Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Buxton, Hughes and a coming pitching move

Some roster and role moves from the Twins on Monday.

Before the game, Paul Molitor announced that Phil Hughes is being bounced to the bullpen with Kyle Gibson coming off the disabled list this week. Hughes is 1-7 with a 5.74 ERA, and his strikeout rate has declined to barely more than 5 per nine innings, so we can't really say that he's been effective.

On the other hand, he's making $13 million, which is a lot of coin for a long man, which will presumably be his role, at least until somebody else loses his rotation spot. Which will happen, whether because Pat Dean returns to reality, because somebody gets hurt or somebody gets traded. It's just a matter of time.


Danny Santana injured his left hamstring during Monday's loss to Oakland, and Byron Buxton is returning.

Buxton hit .333/.402/.605 in 28 games in Rochester, so it would appear Triple A wasn't holding many mysteries for the kid.

I'm glad to see Buxton return, and I have to imagine the Twins pitching staff is too. The outfield defense just upgraded markedly


Gibson is slated to start Thursday against Tampa Bay. We know how the rotation slot is being opened for him. We don't know how the roster spot will be opened.

The Twins right now have 13 pitchers. I don't know what the option situation is for Buddy Boshers or Brandon Kintzler, but I doubt either has any options left. That probably makes Taylor Rogers the easiest to send to Rochester.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Contemplating Robbie Grossman

The bat died gloriously: Robbie Grossman splintered his
bat on this two-run double Friday in Seattle.
Robbie Grossman got called up to the Twins while I was taking my San Francisco hiatus, and I haven't commented about him in any real detail, just a dismissive aside on my return to the blog about there being no real upside to him:

Grossman is not going to be a regular on a quality team. Not now, not four years from now, not ever.
I still think that, by the way. I still think that eventually, maybe even by the end of this season, the Twins will have a regular outfield of Max Kepler, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Eddie Rosario and Oswaldo Arcia are a bit younger than Grossman and have higher ceilings than Grossman.

But after a week of watching Grossman take one quality at-bat after another, I have to say that I agree that he's a better player right here right now than Rosario and Arcia. Grossman has drawn six walks in 34 plate appearances; Rosario drew three in 121 before his demotion. Grossman has played considerable center field in the minors; nobody ever did that with Arcia.

Realistically, Grossman isn't a .357 hitter with a 1.150 OPS (his numbers after Sunday's game). If he were, he wouldn't have been released twice in the last six months, first by Houston and then by Cleveland.

He's 26 years old, a switch hitter, with a minor league record heavier on on-base percentage than on power. Once led the minors in walks drawn (he was repeating high A ball), which led Baseball Prospectus to list him among their top 100 prospects, which was frankly the kind of silly ranking one gets sometimes when scouting the stat lines. Drafted in the sixth round by Pittsburgh, traded to the Astros in 2012 in a deal that sent Wandy Rodriguez to the Pirates, released by Houston last November, signed by Cleveland, released by Cleveland earlier this month, signed by the Twins. He's not had a stable season since 2012; he's been switching levels and organizations constantly.

Paul Molitor's going to keep feeding Grossman playing time until he demonstrates that he shouldn't get that playing time, and I can't argue against that; Rosario and Arcia have already demonstrated that they shouldn't get that time, and Danny Santana is more ripe to be displaced from the outfield anyway. Somebody has to play in the outfield while Buxton and Kepler marinate in Triple A. But if Grossman has a big league career in front of him, it's more likely as a fourth outfielder than as a regular.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pic of the Week

Florida State center fielder Ben DeLuzio face-plants
into the wall after making a run-saving catch Wednesday
in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Contemplating Pat Dean

Pat Dean 's strikeout
rate in the minors was
5.3 per nine innings.
He has 20 Ks in 21
innings so far with
the Twins.
Pat Dean made his second start for the Twins on Friday night in Seattle and handcuffed the Mariners for his first major league W -- seven innings, four hits, two runs, no walks, eight strikeouts. One of those runs was the result of a leadoff "triple" that Danny Santana really should have corralled.

Last Saturday, Dean went six innings against Toronto, allowing two runs in a no-decision that the Twins ultimately won. Add in two relief outings, and he has a 3.43 ERA in 21 innings.

So who is Pat Dean, and what should we reasonably expect from him?

Lefty, 26 years old, third-round draft pick in 2010, worked his way up the minor league ladder without any real success until last season, when he put up a 2.82 ERA in 179 innings at Triple A. Dick Bremer last night was calling it a breakthrough season, but the underlying stats really didn't change for him. He still had a poor strikeout rate, still had a very good walk rate. He was, presumably, either lucky or had a better defense behind him, or both.

