Friday, August 31, 2012

Denard to the DL

The Twins put Denard Span on the disabled list Thursday. Really, the only issue I have with the move is that, in retrospect, it should have been done more than two weeks ago, when he injured his shoulder/collarbone in a tumbling attempt at a catch.

The DL move is an odd one for Aug. 30, because the rosters expand Sept. 1. But putting Span on the DL makes it possible to bring back Matt Carson, who would not be eligible to return this soon without a corresponding disabled-list move. (He would have had to remain on the Rochester roster for 10 days from his demotion.)

Carson or no, I would still expect the Twins to find considerable playing time for Chris Parmelee while Span is out. Parmelee has started the last two games in right field, with Ben Revere playing center.

Another possibility, come September and the arrivals of the call-ups, would be someone such as Oswaldo Arcia or Aaron Hicks. (The Twins haven't named their call-ups, but those outfielders, currently playing for New Britain in Double A, would seen likely candidates.)

Meanwhile, I (and others on the outside of the organization) marvel at what appears to be yet another mishandled injury. Span was hurt on Aug. 12. He remained sidelined but on the active roster for 11 days. Then he played three of four games, then sat for three more before finally being shelved.

I'm no doctor or athletic trainer, but this kind of thing keeps happening to this team, and it's baffling.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Notes, quotes and comment

Commissioner Bud Selig had a backdrop of former
All-Stars for the announcement Wednesday that
Target Field would be the site of the 2014 All-Star game.
Behind the commish: Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Roy Smalley
and Paul Molitor.
This was the least-well-kept secret in sometime, but it's official: The 2014 All-Star Game will be played in Target Field.

Call me jaded, but in this era of interleague play and cable, the All-Star Game itself doesn't interest me as much as the Futures Game does. The All-Star Game is now a promotional vehicle for Fox; the Futures Game is a glimpse of, yeah, the future.


Also not a surprise: Scott Diamond on Wednesday dropped his appeal and began serving his  suspension. By dragging the process out beyond his Tuesday start, he pushed the time of his next start into September, when the rosters are expanded.


What is a surprise: San Deduno didn't walk a man in his seven shutout innings Wednesday. Ninety-eight pitches, 68 strikes — better than two strikes for every ball. I didn't think that kind of performance was possible from him.

Until he does it regularly, though, I'll consider this one a fluke — a fluke that had some help from the Seattle hitters.


Jeff Gray was outrighted to Triple A on Wednesday, which opened a spot on the 25-man roster for Chris Parmelee, who promptly stepped into the lineup as the right fielder. (He went 1-for-5 with two runs scored.) With Denard Span again day-to-day with his shoulder/collarbone issue, I would expect Parmelee to get a lot of playing time in right field (with Ben Revere playing center).

The Twins now have three openings on their 40-man roster. One will certainly be filled come September by P.J. Walters, who is apparently about ready to come off the 60-day disabled list.

As with Nick Blackburn, I don't see the Twins outrighting Gray only to turn around and restore him to the 40-man roster so that they can have him in the majors in September. I would think they could find something else to try.


Lester Oliveros, the hard-throwing relief prospect acquired last year in the Delmon Young trade, had elbow surgery Wednesday that blew into something more than removing bone chips. It turned into Tommy John surgery, which pretty much wipes out his 2013 season.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mauer and waivers

No matter how much certain talk-radio
mouths may desire it, the Twins aren't
waiving Joe Mauer good-bye.
Ken Rosenthal, who is probably the best of the baseball rumormongerers (which isn't saying much) touched off a bit of a furor with a late Tuesday night report speculating on a Joe-Mauer-to-the-Red-Sox waiver deal.

It's pure barnyard waste material. Joe Mauer isn't going anywhere. Period.

Joe Mauer has a full no-trade clause. Joe Mauer has something over $160 million left on his contract. And despite the "best" efforts of Dan Barrerio and Jim Souhan to make it so, Minnesota has not become a living hell for the St. Paul native.

Again: Joe Mauer isn't getting traded.

Rosenthal knows this, of course; he's been covering baseball a long time. He knows that everybody gets put on waivers in August. Everybody. It might mean something; it usually doesn't.

In this case, it doesn't.

Why, you may ask, would the Twins bother putting Mauer on waivers if they have no intent of acting on them? Two reasons:

  • It's cover for everybody else. Nothing personal about putting you on waivers, Terry Ryan or Rob Antony can tell a player. We run everybody through waivers. Even Mauer.
  • It might serve as conversation starter. Somebody calls about Mauer, and the talks can be deflected to other players.

Rosenthal, as I say, may be the best of the rumormongerers. But he's just a rumormongerer, and therefore not to be trusted.

Thoughts after a trip to Target Field

Scott Diamond allowed five runs Tuesday
for only the second time this season.
I scooted up to the ballyard Tuesday for the Mariners-Twins game because it was the first time my schedule coincided with a Scott Diamond start, and Diamond is becoming a particular favorite of mine.

Diamond gave me some of what I like about him — he threw strikes and got ground balls — and some of what worries me about him: A lack of strikeouts.

In his two-run third inning, Diamond had two strikes on each of the Seattle batters who reached base, but was unable to put them away. His outs tended to come quickly in at-bats; if the hitter dragged the at-bat out beyond three pitches or so, Diamond had trouble finishing him off.

Ron Gardenhire (in a postgame soundbite I heard on the radio) and Diamond (on Twitter) said he got hurt by a couple of bad pitches — the two-run double by Kyle Seager, the three-run homer by Dustin Ackley — but my sense of it is that what made those mistakes painful were the two-strikes-and-no-out at-bats that preceded them.

I've written before about how two-strike counts blunt even the best hitters. In this game, at least, that didn't work for Diamond.

* It's one thing for the Twins to be shut down by Felix Hernandez. He's great. He does that. Getting shut down by Hisashi Iwakuma, who barely threw more strikes than balls in his six innings (49 strikes, 43 balls) is another matter.

Iwakuma walked four, hit a man, threw a wild pitch (and had another pitch elude catcher Miguel Olivo, which was ruled a passed ball), was behind hitters constantly ... and the Twins just had bad at-bat after bad at-bat. They mustered just one hit, and really didn't come close to any others.

* Trevor Plouffe hasn't hit since returning from the disabled list. What's more, his defense at third base has really fallen off.

Phil Mackey wrote a piece Tuesday citing the plus-minus defensive metric I've used a few times as evidence of how poorly Plouffe is playing third base, and noted that his biggest problem is going to his right.

In Tuesday night's game, three balls went between Plouffe and the line. All were ruled hits, and one for sure I can't blame him for, but one in particular — the Brendan Ryan double that started the third inning rally — struck me as a playable ball. I think Plouffe's body language suggested he thought so also.

How Plouffe fares in what remains of the season matters as Terry Ryan and Co. draw up their plans for 2013. When he was hitting three homers a week, the Twins could live with the defense. Right now, he's not helping in either aspect.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A step in the right direction

Seattle's Eric Thames trots around
the bases after his eight-inning
home run, the only run Liam Hendriks
allowed — and one run too many.
Regular readers of this blog know that I believe in Liam Hendriks. To be precise, I believe in his minor league numbers, and believe that, given sufficient opportunity (and health) that he can be a competent major league starter.

He's not going to be Felix Hernandez. His talent isn't at that level. But he can become something resembling a Brad Radke.

