Thursday, May 31, 2018

A lost cause road trip

The Twins went a dismal 1-5 on their excursion to Seattle and Kansas City. They return home with Byron Buxton on the disabled list and a weary bullpen that seems addicted to giving up late and crucial runs.

I switched the channel after the game to MLB Network in time to hear Harold Reynolds suggest that the Twins need a "reboot." They'd probably like to restart the season, but it's the last day in May and they have the record they deserve. Yes, they've had a few bad breaks --  Thursday's Mike Moustakas homer was little more than a popup down the line -- but this team has played sloppy baseball.

June trades are rather rare, last week's deal between Seattle and Tampa Bay notwithstanding. But a trade moving one of the veteran starters next month should perhaps be expected. Ervin Santana's impending return figures to overflow the rotation.

Roster stuff: The Twins finally conceded Wednesday that Buxton was not playing effectively with his fractured toe. So he's back on the DL. Aaron Slegers came up, pitched 5.1 shutout innings of relief after Fernando Romero put the Twins behind 9-0, and got optioned back out after the game -- punished for doing a good job, but the Twins need more bullpen reinforcements.

Slegers will probably be the 26th man for an upcoming doubleheader (June 5), but he wasn't going to pitch before that. He loses out on a few days of major league pay, though.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Applying the "opener" to the Twins

The Monday print column examined the Rays' innovative use of veteran short reliever Sergio Romo, who has been deployed four times in two weeks to pitch the first inning against righty-heavy lineups.

The Rays all told have done this five times in that span, using another righty bullpen arm for the first inning and then turning to another pticher for length.

The column got about as long as I care to submit for print without getting into the applicability of this strategy for the Twins. And without a specific transaction to comment on today, here goes.

Against the Twins

I don't see the Rays trotting Romo out for the first inning when they come to Minnesota in July. Romo, who throws about 60 percent sliders, is a right-handed specialist, and the Twins are heavy with left-handed hitters and switch hitters. It's a rare lineup from Paul Molitor that doesn't have at least one left-handed hitter in the top two lineup spots.

Remember, a big part of what Kevin Cash is doing here is getting a favorable matchup at the start of the game. He's not eager to have Romo face Joe Mauer, Eddie Rosario or Max Kepler at any time that matters.

By the Twins

Unlike the Rays, the Twins don't have any lefties in their rotation, marginal or otherwise, and won't even after Ervin Santana returns from his surgery rehab. And there's really nobody in the current rotation Molitor would necessarily want to protect.

But last year was another matter. Adlaberto Mejia made 21 starts for the Twins and threw all of 98 innings -- less than five innings per start. The hefty lefty was their fourth-used starter but didn't provide the bulk innings one wants from a middle of the rotation piece.

It might have helped to use somebody like Alan Busenitz or Ryan Pressly against a righty-heavy top of a lineup to open Mejia's outings and then turn to Mejia. One or two more wins out of those games would have been valued.

Mejia not only didn't make the team this year, he isn't giving the Twins reason to bring him up. If the opener concept is going to spread out of Tampa Bay, it won't do so in Minnesota.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The meaning of Taylor Motter

Uh, who what?

The Twins created an opening on their 40-man roster last week by designating Phil Hughes for assignment (and later trading him to San Diego). It was presumed that they created that opening so they could activate Trevor May or Ervin Santana around about now as they become eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list.

And they fill the roster spot with organizational depth for Triple A?

Taylor Motter (not Tyler) is 28 and has 390 major league plate appearances over three seasons for two teams on his Baseball Reference page, with a batting average of .198. He has played every position in the majors except catcher and center field. In 2017 he stole 12 bases in 13 attempts, so he probably has some speed. He appears to have played considerable shortstop in the minors.

I don't really see the purpose in having him on the 40, but he may not have that roster spot long. I suspect the Twins will waive him themselves in hopes he can clear waivers for them and they can stash him at Rochester.