He is, to slap a label on him, a finesse lefty, and we've seen this act a few times before: Scott Diamond, Andrew Albers, Tommy Milone. They had some success when they located their mediocre fastballs exceptionally well, and failed when they didn't. They have very little margin of error, and that more often than not results in brief careers.

Dean right now has an opportunity and is doing something good with it. The Greg McMichael Rule again: If you get outs, they'll find a role for you. Right now that role is starting rotation, but that could change really fast.

Kyle Gibson had a rehab start the other day in Fort Myers (with Terry Ryan in attendance), and it's possible that he'll return as soon as this week. Who would Gibson dislodge from the rotation? There's a dilemma. The three veterans with fat contracts (Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes) aren't doing well, and the two young guys with flexible roster status (Dean and Tyler Duffey) are getting outs and working innings.

Bottom line: Dean can't afford a slip up, and there's reason to expect that he will, eventually, slip up.

Friday, May 27, 2016

A death and a DWI

Neil Allen's pitching staff has struggled this year.
Thursday was a rough day for for Minnesota pitching coaches.

Todd Oakes, longtime pitching coach for the University of Minnesota, died after a long battle with leukemia. 

Glen Perkins of the Twins, who pitched for Oakes in college, posted a statement on Twitter praising "T.O." for his influence on Perkins both as a pitcher and as a person. 

Also on Thursday, the Twins suspended Neil Allen after the pitching coach was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Allen ran his playing career aground on alcohol but was reportedly sober for 20 years.

Eric Rasmussen, the organization's pitching coordinator, has been named interim pitching coach.

I have no real personal experience with addiction and addictive behavior, and I have no idea if Allen's arrest was a unique lapse or the exposure of ongoing behavior. It certainly seems possible that the continuing struggles of his charges fed the impulse to return to the shelter of the bottle. Sobriety is a daily struggle for the alcoholic, and lapses are unfortunately common. I can, and do, sympathize with Allen without condoning driving under the influence.

His superiors will eventually have to make a decision: keep him or dismiss him. They don't have to make that decision now, and they shouldn't. Allen too has a decision to make, whether he can maintain his sobriety under the stress of being in charge of a major league pitching staff. I don't know what the correct answer is for the organization or the individual, and I doubt any of us do. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Buddy Boshers and the failed bullpen

Buddy Boshers had
an ERA of 1.42 with
Rochester when he
was called up.
The Twins went back to an eight-man bullpen Wednesday, adding indy-ball refugee Buddy Boshers. To make room on the 25-man roster, Darin Mastroianni went on the 15-day disabled list; to make room on the 40-man roster, Glen Perkins went on the 60-day disabled list.

Boshers is a 28-year-old lefty who got 15.1 major league innings back in 2013 with the Angels and walked eight in those innings. He spent seven seasons in the Angels system and pitched last year in the Atlantic League. He was a non-roster invitee in training camp, one of the pack of guys I categorize as: If  he pitches in Target Field, something went wrong.

Something went wrong is an understatement this Twins season, of course. That Boshers and Brandon Kintzler are in the bullpen is a symptom; that Perkins is out until nobody-knows-when is part of the cause.

The Twins were counting on a late-inning trio (or foursome) of Perkins, Kevin Jepsen, Trevor May and maybe Casey Fien. Perkins was ineffective before being sidelined, and May and Jepsen have essentially matching ERAs of 5.56 and 5.59 respectively. Fien has been waived twice, first by the Twins and then by the Dodgers.

Minnesota's most effective bullpen arms have been Fernando Abad and Michael Tonkin, neither of whom were expected to carry much of the burden coming into the season. Neither has managed to creep into game situation use, although there really haven't been many late leads or ties to protect.

Boshers got the call over J.T. Chargois presumably because (a) he reportedly has a June 15 opt-out in his contract and (b) he's left-handed. There's speculation that Abad and his 0.51 ERA might be spun off relatively soon, which would make more sense than signing him to a mult-year deal.

But Chargois has a chance to be a genuinely useful piece. That cannot be honestly said of most of the current bullpen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Eleven and thirty-four.

It seems pointless to say that the Twins are a better team than 11-34. Memorial Day is approaching, and the Twins are playing .244 ball, which isn't even a good batting average.

Not a good batting average, but the Twins' team batting average is, as Baseball Reference has it early this morning, .233.

Baseball Reference's team pages display photos of the squad's top dozen players in order of their WAR (Wins Above Replacement). The Twins page this morning is fairly amusing in a dour way. Jorge Polanco, who sits during his time on the big club and is now in Triple A, is by WAR the sixth best player on this team. Robbie Grossman, who showed up while I was in California, is already eighth.