The Twins have yanked him up and down this season, and to be fair to the team's decision makers, he hasn't done well at the major league level.

Monday night he did do well — nine innings of three-hit, one-run ball, with three walks and six strikeouts. It was easily the best performance of his major league career to date.

Unfortunately for the Aussie, he was pitted against Hernandez, and Hernandez was better than he was. Which he should be, because Hernandez IS better. There aren't many as good as King Felix, and nobody who is certainly better.

One start does not vindicate Hendriks, and holding Seattle to a single tally isn't like doing the same to the Yankees or Texas. But it's something to build on. And with the minor league seasons winding down, there's no reason for him not to get the rest of the major league season to try to establish himself.

The single greatest problem of the 2012 Twins has been the starting rotation, and with an 0-7 record in 10 starts, Hendriks has been part of the problem. With his 9-3, 2.20 record in Triple A this year, he might be part of the solution too. But they're only going to find out if they let him pitch.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pursuing a tangent: Trading Justin Morneau

Justin Morneau takes Saturday's home run around the bases.
The first baseman is hitting .322/.368/.517 since the
All-Star break.

Following up on the Monday print column, about last week's waiver-wire megadeal between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers:

Dylan Hernandez,  Dodgers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, reported in an offhand reference on Saturday that the trade came together after "after a failed attempt to land Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau last week."

Hernandez did not detail that "failed attempt," and an inquiry into an August deal for Morneau could easily have failed because Morneau didn't make it through waivers. (Waivers go by league first, so if, any American League team claimed Morneau, the Twins couldn't trade him to the Dodgers.) Or the Twins could have had no interest in trading the former MVP.

That latter might be a mistake. The Boston-L.A. trade came as a surprise to many because the Dodgers were willing to take on almost all of some very large contracts (not only Gonzalez but Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford) AND surrender two significantly talented but unestablished pitchers in Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster.

Such trades are increasingly rare. Usually teams will give up that caliber of prospect only if the trading partner picks up most of the contract obligation.

Morneau himself would have been far cheaper than Gonzalez. Morneau is getting $14 million this year and $14 million in 2013, the final year of his contract; Gonzalez won't pull in less than $21 million in any season through 2018. And that comparison doesn't include the poison pills of Crawford and Beckett, owed a total of $133 million on their contracts.

There are three potential reasons for the Twins to trade Morneau:

  • To free up payroll space;
  • To open a position for Chris Parmelee;
  • To upgrade pitching talent.

I suspected during the speculation leading to the trading deadline that any Morneau offers the Twins were getting met no more than two of those reasons, and perhaps only the second.

It's worth remembering that for most of July Morneau was hitting under .260 and had done almost nothing against left-handed pitching all season. Low-ball offers then were quite likely. (It's also worth remembering that Parmelee's assault on International League pitching this season wasn't quite as noteworthy as it appears today, partly because he had spent so much time sitting on the major league bench.)

Boil the issue down to this question: Would a trade of Morneau for Webster and de la Rosa fly?

I think the Dodgers would have done that last week; I think it would have made sense for the Twins as well. I also think the timing was wrong for it. Morneau's resurgence likely made it impossible to get him through waivers.

And I think that just because the Dodgers would have taken the contract and given the prospects doesn't mean other trading partners will do both. This could easily have been a unique opportunity.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pic of the Week

Felix Hernandez pitches before stands filled with
placards in his first start after his perfect game.

Looks like he's surrounded by swarms of bumblebees.

The Mariners have a special section dubbed "The King's Court" in honor of Hernandez; attendees at his starts in that section get discounted seats, yellow T-shirts and the placards. For his start of Wednesday, the entire stadium was dubbed "The Supreme Court," and everybody got the placards and shirts.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The ethics of throwing at hitters

Scott Diamond's reaction aside, he
really shouldn't have been surprised
that he was ejected Thursday night.
Scott Diamond was suspended Friday for six games for throwing Thursday at Texas star Josh Hamilton. Roy Oswalt, who started the whole rumpus by nailing Joe Mauer in the back, got nothing.

(I was away from any broadcast; my knowledge of the events is based on Twitter feeds and published reports.)

I am sure that both pitchers threw at their targets. Diamond and Oswalt are notable for their command. If Sam Deduno hits a batter, there's a pretty good chance it was an accident; if Diamond or Oswalt hit a man, odds are they hit their target.

Oswalt's explanation for hitting Mauer — that he was trying to get Mauer to bite at a pitch in off the strike zone on 3-0 — is an insult to the intelligence of his audience. Everybody in the league knows Mauer isn't swinging at a pitch out of the zone on 3-0. He only rarely swings at anything 3-0. (In his entire career, Mauer has had four official at-bats end at 3-0.)

On a 3-1 count, or 3-2, yeah, a pitcher might try that against Mauer. On 3-0, it's silly. Oswalt isn't that dumb. He's simply that disingenuous.

Diamond is getting suspended less for retaliating for the Mauer plunking as for how he retaliated — with a pitch somewhere in the noggin area. (I've seen it described as over Hamilton's head and behind his head.)

Odds are that, had Diamond drilled Hamilton in the rib cage, umpire Wally Bell would have then told both benches OK, you've had your shots, now end it. Bell almost certainly didn't warn the benches after Mauer was hit specifically to give the Twins a chance to retaliate. Diamond drew the ump's ire, and the suspension, for throwing above Hamilton's shoulders.

This wasn't particularly smart on Diamond's part, because his ejection forced the Twins to go into their bullpen early and hard, and that had ramifications for following games.

The suspension itself is relatively meaningless. Diamond immediately appealed the suspension, and I assume he will drop the appeal when the timing is right — as in when an off-day in the schedule means he'd have five days of rest anyhow. The Twins have said they want to limit Diamond's innings, so missing a start wouldn't be all that terrible a development anyway.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Finding two of the Target Field spruces

Two of the Target Field black spruce
I mentioned earlier in the week that I was headed to Itasca State Park for a few days.

I was deliberately vague on the subject in that post, but to put this post in context: My brothers and I spent every summer there while we were growing up. My father, the late Ben Thoma, was park naturalist from 1959 to 2004, when his health failed to the point that he had to abandon the position. My father died last October; this week marked my mother's first return to Itasca since 2004.

One of my personal goals was to hit the swimming beach, a favorite spot of my youth, one more time. This I did on Thursday afternoon, and in the process found two of the transplanted Target Field spruce trees.

This sign stands near the two spruce trees behind the
changing rooms at Itasca State Park.
You probably know the story: In 2010, the first year of Target Field, there were 14 spruce trees behind the centerfield fence and in front of the batters eye. This arrangement drew complaints from some of the hitters, and the trees were removed before the 2011 season. Ten of the 14 went to seven different state parks; Itasca, it turns out, got two of them.

It may be serendipity, or possibly somebody at the park remembered this (although I can't imagine who or how), but those trees stand now in a clearing where we locals used to play workup decades ago. Intentional or not, the trees are in a place that has a (very) slight baseball connection, and a stronger connection to this fan/blogger.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The ruins of a rotation plan

When the Twins this week outrighted Nick Blackburn to Triple A, removing him from the 40-man roster, it meant that the all five members of the projected rotation were gone.

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry," but the question rises: Were the Twins rotation plans all that well made to begin with?

