Friday, April 30, 2010

Derailed by the D-Train

Generally, one game doesn't mean all that much. But it's possible that Thursday's will loom large as the one that signified that Dontrelle Willis (above) is back on track.

The D-Train worked six shutout innings, walking just two, fanning six and allowing a mere four hits, all singles. He wiped out two of the baserunners with ground-ball double plays and a third with a strikeout-caught stealing DP.

He threw 101 pitches, 57 of them for strikes. Not a great percentage, but workable.

One game doesn't mean he's back to his Florida Marlins form — he has, for the season, walked 10 and struck out nine in 18 innings — but he certainly wasn't the train wreck he's been since joining the Tigers two-plus years ago.

Other notes:

  • Carl Pavano pitched well, but his inability to hold runners burned him. The stolen base in the first inning, coupled with reserve catcher Drew Butera's poor throw, resulted in the first Detroit run. Young Butera would do well to realize: If slothful Magglio Ordonez can steal off Pavano, there's no point in throwing on Austin Jackson.
  • Dan Gladden, in a rambling monologue on the evils of pitch counts and newspapers, called Jim Leyland "Sparky Anderson" and Justin Verlander "Jim Leyland." I was hoping he'd have cause to drag old Sparky back into his rant and call him "Verlander" just to complete the circle, but the inning didn't last long enough.
  • Then there's to good part of Gladden as a broadcaster, the concise, often sarcastic encapsulation of a player. Like his take on Ordonez: "He doesn't like to chase fly balls."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dissecting a meltdown

Shades of 2008 — the Twins take a sizable early lead, the starting pitcher falters, and a string of middle relievers provide no relief at all.

And yet, as I look back at it, I don't blame Ron Gardenhire on any of his moves. (Even though Gardy was officially out of the game during much of the horrendous sixth inning, I assume he was pulling the strings through his Scott Ullger puppet. If not, Ullger did what I would expect Gardenhire to do.)

Fifth inning: Scott Baker had given up four runs in the fourth inning. When his first pitch of the fifth was socked for a double, Gardenhire pulled him for rookie Alex Burnett to face the bottom of the Tigers order. It worked — grounder, strikeout, grounder.

Sixth inning: Burnett opens by getting the no. 9 hitter to pop up. Leadoff man Austin Jackson gets an infield single. Decision time: The Twins lead 6-5. The three most dangerous hitters in the Detroit lineup are coming up. Burnett is pitching well, but do you really want him facing Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera?

Gardy makes the obvious move. In comes his LOOGY, Ron Mahay, to face Damon. It's obvious because (1) this is the guy to use Mahay against and (2) if things go well, it's the only time to use Mahay. By the time Damon comes up again, it will be closer time.

Maybe Denard Span caught Damon's deep fly, maybe he didn't. I have no problem with Paul Emmel's call; Gardenhire has enough trouble with it to get ejected. Now there are two men in scoring position and one out.

Judging by the gamer from the Star Tribune's Joe Christensen, the Twins are dwelling on the call. Say Span hangs on to the ball, Damon's out and Jackson's still at first. Is Mahay going to face Ordonez? Not a chance. No matter what happened with Damon, Mahay is in and out. And the bulk of the disaster is still to come.

In comes Pat Neshek (photo above). He throws one strike in eight pitches. One. Walks Ordonez to load the bases, hits Cabrera to force in the tying run.

Neshek is a logical — the logical — choice for that spot. Ordonez hates to face him. But Neshek was so wild that one has to wonder if his finger is still an issue. (He says no.) And so wild that he has to be replaced.

In comes Jesse Crain. Four pitches, three doubles. He was throwing fastball strikes, and the Tigers liked it. After that he got eight straight outs, but the damage was long done.

One plus from this: Burnett continues to impress. For a variety of reasons, mostly dealing with contractual and roster status, he's unlikely to spend the full season in the majors, but he's got a real chance to be an impact reliever.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Young brothers

Delmon Young is a thinner man this spring — some 30 pounds lighter than he was last season — and he is clearly running better as a result. He had a game-preserving catch last weekend in Kansas City on which the consensus was that the 2009 Young wouldn't have made.

There have been conflicting reports of how the weight came off — improved lifestyle or illness — but it's difficult to believe one can lose 30 pounds through illness and keep it off for months without other changes. Young showed up at Twins Fest in February markedly trimmer, and he's still trim. Bravo to him.

His older brother Dmitri battled excess weight (and other demons — drugs, alcohol, a domestic violence charge) during his playing days. It's easy to forget Dmitri, because he spent his career on forgettable teams, but he was a quality hitter right up to the end. Even at age 34, in his final season, bloated up to (a listed) 298 pounds and troubled by uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes, he hit .280 with an OPB of .394.

I came across this update on the elder Young's life this morning. He made, clearly, a lot of mistakes in his playing days; let us hope that he — and his younger brother — have learned from them.

The Detroit dropsies

Typical Twins, 2010 style: Keep putting men on base, and eventually some of them are going to score.

Typical Francisco Liriano, 2010 style: Eight more shutout innings. A dominant start. The sample size keeps growing. Now to keep him healthy ...

Typical Detroit Tigers, 2010: Both Twins runs were unearned. The Tigers lead the American League in errors.

Typical AL schedule, 2010: The Tigers ended a brutal road trip with a red-eye flight after a night game on getaway day in Texas. It happened to the Twins in the first week of the season too.

I don't know that the Tigers' sloppy play was the result of fatigue; as noted, they've been error-prone all season. But it can't help.


I'll take the "precautionary measure" line about Justin Morneau's back at face value and not worry about it for now.

And I will assume that the manager will talk to Denard Span about getting tossed out of the game. Fortunately, the makeshift defense the last couple of innings — Alexi Casilla at third, Brendan Harris at first, and an outfield of Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel — didn't get a serious test.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ryan Howard makes Joe Mauer look like a bargain

Ryan Howard, the home-run hitter of the Phillies, got a five-year, $125 million contract extension Monday.

I have other things to do with my day, so I'll be lazy and let these writers tell you why this was a silly move by the Phillies.

I'll just observe that today it appears the Twins got off cheap on Mauer, who is younger and more multi-talented.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ex-Twin watch: A.J. Pierzynski

This always figured to be a crossroads season for A.J. Pierzynski. He's in the final year of his contract with the White Sox; he's 33, an age at which everyday catchers tend to crumble; the White Sox have at least one catching prospect (Tyler Flowers) marinating in the high minors.

The second point appears to be really strong right now. He's hitting .140 on the still-young season and adding to the deforestation of America with his broken bats.