Of the 12, five (Tyler Duffey, Polanco, Brandon Kintzler, Pat Dean and Juan Centeno) opened the season at Rochester, and a sixth (Grossman) was signed about a week ago as a minor league free agent.

And Ervin Santana, who didn't make it out of the fourth inning last night, is second. My guess is that when the system has everything updated and recalculated, E. Santana will drop a few notches. Not far enough to catch D. Santana, of course.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I'm back

My vacation from the Twins, and your vacation from me, is OVAH. (Pardon the Hawk Harrelson imitation there.)

I listened to most of Monday's game while ferrying my mother from the Twins Cities airport to her home in Willmar and then myself home to Mankato, and it appears nothing much has changed since Wednesday except a couple of faces and names. Other than hitting, fielding, pitching and baserunning, the Twins have no problems.

The presence of Robbie Grossman on the roster, much less in the lineup, suggests that the front office has been reduced to throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Giving him playing time is marginally better than the earlier notion of giving at-bats to David Murphy because Grossman is considerably younger, but still ... there is no upside to him. Grossman is not going to be a regular on a quality team. Not now, not four years from now, not ever.

Of course, my recent track record on Twins "insights" isn't particularly good. I expressed doubt before I left for California about the notion of Pat Dean starting against the Blue Jays; that game was the only one the Twins won. I urged the use of Byung Ho Park in a better RBI spot;the Twins did so almost immediately, and he hasn't driven in a run since.

And the Twins are 11-33, still playing .250 ball and reducing Cory and Danny to spending an inning discussing the intricacies of the station break. Incredible.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

An evening with the Cubs at Giants

Jason Hayward makes a spectacular catch off Denard
Span in the first inning. (AP photo)
It was a study in contrasts from a distance. In front of me Friday evening at AT&T Park in San Francisco were a pair of first-place teams, one of of them threatening to be historically good; also in front of me on the scoreboard was the score from Target Field, where the Twins are threatening to be historically bad.

By the time Jake Arrieta took the mound, the Twins, playing two time zones earlier, were behind 7-1. By the time the top of the second inning ended in San Francisco, the Cubs led 5-0. Ultimately the Twins lost by less to the Toronto Blue Jays (8-3) than the Giants did to the Cubs (8-1), but the Giants looked, at least in the field, more competent than the Twins have for much the season.

I intend to write about the San Francisco park for the Monday print column. As for Friday's game:

Jake Peavy was in trouble from practically his first pitch. He entered the game with an ERA above 7 and didn't help it with five earned runs in 1.6 innings -- and one of those five outs was the result of a Cubs baserunning blunder.

Jason Hayward injured himself on a fabulous diving catch on the warning track in right-center field. No word on the severity of the injury. It reminded me of a catch I once saw Byron Buxton make, and it further reminded me that while I understand why the Twins sent Buxton down and why he remains down, the Twins really need to improve their outfield defense if the pitching is going to get better.

Arrieta was, in some ways, as close to ineffective as he's been all year, but he only allowed one run in seven innings. The Giants bunched three of their four hits off him together in the third to score a run, and they hit a few other balls well, but Arrieta pitched like the Cy Young winner he is.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

I wrote it, and the Twins did it ...

The Monday print column suggested that the Twins move Byung Ho Park closer in the lineup to Joe Mauer. And on Monday and Tuesday night, Park hit cleanup, with just two batters separating the two.

Not that it's helped Park's RBI totals. For one thing, Mauer's in a slump. so he's not perched on base when Park comes up. (Mauer did homer Tuesday, and that's good, but it didn't add any RBI chances for Park). For another thing, Park continues to make outs when men on.. He had opportunities Monday and Tuesday to drive men home and failed.


Jose Berrios was optioned out Tuesday morning, with Taylor Rogers recalled. Presumably that was done to get a fresh arm up for long relief duties, since Pat Dean went 5.1 innings on Monday. He wouldn't be available for a few days even if the Twins weren't planning on using him to start on Saturday against Toronto.

As I opined Tuesday, that doesn't seem like a particularly good matchup for Dean. I'm glad I'll be out of state on that one.


Two more bad losses for the Twins in this Detroit series. There was a lot of angst (particularly from Bert Blyleven in the FSN broadcast) about Phil Hughes' early departure and the bullpen implosion, but it has to be noted: The Twins got two runs against Mike Pelfrey. Two. He entered the game with a 5.80 ERA, and the Twins hitters did almost nothing against him.

Twins' record: 10-28.


Programming note: I'm headed to California for a few days to visit family. I may post at some point between today and next week, and I may not. I make no promises.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Contemplating Jose Berrios

Jose Berrios leaves the game Monday after just two outs.
He was charged with seven runs in one of the shortest starts
in Twins history.
Maybe Monday night will finally put the grumblers to rest.

