reducing his defensive responsibilities will give his bat a chance to shine. But he's spent the first month-plus subbing in around the infield, and he's hitting under .160. The theory isn't getting a true test.

I'm dubious about Plouffe to begin with, but if the organization seriously believes there's a player there, they have to stop whipsawing him.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Feeling a draft: Mid-May edition

Baseball America today posted its first mock draft.

BA, as I've said frequently, generally provides a good sense of the scouting consensus. Their take on the 2012 draft:
  • It's not a particularly strong or deep draft field, certainly not as good as 2011;
  • Bryon Buxton, a high school outfielder from Georgia, is probably the player atop most team's draft lists;
  • The Astros, the only team picking in front of the Twins, are thought likely to take a college pitcher in search of a more rapid return on the investment.

So BA has the Twins taking Buxton with the second overall pick. A raw, toolsy outfielder isn't exactly an area of organizational need, but if he's the guy atop their board and he's there, they should take him.

We'll see where this goes in the next month. The draft that matters is in June.

Shake it up

Wednesday's game followed an all-too-familiar pattern for the Twins: The starting pitcher (in this case Carl Pavano) gave up multiple runs early, the bullpen did a decent job (one run allowed in five innings), the hitters got some men on base but failed to fully capitalize on the opportunities, and the Twins lost.


P.J. Walters inherits
Francisco Liriano's
slot in the starting
What came after the game wasn't the same old, same old. Some significant moves were made — both in terms of roster and roles. Let's sort through the carnage:

Pitching: Francisco Liriano to the bullpen, P.J. Walters brought up to start on Saturday, Matt Maloney designated for assignment.

The attempt to reset Liriano by skipping a start didn't work, and so the next step is taken.

Liriano figures to get low-leverage innings — long relief and mop-up chores. Which is basically what Maloney was doing. Maloney's minor league stats intrigued me from the day the Twins claimed him on waivers from Cincinnati, but he didn't pitch anywhere near well enough to keep his job, much less find an expanded role.

Walters is a right-hander who has gotten 51 major league innings, mostly with St. Louis, and was signed as a minor-league free agent with more of an eye on improving the Rochester staff than the major league staff. He's done pretty well in Rochester (3-1, 2.70), so he got the call. I'm not sure he's any better than Anthony Swarzak.

Darin Mastroianni
got into one game
for the Blue Jays
in 2011, going 0-for-3.
Position players: Danny Valencia optioned to Rochester, Darin Mastroianni called up.

Valencia was 0-for-May. His slugging percentage had fallen below .300. And his defense at third is still nothing to hang his hat on.

Mastroianni is yet another fourth-outfielder type — runs well enough to play center, throws well enough to play right, doesn't have enough thump to be a regular.  He was hitting .365 in Rochester with 10 steals. He's played a little at second base, but I doubt he's proficient at it.

One of the beat writers said on Twitter that Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll and Trevor Plouffe would split time at third base. I think it's more likely that Carroll will play second and Casilla will get the bulk of the time at third. In a sense, this replicates the 2006 infield configuration after the Twins axed Juan Castro and Tony Batista: Luis Castillo at second, Nick Punto at third and the rookie Jason Bartlett at short.

Mastroianni may platoon with Erik Komatsu in right field, at least until Justin Morneau returns from the disabled list and forces Ryan Doumit out of regular DH duties.

If Valencia's job wasn't safe, Plouffe's can't be either.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Brilliant Diamond

Scott Diamond threw seven shutout innings
Tuesday. Yes, a Twins pitcher is allowed
to do that.
Quality start, anyone?

Scott Diamond on Tuesday was ... brilliant. A brilliant Diamond.

He was far sharper in Triple A this season than he was last year, and far sharper in this, his first major league start, than he was in any of his seven big league starts last season.

He threw strikes (62 strikes, 40 balls). He threw ground balls (12 ground ball outs, 3 fly ball outs). He missed bats (six strikeouts).

And he didn't give up a run.

I like Diamond perhaps more than I should (as I said last September). His stuff isn't overwhelming, and last season, for whatever reason, he didn't display the command of it that his numbers when pitching in the Atlanta system suggested.

Tuesday night, he had that command. Tuesday night he showed why the Twins took him in the Rule V draft and then traded a harder thrower to keep him.

It should be said, it's a lot easier to be a ground ball pitcher when your shortstop and second basemen can make plays. Diamond last year pitched a lot with Trevor Plouffe at short; he's had Brian Dozier behind him this year, both with Rochester and on Tuesday. That counts.