Obviously, he's got to turn it around at the plate if he's going to remain a lineup fixture, on the South Side or anywhere else. Nobody's good enough defensively to carry a .140 stick.

Defense has never been Pierzynski's strong suit anyway. He's better than acceptable, but never a Gold Glove candidate. What he brings to the table are his competitiveness and his durability. He catches 130 games a year, he never goes on the DL, he grinds out at-bats, innings and seasons.

Looking at his immediate future ... he gets his 10-and-5 no trade rights (10 years of service time, last five with one team) in June, so if the White Sox want to flip him before his free agency, they are likely to act sooner rather than later. The Red Sox, as referenced late in the Monday print column, are having catching problems and might be a possibility.

Looking down the road ... I suspect that this will be his last season as a regular, even if he starts hitting closer to his career norms. Again: He's caught a lot of games over the years, and this takes a toll.

And I also suspect that he's not the type teams look to as a reserve catcher. He's more a hitter than a catch-and-throw guy, and the persona isn't exactly out of the clubhouse chemistry textbook. The "clubhouse cancer" rap from his season in San Francisco hasn't entirely washed away, not with Ozzie Guillen's witticisms ("If he's on the other team, you hate him; if he's on your team, you hate him a little less") echoing.

Nevertheless, there's a part of me that would like to see Pierzynski go out with the Twins, as Joe Mauer's backup. It's not likely to happen — besides the critique offered in the previous paragraph, the Twins have other options — but he did a good job for Minnesota early in his career, he brought a very nice return when the Twins traded him, and I think he deserves to hear cheers once more in Minnesota.


Poll results: Not a lot of action on this one. Twenty-five votes on whether anyone will hit a fair ball completely out of Target Field. Ten said yes, 15 said no.

Me, I think somebody will drive one down the RF line and out the Puckett gate. Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel — somebody's gonna do it this summer.

New poll up.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Iron man Mauer

Day game after a 12-inning night game, and Joe Mauer is back in the starting lineup.

I know the Twins have an off-day on Monday. I know he just had a five-hit day. I know there's a big, big difference between having Mauer in the lineup and having Drew Butera in the lineup. I know Ron Gardenhire believes Kevin Slowey is prone to over-thinking his pitch selection.

I still don't like this. Giving Mauer today off would have been the wiser move over the long haul.

Nonsense uttered by broadcasters on Saturday

I know it does no good to gripe about the announcers, at least in the sense that it will result in any changes, but every so often I just have to get something off my chest.

Saturday was one such day.

Inanity No. 1
Tim McCarver during the Seattle Mariners-Chicago White Sox game on Fox: "When you look at Ichiro, the first thing you notice are his shoes." Uh, no. I don't think I've ever noticed his shoes. Until now.

Inanity No. 2
Twins radio announcer Dan Gladden, describing Kansas City starter Luke Hochevar: "He's clearly their predominant starting pitcher, their No. 1 guy." No, I think it's Zach Greinke.

Inanity No. 3
Twins TV analysts Bert Blyleven and Ron Coomer pitching Justin Morneau as the best defensive first baseman in the league. He isn't, and won't be as long as Mark Teixiera, Carlos Pena and Kevin Youkilis are in the AL and playing first base. Morneau simply isn't as mobile as those three.

All they do with such homeristic contentions is undermine their credibility.

Inanity No. 4
Blyleven, late in the extra-inning game with the Royals, dismissing the problem of Alex Burnett having warmed up repeatedly in the early innings: "That was two hours ago."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The bench shuffle

The Twins finally stuck Nick Punto on the DL Friday. Why not? He's only been out about a week. Man hit the ball high off the left field fence one day and hasn't played since.

Luke Hughes (left) got the call. He's from Australia, reputed to be a pretty good right-handed hitter. The Twins have deployed him all over the field in the minors trying to find a place he fits in. A little short with the glove in the middle infield, a bit light on power for the outfield. He's been playing second so far in Triple A.

Jim Thome has been a more effective hitter so far than I expected, but his presence — combined with the 12-man pitching staff — really shortens the bench, especially if they're nursing a day-to-day-injury (such as Punto's) along.

Four bench players: Thome, Drew Butera, Alexi Casilla and now Hughes. Thome has no position. Butera is limited to catcher. Which means that for almost a week, Casilla was backing up seven positions. Hughes has more OF experience than Casilla does, not that I expect him to get much PT out there.

Meanwhile Brendan Harris is hitting .176. I wouldn't be surprised if Hughes gets a start at third base this weekend.


Jack Morris, doing some radio fill-in work during the homestand, was puzzled by the defense used against Thome — a sharply shifted infield, with three men on the right side on second, but the outfield playing straight away.

Morris' bewilderment leads me to suspect he doesn't pay much attention to the games when he's not working. Thome seldom hits grounders to the left side but actually hits more fly balls to left than to right.

The defensive positioning isn't random or whimsical.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Around the division: White Sox

Cold times indeed on the South Side of Chicago: Not only are the umps dressed to steal there (that's Angel Hernandez hiding behind the cowl during Thursday night's game), but the White Sox can't hit.

Black is also the color for funerals, and Joe Cowley of the Sun-Times is ready to bury Ozzie's boys:

... This is not about what the Sox still can become this season — this is about what the Minnesota Twins already are.

They are an offense that can now beat you with the long ball, as well as still frustrate the hell out of you with small ball. They are a solid starting pitching staff that now has an ace in Francisco Liriano. They are resilient, losing the best closer in the game, Joe Nathan, and not flinching. They beat the bad teams and compete with the good teams.

Finally — and this may be the most important thing about the Twins -- the Sox know deep in their hearts they are a second-half team that can chase down the pack.

Give them a big first-half lead? Well, that's enjoy-your-offseason suicide.

Meanwhile, Ozzie Guillen is fussing on Twitter about the cable guy not showing up and being encouraging to his players.

Which raises a point about Guillen: Yeah, he'll take public shots at his team more often than any other manager. But it's always stuff he tells the players first — there's no double talk from No. 13 — and it's not coming at a time when it will make matters worse.

The Sox are hitting .215 entering Friday's game. You know they're not that bad.

On Target: Home and road splits, take 1

The Twins have played 16 games — about one-tenth of the schedule. Which means that, even with the one-sided loss Thursday — really the first time the Twins were out of it — they're still on a 110-win pace.

They aren't that good — very few teams go 110-52 — but it's a promising start anyway.

So it seems an appropriate time to test the home/road splits, to see how Target Field is playing. Not that these numbers should be regarded as the basis for conclusion; we've had all of seven road games, nine home games. It's just a quick comparison to get our bearings.