Last August the Twins bypassed Jose Berrios to fill a rotation hole. Instead of finding a way to put the prospect on the 40-man roster and bring in to the majors, they brought up Tyler Duffey and, for one start, returned Trevor May to the rotation. In September they again opted not to push Berrios up to the bigs. And all offseason and into this year, there have been voices insisting that Berrios could have gotten the Twins into the playoffs.

Monday, I think, we saw why the Twins decided against using him in the majors last year. Berrios is undeniably talented, and undeniably still raw. On Monday in Detroit he threw 39 pitches to get just two outs. He walked four, allowed a homer and a long double and threw just 18 strikes. It's not as if the home plate umpire, Doug Eddings, was calling a tight strike zone, either -- none of the other five pitchers the two teams used walked a man.

Berrios' rotation spot comes up again Saturday against Toronto, and the Blue Jays have a lineup that is rather similar to Detroit's: right-handed, experienced and powerful. There is a genuine sense that not only is Berrios not ready to be the rotation savior but that the Twins dare not expose him to the Jays.

If not Berrios, who? Kyle Gibson isn't coming off the disabled list this month. Pat Dean did a fine job of eating innings Monday, but he's left-handed and, well, on Monday he allowed 10 hits to the 24 men he faced. I don't think he's any better a match against the Blue Jays than Berrios is,

But more important that the matchup against Toronto this weekend is Berrios' development. The 22-year-old had to have his confidence dented Monday night. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the Twins cannot afford to have his confidence smashed. In the next few days the Twins need to take Berrios' emotional temperature and determine if he's better off back in the minors with the need for improved command of his stuff freshly emphasized.

Monday, May 16, 2016

More on Mauer as a leadoff hitter

A tangent I left out of Monday's print column about the Twins batting order:

Last week, when Paul Molitor unveiled his first lineup with Joe Mauer hitting leadoff, Fox Sports North studio analyst Tim Laudner hastened to assure the public that this has nothing to do with sabermetrics.

Laudner says a lot of silly things, few of them sillier than that. Of course Mauer as a leadoff hitter is sabermetrically inspired. He gets on base and he is neither fast nor a base stealer. You can probably count on the fingers of one hand the managers in the pre-Bill James era who would put such a hitter leadoff.

It's a old-school staple of long-standing: You lead off with a speedster, and you follow him with a guy who is adept at bunting and the hit-and-run. That was sensible in the deadball era, but it hung on for decades after it stopped making sense.

In the days of Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker, those moves were practically automatic; if the first batter of an inning reached base, the next at-bat would feature a steal, a bunt or a hit-and-run. Nobody bunts in the first inning nowadays, and seldom in the first seven (not counting pitchers). You might see one true hit-and-run play in a month (not counting putting the runner in motion on a 3-2 count). So why design a lineup to maximize the opportunity to use plays you're not going to use? Because that's the way Frank Chance did it? Nonsense.

It remains remarkable how many broadcasters and writers seem threatened by this kind of change. It would be understandable if Dan Gladden was; he spent his career hitting leadoff, and I doubt that would be the case in today's game, because his on-base percentages were mediocre. He was the traditional speed merchant hitting leadoff. But Laudner ... man, this evolution in the game wouldn't have affected his playing status at all.

But it certainly isn't going away. Did you notice who Terry Francona is using as the leadoff hitter for Cleveland? Carlos Santana, who is probably slower than Mauer and nowhere near as adept a baserunner (speed and savvy being two different things). Getting on base creates runs; making outs does not. That's not just "sabermetric." It's logical.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pic of the Week

Max Scherzer's 20-strikeout game in graphic form.

Pretty impressive game Wednesday by Max Scherzer against his old team, the Detroit Tigers. He struck out 20, as you probably know; as you probably also know, that ties the major league record for a nine-inning game.

That's impressive enough. But here's what gets me: He threw 119 pitches, and 96 of them were strikes.

For the Tigers, it might as well have been 96 Tears. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment II

On Friday morning I noted Baseball America's Mock Draft 2.0. Later on Friday, BA issued Mock Draft 3.0.

The high school pitcher they had had the Twins taking at No. 14 in the previous mock in this one goes five picks earlier to the Chicago White Sox. This time they have the Twins taking right-hander Dakota Hudson of Mississippi State.

They also link the Twins to Zach Burdi, brother of Nick Burdi, a bullpen prospect of note currently on the disabled list with Class AA Chattanooga. Like his elder brother, Zach is the closer for the University of Louisville. The idea of two Burdis in the bushes is intriguing, but No. 14 overall is a bit high for a reliever. Of course, the Twins have drafted a lot of college relievers and moved them to starting.


Yeah, it is. Twins now 8-26.


