Monday, June 26, 2017

Contemplating Buddy Boshers

Pretty good weekend for the Twins in Cleveland. They swept the defending AL champs and returned, nattowly, to first place in the Central Division.

And give a lot of the credit to the oft-criticized and oft-battered bullpen. The Twins allowed just two runs in the three games despite getting just 15.2 innings from the starters. The bullpen worked four innings in Friday's shutout (Tyler Duffey two, Taylor Rogers one, Brandon Kintzler one); 4.1 in Saturday's win (Duffey 1.1, Matt Belisle 0.2, Rogers 1.1, Trevor Hildenberger one) and three Sunday (Buddy Boshers two, Kintlzer one).

Broken down like that, we see the usual pattern in use. Paul Molitor used each of his three most-trusted bullpen arms (Duffey, Rogers, Kintlzer) twice. He even used Duffey in back-to-back games, which is not part of the usual pattern. Molitor tried again to get crucial outs from the veteran Belisle, and Belisle gave up the one run the bullpen yielded all series.

Having gotten 10 outs from Duffey (and seven from Rogers) in the first two games of the series, Molitor pretty much had to find somebody else Sunday for the bridge role. That somebody was Buddy Boshers.

And that went quite well. Two innings, no hits, one base runner (a disputed HBP), one strikeout.

It was Boshers' 11th outing for the Twins this year, and his first in a game they ultimately won. (He does have one hold, which came in a game in which Belisle and Craig Breslow combined for a nine-run meltdown after Boshers threw a scoreless inning.) Sunday wasn't a hold, because the Twins had a four-run lead when he entered, but Boshers definitely got the job done. His ERA is down to 2.50.

The Greg McMichael Rule comes into play: Get outs and they'll find a role for you. (Greg McMichael was a pitcher with the Atlanta Braves during the height of the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz era who was a minor league free agent in spring training and the closer by the second half of the season.) Boshers has gotten outs, and a bigger role is clearly available.

But ...

The pitching staff's revolving door is about to spin some more, with Hector Santiago coming off the DL for Tuesday's start in Boston and perhaps the return of Phil Hughes. The Twins had nine guys in the bullpen in Cleveland, and three of them (Breslow, Adam Busenitz and Dillon Gee) didn't pitch. I would expect Gee to be "piggy backed" with Santiago on Tuesday; I certainly don't expect the Twins to try to demote him before pitching him.

Belisle and Breslow can't be optioned out; clearing them off the major league roster means waiving them. So the bullpen options for clearing roster space for Santiago and/or Hughes would seem to be Busenitz, Hildenberger or Boshers. We'll toss starter Aldaberto Mejia into that mix as well, even though he has the third best ERA of the nine men who've started.

It's a bit of a puzzle. The Twins signed Belisle and Breslow with an eye to leavening the inexpeience on this pitching staff. They haven't been very good, but they are difficult to move. I don't think the Twins will option out Boshers to make room for Santiago or Hughes, but it's hardly impossible. One good outing doesn't make his job safe.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pic of the Week

Trevor Plouffe celebrates a homer on Wednesday.

I had post a bit more than a week ago about former Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe being designated for assignment by Oakland. He was quickly traded to Tampa Bay, and on Wednesday hit his first homer as a Ray.

My wife, when I told her about Plouffe joining the Rays, said something about how I would still get to make puns off his name. I replied: Yes, his career hasn't gone plouffe.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Wimmers and Melotakis

As noted in Friday morning's post, the Twins needed to clear room that day on their 40-man roster to make room of Dillon Gee and Trevor Hildenberger. They did so by designating for assignment two minor leaguers who were high draft picks.

Alex Wimmers (first round, 2010) wasn't a great shock. He's bounced up and down between the big league club and Triple A the past two seasons. He was viewed when the Twins took him with the 21st overall pick out of Ohio State as a prototypical Twins strikethrower, but he's been anything but as a pro. He had enough trauma early in his minor league career that simply making it to the majors was an accomplishment, but that he was a failed first-round pick was evident years ago.

Mason Melotakis (second round, 2012), was a surprise. He's left-handed, for one thing; for another, his stats are superior to Wimmers'. He had a 2.42 ERA at Double A Chattanooga (26 innings, 31 strikeouts); then he was promoted to Triple A and had two scoreless outings.

And now he's bounced from the 40-man roster? What gives?




From Berardino's story:

.... Melotakis saw his velocity sit in the 89-90 mph range at Triple-A Rochester, where he recorded five outs without allowing a run. In the past, Melotakis had consistently run his fastball into the mid-90s ...
This is one of those times when I remind myself that the front office knows more about these guys than I do. A few weeks ago I was mildly surprised when the Twins chose to promote Randy Rosario, another lefty relief prospect, to the majors instead of Melotakis. That may have been an indication that Melotakis' stock had declined.

It will be interesting to see what happens regarding Melotakis in the next few days. The stat line says there should be other organizations eager to pick him up. The scouting reports may give a different recommendation.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Chris Gimenez, Nik Turley and more pitching moves

Thurday's rain delay was apparently the longest in Twins history -- five hours -- and it sure didn't take long for the Twins to suspect that they should have just postponed it.