It's one start. But it is a start. I'm certainly more eager to see more of him than I am anybody else in the Twins rotation.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Changes plus status quo equals another loss

Brian Dozier wore the old-school high socks Monday.
Brian Dozier debuted at shortstop with a 1-for-4 plate performance and solid defense. Erik Komatsu had two hits but dropped a fly ball in left field late in the game that let two runs in. (I doubt the sidelined Josh Willingham would have reached the ball to begin with, so the end result was the same, but Komatsu's skill set requires that he catch that ball.)

And Francisco Liriano had another lousy start, so the Twins lost. Again.

The new guys got the attention before and after the game, but Liriano's continued war with the strike zone matters more. Five innings, 90 pitches, 50 strikes, 40 balls ... Four earned runs in five innings, and his ERA dropped to 9.45.

And Ron Gardenhire indicated after the game that he'll keep Liriano in the rotation.

It's a puzzle. On one hand, Liriano is clearly the most talented pitcher on the staff. On the other, he appears to be the most emotionally fragile, the least capable of coping with difficulty.

Gardenhire handles Liriano, at least for public consumption, gingerly, wary of further diminishing the pitcher's waning self-belief. Even if Gardy is ready to stick Liriano in the 'pen, he's wasn't about to blurt it out to the reporters last night.

And, of course, No. 47 isn't the only starter having a lousy season. The Twins have made their easy swap-out, with Scott Diamond going tonight in place of the demoted Liam Hendriks. Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Jason Marquis — their tenure and pay scale make them more difficult to replace.

Somebody has to start these games. These guys are getting paid to do it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cole Hamels, Bryce Harper and "bully teams"

Bryce Harper gets hit by the pitch...

If you were watching ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball last night. you saw Philadelphia's Cole Hamels drill superrookie Bryce Harper in the back in the first inning. You also saw Harper take third base on a single to left (two outs and Juan Pierre throwing, but still rare) and then steal home on a Hamels pick-off throw to first base (video here).

Which is better retribution for an intentional plunking than charging the mound. The 19-year-old hotshot embarrassed the veteran pitcher.

... and then steals home.
Hamels admitted after the game that he hit Harper on purpose, calling it a "welcome to the majors" old school moment. (And Washington pitcher Jordan Zimmermann later hit Hamels in the leg in obvious retribution.)

Hamels wasn't be the first guy to greet a heralded rookie with a HBP, and he won't be the last. But I think there was something more to the incident.

The Phillies have won five straight divisional titles. The Nationals had taken the first two games of their weekend series and are now in first place.

When a young, unheralded team suddenly becomes a threat to a veteran dynasty, the veteran team often tries physical intimidation. As I recall, the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 had separate bench-clearing incidents with both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, both of them begun with buzzballs from the accustomed contenders. I think of this as "bully ball" — something teams resort to when they realize the upstarts might actually be better.

Usually that realization comes later in the summer. That Philly turned to it in early May is illuminating. The Nationals may not win the division this year (Jayson Werth broke his wrist Sunday, which probably matters a lot more than the outcome of this particular game), but I think the Phillies' domination of the NL East is over.

Here comes Brian Dozier

Brian Dozier is to
take over as the
regular shortstop
Today Brian Dozier (and Scott Diamond) report to the Twins.

Diamond replaces fellow rookie Liam Hendriks as the fifth starter. I touched briefly on that in the Monday print column, and I'm sure I'll have more to say about it in the next day or so.

Today, let's talk Dozier, who Ron Gardenhire said Sunday on his radio show will be his everyday shortstop now. Dozier turns 25 next week, he's a right-handed hitter, he was an eighth-round pick as a college senior (most collegians sign as juniors), and he shot up the ladder pretty quickly, never spending a full season at any minor league level.

Unlike Diamond (or Hendriks), Dozier wasn't a September call-up last year; the Twins didn't have to put him on the 40-man roster last winter, so they saved the roster spot. So tonight figures to be Dozier's major-league debut.

The word out of spring training was that Dozier was the best defensive shortstop in camp, and Ron Gardenhire appeared to favor making him the shortstop then. The Twins stuck with the offseason plan of Jamey Carroll at short (and Alexi Casilla at second) because:

  • Dozier had about a half-season of Double A ball on his resume and no time in Triple A;
  • The two veterans were expected to be better hitters than Dozier;
  • By delaying Dozier's debut, the Twins depressed his service time and perhaps put off his arbitration eligibility.