Byung Ho Park, whose Baseball Reference page is sponsored by yours truly, hit a pair of homers Friday in Cleveland. That's nine on the season for Park Bang, and if you want to play the on-pace game, he's on pace for roughly 45 homers. And about 75 RBIs, because eight of those homers have been solo shots.

Which, especially since this game was in Cleveland, reminds me of Brook Jacoby, third baseman for the 1987 Indians. He hit .300 that year with 32 homers and just 69 RBIs, Why so few ribbies? Because he spent the year hitting behind Joe Carter (.304 on-base percentage with 32 homers) and Cory Snyder (.272 OPB with 33 homers.) Only five of Jacoby's homers that year came with men on base.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Notes, quotes and comment

The Twins had an off day Thursday to contemplate their 8-25 record. Let's look at something -- somethings -- else, because almost anything is more appealing.

* Casey Fien, who was claimed by the Dodgers on waivers by the Twins and optioned to their Triple A affiliate in Salt Lake City, has now been waived by the Dodgers. This time he went unclaimed. So he's not only in the minors, but he's off the 40-man roster.

* Baseball America's mock draft 2.0 -- the Twins pick 14th, just above the mid-point of the first round -- has the Twins picking a high school pitcher. The specific name in the mock draft is Matt Manning of Sacramento, but BA links the Twins to a few other prep pitchers.

The baseball draft is always an exercise in patience, and drafting high school pitchers is particularly so. If that's the route the Twins go, it will be a long wait for this selection to make an impact in the majors.

After reading "The Arm," the Jeff Passan book about Tommy John surgery, I'm not enthused by the notion of spending high picks on pitchers, on the basis that anybody who shows enough velocity to be a first round pick already has a damaged arm. But ... there are a lot of ways for first round picks to go sideways or collapse on teams, and somebody has to pitch.

* Public Policy Polling did a survey on sports fandom. According to PPP:

  • 42 percent consider themselves fans of major league baseball, second to the NFL;
  • Almost two-thirds (65 percent) would prefer to do away with the designated hitter;
  • A slim majority want Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in the Hall of Fame.

I personally agree with the latter two points, but I also notice that the poll says more fans side with the players in labor disputes than with the owners, and I really doubt that's the case.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dick Bremer Disease

It occurred to me Wednesday afternoon that there is probably no more difficult job in Minnesota sports right now than broadcasting Twins games.

Unlike the newspaper writers, the broadcasters are under team control. Part of the job is to hype and shill and sell tickets. And it is not easy to talk with enthusiasm this month about the 2016 Twins, especially when, unlike the rest of us, they have to sit there and actually watch all of it.

So it was with sour amusement that I listened to Dick Bremer and Roy Smalley cling to the notion that 2015 represented the "real" Twins. The 2015 Twins had one extraordinary month (May) and played below .500 in every other month. That was enough to keep them in the playoff chase until the final weekend.

We all share, to one degree or another, the tendency to believe that a certain player's best short-term performance is his true level of ability. Bremer has vocalized that tendency so often over the years that I started calling it "Dick Bremer Disease." Torii Hunter reached the All Star break in 2002 with his batting average above .300, and Bremer spent a couple years talking about Hunter as a .300 hitter. He recently referred to Kurt Suzuki as "an All-Star" in the context of him being part of a challenging part of the lineup facing an opposing reliever. For Bremer, presumably, Suzuki's April-July in 2014 was the "real" Suzuki, and the rest of his career the aberration.

This was, I think, the first case of Dick Bremer Disease applied to the entire team. But, as I say, he's expected to speak well of this bunch. How to do that and maintain any credibility is his problem.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


This pretty much sums up the Twins' first 32 games: Even when they catch a remarkably fluky break, it does them no good.

Two on, two out in the ninth inning Tuesday, and Adam Jones of Baltimore smashes a line drive at Oswaldo Arcia in left field. Arcia steps back, then comes in, then dives and misses the ball, which bounces in front of him and scoots past -- only to meet Arcia's flailing left foot, which deflects the ball directly to center fielder Danny Santana, who holds Jones to a single.

That ball gets by Arcia, it's a triple at least, perhaps an inside-the-park homer. If the kicked ball isn't directly to Santana, it's at least an extra base for Jones, and maybe more. But it was more than enough to bring home two runs, break the tie and ultimately give the Orioles the win and the Twins yet another loss.

It's not hard to find a bit of fault-finding in the post-game comment of beleaguered closer Kevin Jepsen before he catches himself pointing fingers and accepts the blame:

Not that it does Jepsen any good, but yeah, I too thought Arcia should have made that play. But he's Oswaldo Arcia, and he is not a good defensive outfielder. He's in the lineup for his bat, and on Tuesday his fielding hurt more than his hitting helped.