It was still the first inning when I sent this tweet:




And sure enough, the Twins backup catcher pitched the ninth inning, his sixth pitching appearance of the season.

There was a lot of chatter leading up to the draft about two-way players, and the question arises: At what point to we consider Gimenez a two-way player? My answer is: When his pitching is not limited to the ninth inning of blowout losses.

That said, Gimenez has now pitched five innings with a 7.20 ERA this season. The Twins have used 25 pitchers (and counting; two new names, Dillon Gee and Trevor Hildenberger, are being called up). Six of them have worse ERAs than Gimenez and eight have fewer appearances.

---

Nik Turley is one of the six and of the eight (ERA 16.39 in three games, all starts, total of 9.1 innings). The Twins merely optioned him out rather than designating him for assignment Thursday, but the Twins need to make space on the 40-man roster today for both Gee and Hildenberger, and DFAing Turley is an obvious possibility.

I feel for the guy. He was a 50th round draft pick, spent a decade in minors, finally gets to the show and gets three starts, every one of which goes poorly, every one worse than the one preceeding it.

Indeed, he may be the least effective pitcher in Twins history, although I'm not sure how to weigh ERA vs. opportunity. For example: Randy Rosario has an ERA of 30.86, but Turley has seven more innings and two decisions.

Having written that, I looked up Steve Carlton's Twins record. The no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer pitched 53.2 innings for the Twins at the end of his marvelous career with an 8.54 ERA, going 1-6 in 1987-88. Andy MacPhail and Tom Kelly gave him a lot of rope.

---

As for the new guys: Gee was signed to a minor league deal earlier this week, and presumably he's going to take Turley's rotation berth, although I wouldn't care to wager that he's ready to go deep into his first start. As I said when he signed, I don't expect much.

Hildenberger is a sidearming right-handed reliever who has shot up the minor league system, posting some ridiculous ERAs in the process. Last season he had a combined 0.75 at two levels (high A and Double A). That is not a typo: Zero point seven five. This year's ERA is a more normal 2.05 with 35 strikeouts in 30.1 innings at Triple A. That K-rate is roughly what he's posted consistently.

No velocity; if he threw hard he would have been up earlier. I don't know how his style is going to fare in the majors and particularly against lefties, but


  • he's been getting outs in the minors and
  • the Twins are in no position to ignore that.


He calls to mind Anthony Slama. another funky righty who never got a real chance with the Twins despite some overwhelming minor league numbers. Slama had some bad timing with injuries, but at the core of his lack of opportunites was a belief that his minor league success was based on minor league hitters chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Slama always walked more guys than Hildenberger has, though.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Minnesota in Puerto Rico


The games will be April 17-18 and are offically both home games for the Twins. I had figured that they'd be split as home games for Cleveland and Minnesota, but once again I thought wrong. 

At least it figures to be a bit warmer there in April than at Target Field. (Or at the Cleveland stadium, for that matter.)

The last MLB games in San Juan were in 2010. In the early 2000s there were quite a few games played there; the Expos, as wards of the league, at one point split their home schedule between Montreal and San Juan.

With the island on the verge of bankruptcy, it's highly unlikely MLB is exploring San Juan as a team location. This is more likely about growing the game's appeal among Puerto Rico's youth, which really shouldn't be necessary. Puerto Rico has long produced outstanding talent. But that talent started drying up when MLB subjected the island's residents to the draft. This removed the incentive for MLB teams to invest in developing the kids; why spend the money when somebody else can then benefit from it? 

There are three Puerto Rican natives on the Twins roster: Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario and Kennys Vargas; Hector Santiago, who is from New Jersey, also played for PR during the World Baseball Classic. Cleveland has the biggest star from the island of the two teams in shortstop Francisco Lindor. 
 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Phil Hughes, reliever

Intriguing:




Hughes has been a reliever before -- he spent much of 2009 as a set-up man to Mariano Rivera as the Yankees won the World Series -- but he hasn't made more than a couple of relief apperances in any season since.

The idea is that shorter stints will avoid the tingling sensation in his fingers, an echo of the symptoms that led to last year's thoratic outlet syndrome surgery.

Hughes as a reliever isn't what Terry Ryan (or Hughes) had in mind when Hughes signed his contract extension after his outstanding 2014 season, but if he has the usual uptick in velocity in the bullpen role, Hughes as a reliever might solve one of the pitching staff's issues. A reliable right-handed short man would ease Paul Molitor's burden.

He (and the also rehabbing Hector Santiago) are to pitch today for Rochester. Per Berardino, the idea is that this weekend Hughes will try pitching in back-to-back games. Back-to-back outings in rehab assignments are typically a trigger to bring the pitcher off the disabled list, so it's possible that Hughes will be back next week. Santiago was reportedly reluctant to go on a rehab assignment at all, preferring to simply return to the rotation, so it's possible Santiago will be back next week. Getting both back on the mound can't hurt.

Meanwhile, the Twins have signed Dillon Gee to a minor league deal. Gee has had some success in a major league rotation, but not lately; the Rangers cut him loose earlier this year after he gave up four homers in 13 innings. I'm not counting on much, but he may be an upgrade on Adam Wilk.