Remember: Jorge Polanco comes off his steroid suspension in 31 games. Presumably either Ehrie Adrianza or Gregorio Petit would be waived to make room for Polanco. Motter could be viewed as insurance against losing one of those utility men.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Phil Hughes and the money

There was a taker for Phil Hughes' contract, or at least some of it, after all.

The Twins on Sunday traded Hughes to San Diego. On the face of it, it's pretty much all subtraction:

That pick was tradable because it's a competitive balance pick. And while the amount of cash the Twins are sending with Hughes wasn't announced, it's been reported to be quite a bit, with the Padres assuming only about $6 million to $7 million of the $20 million or so left on his contract.

Now that we've set the technical details, let's break this deal down to two component parts:

I would like to be wrong on this, but the Padres overpaid on the first half of this trade. The current version of Phil Hughes is not worth $6 million. (San Diego is a pretty good landing spot for Hughes, and I hope he does well there.)

I would like to be wrong on the second part as well, but there's a better chance the 74th player in next month's draft will be a productive major leaguer than there is for Villalobos. Plus deleting more than $800,000 from the bonus pool figures to constrict the Twins' draft flexibility.

Villalobos is 21 and hasn't gotten out of Rookie ball in the San Diego organization. He's going to be on a short-season team again this year, presumably Elizabethton in the Appy League. You can look at his stats in the above link, but Rookie level numbers don't mean much. 

When the Twins DFA'd Hughes last week, Derek Falvey mentioned that principal owner Jim Pohlad signed off on the decision. I suspect that getting ownership's OK to write off $20 million required Falvey to agree to make minimizing that write off a priority. (I also suspect that the late signings of Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison put the Twins over budget on this year's payroll, which may be another reason to emphasize for the savings.)

It's not my money, and we have no idea what talent the Twins will lose out on for Villalobos. But I think the Twins would probably have been better off eating the full term of Hughes' contract and keeping the draft pick. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Pic of the Week

Dexter Fowler left the game Friday after
being hit in the knee by a pitch.
What really attracted me to this photo is the good look it provided of the camouflage socks the players were wearing with the special Memorial Day Weekend uniforms.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

At least Friday night's loss in Seattle was a quick one: 2:14, the fastest game in the majors this year.

The other day the Twins were 1-1 in the eighth inning, and the game was almost three hours in. Pace of play, man.

This just in: James Paxson is a pretty good pitcher. Fernando Romero ain't bad either, but the business of walking somebody with two outs, wild-pitching him to second and then giving up a hit against the shift -- that's emblematic of the 2018 Twins as we hit Memorial Day weekend. That's giving the Mariners a run, and that run gave them the game.


Worth reading department: This story from USA Today about protective cups. Plenty of Twins (Eddie Rosario, Brian Dozier, Torii Hunter and Paul Molitor) quoted in it, but my favorite line is the explanation by former Giants and White Sox infielder Juan Uribe of why he didn't wear one.

This piece from Fangraphs' Jay Jaffe on Phil Hughes, DFA'ed earlier this week by the Twins, and thoractic outlet syndrome.

The Red Sox on Friday DFA'd veteran slugger Hanley Ramirez to reactivate Dustin Pedroia from the disabled list, and there was immediate speculation from MLB Radio's Jim Bowden that the Twins might be a landing place for the first baseman-DH.

I assume that the Twins came to mind because the acquisition earlier this week of Chris Carter signaled an interest by Minnesota in that ilk of player. Ramirez still has a better hit tool than the swing-and-miss addicted Carter, but they are both right-right first basemen who are relatively inept in the field. Ramirez was hitting .330 through April and .163 this month.

I know this: The Twins aren't taking on Ramirez' contract. No team is. He will clear waivers, the Sawx will release him, and he'll get to pick from his suitors, who will pay the pro-rated minimum while Boston pays him the rest.