Tuesday's outcome takes the Twins record down to 8-24, a .250 winning percentage. That also happens to be the winning percentage of the 1962 Mets, a team of legendary ineptitude whose failings have become the stuff of comic lore. Arcia's kick would have fit in with the stories of Marv Throneberry and Hot Rod Kanehl. It's not so funny when you're living it, though.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A minor leaguer hangs 'em up

Alex Swim apparently has decided he can find something else to do with his life.

Unless you pay attention to the Twins farm system, his is not a familiar name. He is -- or was before he walked away from the Fort Myers Miracle (High A) -- a left-handed hitting catcher-outfielder who spent some time in major league camp this spring and was the first receiver shipped out.

I noticed Swim a couple years ago when I visited the Cedar Rapids Kernels late in the Midwest League season. Jake Mauer had the Kernels surging in the second half, and Swim was getting the bulk of the right field playing time and spraying line drives. Swim hit .311 for the Kernels, albeit with minimal power.

He moved up to Fort Myers last year and hit .311 again, again getting much of his playing time in right field with Mitch Garver the regular catcher. Again, not much power.

This year he was repeating the Florida State League, again getting some right field time and again behind a more-highly drafted catcher, this time Brian Navaretto. Only this year. instead of hitting .311, he was hitting .204.

It's a rational decision. Swim is 25, which is old for the FSL. He's behind a lot of catchers -- and what's more, behind a lot of catchers in an organization that regards its catching depth as a problem. Even if the .204 is an aberration,  he is merely a singles hitter. He isn't making it to the major leagues.

But he had that taste for a few weeks in major league camp, and it couldn't have been an easy decision to give up, even if it was a case of quit before getting released.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Catching up on the roster shuffle

I took a rather skeptical view in the Monday print column of the effectiveness of the Twins roster shuffle. To catch up on what's happened:

  • LHP Tommy Milone, waived, went unclaimed and was assigned to Rochester. 
  • RHP Casey Fien, waived, was claimed by the Los Angeles Dodgers and remains in the majors.
  • C John Ryan Murphy was optioned to Rochester.
  • SS Eduardo Escobar went on the disabled list.
  • LHP Ryan O'Rourke was designated for assignment and remains in limbo.
  • RHP J.R. Graham was designated for assignment and remains in limbo.
  • RHP Ervin Santana was activated from the disabled list.
  • OF Darin Mastroianni was added to the 40-man roster and to the 25-man roster.
  • C Juan Centeno was added to the 40-man roster and to the 25-man roster.
  • LHP Pat Dean was called up.
  • RHP Brandon Kintzler was added to the 40-man roster and to the 25-man roster.

That adds up to six of the 25 roster spots, or 24 percent of the roster turned over between the end of Wednesday's game and the beginning of Saturday's. But it only involves one lineup regular (the freshly injured Escobar) and one rotation slot (Santana).

I am, obviously surprised that Milone passed through waivers and Fien did not. I was pretty certain that somebody would think Milone can help their rotation. As I said in the linked column, I'm not pleased with the selection of Kintzler over a higher-profile bullpen arm. (In Thursday's post I mentioned Nick Burdi as a possibility, but he went on the disabled list at Chattanooga with what is being described as a bone bruise on his upper arm.) And while I probably shouldn't make another prediction after getting Milone and Fien wrong, I expect both Graham and O'Rourke to clear waivers and remain in the organization.

And as for the catcher swap-out,  I can only note sourly that the third White Sox run on Sunday was set up when Tyler Duffey struck out a White Sox hitter with a curve in the dirt and it got away from Centeno. That makes 21 wild pitches for the team already. Tim Laudner, on the FSN postgame, made the same point about wild pitches that I have -- they're often partly the catcher's fault, and he clearly was not impressed with Centeno's inability to corral that pitch.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Pic of the Week

Oakland outfielder Billy Burns had company in
centerfield last week.
This photo reminds me of the day in 1983 when Dave Winfield, playing centerfield for the Yankees in Toronto (pre-Skydome), hit a seagull with a throw during between-innings warmups and killed the bird. Winfield was arrested after the game for cruelty to animals or some such charge, which was later dropped.

Yankees manager Billy Martin: "First time he's hit the cutoff man all year."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Roster revamp, part 1 (and HBPs)

The only action Brian Dozier (hamstring) saw Friday
was during the bench-clearing late in the game after Chicago's
Jose Abreu (79) was hit by a pitch.
Friday's roster shuffle wasn't exactly what I was anticipating. Tommy Milone and Casey Fien may have been waived, but the waiver period had not expired as of Friday (that will be this afternoon), so they were still on the roster.