Home: Twins have scored 49 runs (5.44 per game); hit 6 homers (.67 homers per game); slash stats .277/.280/.405. (Just to illustrate how quickly these can change this early in the year, going into Thursday the slash stats were .290/.394/.427.)

The visitors have scored 35 runs (3.89 per game); hit 8 homers (.89 per game); slash stats .261/.307/.425

Road: Twins have scored 32 runs (4.57 per game); hit 10 homers (1.43 per game); slash stats .248/.331/.424

The home teams have scored 21 runs in 7 games (3.00); hit 7 homers (1 per game); slash stats .250/.305/.381

We'll look again after May 12. The Twins will have had a nine-game road trip (starting today; Kansas City, Detroit, Cleveland) followed by a nine-game homestand (Detroit, Baltimore, White Sox).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The two Carlos: Stats vs eyeballs

Carlos Zambrano (photo left) is now the highest-paid set-up man in baseball history.

His manager says this makes "all the sense in the world."

Well, to be fair to Lou Piniella, he didn't really say it makes sense to pay somebody $18 million a year to pitch the eighth inning. That Zambrano has the fifth richest contract among pitchers is irrelevant to the question of what role he should play.

The Cubs are making Z a relief pitcher to make room for Ted Lilly in the rotation. Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny remain in the rotation.

If you go by the past, this is nuts. Zambrano is still just 28 — really; he turns 29 on June 1— and his record is 106-70, 3.56. He's wild (he's twice led the league in walks, another time in hit batters ) and prone to emotional meltdowns, but he keeps the ball in the park and gets plenty of strikeouts. Silva and Gorzelanny are decidedly less accomplished.

As a result, this move is getting widely panned by columnists and bloggers.

But none of the critics are in Piniella's position. He's watched Zambrano decline. He's seen Silva pound the strike zone (two walks and 12 strikeouts in 19 innings).

He's not making this decision based on what they've done in 2009 or 2007. He's making it based on the talent they're showing him in April 2010.

My guess is that Zambrano's bullpen stint will be brief. Somebody in the Cub rotation will get hurt (Silva, after his win Wednesday, implied that his shoulder still is not right), and Big Z will get another chance to pitch the eighth inning the old-fashioned way — by pitching the first seven first.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ex-Twins watch: Carlos Silva (Update)

UPDATE: AP is reporting that Carlos Zambrano — the Cubs $91 million man — is being shifted to the bullpen. That's a surprise.


Carlos Silva, the former Twins mainstay, makes his third start of the young season for the Cubs today against the Mets.

It's a potentially significant start for the right-hander, who may be pitching for his slot in the rotation even though he's allowed just one earned run in 13 innings. He hasn't walked a man yet this season, which fits his track record, but he's also struck out eight, which is above his norm.

Ted Lilly is to come off the disabled list this weekend. Somebody will have to make room for him, and it's unlikely to be Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster or Randy Wells.

Tom Gorzelanny is the other current starter who could be bounced to the bullpen. He hasn't been quite as effective as Silva, but he's been pretty good himself.

Silva's at risk because of how poorly he pitched with Seattle the last two seasons — a combined ERA of 6.81. Taking him (and his contract) off the Mariners' hands was the price the Cubs paid for unloading Milton Bradley.

Silva is apparently throwing his sinking fastball less, his breaking ball and changeup more often. Getting out of Seattle and into the easier National League has probably helped too.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A kinda, sorta suspension

Edinson Volquez, a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, was suspended for 50 games Tuesday after flunking a drug test.

Kind of suspended. Sort of suspended. He couldn't pitch this week, or next month, or even in July if he weren't suspended. He's recovering from Tommy John surgery.

For the record, as reported in the link above, the 2008 All-Star blames his positive test on fertility treatments. I'm in no position to judge the veracity of that statement.

But there's another possible reason, one that strikes at the value of this suspension.

Many of the players who have admitted using steroids, human growth hormone or other barred "performance enhancing drugs" say they did so in hopes of speeding and enhancing their recovery from injuries.

So ... you are a pitcher who has undergone ligament replacement surgery. You know you're not going to pitch for at least a year, maybe more. You believe that taking a banned substance will hasten that process. You also know that if you take it and test positive, the suspension will take effect while you're out of action.

True, baseball's drug suspensions, unlike its run-of-the-mill suspensions, are payless. (Players cannot be suspended without pay because in a bygone era owners would effectively cut players' pay with trumped-up suspensions.) Volquez will lose some $137,000 as a result of this suspension, and for most of us, that's significant money. On the other hand, if breaking the rule allows him to return with his considerable talent intact, he'll make that money back with interest.

So what has he lost by juicing? Nothing, really. A 50-game suspension is supposed to rip a role in a player's season, or even his career, but in this case the hole was already there.

There is a group of players I simply assume are or have been users on this basis. I won't identify the criteria for that group because I'm not interested in libeling anybody, and I don't know that the entire group has/does use. That some have is a matter of record.

For what it's worth, Volquez does not fit the criteria. But that a player with his injury used should not be surprising, in part because the penalties in place for violation aren't much of a deterrent.

Monday, April 19, 2010

You Vetter, you bet

The photo at left has nothing to do with this post except that it shows in the background a beige bar. That's the local limestone -- Vetter Stone -- facing of the overhang in right field at Target Field, and it came into play Sunday for the first time.

First inning: Billy Butler of Kansas City mashes a drive to right. Michael Cuddyer knows it's either going off the wall or over it, and he waits for the carom. The ball smashes into the Vetter Stone and sails back well over Cuddyer's head into right field with Cuddy chasing it back to the infield. Fortunately for the Twins, Butler tries to make it a triple. This is fortunate for the Twins because he runs about as well as I do, and I'm 52. He's out from here to my basement steps.

But the reality is that there are a lot of baserunners in the league who run better than Billy Butler, and if the Twins don't figure out a better way to play the overhang, there are going to be triples hit off that thing,

As I understand it, there are three surfaces to the right field fence. There's a padded portion at the base, there's marine plywood further up, and there's the Vetter Stone at the front of the overhang. Each surface has a different resiliency, so the right fielder has to gauge how high on the wall the ball is going to hit.

It occurs to me, however, that because the overhang juts eight feet out over the playing field, balls that hit the wall under it on the fly are going to be exceedingly rare. A fly ball that goes that far is going to hit something — a seat or the stone facing — before it reaches anything green. On such balls, the right fielder should give the wall lots of room; Cuddyer was too close to the wall on Butler's ball.