Finally, relationship advice from veteran reliever John Axford via Twitter:

Friday, May 25, 2018

The return of Miguel Sano

The Twins celebrated their off day Thursday by reinstating Miguel Sano from the disabled list and optioning Jake Cave back to Rochester.

I would expect to see a lot of Sano as the designated hitter, at least initially, and perhaps as long as Joe Mauer is sidelined.  Logan Morrison has first base while Mauer waits for his concussion syndrome to subside, and the Twins would rather play Eduardo Escobar at third base than at shortstop.

Sano had a productive five-game rehab stint at Triple A, and perhaps his return after a 24-game absence will give this lineup a jolt. It needs one.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

RIP, Philip Roth

Oh, to be a center fielder, a center fielder -- and nothing more.
Philip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint

Philip Roth died this week, and even though I stopped buying his new works years ago and haven't really revisited the older ones in some time, that news hit home. I have the doubtless erroneous notion that he's one of those writers that anybody serious about the craft has some familiarity with, and I certainly read him heavily in my high school/college/post college years.

The Washington Post news service provided an obit on Roth that would fill more than a full page of a newspaper. What struck me is that even such an extensive accounting of his career didn't even mention The Great American Novel, which is the Roth book that comes to my baseball-addled mind most readily.

Trying to sum up TGAN in a sentence or two, particularly without having read it in a couple decades, is a challenge, but here goes: The Ruppert Mundys, once the power of the Patriot League, have surrendered their home stadium to the war effort and are playing the season on the road with a sad sack roster of ne're-do-wells and malcontents. Ultimately their efforts to rise above their lowly status end with the collapse of the league and the flushing of its very existence from the memories of all but the aged sportswriter telling the tale.

All the players bear the names of pantheistic dieties: Ptah, Baal, Agni, Gil Gamesh. Echoes of genuine baseball history figure in the fantastic tale -- for example, the outfielder who grew up without fences and thus crashes repeatedly into walls recalls the career of Pistol Pete Rieser. 

Roth even appears to forecast the rise of sabermetrics by having a young, emphatically nonathletic, Jewish genius take control of the Mundys. 

TGAN clearly isn't Roth's most important or most popular work, but it's a fun one. I took note Wednesday that at least three of the baseball writers I follow on Twitter mentioned it (athough one of them said he has never been able to finish it.) And I intend to revisit the book sometime this summer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Contemplating Chris Carter

The Twins on Tueday filled the open spot on the 25-man roster created by DFAing Phil Hughes with Ryan LaMarre, who figures to wind up with an impressive amount of frequent flier miles bouncing between Rochester and Minneapolis.

They also purchased slugger Chris Carter from the Angels. Meaningful or meaningless? Let's examine:

Who is he? The ultimate one-trick pony. Carter has big-time power -- he led the National League in homers in 2016 -- and does little else. He's 31 now, and to the extent that he plays a position it's first base. He's listed at 245 pounds, but I won't vouch for the accuracy of that weight.

Carter has seen big league time in Oakland, Houston, Milwaukee and the Yankees, hitting 158 homers in his wandering but also hitting just .217 and leading his league twice in strikeouts. Milwaukee nontendered him after he hit 41 homers in 2016 rather than deal with his arbitration eligibility.

Carter has spent this season in Salt Lake City, the Angels' Triple A affiliate, which is a very good hitting environment. He's slugging .600 there. He's also hitting just .255. He remains an all-or-nothing hitter.

Why the Twins? Start with the uncertainty about Joe Mauer's health. If the concussion symptoms that landed him on the disabled list persist -- and given his history, that seems a legitimate possibility -- the Twins may need some help at first base behind Logan Morrison.

Kennys Vargas is still in the organization, but Vargas is really scuffling at Triple A, where his slugging percentage is literally half Carter's (albeit in a much more difficult hitting environment).