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Cleaning up roster moves from the weekend: Alex Wimmers came and went; he was the 26th man for the Saturday doubleheader, pitched in the first game (ineffectively) and returned to Rochester.

Adam Wilk, who started that game (ineffectively) was designated for assignment immediately afterward and Alan Busenitz added to both the 40- and 25-man rosters.

I saw some Twitter chatter ascribing the selection of Wilk to start the opener of the doubleheader as a passive-aggressive move by Paul Molitor aimed at the front office. Not at all. He needed an additional starter for the double header; they gave him Wilk. And Wilk started the first game so they could cut him between games and add Busenitz.

For better or worse -- and it's been most worse, for certain -- guys like Wilk, Nick Tepesch and Nik Turley are the Plan C arms for the rotation. With Trevor May, Hector Santiago and Phil Hughes all sidelined, the Twins worked through their first line of reserve starters. The Plan B guys -- Jose Berrios and Aldaberto Mejia -- have been good (Berrios) or mostly usable (Mejia). That third line, though ...

---

Speaking of Santiago and Hughes, both are expected to go on a rehab assignment this week. And Glen Perkins is apparently about to pitch in games for the Fort Myers Miracle, with reports that his velocity has ticked up in recent sessions (although still considerably below his pre-injury norms).

---

It didn't take long for Trevor Plouffe to land a new job; the Tampa Bay Rays picked him up Saturday, and he made his debut Monday night at DH.

The Rays have Evan Longoria at third base, and even though Longo isn't having a stellar season, nobody should see Plouffe as a challenger for that job. He'll probably get some time at first and DH with an emphasis on facing left-handed pitchers.

---
The Twins signed their top two draft picks, Royce Lewis and Brant Rooker, over the weekend. One thing for the bonus pool system: Players aren't holding out into August and essentially losing out on the minor league season.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Not in first place anymore

The Twins held a two-game lead in the AL Central when I started writing the Monday print column. They were two games behind the Cleveland Indians by the time it actually ran.

In retrospect, I should have been more explicit about something implied in that column: the current Twins are actually thinner in trustworthy pitching than the 1987 champs to whom I compared them, because the current Twins trustworthy pitchers won't pitch as much as their 1987 counterparts.

Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola combined for more than 500 innings in 1987; that is more than a third of the team total. Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios won't come close to 500 innings this year, and they have combined to pitch less than a fourth of the innings so far.

The three relievers on the '87 champs Tom Kelly relied on all season -- Jeff Reardon, Juan Berenguer and Keith Atherton -- combined to pitch more than 271 innings. The three relievers Paul Molitor trusts at this point -- Brandon Kintzler, Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers -- won't to get to that level either, although Berenguer's month or so in the rotation makes that less than a perfect comparison.

Molitor has the same number of reliable pitchers as Kelly did. But he uses them less often, which means he has to get more innings out of the unreliable pitchers. That's not conducive to contention,

That showed in the weekend debacle against the Cleveland Indians. True, neither Santana nor Berrios got  a start in that series. The Tribe's ace, Corey Kluber, also didn't pitch. Both teams had to dip into their minor leagues for a starter in Saturday's doubleheader. Cleveland's fill-ins were better. (Suprise,)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pic of the Week

Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, chaplain of the U.S. House
of Representatives leads both teams in prayer before
Thursday's annual congressional baseball game, 

It's quite possible that until this week you didn't know that there was such a thing as an annual congressional baseball game.

I was aware of it back in the early 1970s for some reason -- aware, among other things, that the Republicans at the time had a pretty good winning streak going on in large part because Rep. Wilmer Mizell, R-N.C., was better known as "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, who pitched nine years in the majors and was the No. 3 starter on the 1960 World Series champion Pirates. Ol' Vinegar Bend wasn't up to major league standards a decade or so later, but he still had too much for the Democrats to hit.

Thursday's game followed the Wednesday atrocity on a ball field in the Washington suburbs in which a prominent congressman and others were shot. It is well and good that the game was played as scheduled, even with heavy hearts.

And it is worth noticing that the crowd at Nationals Park, home yard of the capital city's major league squad, beat the audiences at a number of major league games that day -- including the game at Target Field.

Of course, nobody went to the Washington game to see a high level of baseball skill.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Still more pitching shuffles

Nik Turley fared ill Friday night, and with a double header on tap today some pitching changes are afoot.

While the Twins didn't announce specifics Friday night, the word was that three new arms would be on hand for the twin dip: Adam Wilk to start Game 1, Alex Wimmers as the 26th man for the doubleheader. and Alan Busenitz as the next relief experiment.

The Twins outrighted Chris Heston on Friday, which created one spot on the 40. Another will be needed to get both Wilk and Buzenitz on the 40 today. And then somebodies have to be moved off the 25 man roster for them as well.

Wilk and Wimmers are presumably short-term additions. Busenitz may not be. He was a throw-in last summer in the Hector Santiago-for-Ricky Nolasco deal, and he's been impressive so far for Triple A Rochester.