Of course, the challenge then becomes being sure that the fly is going that far. One wouldn't want to head for the infield to play the carom off the Vetter Stone only to see the fly ball miss everything.

I wonder if the solution might be for the second baseman to charge into the outfield. The right fielder can take an aggressive approach to the fly ball, and the second baseman can handle the carom off the Vetter Stone if it comes to that.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Poll results and other stuff

Here's how the 45 responses to last week's poll — on which current pitcher is most likely to win 300 games — broke down.

The most popular answer was "Nobody": 13 votes, 22 percent. That was followed by CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez, who each got 10 votes (22 percent). Then Tim Lincecum (seven votes, 15 percent); "Somebody else" (three votes, 6 percent); and Johan Santana (two votes, 4 percent).


Regular reader and commenter Chris wonders why the Twins replaced the ailing Jose Mijares with another pitcher (Alex Burnett, above).

One good reason is that, with Pat Neshek sporting a sore finger and Nick Blackburn's elbow barking, the 12-man staff was in danger of becoming a de facto nine-man staff.

Neshek had a cortisone shot Saturday; if he's not ready to go on Tuesday, he may go on the DL as well. The Twins apparently don't think Blackburn's elbow is serious, but his next start may be pushed back.

I suspect, however, that those other ailments are part of why they DL'd Mijares, who had been described as day-to-day. They felt they needed another usable arm, and they made the move with Mijares,who not only can now rehab his stiff elbow but work on his conditioning.

But underlying it all is that the Twins are more comfortable with a 12-man staff. One of the key precepts to their organizational philosophy is "Protect the Pitcher."

They protect the pitcher with pitch counts, with Nick Punto's glove, and with a deep bullpen so that they aren't forced to get extra outs and innings from the guy who's on the mound now.

Hitting homers in Target Field

Last week's print column pondered the playing characteristics of Target Field and warned against jumping to conclusions.

A fresh case in point: The Associated Press on Saturday moved an article on Yankee Stadium, which has already had more homerless games this year than all of last season.

Or you can take the Dick Bremer analysis. Bremer on Saturday opined that Target Field looks like a much better home run park in the day than at night.

Let's see ... The Twins have played one official night game at home so far. There's been a lot of talk about the gaps playing long at Target Field — both Mike Cameron and David Ortiz hit balls that they thought "should" have gone out —and those came in day games.

Yeah, Rick Ankiel (above) hit two homers Saturday. So far, I've noticed one cheap-looking homer at the new park — a Michael Cuddyer flyball down the left field line that just got over the fence. I've seen a lot more drives to the power alleys that died before reaching the wall.

But Bremer sees a four-homer day game and decides the park is homer-friendly in the daytime.

Maybe it will work out that way over time. We don't really know yet.

And Bremer shouldn't pretend that we do. He certainly ought to know that almost all that we've seen of Target Field — including the Cameron and Ortiz drives that died—has come in the daytime.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Another good sign

I love watching Zach Greinke pitch.

There's the talent — his fastball reaches the upper 90s. There's the intelligence — he talks about pitching, about what he's trying to do out there, about what hitters are trying to do against him, on a different level than almost anybody else. And there's the backstory of his emotional crisis.

In some ways, he reminds me of Pedro Martinez. In Pedro's heyday, back around the turn of the century, the Boston Red Sox were the best team in baseball — if Pedro was pitching. On the other 80 percent of game days, the Yankees were the best.

The Royals are a weaker team than the late '90s-early '00s Red Sox. Greinke don't make them the best team in baseball on his days. But this is true: If it's Greinke's turn to pitch, Kansas City becomes a difficult team to beat.

Which is why it was impressive Friday to see the Twins dismantle last year's Cy Young winner.

The consensus both both sides seems to be that it was Greinke failing than the Twins succeeding, but the Twins didn't allow him to get them out outside the strike zone, and their patience at the plate helped get him out of the game after five innings.


I said above that Greinke talks about pitching on a different level. Here's an example, lifted from Joe Christensen's gamer in the Star Tribune:

"Every batter you face is 100 percent focused that at-bat and they don't really give any at-bats away. Whenever they get on base or the game gets close, they elevate their game, where a lot of teams, they change their approach. The Twins get even more focused on it."

He said something along the same lines last September too, after a game in which Delmon Young doubled going to the opposite field in an at-bat in which Greinke expected him to try to pull the ball.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Franchise Liriano

If his first start this year was underwhelming —what with five walks in six innings — Francisco Liriano's second was overwhelming.

Seven innings of four-hit, eight-strikeout ball. Two strikes per three pitches. First-pitch strikes to 17 of the 27 men he faced.

And postgame talk of 2006 all over again.

The memory of 2006 — and the vision of Liriano someday returning to that level of performance — is why the Twins appear never to have seriously considered shifting him to the bullpen after his ligament replacement surgery. At least not until Joe Nathan went down this spring.

Thursday's game suggested that the memory of 2006 may indeed be more than an illusion, suggested it strongly enough to me to start wondering how (or if) the Twins will try to limit his innings.

He pitched just less than 200 innings in 2009 (combining majors and minors but excluding winter ball and spring training), less than 140 last season. If he stays effective and healthy, he should easily zoom past both those marks this year —and that's not taking October into account.

Considering such concerns is probably premature. Certainly it's better to worry about overusing a dominant pitcher than to worry about correcting a flawed one.

It's just another factor to watch, especially for an organization that prides itself on protecting the pitcher.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Notes, quotes and comments

Twins win Thursday, raising their record to 7-3.

Seven and three against the Angels, White Sox and Red Sox. Man, I'd take 7-3 against the Royals.


Ron Mahay, who is in the running to be the last "replacement player" from the 1993-94 strike, is back, with Alex Burnett returning to the minors.

This gives the Twins three lefties in the pen. Mahay is clearly a LOOGY. Jose Mijares is talented enough to be more than a LOOGY, but Ron Gardenhire seems more comfortable spotting him against lefties, and so far this spring Mijares hasn't even done that well. And Brian Duensing is nominally the long man, but has done some LOOGY duty as well.

I assume that when Clay Condrey is deemed ready to be activated, he'll assume Duensing's long-man role, with Duensing going back to Triple A to stretch his arm out and be ready to step into the rotation if (when) needed.

For now, at least, Gardenhire has options while pitching coach Rick Anderson tries to get Mijares straightened out.


Jayson Stark of had some Twins items worthy of contemplation in Thursday's Rumblings and Grumblings:

  • Jon Rauch hasn't convinced scouts that he's a top-grade closer
  • Catching prospect Wilson Ramos is unlikely to be traded
  • Rauch, Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain are all to be free agents after this season, suggesting that the Twins will have to rebuild their bullpen for 2011.