Not on the roster because they were "designated for assignment," a move that does immediately take them off the 40-  and 25-man rosters, were J.R. Graham and Ryan O'Rourke, a pair of marginal relievers. Catcher John Ryan Murphy, as expected, was optioned out.

Ervin Santana was activated from the disabled list -- he starts today -- and the Twins selected the contracts of outfielder Darin Mastroianni and catcher Juan Centeno,

So three out and three in on Friday, and presumably three out and three in today, as shortstop Eduardo Escobar got hurt in Friday's game and is apparently headed to the disabled list. Jorge Polanco was pulled from the Rochester game and presumably will take Escobar's roster spot. He might even play a bit this time up.

I'm not sure who will replace Milone and Fien on the roster when their waiver period closes, although J.T. Chargois is a pretty good guess for one slot. Considering the suddenly dilapidated state of the Angels rotation in particular, I can't imagine Milone clearing waivers (two of the Angels starters went on the DL Friday with elbow miseries; one will have Tommy John and the other might). Fien is another matter. I suspect the Twins will retain him in Rochester. (For that matter, I wouldn't be surprised if O'Rourke got claimed by another team; I don't Graham will be leaving the organization.) We'll see soon how all this shakes out.

But other than Chargois and the return of their opening day starter, this (likely) shuffle of six roster slots probably doesn't help the now 8-21 team much. Losing the starting shortstop certainly won't improve things.

You compare the records of Murphy and Centeno, and there's no reason to think Centeno is going to be an upgrade. Even with Murphy's 3-for-40 2016 added in, he's a .242 hitter in 302 career at-bats and turns 25 next week. Centeno is 26 and a .164 hitter in 66 career at-bats. It's an understandable move in the short-term, but Murphy is still the better bet to be an impact catcher.


Speaking of impacts, the Twins and White Sox engaged in a bit of hit-me, hit-you foolishness Friday. The White Sox plunked Byung Ho Park, and Trevor May responded by putting his fastball in Jose Abreu's ribs. That cleared the dugouts, but the only ejection was of the Chicago manager. Then the Sox hit Kurt Suzuki, who simply went to first base without the Abreu histrionics.

I don't know that the Sox were throwing at Park, although it's possible that somebody took offense to the big guy's swings. But certainly May was retaliating, and just as certainly Sukuki got hit in retaliation for that. Foolishness, as I said, but ... the Twins were getting blown out again, they were headed for 8-21, there were two dead men walking in the bullpen. This is a frustrated and embarrassed team right now, and frustrated and embarrassed people will do foolish things. The Sox don't have that excuse for their foolishness.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The 16 percent factor

This is baseball math: 8-20 -- the Twins' won-lost record -- and 16-4 -- the score of Wednesday night's debacle --add up to 16 percent -- the apparent amount of roster churn to be announced today.

The Pioneer Press' Mike Bernardino with the first word on Twitter:

In the coming hours came word that catcher Juan Centeno and outfielder Darin Mastroianni are to meet the Twins in Chicago today. While the waiving of Milone and Fien opens a pair of 40-man roster spots for those two, the Twins are not likely to replace two pitchers on the active roster with two position players.

Presumably John Ryan Murphy and his .077 batting average (40 at bats) and Eddie Rosario and his .188 batting average are headed to Rochester. I say presumably because the Twins as of the early morning today had made no announcements.

The Twitter speculation last night about pitcher recalls was about J.T. Chargois and various non-roster arms. I suspect that one of the pitchers added today will be Ervin Santana off the disabled list. If Centeno and Mastroianni are added to the 40, there's no available slot for somebody like Buddy Boshers or Nick Burdi. Chargois is on the 40, so his call-up would work. If that's the pitcher turnover -- Milone and Fien out, Santana and Chargois in -- J.R. Graham gets a reprieve that I'm not sure he deserves.

I assume Milone is more likely to be claimed on waivers than Fien. He's left-handed and a starter, and in that context his $5 million salary is more palatable than Fien's $2,28 million (those are full-season numbers, the actual amount for a claiming team would be less).

I'm surprised the Twins pulled the plug on Milone, but I am hardly upset. It signals a commitment to Tyler Duffey and Jose Berrios in the rotation, which is a plus. Somebody from the veterans pile had to go to make room. And when Kyle Gibson returns, whenever that is, another change will be needed, but that's a move for later.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

One of those games

It takes a lot to get me to tune out of a Twins game. but Wednesday's was an easy one for me to abandon. And since I paid almost no attention to it, I shall not comment on it.