Scott Baker is coming
off ligament replacement
surgery and will be a
free agent this winter.
Scott Baker was the first of the five to fall; he didn't make it out of spring training. He'd had elbow problems last year, didn't have surgery, couldn't muster his usual velocity in camp, had surgery -- and once the surgeon opened the elbow, he found more damage than expected, and performed Tommy John surgery.

Fairly or not, this fit an apparent pattern of missed diagnoses and undertreatment. We'll see this again.

Next out was Jason Marquis, signed in the winter to a one-year deal as a free agent. He was awful with the Twins -- 8.47 ERA in seven starts with more walks (14) than strikeouts (12), and the Twins released him. He signed with San Diego, and he's had an ERA of 4.04 in 15 starts with a BB/K ratio of 28/78.

Marquis seemed a curious addition at the time of his signing, and I never really viewed him as anything more than a pricey holding piece. Nobody should have expected him to be as bad as he was before the Twins dumped him; even with his competent numbers with the Padres, his overall numbers aren't all that good.

Carl Pavano went on the disabled list after 11 starts; his ERA was an even 6.00, and his velocity was missing from the time camp opened. He was moved to the 60-day disabled list (and off the 40 man roster) in late July, and his hopes of pitching again ended this month with a new diagnosis of a bruise on his humerus bone.

Francisco Liriano, the Twins big tease.
Pavano had been a durable workhorse for the Twins since they acquired him in 2009 despite a lengthy injury history. I can't fault the Twins for expecting another season of 200-plus innings from him, but ... all pitchers are injury risks by definition, and 36-year-old pitchers with marginal stuff are probably more vulerable than most.

What stands out, again, is how long this lingered. Pavano voiced some frustration this month that it took three months to find the problem.

Francisco Liriano was, again, Mr. Inconsistent. He had an excellent spring training, stunk in the early part of the season, spent some time in the bullpen, returned to the rotation, pitched better, got traded in late July.

He's done well with the White Sox. Good for him. I have to believe the Twins aren't going to be free-agent suitors for him. Counting on him in the past hasn't yielded much but headaches.

And finally, Blackburn. Those of us who believe in what the leading indicator stats say about pitchers knew when the Twins signed him to a four-year contract that it was a bad bet. And so it has proven.

The failure of any one of these five cannot really be called a surprise. They all carried their individual risk, be it injury histories or performance track records. That all five collapsed so utterly -- the lowest Minnesota ERA in the group was Liriano's 5.31 -- is.

One could reasonably have anticipated going into training camp that one, two, even three of these guys weren't going to succeed. All five? That seems extreme even for a confirmed pessimist.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The irrepressible Nick Punto

It begins to look as if Nick Punto, not Danny Valencia,
is the ex-Twin Bobby Valentine trusts at third base.
The Twins early this month traded Danny Valencia to Boston in a waiver deal. The Red Sox, with rookie Will Middlebrooks installed at third base, sent Valencia to Triple A Pawtucket.

He didn't stay there long. Middlebrooks broke his wrist, and Valencia was recalled. He made his Red Sox debut on Aug. 11 as a substitute. He started on Aug. 12; the 13th was an off day; he started again on the 14th.

And since then, almost nothing; indeed, Valencia made just one more appearance before being sent back to Pawtucket on Tuesday. Four games, nine plate appearances, one hit.

Know who's been playing third base for the Red Sox for the past week as they desperately try to resuscitate their playoff hopes? Nick Punto.

Yes indeed, the king of the headfirst slide, the longtime bane of the Twins Internet community, started four of the five games since the 14th (through Monday; he wasn't in the lineup Tuesday evening).

Will this last? I don't know, but I still find this intriguing.

Ron Gardenhire, Tony LaRussa, now Bobby Valentine. Three managers of some repute and accomplishment, and each, with a season in the balance, has at least once stuck Punto in his infield. Gardenhire, of course, did so at three different positions; LaRussa relied on Punto at second base during St. Louis' surprising run to the World Series title last October; and now Valentine seems intent on using the veteran at the hot corner.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Takin' a break (probably)

Posting may be sporadic at best the next few days.

I'm going to spend much of the week going to, being at and returning from Itasca State Park with my mother, and while I could go on and on about what that place means to our family, I'll spare you the nostalgia and sentimentality.

The bottom line is: I don't know that I can keep tabs on the Twins and baseball as obsessively as usual, and I probably shouldn't try. But habits die hard; I've missed one day of posting almost two years.

There should be a post Wednesday anyway; like this one, it was composed on Monday and timed for publication later (ideally it will be updated before it publishes). As for Thursday and Friday ... we'll see.

Late night: Twins 7, Oakland 2

Darin Mastroianni had two hits, two runs scored, two
RBIs, a stolen base, a sac fly, a sac bunt ... and a good game.
Box score here

Game story here

A good start from Brian Duensing, his best start this year and arguably his best since 2010: six innings, two runs, one earned, five hits, one walk ... and seven (!) strikeouts.

Replicate that a few times in these final weeks and he may keep himself in the rotation discussion for 2013.

Pedro Florimon had a perfect day at the plate: 3-for-3 with a walk and three runs scored. He's now hitting an even .500 through four games with the Twins (6-for-12).

Obviously, he's not that good a hitter. Nobody is. He has an extensive minor league track record that establishes that he's a weak hitter.

He's looked good in the field, by and large, although he had a sloppy throw Monday that resulted in the unearned run charged to Duensing. For a glove-first shortstop, that is probably a bigger minus than any of his hits were a plus.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Notes, quotes and comment

Nick Blackburn's
ERA since signing his
four-year contract:
Catching up on a baseball weekend:

Outrighted: The Twins on Monday outrighted both Nick Blackburn and Tsuyoshi Nishioka to Rochester.

This move takes both men off the 40-man roster. At this point, no corresponding 25-man roster move for Blackburn has been announced, although I suspect Liam Hendriks is the likely call-up; he could make the start on Wednesday that Blackburn had been scheduled for.

Nishioka was already in the minors on option; Blackburn had been optioned out earlier this summer. So the purpose in outrighting them was to take them off the 40 -- which serves two purposes.

First, it makes it possible to return (if and when healthy and ready) P.J. Walters and/or Carl Pavano from the 60-day DL, or to call up a minor leaguer not now on the 40.

Second, it signals that neither is in the plans for at least the remainder of 2012.

For 2013? Well, Blackburn and Nishioka are owed a total of some $8.5 million next year, or (easy math here) about 8.5 percent of the current payroll budget. That's a lot to walk away from. This move signals that it just might happen.

Curdled Melk: The Melky Cabrera suspension has turned into something more than our standard athletic-corruption story.

Turns out the surprise star and his cronies set up a fake website peddling a non-existent product in a failed attempt to establish that he had tested positive inadvertently.

Now federal investigators are involved. This one isn't going away anytime soon.

Affiliation preserved: The Twins and the Rochester Red Wings extended their working agreement for two years.

Keeping their Triple-A affiliation with the Wings was an under-the-radar priority for the organization this year. Mission accomplished.

With top affiliates Rochester and New Britain retained, the only expiring minor league affiliation left for the Twins is with low-A Beloit. Beloit is said to have the worst facilities in the Midwest League, and I don't think the Twins are adverse to shifting locales in this case.