Jamey Carroll turns a double play Saturday
against the Mariners.
In fairness to Terry Ryan, that last was probably a minor point. This call-up is early enough that, assuming Dozier sticks, he'll probably be a "Super Two" and arbitration eligible after 2014. (And if all goes well, last year's first-round pick, Levi Michael, might be knocking at the major-league door by then.)

Carroll has been a competent defensive shortstop for the first month or so of the season. And durable, too; he's played all but one inning in the field, which would be fairly impressive for a shortstop a decade younger (Carroll is 38).

But Carroll hasn't hit -- slash line .206/.306/.237. He has drawn 13 walks, second on the team to Joe Mauer, but .306 isn't a good on-base percentage for anybody, much less a top-of-the-order guy, and he's not a power threat.

Dozier isn't going to fix the offense. But one can reasonably expect him to do better than a .543 OPS (Carroll) or .597 (Casilla), whichever comes out of the lineup to make room for the rookie. Dozier may be only a marginal upgrade in the field and at the plate, but even a marginal improvement helps.

Adding Dozier gives the Twins a legitimate middle infielder on the bench, which may have the indirect effect of helping Trevor Plouffe. Remember, part of the idea of moving Plouffe to the outfield was to replicate what happened to Michael Cuddyer when he made the move from infield to outfield. With the defensive burden lifted, Cuddyer became a better hitter. Plouffe hasn't had that improvement happen yet; he hasn't really had that opportunity. He's been pressed into service as the backup infielder as well as a part-time outfielder; instead of decreasing his defensive responsibilities, the Twins increased them.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pic of the Week

Jered Weaver delivers a pitch during
his no-hitter Wednesday night against the Twins.

I selected this one partly because of the no-hitter, and partly because, even after years of looking at photos of pitchers frozen in mid-delivery, I remain amazed at the elasticity required.

Obviously, no pitcher contorts his arm into such a pose and holds it. But they get to such unlikely positions and through them dozens of times a game.

It's not a wonder there are are so many arm injuries. It's a wonder there aren't more.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Late night: Twins 3, Mariners 2

Ichiro Suzuki spins around after flailing at strike three
from Matt Capps in the ninth inning.
Game story here

Box score here

It has been said that more baseball games are lost than won -- meaning that it was mistakes by the losing team that decided the game. Such would be the case in Friday's game, when Seattle coughed up a 2-0 lead by walking consecutive batters and screwing up a perfect double play opportunity.

The Twins scored three runs in the seventh inning, and only one ball -- Chris Parmelee's double -- was hit out of the infield.

And once they had the lead, the bullpen -- Brian Duesning, Glen Perkins and Matt Capps -- was stellar. Each worked a perfect inning. Capps struck out of the three men he faced, including Ichiro Suzuki.

Seattle does not have a strong lineup, so I'll avoid lavishing praise on the pitchers. They got out hitters they should get out. Carl Pavano used just 69 pitches to work six innings, an efficiency that speaks to the lack of polished, professional hitters in the Mariners lineup. (Pavano was pulled after the long top of the seventh; it was a chilly evening in Seattle.)

The Twins broke a 25-inning scoreless streak and a 13-inning hitless streak. The Twins had been 0-for-47 before Jamie Carroll singled in the first inning. Parmelee's double was the Twins first extra-base hit since Monday.

Friday, May 4, 2012

An outfield move

Erik Komatsu had 19 at-bats with St. Louis this season.
How much do the Twins NOT want Ben Revere to be their fourth outfielder?

This much: Today they picked up on waivers one Erik Komatsu, dumping in the process the strikeout king Clete Thomas.

Komatsu, like Revere, is a 24-year-old left-handed outfielder. Unlike Revere, he has all of 19 at-bats above the Double-A level.

The Twins will be Komatsu's fourth organization in less than two years — Milwaukee, Washington, St. Louis and now Minnesota. His minor-league numbers look like those of a leadoff-type hitter — decent on-base percentages, a couple season of 20-plus steals, not a lot of power. He's played more center field than corner outfield in the minors, but I think it's safe to say he's no Revere for range, and I'm sure he has a better throwing arm.

What the Twins actually have here is a do-over on their Rule V pick of last winter, when they took pitcher Terry Doyle and ultimately returned him to the White Sox. Komatsu was picked later in the draft by St. Louis and made the roster, but the Cardinals now were trying to get him through waivers.