The Twins are short of reliable bullpen arms (and reliable starters, but that's another matter). I won't guarantee Busenitz is one, but he's more likely than Wimmers to be a useful fireman.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ex-Twin watch: Trevor Plouffe

Trevor Plouffe has not fared well at the plate for Oakland,
and the last-place Athletics are going to play prize prospect
Matt Chapman at third.
Trevor Plouffe celebrated -- if that's the verb -- his 31st birthday Thursday by getting designated for assignment by the Oakland Athletics.

Happy Birthday, Trevor. By the way, you're fired.

Plouffe signed a one-year deal worth $5.25 million with Oakland fairly late in the winter after he was cut loose by the Twins early in the offseason. He hit a dismal .214/.276/.357 with Oakland, and the A's decided to call up a prospect and cut bait with the veteran.

I would expect that Plouffe will clear waivers and accept free agency, whereupon he'll probably sign pretty quickly with somebody (Boston has been mentioned) in need of a third baseman. He'll come cheap -- pro-rated major league minimum, with the A's paying the rest of his contract.

But he hasn't hit for a couple of years, and his defense at third base has slipped. The rule of thumb is that half the 30-year-old players in the majors will be out of the majors in two years, and the ones who go are the ones who fail to hit (relative to their position, of course). Plouffe is looking for his third team in about seven months; assuming he finds one, he'd better hit, or he may not find a fourth.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Draft, Day three: And done

I wondered in the Wednesday post if the Twins had one more overslot draft pick in their plan. Miek Berardino of the Pioneer Press answered that quickly:




"Org guys" being baseball lingo for "players signed so the real prospects have enough teammates to make up a team."

The next step is crucial: Getting all 11 of the players drafted in the first 10 rounds signed to the expected deals. It appears that at least six of the selections are expected to take underslot deals, but the Twins can't afford to have somebody renege on that, a la Kyle Cody. The Twins picked Cody in the second round in 2015, and he opted to return to the University of Kentucky for his senior season instead.

Losing out on Cody wasn't a disaster. Cody wound up going in the sixth round last year, so he probably cost himself a lot of money, and his minor league numbers in the Rangers system are underwhelming. Plus the Twins got the 74th pick in the 2016 draft (prep outfielder Akil Baddoo) to compensate. (Baddoo is apparently waiting for the Appy League season to begin.)

But failing to sign Cody meant the Twins had the slot value of that pick deleted from their draft pool. That was relatively unimportant under Terry Ryan, because the Twins weren't trying to game the bonus pool system. This year they are. So failing to sign a high pick, even one they expect to sign under slot, will damage their entire draft.

---

The Twins had 41 picks in total and used 21 of them on pitchers., including 15 on the final day. Thirty-one of their picks were collegians. They won't sign a lot of them, of course. Failure to sign picks after Round 10 don't count against the pool.

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Some minor league roster stuff to update: The Twins retained Drew Rucinski and Nick Tepesch, the two right-handers they recently designated for assignment. But they released Kevin Chapman, the lefty reliever they got from Atlanta for Danny Santana.

And amid all the draft stuff I hadn't noted that Ryan Pressly is back on the major league team, with Alex Wimmers shipped back to Rochester. Dick-n-Bert see Pressly as key to this bullpen, and he does have more of a power reliever's profile than anybody else out there, but really: even last year, his supposed breakout season, he wasn't that good.

The Twins do need a reliable righty to pair with Taylor Rogers in late innings to bridge between the starter/Tyler Duffey and closer Brandon Kintzler. I'm far from convinced Pressly is, or ever was, or will be, that reliable righty.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Draft, Day two: Going over and under (slot)

On the first day of the 2017 draft, the Twins selected frugally with their three picks. All are expected to sign for figures significantly "under slot".

That changed on Tuesday's second day with the first pick of the third round.




Enlow, as Bollinger writes, was ranked No. 29 in the draft class by MLB.com, which would have put him at the bottom of the first round. The 18-year-old from Louisiana was signed to LSU. It took late first-round money to land him, and the underslot picks ahead of him helped make that possible.

The Twins also took three college seniors with their last three selections. With no remaining eligibility and thus a lack of negotiating leverage, they are likely to sign for a fraction of their allotment of the bonus pool, although the savings won't be as great as they were from Monday.

Here's Bollinger's recap of the Twins' Day Two selections. They are heavy on college pitchers, with far less of the power-arm reliever type that the organization has been picking in recent years, although one of the seniors is a bullpen arm.

One more day lies ahead, with picks outside the bonus pool. I don't know if the Twins have enough saved to make another splash in these lower rounds, but we can figure they have a good idea.

---

I deemed Monday's Twins game a "the less said the better" affair, so I'll apply the same to Tuesday's 20-6 thrashing of Seattle. Nice days for the Eds of the roster, with Eddie Rosario hitting three homers and Eduardo Escobar going 5-for-6. A lot of batting averages got fattened up in that one.

But Kyle Gibson's ERA is now 6.79 after 11 starts. He's 4-0 in five starts since his return from the minors, but his ERA in that span is 5.46. and he has only one quality start. He's certainly not fixed yet.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Draft, Day one: Twins roll with Royce (Lewis)

Royce Lewis plays third base in 2016 for
Jserra Catholic High School.
I didn't, obviously, see that one coming.