I agree with the first evaluation, which leads me to question the wisdom of the second one. Not that I'm saying they should trade Ramos for another B-grade closer. But he shouldn't be in the way of getting a high-end guy for the bullpen.

Jackie Robinson Day

"Mr. Rickey," I asked, "are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?"

I never will forget the way he exploded.

"Robinson," he said, "I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."


I thought what a glorious, cleansing thing it would be to let go. To hell with the image of the patient black freak I was supposed to create. I could throw down my bat, stride over to that Phillies dugout, grab one of those white sons of bitches and smash his teeth in with my despised black fist. Then I could walk away from it all. I'd never become a sports star. But my son could tell his son what his daddy could have been if he hadn't been too much of a man.

Then, I thought of Mr. Rickey — how his family and friends had begged him not to fight for me and my people. I thought of all his predictions, which had come true. Mr. Rickey had come to a crossroads and made a lonely decision. I was at a crossroads. I would make mine. I would stay.

—Jackie Robinson,"I Never Had it Made"

It was something that had happened during an insignificant weekday game between the Dodgers and Giants back in the 1950s. Robinson, by then an established star, was playing third base that afternoon, and during the game something happened that drove him suddenly and totally mad. ... Without warning, Robinson began shouting imprecations, obscenities, curses. His voice was piercing, his face distorted with passion. ... It had been nothing, a moment's aberration, but it seemed to suggest what can happen to a man who has been used, who has been made into a symbol and a public sacrifice. ... After that moment, I knew that we had asked him to do too much for us. None of it — probably not a day of it — was ever easy for him.
— Roger Angell, "Five Seasons"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Around the division: Tigers

The Twins enter today with a 6-2 record. So do the Tigers.

Detroit's 6-2 record, however, comes against softer competition, at least on paper. The Twins have played the Angels (four games), the White Sox (three games) and the Red Sox (one game); the Tigers have played Kansas City (five games) and Cleveland (three games).

Of course, one plays the schedule they're given, and the Tigers have won the games they've been scheduled to play.

But they can't feel all that good about Dontrelle Willis at this point. The D-Train (above) made his second start Tuesday — both against Kansas City — and while he hasn't walked the ball park either time, his command has been poor. On Tuesday he continually fell behind in the count, and even against the weak-hitting Royals, that's no way to pitch.

He didn't get tagged with the loss because the Tigers beat up on the Royals bullpen for six runs in the seventh inning. Late comebacks have been a regular feature of the Detroit season so far.

This may say something about their hitters. Or it may say more about the relief pitchers for Kansas City and Cleveland. And it may say something about the Detroit starters, who were supposed to be one of their strong points.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Right on Target

Eddie like. Eddie like a lot.

Monday's trip to Target Field was the first of what I hope will be many. It will need to be to get a grip on the whole place.

See, I have this problem — even in a new park, with all the bells and whistles to experience, I focus on the game.

Had Monday's home opener — the first official game — been a dull, one-sided affair, maybe I'd have done more wandering about. Maybe I'd have sought out more of the food options, tested more of the viewing angles. (Colleague Brian Ojanpa, who unlike me was on the clock, took care of that for you anyway.)

As it was, I stuck pretty close to my seat in the right field corner, close to what the designers obviously intend to be the primary entrance/exit — Gate 34, the Puckett gate. (The gates are not in numeric order — they bear the names of players with retired numbers. The Puckett and Carew gates —34 and 29 — are in the right field corner; the Hrbek gate (14) is behind home plate; the Oliva gate (6) is in the left field corner; and the Killebrew gate (3) is in center field.)

I hit a Halsey's Sausage Haus for a supper-time snack. No brats there (really?); I got a Polish for my wife and an Italian for myself. I don't remember ever seeing either at the Dome. We were both pleased withe the result. (The service was another matter. The register in the line I got in froze up; I eventually switched to another line. I lost a long inning in the process, and when I left with the food the register still wasn't functioning.)

The field itself played as a pitchers' park Monday; as I wrote in the print column, it's far too soon to know if that's the truth or an illusion. We felt the wind in our faces in the right-field corner, but the flags in left field were clearly blowing in and the flags in right hung limp. Certainly there were balls struck that I thought had a chance to go out that didn't.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Out by a mile

The denouement of Sunday's game was another lesson in "be careful what you wish for." I had grumped here that third base coach Scott Ullger was too passive early in Friday's game. On Sunday, J.J. Hardy was ... well, the title to this post says it.

The postgame explanations from the Twins camp are consistent: With the drastic overshift on for Jim Thome, there was no way for Alexei Ramirez to get into position to take the Juan Pierre's throw, and neither Ullger nor Hardy expected Mark Teahen to vacate third base to serve as the relay man.

Hardy, as a shortstop, ought to know something about who handles relays.

I am loathe to criticize Ullger for sending Hardy. When I saw the ball hit the wall, I expected Hardy to be waved home. I did not expect to see an infielder with the ball as Hardy rounded third.

But then, I'm not sure what use Teahen would have been had he stuck to the "expected" role of covering third. The only base there could be a play on that ball was home.

A few points about the play that you won't see in the game stories, because it involves noting weaknesses of players:

*Juan Pierre made a strong throw from the warning track. Teahen may nor may not be the planned relay man; the point is that the throw got to him on the fly. I didn't think Pierre had that in him.

* Ullger may have learned something from that play about Hardy's baserunning speed. Yes, he's a middle infielder; no, he's not a burner. (For that matter, the same is true of Orlando Hudson.)

* Most third base coaches move well down the line to get an angle on the relay and the runner, giving them a chance to put up a late stop sign. Ullger didn't do that. Instead, he hung around third base — and was actually on third base as the play went on.

Jim Margalus of Sox Machine suspects Ullger was trying to fake Teahen into believing that he was the base runner. There's no question: Ullger shouldn't have been where he was. It's illegal.

Oh well. A 5-2 record on this road trip is nothing to be bummed about. My Sunday's post looked on the dark side of the Twins' record; today is henceforth for positive thoughts. It's the home opener, I have tickets, and I will not fret further about baserunning or Jose Mijares.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wins are wins, but ...

When I first contemplated the Twins schedule, one of the first things I noticed — after "when do they have their first home game?" — was the rigor of the initial series.

Four games in Anaheim. Three games in Chicago. Then home to face the Red Sox. Three tough opponents and a ridiculous travel schedule, with that late West Coast game on Thursday forcing an overnight flight to Chicago.