So the Twins can't just send Komatsu to the minors; Washington still has the ultimate claim on him.

On the defensive

A run-scoring single gets past a diving Jamey Carroll
during the series in Anaheim.
One of the running themes here this season has been the idea that part of the Twins' pitching problems is with the other players on the field — that the defense is not up to snuff.

But I'm being forced by facts to reconsider that argument.

The defensive metrics developed by Baseball Info Systems — plus-minus and runs saved — actually looked pretty good on a position-by-position basis when I broke them down earlier in the week.

And then came into my email inbox a BIS "stat-of-the-week" message on team level defense.

The Twins, as a team, were plus nine in runs saved at the end of April— fifth best in the majors, but only fourth best in the American League. Toronto was first with 31 runs saved, followed by Tampa Bay at 23, then Arizona and Texas at 14 and 13 respectively.

(On the other end of the spectrum were Colorado, -26; Detroit, -19; Washington, -15; the Mets, -13; and Milwaukee, -12. Four NL teams and the Tigers, with all the DHs they can stuff into a lineup.)

My view is shifting slightly.

I'm still sure that the decisions made late in spring training — specifically the de-emphasis of Ben Revere, the demotion of Brian Dozier and a rather heavy use of Ryan Doumit at catcher — all served to enhance the team at the plate while eroding the defense.

Despite that, the defense is much better than the 2011 atrocity and is a bit better than average.

But "a bit better than average" isn't enough to save this starting rotation. Quite possibly even a top-of-the-line defense wouldn't be.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Late Night: Weaver no-hits Twins 9-0

Jered Weaver and Chris Iannetta celebrate after the
last out of Weaver's no-hitter.
Game story here

Box score here

And the season just gets worse for the Twins. They have an off day today, and I expect to see some changes.

Begin with Liam Hendriks. He couldn't make it out of the third inning on Wednesday. That's two straight poor starts for the rookie, and his ERA is an even 9.00.

The starting rotation is the single biggest problem on this team; none of the starters have been effective. Hendriks is the easiest to change out, and also the one with the best future. Let him learn in Triple A.

Potential replacements: Either Anthony Swarzak (moved out of the bullpen) or Scott Diamond (now in Triple A.)

Hendriks can be optioned. Matt Maloney cannot, but his ERA (after getting two outs and a bruise on his calf from a line drive) is 7.36, so there's a real good chance he'll clear waivers. I think the Twins will find out. I hope they can keep him; he may be a Quadruple A pitcher (good in the minors, not good enough to pitch in the majors), but I still believe he can be an asset in the majors. He isn't right now.

Another guy who'd have to be waived is Clete Thomas, who has now struck out 16 times in 28 plate appearances with Minnesota. The Twins are carrying him rather than Ben Revere as an outfield reserve because Revere can't throw and the use they have for an extra outfielder is in right, but Thomas isn't getting it done.

Chris Parmelee probably isn't going down just yet, if only because of the uncertainty about Justin Morneau, but Parmelee's average is down to .220 and he hasn't had a hit since his beaning. He hasn't had an extra base hit since April 19.

Most of these are minor moves. One starting pitcher, a position player who's been in the lineup about half the time, a bench guy and a long reliever. Changing them out isn't going to turn the Twins season around.

But something's got to give.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Late night: Angels 4, Twins 0

Francisco Liriano is pulled in the sixth inning
Tuesday after 91 pitches.
Box score here

Game story here

The spin offered by Ron Gardenhire and Francisco Liriano is that Liriano wasn't bad.

My take is that he wasn't good — better than he was before his week of bullpen sessions, but that's not saying much. He still had a mediocre ball/strike ratio (40 balls, 51 strikes), threw first-pitch strikes to just 12 of his 25 hitters, walked three men in 5.1 innings, hit another, gave up a pair of homers ...

None of that suggests fastball command to me. That's what I need to see to be encouraged.


Sean Burroughs was designated for assignment to make room for Drew Butera on the 25-man roster. Justin Morneau's wrist is inflamed and has fluid build-up, which doesn't sound good, but he's not going on the disabled list and may even be in the lineup today.

I was surprised Burroughs got the ax; I had expected one of the pitchers to go. But I was rather surprised Burroughs made the team to begin with, and I never did see what his role was. He never really looked good enough at the plate to threaten Danny Valencia's playing time.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Morneau and the roster (updated)

Justin Morneau breaks his bat in his first at-bat Monday.
It is a rule of life in general and the internet in particular: In the absence of hard information, speculation abounds.