I wrote eight posts that were sufficiently draft-related that I tagged it with "2017 draft." I wrote two Monday print columns, including this week's, about the draft. Never did I mention Royce Lewis, who wound up Monday night as the Twins' selection as a top overall pick.

The basic idea -- selecting somebody who would sign for considerably less than slot to save money for later picks -- I foresaw. My error was in seeing MacKenzie Gore, left-handed prep pitcher, as that somebody. As it turned out, the Padres had Gore as their favored fall back from local prospect Hunter Greene at No. 3, and that limited the incentive for Gore to cut a deal.

Both Gore and Lewis are said to be "advised" by Scott Boras, and Boras probably figured that if the Twins took Brendan McKay, Kyle Wright or Greene first that Lewis would fall to fifth or lower.

Lewis was pretty consistently seen as the best prep position player prospect. He's "toolsy," with speed and power, and played both shortstop and outfield in high school (a private school in San Juan Capistrano in southern California).

The Twins say they think Lewis can stick at shortstop; that is not a universal assessment, and it may be tested pretty early, since he and Wander Javier, a Dominican who beat Miguel Sano's Twins bonus record, figure to be at roughly the same level. Only one of them can play short at a time.

The Twins apparently saw the top players in this draft class as essentially equal; they drafted the one who would sign for the least. That is a fairly common strategy so far in the (short) bonus pool era, which (despite the Hunter Greene hype) hasn't truly featured a "generational" prospect.

---

I had expected that the Twins would take local product Sam Carlson of Burnsville if the right-hander reached them at picks 35 and 37. He did, and they didn't.

No. 35 was Brent Rooker, an outfielder from Mississippi State who dominated the difficult SEC as a hitter. The Twins drafted him last year as a redshirt sophomore but didn't sign him. Obviously they still wanted him. He's probably limited to left field or first base defensively, and he's likely to be old for the first league he's assigned to.

No. 37 was Landon Leach, a right-handed pitcher from a high school in Ontario. Presumably the Twins like him more than Carlson.

The Twins have the first pick today when the draft resumes with the third round.

---

The less said about Monday's Twins game, the better. The Twins optioned out Chris Heston to reinstate Jorge Polanco from the bereavement list and probably regretted that decision before the game was over, as Adalberto Mejia didn't get through four innings.

The Twins have a doubleheader coming before they have another off day, and they burned through a lot of relievers on Monday, so they'll be going back to 13 pitchers soon. And unless its to replace somebody going on the disabled list, it won't be Heston.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

The Twins ended their essentially successful West Coast marathon (6-4) with another dud of a bullpen performance on Sunday.

I wrote a lot last week about Matt Belisle specifically and the thinness of the bullpen in general -- pretty much every post from Monday through Saturday dealt with the relief corps -- so it was probably fitting that Belisle had a central role in Sunday's late inning collapse.

Belisle's ERA for the season now stands at 8.59, with almost all the damage coming in four appearances. He always figured to be an ill fit for a high-leverage role, but I don't know who else Paul Molitor can use in those situations with the current bullpen without wrecking Tyler Duffey and Brandon Kintzler with overuse. There are just too many mop-up type arms on this staff.

---

The draft begins tonight. I devoted the Monday print column to my thoughts on who and what the the Twins should do with the first overall pick. With, of course, the disclaimer that the Twins know a lot more about this than I do.

I don't expect the Twins to follow my "recommendation," and I certainly won't criticize them when they don't.

One thing I didn't get to in a slightly longer than usual column: Sports Illustrated did nobody any favors by putting Hunter Greene on its cover a few weeks ago. The people who cover the scouting and prospect world for a living say the consensus is that Greene is a lesser prospect than a couple of high school righties from the previous two draft classes.

What makes Greene unique is that he's a viable first-round pick as both a pitcher and a shortstop. But I can't imagine that anybody is going to let him throw a few dozen high-velocity fastballs on Tuesday and play shortstop on Wednesday. He's going to do one or the other.

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Catching up on the Twins roster moves: Randy Rosario was indeed shipped back to the minors (to Triple-A Rochester rather than Double A Chattanooga, from whence he was called up) to make room for Nik Turley, the Sunday starter, on the 25-man roster, To make room on the 40-man roster, Dan Rucinski was designated for assignment.

Turley wasn't great Sunday -- four innings, eight hits, four runs -- but he didn't walk anybody and struck out four and threw 46 strikes in his 73 pitches. I expect he'll get more starts; Phil Hughes hasn't thrown since going on the DL, so he's not close to returning, and Hector Santiago doesn't have a timeline to return either.

Jorge Polanco is to rejoin the team from his breavement leave today, so another move is coming.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Pic of the Week

Johnny Cueto's pitch is frozen in mid air.
I've used similar photos before for this feature. But even if this is duplicative of an earlier Pic of the Week, there's something irresistible about the sight of a ball so perfectly frozen and focused that you can count the stitches and read the printing.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Pretty impressive game for Ervin Santana on Friday night in San Francisco: A 91-pitch complete game shutout (a "Maddux") plus three RBIs on a "double." A single, certainly, but Denard Span dove for, came up short and knocked it away from himself and right fielder Hunter Pence.