I figured 5-5 would be acceptable for that 10-game stretch; 6-4 or 7-3 would make me almost giddy.

They're 5-1 now.

Now, the "even keel" approach to the long season holds that such streaks come and go. You're never as good as you look during a winning streak, never as bad as you look when on a losing streak.

And in the interest of tamping down giddiness — mine, at least, but maybe yours as well — a few things to keep an eye on.

Pat Neshek. Ron Gardenhire voiced concern near the end of spring training about using Neshek on consecutive days. Maybe we saw why this week.

Thursday: Neshek enters in the sixth inning with two on with a 3-1 lead. He faces two men, falls behind each 1-0, gets each on the second pitch. Stressful situation, few pitches.

Friday: Neshek enters a tied game in the seventh to start the inning. He got two called strikes, then two fouls — and then the batter, Alexei Ramirez, lashed a double down the third base line. Gardenhire pulled him immediately.

Francisco Liriano. Five walks in six innings is nobody's idea of command of the fastball.

Jon Rauch. Yes, he's four-for-four in save conversions. Remember LaTroy Hawkins' season (2001) as closer? He opened with a long string of converted saves but really wasn't pitching that well. He finished the season with 28 saves, 9 blown saves and an ERA pushing 6.

Rauch has gotten the job done — a win's a win, an out's an out — but he's been helped by a busted hit-and-run in one game, saved by sparkling defensive plays in two others.

These are all small sample sizes. But they provide some reason to discount the Twins' .833 winning percentage — itself evidence of small sample size. Nobody's that good.


Poll results: A sizable plurality of the 45 respondents predict Kevin Slowey will lead the Twins in win this year. Slowey had 18 votes (40 percent). Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn had nine each (20 percent), Liriano 5 (11 percent) and Carl Pavano 4 (8 percent.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Passive aggressive Friday

The Twins opened Friday's game in Chicago with three straight singles, but didn't score. I thought at the time that Scott Ullger should have sent Denard Span home on the third single; instead, he held Span at third.

It's the flip side of all those home runs the Twins hit in Anaheim. Span's a fast runner, and Juan Pierre, the Chicago left fielder, has a rag arm. I think Span would have scored; I'm not even sure Pierre would have thrown home. Instead, Ullger took the more passive approach — bases loaded and Justin Morneau coming up, let's sit back and play for the crooked number.

And the Twins got nothing out of that inning.

Then there's the hyperaggressive approach Ozzie Guillen took in the bottom of the 11th. Trailing by a run, with one out already, he twice called for the hit-and-run with Omar Vizquel at the plate and Alex Rios on first. Vizquel fouled off the first one, swung and missed at the second, and Rios was an easy out.

Guillen ran them out of that inning.

And I understand, even applaud, the idea. It played to the strengths of the players involved. Vizquel is no power threat, he does make contact, Rios isn't slow. It could have worked, but it didn't, and I suppose Guillen's going to be pilloried in the Chicago papers for the move.

A Casey Stengel line comes to mind: Whadda want me to do, sit there and lose? Well, Guillen lost anyway, but at least he didn't lose asking Vizquel to be a slugger.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Notes, quotes and comments

The above photo is from Wednesday night — Thursday morning here. Nick Punto high-fives Jon Rauch's elbow.


The White Sox made a conscious decision this off season to de-emphasize power and focus more on baserunning and contact. The general assumption is that this was largely Ozzie Guillen's concept — he's been talking for years about wanting more players he can hit-and-run with — but whether it's his idea or Ken Williams', that's direction they took.

Which is one of the reasons Jim Thome is a Minnesota Twin this season.

So ... three games into the season, the Sox are 1-2, and Ozzie's take:

When we built this club, I didn't want people to strike out, and we did too much (Thursday). If they continue to strike out like that, then we find another approach. With the ballclub we have, we can't be striking out like that. If we continue to strike out like that, then that's the game we're going to have -- 3-0, 3-2, 4-3 -- the bullpen is going to lose the game because we strike out too much. And they can say whatever they want to say -- good pitching, cold weather, whatever it is. Too many strikeouts.

Dontrelle Willis, sidelined for most of 2009 with a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, walked two men in the first inning Thursday but none in his next five innings. Has he beaten "The Thing"?

We can't be sure yet. This start was against Kansas City. The Royals have never been known to work counts, and K.C. manager Troy Hillman stacked his lineup with lefties. Willis got three double play grounders.

Jim Leyland's assessment: "It wasn't great, but it was OK."

The Tigers may need Willis to be a bit better than OK if they're going to contend.


It took me a while to get my response to Rok Lesjak of Slovenian Baseball and Softball. (The "reply" address of his original e-mail just bounced back.) But I finally managed to get it through, and he responded much more rapidly than I did:

Baseball is not popular here, yet (Slovenia population is 2 million, small, highly developed country, with a lot of athletic potential ). And we are working on it. However, we play baseball here for 35 years now. In this period of time we established 7 fields, 4 of those you can "kind of" say that are baseball fields. But that's quite a achievement for 35 years if you take as a fact that we built these fields bare hand on a dumps of construction material, with financial budget app. 1000€ a year. Thats what we call " get to it with a heart ".

Late night: Twins 10, Angels 1

Game story here

Box score here

The power is most definitely on.

Two-run homer for Brendan Harris. Three-run shot by Jim Thome. Three-run bomb from Delmon Young (pictured).

And a game that was a close 3-1 Twins lead after seven ends as a 10-1 romp.

You gotta love FSN. Young had entered the game the inning before as a defensive sub for Jason Kubel. As he rounded the bases after his ninth-inning dinger, FSN's graphic identified him as Kubel. It's really kind of difficult to confuse the two, but ... they're up to the challenge.

Kevin Slowey wasn't real effective Thursday— he allowed nine baserunners in 5.1 innings — but a parade of relievers allowed just one more baserunner in the final 11 outs.

Most impressive, or perhaps merely the most important, was the perfect seventh authored by Jose Mijares, who retired Erick Aybar, Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter, two of them on strikes. Seventeen pitches for Mijares, 14 of them strikes.

Not sure what to make of Pat Neshek's outing. He faced two men, threw ball one to each, then got an outfield fly and a ground out to strand two inherited runners. Four pitches, two outs, but — and I admit I'm probably being overly picky — it just didn't bolster my confidence in him.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Late night: Twins 4, Angels 2

Game story here.

Box score here.

A very impressive outing from Carl Pavano: Seven innings, six hits, one run, zero walks, six strikeouts. He threw 73 strikes and just 29 balls.

And the power is still on. Both Justin Morneau and J.J. Hardy homered, second game in a row for both of them. Morneau's spring training slump sure seems a long ways away now, doesn't it?