We have little reliable information about the wrist injury that is sending Justin Morneau back to Minnesota for an exam. But sidelining him has reduced the Twins position player roster to dangerous levels.

They are carrying 13 pitchers, an alignment that was intended to end with last week's off day but continues because the starting rotation has been so putrid. Thirteen pitchers leaves room for 12 position players. Now one of those 12, Morneau, isn't even with the team, so it's 11. Joe Mauer reportedly could not run Monday night, so that tightens things further. That's not much wriggle room for the manager.

Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that the Twins make a quick decision to put Morneau on the disabled list. What would the likely move be?

Possibility One: The return of Drew Butera, which would make it easier for Ron Gardenhire (or Scott Ulger, who will run the team this weekend while Gardenhire attends his daughter's college graduation) to use either Mauer or Ryan Doumit as the designated hitter.

Possibility Two: The return of Luke Hughes, who washed out fast with Oakland and is currently in the limbo of waivers. Hughes is right-handed, so he could platoon at first base with Chris Parmelee. But the Twins may not want to go there again. (Another potential advantage, that Hughes was already on the West Coast, isn't there — the A's were in Baltimore during the weekend and are still out East, so Hughes is no closer to the Twins than the minor leaguers are.)

Possibility Three: Some minor league DH/1B, such as Matt Carson or Aaron Bates. It seems unlikely.

The Butera move is the most likely, with Parmelee getting more regular time at first base, Mauer and Doumit splitting catcher and DH starts, and Trevor Plouffe and Clint Thomas sharing right field.

But that's just speculation.

Addendum: Butera is on his way to Orange County, Calif., and is to be activated in time for tonight's game. The corresponding roster move has yet to be made; Morneau may go on the DL, or one of those 13 pitchers is sent down or waived. It all depends on what the wrist examiner concludes.

Late night: Angels 4, Twins 3

C.J. Wilson allowed just six baserunners in 7.1 innings,
but three of them scored.
Box score here

Game story here

Nick Blackburn was pretty good for Nick Blackburn -- three runs in six innings, one of them the result of Josh Willingham losing a ball in the lights -- but C.J. Wilson was better. As he should be; Wilson is simply the better pitcher.

I keep expecting Wilson to get hurt -- his delivery displays what is known in some circles as an "inverted W," which is thought in those circles to put undue strain on the elbow -- but he has survived two full seasons in the rotation plus extended playoff runs.

More significant, perhaps, than the outcome of Monday's game was the mid-game departure of Justin Morneau with wrist soreness. How serious it is, is unknown. Ron Gardenhire said Morneau will fly back to see a hand specialist.

A handful of other points:

*Chris Parmelee got his first start since his beaning. He didn't play against Kansas City, in part because the Royals started a pair of left-handers, and Gardenhire is limiting Parmelee's exposure to southpaws. But he started against Wilson, one of the tougher lefties in the league, in no small part because Joe Mauer finally sat out a game.

Parmelee got hit by a pitch to open the three-run seventh inning rally against Wilson, which is probably a good sign in that it suggests that he's not flinching away from lefties. He did go 0-for-3 against Wilson and lefty reliever Scott Downs.

* Alexi Casilla doubled Parmelee home, and earlier had a single and two steals. He singled with two outs in the ninth. After the game of April 22, he was hitting .227; since then he's 8-for-16 and he's at .300.

* Jared Burton relieved in the eighth and blew through the inning on just nine pitches. He now leads the team in appearances with 11, although there are three others with 10 and another with nine. Gardenhire has generally avoided using his relievers on consecutive days, although Burton did so Sunday-Monday.

Ex-Twins in the news: Luke Hughes, axed by the Twins a bit more than a week ago, played in four games for Oakland and now has been designated for assignment by the A's. He went 1-for-13 and committed three errors, so it's difficult to defend his play there.

Still, Oakland gave him the boot to make room for Brandon Inge, and I see this as going with the the guy they know can't play rather than the guy they think can't play.

* Delmon Young was suspended seven games by MLB for his New York arrest.

The Tigers put Young on the restricted list after the incident, a move apparently forced by the new collective bargaining agreement.. It's definitely different from the way the Tigers handled Miguel Cabrera's drunken arrests (2009 ans 2011). Of course, Cabrera is a star; Young is not.