Back in the cellar again: On Aug. 8, the Twins were in position to pull into a tie for third place in the AL Central. All they had to to was beat Cleveland.

They lost. And they've kept on losing -- they've dropped nine of 10 starting with that game. In those 10 games, the Twins have scored 33 runs and allowed 58.

Cleveland has been passed in the standings, but by Kansas City.

Day-to-day to the power of infinity: Denard Span last played Aug. 12, when he injured his collarbone/shoulder in an outfield tumble.

As of Sunday, he was still unable to take batting practice, so a return to action is nowhere in sight. Yet the Twins have not seen fit to put him on the disabled list. Assistant GM Rob Antony's rationale for this doesn't satisfy me.

More on the Strasburg Shutdown

The Nationals shut down Jordan Zimmermann
last season after 161.1 innings.
The Monday print column is about the Washington Nationals' intent to shut down Stephen Strasburg at some point in September.

Here I intend to follow some tangents, largely on the role of uber-agent Scott Boras, I passed over for the always-tight Monday newshole in sports:

* This innings limitation is not strictly a Nationals idea. It appears to be the new standard in Tommy John cases.  Consider the Twins and pitching prospect Kyle Gibson.

Gibson, like Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann (another young Nationals starter who was shut down after topping 160 innings in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery), returned to game action in mid-season roughly one year after having his ligament replaced.

The Twins have made it known that Gibson's innings next season — his first full season after the surgery — will be limited.

In short, the Twins appear to have the Strasburg/Zimmermann protocol in mind for Gibson's future.

* On Saturday we ran this Washington Post piece — a column by Mike Wise — in which Boras gets to depict himself as the power behind the throne of the Nationals.

I found it a fascinating piece, partly because it so echoed Boras' self-description last winter as a partner to the Detroit Tigers.

Boras does have a record of landing high-priced clients repeatedly with certain teams; I've tended to think of it more as a case of those front offices (or owners) being particular suckers for Boras' sales pitch.

The plan to shut down Stephen Strasburg
for the postseason — and perhaps the final
weeks of the regular season — is
hotly debated around the game.
As I said in the previous link, it's dangerous for a team to behave as if Boras is its ally. The Texas Rangers learned that the hard way, or at least its previous ownership did.

* Strasburg has been depicted throughout this controversy as opposed to a shutdown.

It's always useful in such cases to remember: The agent works for the player. It's never the other way around.

If Boras is pushing the Nationals to take it easy on Strasburg, it's a safe bet it's with Strasburg's approval. It may be Boras' idea that Strasburg shouldn't exceed 160 innings (or whatever the number is), but Strasburg is on board.

If he really wanted to push the envelope, he could publicly rebuke Boras, even fire him. He hasn't, and he won't. And, at least in this case, shouldn't.

* I find myself wondering what role the pitcher shutdown plan had in Jim Riggleman's decision last summer to quit as Washington manager.

The Nats had won 11 of 12 when Riggleman walked out on June 23, citing Mike Rizzo's refusal to talk contract extension. Now I wonder if the plan to limit Zimmermann's innings might have been part of the issue.

Riggleman was the manager who had the rookie Kerry Wood in 1998. In retrospect, he rode the kid hard that year, and it understandable. Riggleman was under pressure to win now, not to keep an eye on the long haul.

Still, Rizzo may well have seen Riggleman's track record as being exactly what he didn't want handling Strasburg and Zimmermann. And if Riggleman wasn't on board with limiting Zimmermann last year, Rizzo probably didn't mind seeing him leave.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pic of the Week

Torii Hunter on Wednesday inadvertently spiked umpire
Greg Gibson in the face while trying to score.
Hunter was out on the play; Gibson had to leave the game.

Twins fans with sufficient memory (and age) will recall a play in 2004 when Torii Hunter steamrolled White Sox catcher Jamie Burke at home plate.

This time it wasn't a catcher who got the worst of it, but the umpire.

Late night: Seattle 3, Twins 2

Don't give Phil Cuzzi too big a piece of your mind,
Gardy, you may need it later.
Game story here

Box score here

I love watching Scott Diamond pitch, and this was in many ways a typical Diamond start. He threw strikes (64 percent); he got ground balls (the MLB box score says nine GB outs, two fly ball outs); he didn't walk anybody. It feels like nitpicking to note the low strikeout tally (two), but the Ks matter.

Diamond entered the game with the lowest walk rate among qualifiers in the majors, 1.3 walks per nine innings. He lowered that slightly Saturday.

But Jason Vargas has a very similar start for Seattle. Both lefties threw 6.2 innings, both allowed nine baserunners, both had just two strikeouts. MLB says Vargas got 10 GB outs, four flyouts.

But Vargas kept the ball in the park; Diamond gave up a home run.

Ultimately, the game came down to Tyler Robertson, who continues to struggle as the Minnesota LOOGY. He came in for the ninth and gave up a single to leadoff man Michael Saunders (lefty); couldn't get the out on Brendan Ryan's bunt; and walked Dustin Ackley (lefty).

Two left-handed hitters and a right-hander who was trying to give away an out, and he got none of them.

As the Twins look toward 2013, that job is one that needs an upgrade from its current holder, whether by returning Brian Duesning to the role, finding a different performer or finding a way to make Robertson more effective.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Late night: Seattle 5, Twins 3

Shortstop Pedro Florimon went hitless in his first
game with the Twins, but he turned in some
nice defensive plays, including this catch in
the seventh inning.
Game story here

Box score here

Another brutal start from Nick Blackburn on Friday night: 5.1 innings, 11 hits (four for extra bases), five runs, one strikeout. Seattle's slugging percentage for the game off Blackburn: .703.

His ERA for the season is 7.39. One has to wonder how much longer this can go on.

My guess: Until September, when the rosters expand —and the likes of Liam Hendriks and P.J. Walters will be available to fill a rotation spot. At that point, if Blackburn hasn't shown signs of turning this around, it will be easy for Ron Gardenhire to push him aside for the rest of the year and look at other candidates for the 2013 rotation.

The thing is, Blackburn is certainly a candidate for the 2013 rotation — if only because he's going to be paid $5.5 million next season no matter what he does. The Twins would love to see him earn the money. I'm sure he would love to earn it too.

It just appears increasingly unlikely.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Matt Carson vs. Chris Parmelee

Matt Carson hit
.277/.339/.447 for
the Red Wings.
The Twins on Wednesday returned pitchers Jeff Manship and Luis Perdomo to Triple A Rochester. Manship's spot (long relief) will be filled by Anthony Swarzak, returning from a disabled list stint. Perdomo is to be replaced by outfielder Matt Carson, who is not yet on the 40-man roster, so another move is pending.

Bypassed was Chris Parmelee, who has been demolishing International League pitching in between stints rotting on the major league bench. And skipping him right now is the right thing to do.

Carson is the better fit for a bench role. As I see it, the Twins should only recall Parmelee if they intend to play him. If he's going to start once every five games or so, he -- and the organization -- will be much better served leaving him in Rochester.

It's better for Parmelee because he'll continue to get daily playing time.

It's better for the organization because the Twins really want to retain their affiliation with Rochester; because the Rochester ownership has made it obvious that the biggest issue they've had with the Twins is the quality of teams they've been putting on the field; and because the Red Wings are playing by far their best baseball in three seasons and are in the hunt for a playoff berth.