Hardy also had a second impressive pick-and-throw from the outfield grass in the hole. I'm not sure when I last saw a Twins shortstop who could make that play, and he's done it twice in this series.

Jon Rauch got the save again, although he gave up a run and was spared another by the above-mentioned Hardy play. Not as impressive an outing as the previous day's.

And really, his inning was hardly as crucial as Matt Guerrier's eighth. Guerrier had to get through Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter and Hideki Matsui. Rauch was dealing with the bottom half of the Angels order.


Before the Twins game started, I took a look at the White Sox-Indians game on WGN. (Sure, the Yankees and Red Sox were on ESPN, but who the heck wants to watch all those committee meetings on the mound?)

The Sox are the team I most expect to challenge the Twins, and there was some chatter in late March that the Tribe might be pretty frisky this season.

Not that one should draw firm conclusions off one game — and particularly one in the nasty chill that one was played in (game time temp was 42 degrees, according to Hawk Harrelson, and it got colder fast) — but here goes anyway:

  • I can't buy into the Fausto-Carmona-is-back hype. Sure, he allowed just one hit in his six innings. He also walked six and fanned just one.
  • The Cleveland lineup worked Jake Peavy hard -- 106 pitches in five innings.
  • A key moment: With one out and two on in the fourth inning, former Twins catcher Mike Redmond, down 1-2 in the count, turned into a Peavy fastball and took it off the elbow. That loaded the bases and set up a pair of RBI singles that tied the game at 3.
  • Shin-Soo Choo is good. He also has a name Harrelson can't handle; the Hawk calls him "Shin-Sin Choo."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Late night: Twins 5, Angels 3

Game story here.

Box score here.

And who needs Joe Nathan — or any other proven closer — anyway?

Jon Rauch breezed through his first save opportunity Tuesday night. Three batters, 16 pitches, 11 strikes, two K's, no problems.

Nick Blackburn had a Nick Blackburnish start, albeit with more walks (four) than one expects —a quality start that just fit the definition. He couldn't handle Torii Hunter, but the rest of the Anaheim lineup presented little real problem.

And the bullpen — Brian Duensing, Matt Guerrier and Rauch — was perfect.

Which leaves the power display to be discussed. Joe Mauer homered, Justin Morneau homered, J.J. Hardy homered. Jason Kubel let his first initial down.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Opening night: Angels 6, Twins 3

Game story here.

Box score here.

Unimpressive start for Scott Baker (above), who was a bit wild early and didn't get out of the fifth inning.

And a worrisome relief outing from Jose Mijares, who gave up home runs to left-handed hitting Hideki Matsui and switch-hitter Kendry Morales. Morales who struggled against lefties last season. These are the guys a left-handed specialist is supposed to get out.

Last year, Mijares dominated lefties. But things started getting away from him late in the season, and he wasn't very effective in spring training either.

And despite that, the Twins were in the game. They loaded the bases in both the sixth and seventh innings but couldn't push even one run across in either frame. And in the eighth, after Michael Cuddyer walked on four pitches and Jason Kubel got ahead 3-1, Kubel popped up on what might have been ball four. And then Delmon Young swung at the first pitch (natch; he's Delmon Young, after all) and ground into a double play.

Young did have a two-run homer in his first at-bat and add an infield single, so it's not like he contributed nothing to the attack.

A potentially winnable game, but the pitching wasn't all that good, and the offense couldn't quite break through.

Monday, April 5, 2010

My encounter with Slovenian baseball

Geography class time. Yeah, I know — you came here looking for baseball. We'll get there. I promise.

The Republic of Slovenia, part of the former Yugoslavia, is a nation of more than 2 million people wedged in the mountains between Italy, Austria, Hungary, the Adriatic Sea and Croatia. It is not, so far as I can tell, a noted baseball hotbed.

There came last week into my inbox the following message:

I was reading your notes about Twins outfielder Mark Dolenc. Coul you be so kind and tell me more about him, or, do you think he's going to make the Twins rooster this year, or ...
Kind of special request: Is it possible from you, to provide me his e-mail adress?
Best regards from Slovenia — EU,

Rok Lesjak
ZBSS media relations department

Now — I reproduce the e-mail with its misspellings and odd sentence structures with trepidation. I have no wish to ridicule Mr. Lesjak (I assume Rok is a masculine name; it sure looks like it to an English speaker). My attempts at Slovene would be far more pathetic.

I googled a Web site listed under the name and, with the wonders of Google's page translator, came up with this. And with another click of the mouse, a post to which I seem to be unable to link, titled "Mark Dolenc?"

The text must be easier to follow in the original, assuming one can read Slovene.

As best as I can tell: ESPN broadcast a Twins-Yankees exhibition game into Slovenia, where people involved in Slovenia Baseball and Softball took note of a player with a Slovene name — Dolenc. So they googled him, and found all the posts I've been doing about his spring training appearances.

And asked me for information about him, since I am apparently the ace of the Mark Dolenc beat.

I've sent an e-mail with some details of Dolenc's MSU career and biographical information, which isn't much. I suspect ZBSS is looking for a role model for Slovene athletes to interest them in baseball; Dolenc may not fit that bill perfectly. I don't know.

I just find the whole saga an interesting sample of this bizarrely ever-more interconnected world. Baseball in Slovenia? Who knew?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Poll results and Alex Burnett

I should have mentioned in the previous post that the main reason Alex Burnett (above) was brought up rather than Anthony Slama, Ron Mahay or Kyle Waldrop is that Burnett is on the 40-man roster. The others are not.

Baseball America ranks Burnett as a better prospect than Slama anyway.

Burnett is a "smallish right-hander" (6 feet, 190 pounds) who came on last season with a move to the bullpen. Working in short stints, his velocity is around 93 mph with occasional gusts to 95. He also throws a straight change to lefties, who really struggled with him last season. (LH's hit just .150 off him in two levels, High A and Double A.)

Key sentence in BA's write-up: "Burnett will become a big league bullpen factor when he improves his breaking ball command."

It wouldn't hurt if he became a factor starting Monday night.


Last week's poll was about how many games Michael Cuddyer will play in center field.

The consensus appears to be: Not many. Fifteen (38 percent) said less than five games; 13 (33 percent) said five to 14; seven (17 percent) said 15 to 24; and four (10 percent) said at least 25.

Twenty-five games would be almost one a week, and that's not going to happen. If Denard Span needs that much time off, the Twins will add a legitimate center fielder to their bench. I'm inclined, personally, to the less-than-five category.

New poll is up.