And, again, Carter is right-handed. Even with Mauer and Jason Castro sidelined, this remains a very left-handed lineup, which suggests vulnerability to southpaws.

Any drawbacks to adding him? Probably not. I had hoped that Brent Rooker would continue to push his way rapidly up the ladder; he opened the season at Double A Chattanooga. But Rooker is hitting just.236/.273/.379 with the Lookouts, and while I remain optimistic that he's going to be a major league first baseman someday, that day is unlikely to come in 2018. I wouldn't want Carter (or Vargas) blocking Rooker, but Rooker is stalling himself right now.

Bottom line: Carter is very flawed, but a reasonable addition at the price. Given Mauer's cloudy outlook, Miguel Sano's recurring leg issues and Morrison's spotty record against left-handed pitching, Carter might wind up being a useful piece. Or he might be irrelevant. The latter is preferable.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Good bye, Hughes

The Twins designated Phil Hughes for assignment after Monday night's game. No immediate corresponding move was announced.

It's rather startling to realize that this was Hughes' fifth season with the Twins. His first was very good. The then-front office rewarded him with a lengthy contract extension, after which came a series of surgeries and rehab that he never seemed to fully recover from. The Twins still owe him more than $22 million for this year and next.

The track record of pitchers with thoracic outlet syndrome is spotty at best. Hughes is not the first to lose the effectiveness of his fastball with the surgery, and he never at any point in his career seemed to master the art of changing speeds. He always needed to be a power pitcher, and the power just wasn't there anymore. 

Presumably Hughes will clear waivers and be released, after which somebody will pick him up as a low-cost flier. And good luck to him. His 2014 season was one of the best things to happen to the Twins in the late Gardenhire years. For that one year, he was a good as anybody in the game. But pitching is a fragile endeavor, and it is not surprising that his time with the Twins has ended.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Notes from the weekend

I'm not a neurologist who has examined Joe Mauer. Even if I were a neurologist who has examined Joe Mauer, I doubt I would have a definitive opinion on what the return of "concussion-like symptoms" means for his future.

But clearly this is not a positive development for him, or for the team. He left Friday's game early and went on the disabled list Saturday. (Technical note: He went on the 10-day DL, and I wonder if they abolished the seven-day concussion DL when the 10-day DL came into being.) All we know for sure is he won't play for more than a week.


The Twins finally played a clean game Sunday. And they won. What a novelty.


I am amused by the reaction to Tampa Bay's newest pitching innovation: The one-inning starter.

The Ray's rotation had left-hander Ryan Yarbourgh scheduled for Saturday's game at Anaheim, but manager Kevin Cash announced earlier in the week that he would open the game with veteran reliever Sergio Romo, who once closed for a team that won the World Series and had never started a game in his career. The rationale: The Angels don't have a left-handed bat in the top half of their lineup, so the right-handed Romo can deal with the Mike Trouts and Justin Uptons in the first inning and Yarbourgh can have a slightly easier time of it when he came in in the second.

I heard somebody, I'm not sure who, on MLB Radio ranting about this. What sabermetrics, what analytics, tell you that a guy who's never started in his life is a better matchup?

Hey, it's one inning of pitching. One inning at a time is what Romo has done in the majors for 11 years. First inning, sixth inning, ninth inning -- it's all short stints for him.

He struck out the side in the first. Yarbourgh entered to start the second inning and went 6.1 innings, his longest outing of the season. (And got the W.)

And on Sunday, Romo started again. This time Cash stretched him out to 1.1 innings. The Angels won Sunday -- it was Shohei Ohtani's day to pitch, after all -- but Romo gave them another shutout inning at the start of the game.

After which Angels infielder Zach Cozart complained that using Romo this way was "bad for baseball." Seriously.


Cozart's may not have been the single silliest utterance of the weekend, however. I bow in this regard to the Dutch Master of old-school, Bert Blyleven, who complained mightly during Sunday's telecast about the pulling of Jake Odorizzi in the sixth inning. At one point he declared that Odorizzi is like Justin Verlander and capable of going 120 pitches.