They've got a better chance to make the International League postseason if Parmelee is playing there than if he's sitting in Seattle this weekend. And Rochester is more likely to re-up with the Twins if the Red Wings make the postseason.

For that matter, this may be an overlooked benefit to returning Brian Dozier to Rochester.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Radio radio

The Twins made official on Wednesday what has been expected, literally, for years: The status of "radio flagship station" will be shifted from 1500ESPN (aka KSTP AM) to KTWN, an FM station that is owned by the Pohlads.

For those of us not in the metro area, this may not matter much. We're still going to tune in to a local Twins Radio Network affiliate. For me in Mankato, the only real difference is likely to come in March; the local affiliate, KTOE, typically ignores the weekday exhibition games. I've gotten a static-plagued KSTP signal on my car radio, so I occasionally hear some of the action, but generally not more than an inning or so at a time. There's no way KTWN's signal is reaching here.

I won't pretend to be an expert on the radio biz, but it would appear that the financial upside to this move, if any, is less for the baseball team and more for the radio station. The Twins have handled the production (and reaped the revenue) of the game coverage themselves during the six years or so that they've been on KSTP anyway; I would think that arrangement will continue.

The conventional wisdom for years on the subject of sports-on-the-radio is that even if the broadcasts themselves aren't profitable for the outlet, drawing the ears to the station gives them the opportunity to keep those ears for other programming. How well the Twins audience and the KTWN format (pop music) will mesh is not easily answered.

Baseball is said to have an aging demographic, but when I'm at Target Field, as I was Tuesday night, I see a lot of families and students -- and yes, some gray hairs as well. It's possible that this mix will take; it's possible that another change will come at some point in the future.

But I suspect if a change comes, it will be driven less by the baseball team than by the radio station.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

King Felix and the Melk Man: Perfect and Imperfect

A couple of significant news items in baseball Wednesday:

Felix Hernandez was perfect on Wednesday against the
Tampa Bay Rays.
Perfect: Seattle ace (and former Cy Young Award winner) Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game against Tampa Bay.

That makes three perfectos already this season (the other two belonging to Phil Humber and Matt Cain).

I offered some theories earlier this season on why we are seeing so many perfect games. The main one stands up for this game. Tampa Bay is a good team, but the lineup is built more for walks and power than for average. Such teams are susceptible to outstanding pitching performances, and King Felix provided that on Wednesday.

Humber and Cain, incidentally, have both struggled since their gems. Humber's ERA for the season is a bloated 5.87, 6.84 since the perfect game. Cain, a markedly superior pitcher to Humber, has had a 4.18 ERA in 10 starts since his perfect game, raising his ERA from 2.18 after the gem to 2.99 today.

Melky Cabrera and his All-Star MVP trophy.
Badly flawed: Melky Cabrera, the surprise MVP of the 2012 All-Star Game, was hit with a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

The Giants outfielder, hitting.346/.390/.516, essentially admitted that he did it and is not appealing the test result.

Cabrera was a so-so player for several years with the Yankees and Braves, but had a breakout season in 2011 with Kansas City. The Royals traded him to San Francisco for Jonathan Sanchez — a pitcher who flopped with K.C. — and Cabrera was having an even bigger season for the Giants.

Until now. Cabrera's suspension will last the rest of the regular season, and it's bound to have a major impact on San Francisco down the stretch. The Giants are neck-and-neck with the Dodgers in the NL West, but their most productive hitter this season is now finished.

Demoting Dozier

Brian Dozier will be turning double plays in Rochester
for at least the rest of the month.

The Monday print column this week — arguing that Brian Dozier should remain in the majors — hadn't yet hit the presses when I knew it was in trouble.

The game stories on Sunday focused on a questionable decision the rookie shortstop made in the 10th inning —when he took the easy, sure out at first rather than throw home to cut off the go-ahead run or to second to try for a double play.

Ron Gardenhire took pains to avoid publicly criticizing Dozier's decision-making process, but it was clear, reading between the lines, that the manager believed that the situation demanded Dozier try for the more difficult play. Taking the one out might have been the right move in the second inning, but not in the 10th.

Dozier didn't play Monday. And when I was filling out my scorecard at Target Field on Tuesday night and saw that Jamey Carroll was at shortstop for a second straight game, I knew it was not good for Dozier.

Pedro Florimon's
on-base percentage
in Triple A was
barely over .300.
Sure enough, after the game the Twins announced that Dozier was being optioned back to Triple A Rochester, where he opened 2012. Pedro Florimon, come on up.

Florimon, 25, is a good-field, no-hit shortstop who started the Triple A all-star game for the International League last month and won Baseball America's "Best Infield Arm" poll of league managers for its annual "Best Tools" issue. This won't be his major league debut; he had a small dose with the Orioles last year.

As I said in the column, Dozier hasn't had a good rookie season. He hasn't hit (.271 on-base percentage) and he leads AL shortstops in errors despite not playing in the majors until May 7. I think his defense has been better in recent weeks, but his hitting has not.

It's hardly an outrage that he's back in the minors. I don't know that Florimon is going to be an improvement in any aspect, but if the Twins believe that Dozier will benefit developmentally from a step down in competition, so be it. A marginal drop-off at shortstop isn't going to cost the Twins a playoff spot.

Gardenhire is believed by the beat writers to have wanted to keep Dozier, but if so he obviously lost out to the front office. This makes me wonder if service time is part of this decision. Sending Dozier down now will leave him about seven weeks shy of a full season (assuming that he is brought back when the rosters expand next month).

I doubt that's enough to push back Dozier's arbitration eligibility, but it opens that possibility a bit more. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

BABIP-ity Deduno

San Deduno on Monday walked five and struck out six.
He also won. Again.
Sam Deduno has made seven starts for the Twins. He has a 4-0 won-loss record with a 3.38 ERA, and the Twins have won six of his seven starts.

That's the good stuff. On the other hand, he's averaging less than six innings a start (40 innings) and he's walked more men (30) than he's struck out (28). You have to go a long ways back into baseball history to find effective pitchers with that kind of BB/K ratio.

He's gotten away with it because he's not giving up a lot of hits. On Monday, he yielded five hits in seven innings; he has yet to allow more than six in any of his starts.

His BABIP — Batting Average on Balls In Play — is .252, which is absurdly low. It has become a basic tenant of sabermetrics that pitchers have relatively little control over BABIP, that over time, pretty much every pitcher's BABIP will be around .300. (Randy Johnson, to pick on a hard-to-hit pitcher, had a career batting average allowed of .221, but a BABIP of .295.)

What pitchers can control: Walks, Strikeouts, Home Runs. Deduno is weak on the first, mediocre on the second, acceptable on the third. All of which suggests that his success will be short-lived.

If we're looking for reasons to believe, however, I'll offer this thought: Knuckleball pitchers tend to be an exception to the BABIP principle. (Tim Wakefield's career BABIP was .276, Charlie Hough's .253. These are guys with long enough careers that those numbers are no flukes.)

Deduno doesn't throw a knuckleball, but by all accounts his fastball acts like one — it moves in different directions and he doesn't know which way it's going when he throws it. As with a knuckleballer, his catchers are setting up in the middle of the plate and trying to react to the movement.