Applauding Jacque Jones

Jacque Jones didn't make the team this spring.

And he still got ovation after ovation in the two Target Field shakedown games.

He was always a flawed player — he couldn't hit lefties, his strike zone judgment was poor, his throwing arm was subpar. He was miscast as a leadoff hitter, and then he was miscast as a right fielder.

But he was a key part of the 2001-04 team that turned the franchise from hapless to divisional champs, a team made up of flawed players with a knack for adding up to more than the sum of their parts.

I suspect that any significant player from the 2002 team who dons the Twins uni again will be warmly greeted by Minnesota fans, no matter how little they have left in the tank. Yes, even A.J. Pierzynski.

A few of the players from the 2002 playoff squad are still stars, or at least key regulars — Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Pierzynski. Some of them — Corey Koskie, Brad Radke, Eddie Guardado — have retired. Others — Luis Rivas, Eric Milton, Doug Mientkiewicz — have slid into athletic senility; they haven't left, but the jobs are harder to find and keep.

But the Jones saga is a bit different from the rest. There's something endearing about his quest to come home again, his willingness from the outset to accept a bench role, or even to return to Triple A and bide his time for another chance.

Whether that chance ever comes, Jones can head to Rochester secure in the knowledge that he has a place in the hearts of Minnesota fans.


No real surprise: Clay Condrey is going on the DL. What is a surprise: Alex Burnett is getting the roster spot, not Anthony Slama or Kyle Waldrop, the two young pitchers who were brought north for the Target Field test games, or veteran Ron Mahay.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Closing the committee

The Twins' planned closer by committee never convened.

On Friday, manager Ron Gardenhire anointed Jon Rauch (left) as his ninth-inning go-to-guy.

How long the tattooed one will keep the position is anybody's guess. Mine is "not long." I predict the Twins will trade for relief help before April is out.


On a somewhat related note, a relative novice to the world of Twins blogging, one Adam Beck, recently dropped me an e-mail. He is wise enough to speak respectfully of my work and foolish enough to seek my advice about his blog. (Be careful of what you wish for, young man!)

He also stuck a comment onto my previous post, on the "minor" stories of spring training, about the wisdom of trading prime catching prospect Wilson Ramos for a closer:

My question to you, and to everybody else out there is, 'would you/should you trade Ramos, one of the organization's best positional prospects, for a closer? Anthony Slama is waiting in the minors with a lot of closer experience under his belt, and most baseball experts view a closer as created, not born.' Thoughts?

Two points:

1) Minor league closers are seldom prospects, much less prospective closers. In general, good relief pitchers were starters in the minors. Slama has a chance to be an exception to that rule, but with a walk rate last year of more than 4 per nine innings, he's NOT going to be a closer in the bigs.

If there's a minor leaguer in the Twins system who projects as a closer, it's Carlos Gutierrez, who is currently being used as a starter. As a starter, he gets more innings, thus gets more experience. There's a big difference in the learning curve for a pitcher getting 120 innings as compared to one getting 40 innings.

2) Would I trade Ramos for somebody to fill the closer role? Depends on who that closer is. I wouldn't move him for the likes of Kerry Wood or Trevor Hoffmann or anybody else on their way out. If the Royals would do Joakim Sora for him, absolutely, but I don't expect that to be on anybody's agenda.

In truth, I'd probably be less inclined to trade Ramos for an "established" closer than for somebody who hasn't had the job but has the talent to take it. Daniel Bard of the Red Sox, for example. And even there, the Twins might want more than a one-for-one swap.

A more likely prospect to trade away for somebody along the lines of the Padres' Heath Bell is Ben Revere. If Revere turns into the player the Twins think he will become, he'll be Denard Span. The Twins have one of him already — and a bunch more outfielders in the pipeline.

The end of camp

The headline developments of Spring Training 2010 are pretty obvious: Joe Nathan's injury and Joe Mauer's contract. I've written plenty about each, both in this blog and in the print column, and while I'm sure there'll be more to say at some point, I haven't anything today.

But there were under-the-radar developments worth noting as well ...

Ben Revere. The non-roster invitee impressed everybody this spring, particularly Ron Gardenhire. He even had four extra-base hits, a bit of a surprise considering that he had all of 19 last season in High A ball.

He hasn't had an at-bat in Double A, much less Triple A, but Gardenhire already sees him as a possible call-up this summer.

Jacque Jones. (Photo above) Another who is possibly an outfield injury away from the call. Jones had been released by three teams the past two years — Tigers, Marlins, Reds — but the longer training camp went, the better he hit. He's 35, but there appears to still be some juice in him.

I would rather he made the 25-man roster out of camp than Alexi Casilla.

Kevin Slowey. The right hander opened camp talking about how his pitching wrist might never feel the same after what he described as a reconstruction. But his command and control — the key to his pitching — was as spot-on in exhibition play as ever.

Francisco Liriano. The outward signs are good. But ... except for his final outing, against the Pittsburgh Pirates "b" lineup — so weak it doesn't deserve a capital letter — he didn't go deep in his starts, suggesting that his fastball command remains lacking.

There are a lot of expectations here. Until I see him using the fastball well, I'm going to be skeptical.

Wilson Ramos. Even more than Revere, Gardenhire thinks he's ready for the bigs. The front office right now thinks he's more valuable in the minors — perhaps to keep his service time clock from starting to tick.

If the Twins decide they have to trade for a closer, Ramos is the most valuable chip in they have in the minors — a premium, ready-for-the-majors prospect at a premium position.

Juan Portes. Played mostly outfield in camp, but word is he'll play third at Double A. He hit three homers early in exhibitions, but once the breaking balls came out, the long balls (and his playing time) diminished.

Bullpen issues. Clay Condrey has not impressed and reports some shoulder stiffness; I won't be surprised he goes on the DL in the next week. Jose Mijares has not been sharp. Pat Neshek's velocity is down slightly from his pre-injury days.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Dolenc Watch continues

Yes, that apparently irrepressible former MSU outfielder Mark Dolenc played yet again in a Twins exhibition game on Wednesday. He went 0-for-3 and is still hitting .000 in his Grapefruit League playing time.

He came in for Denard Span when the big league CF took himself out of the game after lining a foul ball off his mom's collarbone. (That link includes video from the ESPN broadcast).

Dolenc won't get much more time on the major league side this spring, what with camp breaking today.

The Twins are back on ESPN this afternoon for their last Florida exhibition, but that broadcast conflicts with my 1 p.m. KTOE appearance. I'm sure you're all torn between my babble, a get-out-of-town game with the Red Sox and something potentially useful.