If Span were as good a defensive center fielder as some in Minnesota seem to think he is, he catches that ball. Byron Buxton probably catches that ball. But Span is 33, his defensive metrics are in decline, and he didn't get there.

Twins fans have been blessed with some truly great defensive centerfielders over the past 30-plus years -- Kirby Puckett, Torii Hunter, Buxton, Carlos Gomez. Span, even at his best, was never in their class.

---

Paul Molitor said after the game that Nik Turley will get Sunday's start, filling in for Hector Santiago, who went on the disabled list after his Tuesday start.

Turley is a left-handed refugee of indy ball who entered the pros as a 50th-round draft pick back in 2008. The draft doesn't go that long anymore. He spent years in the Yankee system, then a year in the Giants organization. He split 2016 between a Red Sox farm club and an independent team.

He's 27 and didn't even get an invite to major league camp this spring, but he has put up a combined 2.05 ERA between AA Chattanooga and AAA Rochester (52.2 innings) this year. Perhaps more impressive, he's struck out 84 men in those 52.2 innings with just 15 walks.

I don't know what to expect from him. His stats for this year say he deserves the opportunity. His track record over the previous nine years doesn't necessarily agree.

---

No corresponding move has been made yet; my assumption is that Randy Rosario will be demoted, but that remains to be seen. The Twins won't bring Jorge Polanco off the bereavement list until they return to Minnesota after the weekend; the shortstop is in his native Dominican after the death of his grandfather. Kennys Vargas is back with the team for now. So there are roster moves ahead.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Contemplating Matt Belisle

Tyler Duffey got seven outs on Wednesday, so he wasn't going to be used Thursday short of another 15-inning marathon. That meant that, when Paul Molitor needed a reliever in the seventh inning Thursday, the manager had to step out of his bullpen comfort zone, which is to go Duffey-Taylor Rogers-Brandon Kintzler.

Matt Belisle entered, faced three hitters, got three outs (and his 10th hold). Then came Rogers and Kintzler.

Belisle has surrendered 17 earned runs in 20.1 innings, a decidedly sour 7.52 ERA. Dick Bremer talked about how a "couple" of bad outings wrecked his ERA, probably for the season, and indeed it's been a handful of disasters -- five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning on April 26, six earned runs in one-third of an inning on May 7, three earned runs in one-third of an inning on May 29. That's 14 earned runs in 1.1 innings, which means he allowed three runs in the other 19 -- a 1.42 ERA.

Belisle, who turned 37 on June 6, is a nursery rhyme reliever. When he's good he's very very good, but when he's bad he is horrid.

He's pitched in back-to-back games four times this year, and twice has gone six days between outings. Duffey, in comparison, has gone back-to-back only twice and has only once gone even five days without work. Eighteen of Belisle's 24 outings have come in the eighth inning; Duffey has come in after the seventh only once, in the notorious 15-inning loss on May 28 that is an outlier in a lot of ways.

As I've noted before, Molitor seems to like using Duffey two innings at a time, which limits his availability. Belisle has gone more than one inning just once, in that 15-inning game on May 28. The most recent of his disaster outings came the next day, and I suspect that Molitor may reasonably discount that game in gauging his confidence in Belisle.

I have tended to view the Twins bullpen as three guys Molitor trusts and four (or five) he doesn't, but Belisle may be a fourth that Molitor trusts, just in a different way than he trusts Duffey. Duffey gets longer outings; Belisle gets later ones.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Another pitching staff shuffle

Another series of roster moves Wednesday for the Twins, none of which involved Randy Rosario:

  • Right-handed pitcher Nick Tepesch, who had been on the Triple A disabled list but occupied a spot on the 40-man roster, was released.
  • Left-handed pitcher Hector Santiago was placed on the 10-day disabled list and was to return to the Twin Cities to have his throwing shoulder examined. This opened a spot on the 25-man roster.
  • Right-handed pitcher Chris Heston was claimed on waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He inherits Tepesch's spot on the 40 and Santiago's spot on the 25 (and presumably Santiago's rotation berth, although I don't know how stretched out he is).

Heston never actually pitched for the Dodgers; they claimed him on waivers from Seattle on May 26 and almost immediately tried to get him through waivers themselves. He did make one three-inning appearance for their Triple A club.

All I really know about Heston is that he spent the 2015 season in the San Francisco rotation, making 31 starts and throwing 177-plus innings with a 12-11 record and 4.15 ERA but also including a no-hitter (June 9 against the Mets in New York). He's 29 and has six major league appearances total the past two seasons.

I'm not counting on much from him. Remember, the Dodgers just picked up Jason Wheeler from the Twins; presumably the Dodgers prefer Wheeler to Heston, and the Twins just jettisoned Wheeler. We are, again, dealing with marginal pitchers.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Rethinking Randy Rosario

Randy Rosario's promotion to the majors was warmly greeted in this corner of the internet. It was also warmly greeted, it appears, by American League hitters.