The Twins are desperate enough for starters that they will certainly keep giving Deduno chances to fail. Even if his success is sustainable — and that's hardly proven — he'll need to work deeper into games to be more than a rotation filler.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Span and the outfield alternatives

Denard Span did something to his shoulder diving for a ball Sunday, and the Minnesota center fielder/leadoff hitter is described as "day-to-day."

Which doesn't sound bad, until you remember that Trevor Plouffe was described as "day-to-day" for almost a week before he was finally put on the disabled list. He's been out three weeks now, and supposedly he's to reactivated today, although that's not official yet.

One difference in the Span and Plouffe cases: With Plouffe, the Twins had nobody they really wanted to call up to take his place. First they turned to Danny Valencia, who they then waived and traded to the Red Sox; then it was Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and we know how well that worked.

Plouffe is an infielder; Span an outfielder. And while the Twins don't have impressive infield prospect in the upper levels of the farm system, they do have a number of reasonable outfielders to pick from.

Start with Chris Parmelee. His best position is first base, but he has plenty of corner outfield experience. And he is absolutely raking in Triple A -- .351/.463/.661. He bashed two more home runs Sunday, giving him 11 in his last 17 games.

The only reason he's still in Rochester is that the Twins don't have a regular lineup spot available for him.

But if Span is out, then Ben Revere moves to center and Parmelee can play right.

Parmelee is so obviously the next in line that the serious discussion ends there. But there are a couple of outfielders in Double A New Britain -- Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia -- who deserve mention.

Hicks, a first-round pick in 2008 who had spluttered in the minors before this season, has had a breakout year. He's not on the 40-man roster now, but he has to be added this winter. Arcia, who is on the 40, is ripping through Eastern League pitching even more impressively than he did Florida State League pitching in the first half of the year.

I don't know that the Twins are eager to make room for either Hicks or Arcia yet; I'm not even sure how the Twins would use either or both if they get September callups, which would seem likely.

This is obviously grist for future columns and posts, but Hicks and Arcia (and Parmelee) provide the Twins, at the very least, with some tempting trade bait this winter.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pic of the Week

Willie Bloomquist of the Arizona Diamondbacks awaits
his at-bat Monday in Pittsburgh.

Ah, the color of a summer evening.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The myth of lineup protection

Prince Fielder is examined for signs
of a concussion after being hit
by a thrown ball while running
the bases.
Prince Fielder, as you know, switched teams and leagues this past offseason. He left Milwaukee, where he hit behind Ryan Braun, and signed with Detroit, where he hits behind Miguel Cabrera.

The two situations are similar. Fielder, an outstanding left-handed hitter, hitting behind a suberb right-handed hitter. And broadcasters will frequently talk about how Fielder "protects" the man ahead of him. The idea is that Fielder is so imposing that opposition hurlers have to throw strikes to Braun/Cabrera, and that in Fielder's absence, those strikes aren't coming.

Well ...

Braun this year, with Aramis Ramirez -- another right-handed hitter, a good hitter but no Fielder -- entered Friday's play hitting .309/.385/.585. This is basically what he's done throughout his career (.311/.372/.565), which had been spent entirely as Fielder's teammate until this season.

Milwaukee isn't as good a team without Fielder. But his departure has not made Braun a less productive hitter.

Cabrera this season has a slash line of .322/.383/.583. This, again, is basically a match for his career line (.317/.398/.568).

Braun and Cabrera are great hitters. They are great hitters with or without Fielder.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Notes, quotes and comment

The Tsuyoshi Nishioka farce will continue,  more or less.

Terry Ryan told the beat writers Thursday that Nishioka is staying despite the horror show he put on in Cleveland:

"He had a very difficult game yesterday and we all saw it but the only way to find out how he’ll respond up here is to play him."

Ryan went on to:

  • imply that Nishioka's status depends on Trevor Plouffe's availability; Ryan appears inclined to send Plouffe on a rehab assignment before activating him. (This would allow Plouffe to test the thumb under game conditions without restarting the disabled list clock if the thumb needs more time);
  • deny that Ron Gardenhire was under orders to play Nishioka;
  • insist that Nishioka got the call-up not because the Twins have so much invested in him as because he was the most logical player to fill the spot. (Sean Burroughs and Pedro Florimon were injured, and Eduardo Escobar, acquired in the Francisco Liriano trade, couldn't be recalled because he had been optioned out less than 10 days earlier and there was no injury involved.)

The beat writers have interpreted all this as: Nishioka's on the roster, but only until Plouffe returns, and he's not going to play. We'll see; that phrase about the only way to find out is to play him suggests something different to me. 


Baseball America has this piece about possible affiliation changes in Triple A, with the Rochester-Minnesota connection prominent.

In a nutshell: The Red Wings like the way the Twins deal with them but isn't happy with the teams they've been given in recent seasons. So they're keeping their options open.

Here's the fear for the Twins: Buffalo (now affiliated with the Mets) is expected to hook up with Toronto (which is now affiliated with Las Vegas). The Mets would doubtless rather shift to Rochester than Las Vegas, which has a number of drawbacks and may be the least attractive of all the Triple A affiliations.

Working in the Twins favor: The reason Buffalo is eager to cut ties with the Mets is that the Mets haven't provided winning teams, so Rochester isn't necessarily improving its chances of having a quality squad by changing affiliates. 

BA figures the Red Wings will stick with the Twins for two more years. And the Mets will wind up with Vegas.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A matter of credibility

Tsuyoshi Nishioka committing his error in the second
inning. He had two other misplays, neither of which was
ruled an error, but both of them adding to the evidence
that he's overmatched by major league ball.
The previous post was composed during Wednesday's game with the intent of publishing it overnight.  But as the game progressed and the tweets from the beat writers and the commentary from the broadcasters added up, I became convinced that overnight would be too late — that Tsuyoshi Nishioka would be deleted from the roster before the team got back to Minnesota. So I published soon after the final out and headed to work.

By the time I got there, it was apparent that Nishi wasn't an immediate goner after all. Ron Gardenhire declined to comment in any depth on Nishioka's problems after the game. Terry Ryan — this was one of the road trips Ryan did not make — declined via email to comment to the Star Tribune on Nishioka. Glen Perkins, bless his teammate-loving soul, defended Nishioka to the media.

And Nishioka was dashing off from Cleveland back to Rochester, N.Y., to gather his belongings to take to Minnesota. He's expecting to stick.


If Ryan, Gardenhire and Co. didn't discuss the Nishioka Follies on Wednesday, I'm sure they will today.

I don't know if they see this the way I do: It's a crisis. Playing Nishioka at this point undermines the organization's credibility. There are plenty of debatable decisions involved in shaping a roster and running the games, and those of us watching the games but not making the decisions can disagree with the decisions — but we can generally grasp the reasons behind those decisions.

This is the exception. This is the case when the decision is so inexplicable, so utterly and obviously wrong, as to defy rationalization.

I know: the Twins invested $14 million in Nishioka. That money's gone.  It was wasted, and acting differently isn't going to change that reality. The money is not a good reason to play Nishioka.

The money is not a good reason, but it is the closest thing to a reason. Nishioka was awful last year; he did nothing in Triple A to justify bringing him back; he was, if anything, worse in the Cleveland series.

Playing him at second base this weekend in Target Field will be an insult to the paying customers, and don't imagine that the insult will be overlooked. Anybody listening to Dick-n-Bert, or reading the tweets from Joe Christensen, John Shipley and Rhett Bollinger, knows that those observers were appalled by what they saw in Cleveland.