Every team, even good ones, has games like that, but bad teams have them more often, and at 8-20 it's becoming increasingly likely that this is simply a bad team.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

That was quick

Alex Meyer reaches for the return throw from Kurt Suzuki
as George Springer scores on Meyer's third-inning wild pitch.
For the second year in a row, Alex Meyer made two appearances, showed a lack of command of his imposing stuff, and was returned to Triple A.

Coming up, to all appearances on a strictly temporary basis, is J.R. Graham. Graham isn't doing all that well at Rochester -- ERA 10.80 in 8.1 innings -- but Ervin Santana is expected to come off the disabled list Friday. Graham will be an extra bullpen arm in the next two days.

As for Meyer -- if he, Tyler Duffey and Jose Berrios were indeed dueling to stay in the rotation, I'd say it was a pretty easy call. Meyer, in his first major league start, got through two innings unscathed Tuesday but could not get through the third. He threw 64 pitches and only 34 for strikes. He struck out three, yes, but he also walked three, yielded a home run and threw a wild pitch. He returns to Rochester with a 12.27 ERA.

To be sure, in a way this callup was virtually designed for Meyer to fail. He's notably tall for a pitcher and, as is relatively common for a tall pitcher, has problems maintaining his mechanics. He was pitching in rotation in Rochester and was brought to the majors on his start day to serve as bullpen backup after the 16-inning disaster in Washington, then sat for days. He finally relieved on nine days rest, which in a purely what's-best-for-Alex-Meyer sense was about as poor a usage as one could imagine,

He's not going to thrive on sporadic use. That said, the Greg McMichael rule says: If you get outs, they'll find a role for you. That concept works in reverse, too; to get a role, you have to get outs first, Meyer hasn't pitched well enough to give Paul Molitor reason to want to give him regular work.

Meanwhile: Tommy Milone, in his first bullpen outing of the year, also gave up three runs, also yielded a homer, also threw a wild pitch. It was not a particularly effective bid to return to the rotation. So we can expect a rotation of Phil Hughes, Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Duffey and Berrios at least until Kyle Gibson returns, and there doesn't appear to be a timeline for Gibson.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Berrios, Layne and Murphy

Paul Molitor gets between catcher John Ryan Murphy
and home plate umpire Jerry Layne after Murphy was
ejected for arguing balls and strikes.
The presumption is that Jose (or J.O.) Berrios is in a pitch-off with Alex Meyer and Tyler Duffey, with one of those three going back to Rochester when Ervin Santana comes off the disabled list.

Berrios showed the talent Monday night. The box score line isn't all that impressive -- five walks in 5.1 innings -- but home plate umpire Jerry Layne was not very good.

What's more, I'll bet he knows he had a bad day on balls and strikes, and knew it even before reviewing the daily electronic review of his calls.

The pitch that led to the ejection of catcher John Ryan Murphy -- my guess is that Layne got fooled by the reaction of Jose Altuve, who moved away from the Berrios breaking ball like it was a rattler about to strike. Berrios threw a slightly worse version of the same pitch after the rhubarb, Altuve moved away again, and Layne this time called strike three.

JRM got away in an earlier at-bat with turning around to talk to Layne, and turned his head after the Altuve pitch. The broadcasters suggested Layne was baiting Murphy, but I think Layne was relatively patient with him -- again, because Layne knew he was not doing well. Consider Dallas Kuechel, last year's Cy Young winner, who walked four men in the crucial fourth inning; Layne wasn't squeezing only the rookie.

Meyer goes tonight. His reputation for uncertain command precedes him, and he may need a better umpiring job than Layne provided on Monday. It's a good guess that Murphy will be catching again, based on the apparent back issues Kurt Suzuki caught with after the ejection.

Monday, May 2, 2016

More sloppy ball

Detroit third baseman Mike Aviles is waiting for Miguel
Sano to slide into the final out of Sunday's game.

The box score suggests the Twins played a clean, mistake free game Sunday, The box score is wrong.

The Monday print column focused on the wild pitches as a slice of the sloppy baseball the Twins played in April.

May didn't start any better, even if there were no official wild pitches. (A pitch did elude Kurt Suzuki, but the runner was going and it was ruled a stolen base, not a wild pitch.) The Tigers scored the go-ahead run when shortstop Eduardo Escobar dropped a relay throw, and Miguel Sano ended the game by getting thrown out at third base. Not a smart play by Sano at all.

Even if the Twins had won that eminently winnable game, it still would have been a poor homestand. The loss merely made that homestand worse.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Pic of the Week

Tanner Roark of the Washington Nationals
fires a pitch against the Twins.
Tanner Roark had himself a pretty impressive outing against the Twins on Aug. 23 -- 15 strikeouts in 7 innings.

This is a pretty impressive photo, too, with his pitch obscuring his face. Even though, strictly speaking, it's a pic from the previous week, I liked it enough to let it have this slot.