Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Five thoughts from a three-shortstop win

Chris Parmelee brings his walk-off homer home.
My wife and I went to Target Field to see Tuesday's game in person. A few observations:

* This is said to be Chris Parmelee's eighth time with the Twins, testimony to how the organization has yo-yoed the former first-round pick between the minors and the big club since 2011. Parmelee 8.0 is supposed to be a more aggressive player.

We'll see how well that plays as time passes; 17 plate appearances don't suffice for judgment. But I do take note that two of his three hits Tuesday came off lefty relievers (a single off Craig Breslow and the game-winning home run off Andrew Miller). Parmelee hasn't shown a huge dropoff against lefties in his 648 career plate appearances — he hasn't stuck because he hasn't hit period, not because he hasn't hit southpaws — but considering that his ultimate competition for playing time are fellow lefties Jason Kubel and Oswaldo Arcia, it helps to hit the lefties.

* Three shortstops in the starting lineup: Eduardo Escobar at shortstop, Danny Santana in center field, Eduardo Nunez as the designated hitter. All three did something to help.

Realistically, of course, Nunez should be considered a shortstop in the same vein as Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe came up as a shortstop and demonstrated that he can't hack the position defensively. Nunez did the same with the Yankees.

Still, the use of a purported shortstop as the DH is rather jarring. One is a glove-first position, and defensive skill is completely useless at the other. Almost 30 years ago Bill James ridiculed the Twins for having Roy Smalley split the 1986 season between short and designated hitter: "This is a new role on a major league roster."

Nunez hit a homer off Jake Peavy in the five-run second inning, so it worked. 

* Santana drew two walks — off his minor-league record, it's tough to walk him even once — scored a run and didn't look nearly as lost in center field as fellow shortstop Escobar did a few games ago. Dan Gladden, on the post game radio show, praised Santana for his ability to take his eye off a fly ball, run to the spot and find the ball again.

Santana also got picked off first after one of those walks, and it mattered — he led off the eighth inning with the base on balls and didn't give Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer a chance to make something of the early baserunner.

The Twins can rave about Santana's talent, but he's mistake prone.

* Santana's role is a curious matter right now. The Twins obviously have a hole in center field. Aaron Hicks, for the second straight year, won the job with an impressive spring training and immedately failed to hit once the regular season began. Sam Fuld is 32 and is nobody's answer to center field.

Ron Gardenhire has started Escobar and Santana in center out of desperation. He needs a center fielder now, and the ultimate answer (Byron Buxton) isn't available. But if Santana is the shortstop of the future, playing him in center on a regular basis isn't a good long-term move.

*Escobar's plays were routine. Nothing flashy. But several required long throws after grounders to his backhand side, and he's certainly got sufficient arm for the position. At the plate, Escobar had a hit and a run scored.

I believe that the 2014 Twins are better off with Escobar as the shortstop. But if the Twins believe Santana is the shortstop for the Sano-Buxton era, and if Santana is on the major league roster, Santana should be the shortstop.

On the other hand, maybe they see Santana as a Ben Zobrist-type of multi-position guy in the long run. That's not as crucial as a quality regular shortstop, but Santana may simply be too mistake prone for that.

* It was simply irritating to see Matt Guerrier get the ball with the lead on the line in the seventh inning.

This wasn't the plan. Michael Tonkin started the seventh with two quick outs, then couldn't get the third out. Brian Duensing came in and thought he struck out David Ortiz, but the ump didn't agree, and Ortiz ultimately singled. Then Duensing clearly pitched around Mike Napoli to set up a matchup with Grady Sizemore, only to see Jonny Gomes pinch hit.

At this point, Gardenhire had to bring in a righty. Normally I think it would have been Casey Fien, but I think Gardy wanted to avoid Fien after he got hit in the pitching biceps by a line drive on Sunday. Tonkin had already been used, and I suppose Jared Burton was being saved for the eighth.

So enter Guerrier. It was a telling matchup in this sense: Gomes is a platoon player (.276/.377/.501 vs. lefties in his career, .225/.310/.421 vs. righties). A right-handed short reliever has to be able to put Gomes away. And Guerrier couldn't. Gomes just kept fouling pitches off until he drew the walk to tie the game.

One at-bat, but it serves to confirm my belief that Guerrier at age 35 does not belong in the major leagues.

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