The Twins have spent the summer making an honest effort to get better after a terrible 2011 and a horrible first six weeks, and they've made genuine progress on that.

Nishioka's presence undermines that progress. He's got to go. The longer it takes management to figure that out, the worse this farce will be.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Pull the plug already

The Twins, by any measure, just completed a good road trip, winning three of four in Boston and two of three in Cleveland.

And I can't get past the utter incompetence displayed in the three Cleveland games by Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

By now you probably know how Nishi sabotaged the Twins on Wednesday afternoon -- a second inning error that let to two unearned runs, a sixth inning popup that he turned into a double, a high throw home that let a run score later in the inning. And he took another 0-fer making him 0-for-12 with a walk and a sac fly.

But hey, he hit a line drive, and he managed to turn a double play pivot without breaking his leg.

I have no wish to turn this blog into a Nishioka watch. I'd rather think, and write, about other issues and questions about the Twins. But the decision to bring him up and jam him into the lineup has moved the focus from everything else. He does not belong in the major leagues, and it has become painfully obvious.

This isn't on him anymore. It's on the Twins.

A few days ago, Thomas Boswell, the veteran baseball writer for the Washington Post, recounted an exchange he had years back with Earl Weaver, the Hall-of-Fame manager of the Orioles. Boswell wanted to know how long Weaver was going to stick with a struggling relief pitcher. Weaver's response: Until the general manager gets tired of watching him lose games.

It's your move, Terry Ryan. Make it.

Two days of Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Tsuyoshi Nishioka started a double play on this
first-inning ground ball Tuesday night.
The best I can say about the return of Tsuyoshi Nishioka is that the Twins are undefeated with him in the lineup. This says more about the Cleveland Indians at this point in the season than it does about Nishioka.

Nishioka went 0-for-8 with a walk and a sac fly in the two games. He committed two errors in the first game, started a pair of double plays in the second. I don't believe he's had to turn a double play as the pivot man yet.

It's two games, but ... I don't see any real reason to believe that Nishioka belongs in the major leagues. If he does, it's not apparent in his Triple A stats, and it hasn't shown in these first two games.

And it certainly didn't show at any point last season, which is the real reason his call-up has sparked so much outrage on talk radio and the Internet.

The loudmouths of radio, blogs and Twitter are not necessarily representative of the people sitting in the seats, but I don't expect Nishioka to be warmly welcomed by the paying customers at Target Field when the Twins open their next homestand later this week.

I continue to believe that he's up because the organization is preparing to pull the plug on him. Call it a final piece of due diligence, or perhaps the vain hope that he'll do something well enough to entice somebody else to take his contract off the Twins hands. (Ain't gonna happen.)

Ron Gardenhire said when Nishi returned that he was going to play. The manager also said that this was no three-day call-up, that somebody else would be sent out when Trevor Plouffe is reactivated after the road trip.

Maybe so. But I don't know what else Gardy would say. And if somebody else is sent out so that Nishioka can remain in the lineup, I won't be happy about it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A different team from April

Ben Revere opened the season as a
backup outfielder; then he was demoted to
Triple A. Now he's the regular right fielder.
On May 15, the Twins were 10-26. They had played a brutal early schedule, one loaded with the power teams of the American League -- they had series against the Yankees, the Rangers, the Angels, the Red Sox and the Rays -- and they did not fare well.

Monday's thumping of Cleveland lifted the Twins to 48-61, giving them a record since May 15 of 38-35. That's not a pennant-winning percentage, but it's definitely not embarrassing.

Part of the improved record, without a doubt, is the softer schedule over those last 73 games. Part of it, also, is how different the Twins today are from the team that broke spring training.

The only survivor of the opening rotation is also the least effective of the current one (Nick Blackburn). Francisco Liriano, Carlo Pavano, Liam Hendriks and Jason Marquis have given way to the Four Ds -- Scott Diamond, Brian Duensing, Cole DeVries and Sam Deduno.

Six positions in the lineup have been changed; only Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Denard Span are playing the same positions and filling the same roles as they were in April. The entire infield is different.

April's infield: Chris Parmelee at first base (with Mauer getting considerable time); Alexi Casilla at second; Danny Valencia at third; Jamey Carroll at short.

The reshuffled infield, by and large: Justin Morneau at first, Carroll at second, Trevor Plouffe at third, Brian Dozier at short.

Right field has gone from a jumble of Ben Revere, Plouffe, Clete Thomas, Ryan Doumit and Eric Komatsu to a steady diet of Revere.

It is tempting to say the Twins made too many wrong calls in forming the initial roster. But that looks too simple.

In March, the Twins were concerned that the added exertion of playing the field might raise the risk of concussion symptoms for Morneau. That led to the decision to open with Parmelee on the roster and led to the downsized role for Revere.

Dozier impressed many during camp, but he probably benefited from a few weeks in the International League. Even so, he has not had a seamless transition to the American League. I doubt the Twins would have been noticeably better in April with Dozier in the lineup.

The Twins went with their veterans in the rotation, only one of whom was new (Marquis) and switched them out as they failed and/or got hurt. That wasn't a spring training decision; that was an off-season decision.

It's a different team now; it's a better team. That doesn't mean they messed up in the spring.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Danny departs, Nishi returns

Danny Valencia:
Major league averages
went from .311 to
.246 to .198.
Just before game time Sunday Minnesota traded Danny Valencia to Boston for minor league outfielder Jeremias Pineda. During the game the Twins announced that Tsuyoshi Nishioka was being recalled from Triple A to fill Valencia's spot on the 25-man roster.

Start with the new guy. Pineda, a switch-hitter, has a .421 batting average in the Gulf Coast League this year. That's good. The bad news is, he's old for the entry-level league at 21. I'll regard him as a marginal prospect until he does something at higher levels. Hitting .400 gives him the opportunity to move up.

It's not a shocker that the Twins moved Valencia. After an impressive rookie season in 2010, he regressed in 2011 and was awful this season. Trevor Plouffe has clearly moved ahead of him at third base, and Miguel Sano is on his way sooner or later. Valencia doesn't figure in the Twins' long-term or short-term plans, so they used him to buy a Pineda lottery ticket.

I'm not sure why Boston put in a claim on Valencia. He doesn't figure be a threat to Will Middlebrooks' job, and he lacks the kind of statistical markers that appeal to the usually stat-savvy Red Sox. Perhaps they just felt the need to plug a hole at their Triple-A affiliate, to which they immediately assigned Valencia.

Tsuyoshi Nishoka
hit .245/.309/.301
in Rochester this year,
Valencia was back in the majors for the past week-plus filling in for the injured Plouffe, even though he hadn't done much in Triple A to warrant his return. There's not much in his minor league stats to suggest Nishioka has merited a return either.

Which makes me wonder if this is a one-last-look thing. The Twins having been paying Nishioka $3 million to play in Rochester, and they are on the hook for another year of that salary. If Nishioka doesn't give Ron Gardenhire reason to want to keep him around (or another team reason to want to assume his contract), the logical options are to either release him or work out some sort of buyout to send him back to Japan.

The Twins aren't going to cost themselves a playoff berth by taking a fresh look at Nishioka now. As a prelude to eating the rest of his contract and moving on, it makes sense.