Rosario's ERA after his outing Tuesday (0.1 inning, 4 hits, 5 runs) is 30.86. The decimal is not misplaced.

Despite Bert Blyleven's commentary, Rosario's fastball-slider combo is adequate for relief work. That's what Glen Perkins threw in his glory days; changeup not required.

The problem is less what Rosario throws than where he throws it. On Tuesday night in Seattle, he had no command. Perkins the All-Star threw quality strikes; Rosario is not there yet.

It won't be a surprise if Rosario gets shipped back to the minors soon. Doing so may be a reflexive reaction, but so is pulling your hand from a hot stove. On the other hand, what's the alternative? A fourth call-up for Drew Rucinski? I'll pass on that.

I'd still rather see somebody with Rosario's talent struggle in the majors than somebody with lesser talent struggle in the majors. One question is what best helps the major league team; I'm not sure replacing Rosario with a body from Triple A does that. The other is what best develops Rosario. He's certainly getting more of a challenge in the majors than he has in Double A.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

You gotta know when to hold 'em

The hold is an unofficial stat designed more than 20 years ago by STATS Inc. to be for set-up men what the save is for closers. (I believe part of the motivation was a now-defunct fantasy game STATS offered at the time.)

The hold shares many of the same flaws as the save, but has one significant difference: managers don't run their bullpens to maximize holds the way they do saves. But like the save, the hold is completely subject to managerial discretion. I look at the figure less as to evaluate the pitcher and more to evaluate the manager. Which pitchers in his bullpen (other than the closer) does the skipper entrust with leads?

This is particularly of interest with the 2017 Twins, because Paul Molitor came into the season talking about not having standardized roles in his bullpen. In truth, Brandon Kintzler is closing. But there does seem to be a good bit of flux between the starters and Kintzler.

Here's everybody (other than Chris Gimenez) to have pitched in relief for the 2017 Twins and their holds:

Taylor Rogers, 13 (and 1 "blown save", or lost lead)
Matt Belisle, 9 (1 lost lead)
Tyler Duffey, 4 (0 lost leads)
Ryan Pressly, 4 (0 lost leads)
Craig Breslow, 0 (one lost lead)
Kintzler, 0 (15 saves, 2 lost leads)
Justin Haley, 0 (1 save, 0 lost leads)
Michael Tonkin, 0 (0 lost leads)
Buddy Boshers, 0 (0 lost leads)
Adam Wilk, 0 (0 lost leads)
Randy Rosario, 0 (0 lost leads)
Alex Wimmers, 0 (0 lost leads)
Drew Rucinski, 0 (0 lost leads)
Jason Wheeler, 0 (0 lost leads)

Kinda striking, isn't it? Haley's save was the almost obsolete three-inning type in a blowout and Breslow's blown save came during that disasterous series against the Astros when the bullpen disintegrated,  In reality, for all the shuffling of bodies in the Twins bullpen, Molitor has used only five guys to protect leads, and one of them has been demoted.

That Matt Belisle is, by this measure, one of Molitor's more trusted late relievers is ... startling.




Monday, June 5, 2017

The bullpen and facing Pujols

It worked, but I really didn't like very much about how Paul Molitor handled the Twins bullpen in the eighth inning Sunday.

Jose Berrios gave the Twins six innings and got a 3-2 lead to the seventh inning. Tyler Duffey entered and threw a 1-2-3 inning, turning the Angels lineup over.

Duffey has frequently worked two innings at a time, and I expected that to be the case again Sunday. But those two-inning outings are generally the sixth and seventh, not seventh and eighth, and the Angels had left-handed hitting Kole Calhoun leading off the eighth and another left-handed hitter, Luis Valbuena, scheduled third.

So Molitor brought in Taylor Rogers, his favored lefty reliever. I didn't care for this move, in part because Calhoun had already homered off Rogers (and off fellow lefty Adalberto Mejia) in the series, and in part because Duffey is just a better pitcher than Rogers.

But Molitor went for the platoon advantage. Rogers fell behind Calhoun and walked him. Then Rogers got Yunel Escobar to ground into a force out.

And here came Albert Pujols to pinch hit for Valbuena. And Molitor went to the pen for Matt Belisle.

Again, I didn't care for this move. The basic truth is, Pujols in 2017 should not scare an opposing manager. I know that's sacrilegious, but as I said in the Monday print column, Pujols at age 37 is a shadow of his greatness. And he is doing almost nothing against left-handers (slash line vs. southpaws .186/.255/.302).

Rogers hasn't allowed a homer to a righty this year. Belisle is averaging a home run allowed every six innings. If you looked for the matchup in the Twins bullpen most favorable to Pujols, Belisle is probably the pick. I wouldn't have had Rogers in the game to start with, but once in I wouldn't have pulled him for anybody by Brandon Kintzler.

So, naturally, Pujols hit the second pitch he saw on the ground to third for an easy double play (he has bad feet and can't run).  Kintzler got the ninth and did his thing, and the Twins won.

