|Brian Dozier's home run tear this week — four homers|
in five games — gives him seven on the year, while
Justin Morneau has just three long balls.
Instead, Ron Gardenhire gave Clete Thomas several games in that lineup position. Thomas didn't remind anybody of Shannon Stewart, much less Rickey Henderson, but he was more productive there than anybody else the Twins had deployed.
And then the Twins saw three straight left-handed pitchers — Chris Sale on Wednesday, John Danks on Thursday, Scott Kazmir on Friday — and the right-handed hitting Dozier was back atop the lineup, with the left-handed hitting Thomas dropping down to the eighth slot.
This is justifiable strictly on the general platoon rule. We're talking here about two marginal hitters. That Dozier entered Friday's game hitting .293/.388/.463 against lefties this year is nice but immaterial; those split stats came in a mere 50 plate appearances against southpaws.
Dozier homered in each of those three games, and it will be interesting to see if Gardenhire keeps him in the leadoff slot as the Twins start to see some right-handed pitchers again. Gardenhire has never been particularly interested in seeking the platoon advantage with his hitters (pitchers are another matter). I'd advocate getting Thomas the extra at-bats against right-handed starters; Gardenhire's habitual preference for a set lineup suggests Dozier will lead off for a while.
For what it's worth — which isn't much — Thomas has been a more productive hitter against lefties than righties over his major league time. It's not enough at-bats to establish that he's an exception to the platoon rule.
The Jose Valverde experiment ended Friday when the Detroit Tigers designated him for assignment. I never really understood what the big idea there was; Valverde went from unwanted to closer to unwanted again, with no intermediate stops.
Some 25 years ago, Jim Leyland won a string of divisional titles in Pittsburgh without a designated closer. Since then, he's become far more conventional in his bullpen use. Perhaps he's come to equate the October failings of those good Pirate teams — they never reached the World Series — with the lack of a closer.
Anyway, Leyland indicated Thursday that Joaquin Benoit was his closer, kinda sorta:
"I'm not naming anybody closer. I'm just saying if Benoit was available right now, I would try to close with him."
I'm not sure why Leyland's hesitant to anoint Benoit, but it's worth noting that Benoit (who's 35 years old, same age as Valverde, which just astounds me) has pitched on back-to-back days just four times this year and has yet to work three days running. The reference in the above quote to the pitcher's availability may be significant.
Another possibility is that the manager is hoping for a trade for a established closer. Or even former Twin Jesse Crain, a notion floated this week by the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers. Rogers generates a lot of trade ideas that don't go anywhere, but trading Crain makes a certain amount of sense for the White Sox; this is the last year of his contract with the Sox, and the Sox certainly aren't going anywhere with him.