Trading Valencia opened a spot on the 40-man roster. We'll see what if anything the Twins do with that vacancy. They do have two starting pitchers, Carl Pavano and P.J. Walters, currently on the 60-day DL and thus not on the 40, beginning rehab assignments. Reactiving either will require spots on the 40.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pic of the Week

Umpire Tony Randozzo tries to pick himself up during
a Blue Jays-Mariners game Monday in Seattle.

Ump down! Ump down!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Minor league health matters

Four Twins prospects of some prominence are either in or out ...

RHP Alex Wimmers, first round pick in the 2010 draft, had Tommy John surgery on Thursday. He'd been sidelined for much of the season with what had been described as an elbow strain, and had thrown just five innings all year.

This is essentially the second straight wasted season in his development, and next season now promises to be a third. When the Twins drafted him (21st overall), he was reasonably expected to be a quick rise to the majors. For a team in need of starting pitching, his problems have really hurt.

Wimmers' case may have reverberations beyond the pitching staff. General manager Terry Ryan was widely described last week as irritated by the lengthy delay in reaching a diagnosis. I continue to expect, at some point, a shakeup in the organization's medical and/or training staffs.

Lester Oliveros had
a brief major league
call-up this season.
RHP Lester Oliveros, acquired almost a year ago when the Twins sent Delmon Young to Detroit, is out of the remainder of the season to having bone chips removed from his elbow. This is not as significant a surgery as Wimmers', and I would expect Oliveros to be a contender for a bullpen job in 2013.

When the Twins tabbed Luis Perdomo to fill a bullpen spot last month, a commenter wondered what the move implied for a handful of pitchers who, unlike Perdomo, were already on the 40-man roster. In Oliveros' case, the answer is now obvious: He was hurt.

Oliveros was having a good season, split between Double A and Triple A.

In better news ...

RHP Kyle Gibson, having made seven appearances for the complex team at  Fort Myers, is going to start moving up the ladder. Gibson had his Tommy John surgery almost a year ago and is described as throwing better than he has at any time in the Twins system.

Gibson was the Twins first-round pick in 2009 (22nd overall), and, as with Wimmers, his health problems have mattered on the big-league level..

2B/OF Eddie Rosario, sidelined earlier this summer when a line drive hit him in the face during batting practice, is back with Low A Beloit.

I wonder if, absent the injury, he would have gotten a promotion to High A Fort Myers. The hitting numbers -- .307/.371/.496 -- on their own merit a promotion. But my guess is that the organization would have kept him at Beloit on the basis that staying at one level would ease his transition from outfielder to second base.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Contemplating Sam Deduno

Sam Deduno reacts as left fielder Ryan Doumit makes
a catch to end the sixth inning Thursday in Boston.
Results matter. Wins, losses, runs allowed, runs scored, runs denied. The outcomes are the point of the games.

How one gets those results matter too, because the process is predictive.

Sam Deduno threw six shutout innings Thursday evening in Fenway Park. He is now 3-0 with a 2.48 ERA.

And he's doing it all wrong.

On Thursday, Deduno allowed just two hits. He also walked four and struck out just one. In his five major league starts, a total of just 29 innings -- yes, he's averaging less than six innings per start despite that gaudy ERA -- he has walked 20, struck out 19. More walks than strikeouts.

This is not sustainable. No pitcher can maintain that low an ERA while walking more men than he strikes out. No pitcher can maintain that kind of ERA walking more than six men per nine innings.

And the problem for Deduno is that this is who he is. This is why he's a 29-year-old who has kicked around the minors for eight seasons. His minor league walk rate for his career is 5.1 BB/9.

The walk rate by itself tells us that he's not exactly pounding the strike zone. By my calculations, Deduno has thrown 492 pitches for the Twins. Just 288 of them have been strikes (called, swinging, fouled off, put in play), while 204 have been called balls: roughly 58 percent strikes, 41 percent balls (rounding error). In contrast, Scott Diamond has thrown 66 percent strikes.

The buzz phrase has been "effectively wild." That can work for an individual game, for a month's worth of starts. It's not the basis for sustained success.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Notes, quotes and comment

Quick, without looking it up: Which current Twins player is an Olympic medalist?


Robin Ventura is having a good first season as manager.
The Chicago White Sox left Target Field on Wednesday having won the series — and in first place in the American League Central.

Not a bad season so far for a team whose general manager at one point during the winter used the word "rebuilding" to describe its status and his approach.

There is credit to be spread around, and some of it should go to Robin Ventura, the truly rookie manager of the Pale Hose.

Ventura's selection to succeed Ozzie Guillen raised eyebrows because he had not managed a team on any level. Nor had he been a coach. A successful player, absolutely— Ventura may be the best third baseman in franchise history — but making such a man the dugout boss without an intervening training period has long been regarded as a discredited approach.

I'm not aware of any specific change in on-field strategy or tactics between Guillen and Ventura. There is, however, an obvious difference in public persona. Ventura projects a aura of quiet professionalism. There is nothing quiet about Guillen.


Manny Acta and the Cleveland Indians have seen
enough of Derek Lowe.
While the White Sox doggedly remain atop the standings, the Cleveland Indians are rapidly fading. And on Wednesday they designated Derek Lowe and his 5.52 ERA for assignment.

Lowe is 39, and this may well be the end of his road; his strikeout rate this year is almost half his career norm, and his walk rate is nearly a career high.

Not many pitchers have led the league (in different seasons) in wins, saves and losses. Lowe has.

Lowe also holds this distinction: In 2004, he was the winning pitcher for the Red Sox in all three postseason series — Game Three of the division series against the Angels, Game Seven of the ALCS against the Yankees, Game Four of the World Series against St. Louis.


Answer to the Olympian question above: Brian Duensing, who pitched for Team USA in the Beijing Games in 2008. The Americans won the bronze medal in those games, the last with baseball or softball in the mix.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Twins quiet on deadline day

Francisco Liriano in his White Sox debut.
The nonwaiver trading deadline passed at 3 p.m. CDT with nothing more done by the Twins.

Terry Ryan is taking some criticism for not following Saturday night's trade of Francisco Liriano with the purging of more veterans, but I'm fine with Tuesday's inaction.

Things may well have been different were Carl Pavano and/or Matt Capps sound, but they're both on the disabled list. (It's permissible to trade a player on the disabled list, but it doesn't happen often.) Pavano is a free agent after the season, and Capps can be if the Twins don't exercise their option. They fit in the "move 'em or lose 'em" category; Ryan would have been a motivated seller, as he was with Liriano.

It's a different story with the Twins who were rumored to be involved in trade talks at the deadline -- Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Jared Burton, Glen Perkins. These guys are all under team control through 2013 at least. As long as the Twins are comfortable with the payroll space those guys eat up, Ryan didn't have to move any of them now.

Ryan's been pretty vocal about what he wants in a trade: Top-end pitching prospects with which he can reconstruct the rotation. Those guys, with one exception, weren't getting moved at the deadline. The Tigers did send Jacob Turner to Miami in the Anibel Sanchez/Omar Infante trade; I really doubt Detroit would have sent Turner (the No. 9 overall pick in 2009) to a division rival. And Jim Callis of Baseball America says Turner's status has faded.

Ryan is right to hold out for what this organization clearly needs. No need to create new holes in the roster if you're not fixing the roster's biggest problem.