As I view that inning, Molitor steadily deceased the competence of the pitcher and worked unfavorable matchups. He used four relievers in the game, and the two best relievers faced the weakest hitters, while the two weakest bullpenners faced the middle of the Angels lineup (with Mike Trout injured, that's not saying much, but Calhoun/Escobar/Valbuena/Pujols are still better than the other stiffs).

I didn't like any of it. But it worked.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pic of the Week

Former Twin Ben Revere jumps for joy as Albert Pujols
heads toward first base after hitting his 600th career homer.

This is the second time this year I've used a photo of Albert Pujols as the Pic of the Week, The first time I commented on his inflated RBI numbers a couple weeks into the season.

Pujol's RBI numbers are still big. His grand slam Saturday night off the Twins' Ervin Santana -- career homer No. 600, a stupendous achievement -- gave him 42 RBIs on the season in 51 games.

He's hitting better with men on base now than he was in April, but not so well that you'd expect him to get 120 or so ribbies. Pujols is still having the least productive season at the plate of his magnificent career.

He's compiling the RBIs anyway because almost half his plate appearances come with men on base.

And that is largely the result of hitting behind Mike Trout.

Not that Trout, sidelined by thumb surgery, had anything to do with Saturday's RBIs.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Goodbye, Jason Wheeler




The Dodgers then optioned Wheeler to Triple A, so he at least remains on their 40-man roster and readily available for recall. Considering the lengthy injury history of much of their rotation, that's a very real possibility.

It's unclear if the Dodgers officially claimed him on waivers or if they offered the Twins a bit extra to jump the line. If they see Wheeler as a legitimately major-league ready back-of-the-rotation starter and an upgrade on their rotation depth, I can see them deciding not to risk having a lesser team land him on waivers. And the Twins might as well take a little extra in exchange once they know Wheeler will be claimed.

Either way, the lefty is gone from the Twins organization, and good luck to him.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Contemplating Ryan Pressly

There were few givens for the Twins bullpen coming into spring training. Ryan Pressly was one.

He threw hard, he had an outstanding curve, he had elevated his strikeouts per nine innings sharply and lowered his walk rate, he had climbed the bullpen heirarchy to become Paul Molitor's second most trusted reliever.

Today Pressly's dragging his 9.50 ERA back to Triple A.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily on Thursday posted this analysis of Pressly's failure. Quick summary: Too many fastballs early in counts and when behind, not enough use of his best pitch, the curveball.

I noted in my previous post that there are positive markers in Pressly's stat line. Specifically, this year he has struck out 11.5 men per nine innings, 3.5 above his previous career high. But his walk rate is also higher, and nobody's going to succeed throwing 2.5 homers every nine innings.

I have referred often to what I call "the Greg McMichael rule" of pitching: If you get outs, they'll find a role for you. Pressly arguably found himself in a role -- late inning shutdown reliever -- that he wasn't ready for. He entered this season with a 3.55 career ERA and a 3.70 FIP. His 2016 season, his "breakthrough" year, was a 3.70 ERA and 3.74 FIP.

Those are not the results one sees from eighth-inning guys in quality bullpens. They are middle-relief numbers, if that. Pressly acceded to the eighth-inning role last year because nobody else was doing any better, not because he had truly earned it.

And now he has to re-earn a lesser role.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A reliever with upside

Another game against the Houston Astros, another bullpen meltdown, and another round of musical chairs on the roster.

But there's a subtle difference in the moves this time.

Gone are Ryan Pressly (optioned) and Jason Wheeler (designated for assignment). Pressly's struggles -- he carries a 9.50 ERA to Rochester -- probably deserve a deeper examination than I care to attempt this morning. He was expected to be a key piece of the bullpen this year, and he undoubtably failed, and yet there are some markers in his 2017 stats that are actually positive.

Randy Rosario has
a 2.66 ERA in
Double A Chattanooga
this season.
As for Wheeler -- I doubt anybody's going to claim him on waivers. But he's been outrighted before, and as I understand the rules, he'll have the right to take free agency rather than report to Rochester if he clears waivers. I doubt the Twins are worried about losing him.

Added to the battered bullpen corps are Alex Wimmers and Randy Rosario. Wimmers we saw last year;  he is, like Drew Rucinski and Matt Belisle and Buddy Boshers and Wheeler and seemingly everybody the Twins have cycled through their bullpen this season, a replacement level arm best suited to mop-up duties. He's not a solution.

Randy Rosario (no relation to outfielder Eddie Rosario)  is different. R. Rosario is -- finally --  one of the higher octane arms the Twins have been hoarding in their farm system. Left-handed, turned 23 about two weeks ago, survivor of Tommy John surgery. I saw him pitch in Cedar Rapids in 2015 and posted this report. The Twins moved him to the bullpen late last summer after trying to develop him as a started.

He has all of 14 games above A ball on his resume, and I presume that the Twins were reluctant to expose him to the majors with so little experience. But unlike Wimmers -- or Rucinski and the rest of the recycles -- there's an obvious out pitch in Rosario, there's some velocity, there's the makings of swing-and-miss stuff.

I won't guarantee it will work any better with Rosario than with the others, but it might. And at least it's something different. I would have expected Mason Melotakis over Rosario on the basis of experience, but I'm not complaining.