What Odorizzi has in common with Verlander is that they're right-handed and have spent their entire major league careers in the American League. Verlander has 10 seasons with more innings than Odorizzi's career high. Odorizzi has thrown 120 pitches (his career high) exactly once, in 2016.

Odorizzi is a good major league starter. He's not Verlander. It insults the listeners' intelligence to pretend they are equivalent pitchers. We were all better off when Blyleven was on his extended break from the booth.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pic of the Week

Jose Inglesias takes a pitch in his back
on Mother's Day.
There are weeks when the photo pickings appear particularly puny, and in those weeks I tend to gravitate to a few standard shots.

One is the "point-of-impact" hit-by-pitch.

This is one such week, and this is one such photo.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A return of "SOG" (one day only, we hope)

Kyle Gibson allowed five earned runs in 5.1 innings on eight hits and four walks Friday night. Last year at this time I referred to such outings from him as "SOG" -- Same Old Gibson. This year, such outings have been rare indeed.

Last season he learned to incorporate a four-seam fastball into his mix of pitches and use it in the upper levels of the strike zone. He pitched quite well down the stretch in 2017 after his second brief demotion to Triple A, and for the most part has done so this season as well, Friday's clunker notwithstanding. His new approach has, among other benefits, sharply boosted his strikeout rate.

Gibson is no longer a "sinker-slider guy." He has a broader range of pitches now -- and they are usable pitches, pitches he can actually get outs with, not just throw out of the strike zone.

The high fastball is emerging in pitching theory as a means to combat the hitters who are focused on "launch angle," or hitting the ball in the air. Jake Odorizzi has deployed that approach for some time, and Gibson has clearly embraced it as well.

With any luck, this trend will prompt Bert Blyleven to stop mindlessly declaring that any hard-hit ball was "up in the zone" regardless of its actual location. Ot maybe that's too much to ask for.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Lance Lynn's long leash

No question: Lance Lynn has had an ugly season so far. The veteran right-hander, whose career worst ERA entering the season was 3.97, has a jumbo-jet sized ERA of 7.47 after eight starts, with 29 walks in 37.1 innings.

The Twins have played 39 games; almost a quarter of the regular season schedule is behind them. How long can they keep rolling Lynn out there?

My guess is Lynn will continue to start until Ervin Santana is deemed ready to pitch. And Santana, who was originally expected to be back by now, hasn't officially started a rehab assignment yet after his finger surgery.

There are other in-house options -- Zack Littell, Aaron Slegers, Aldaberto Mejia and Stephen Gonsalves are all waiting their turn in Triple A Rochester -- but the combination of Lynn's track record, the $12 million invested in him and the notion that Santana's return is imminent (even though it isn't) probably means the Twins will wait to pull Lynn from the rotation.

If you look hard enough at Logan Morrison, the Twins other late free-agent signing, you can see some reason for patience. (LoMo's splits over the last 28 days: .280/.372/.524.) It's much harder to find reason to believe in Lynn's results.

The Twins in Terry Ryan's tenure frequently pulled the plug on failing veterans around this point of the season. I haven't a good read yet on the patience of the Falvine regime, and Ryan's plug-pulling was never with a pitcher who carried the expectations Lynn does. Lynn is certainly becoming a genuine test of their patience.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The catching situation

Let us hope that the news arc on Jason Castro halts its direction here, because it seems that every development about his right knee becomes increasingly dire. In the last two weeks or so we've seen it go from:

  • Sound enough to play on, to
  • Cortisone shot and a short DL stint, to
  • Surgery and a month or so of rehab, to
  • Out for the season

The next step in this progression is probably something like amputation.

Castro has another season left on his contract, and the way Paul Molitor worded Castro's 2019 outlook Wednesday morning was open to interpretation: "I think there's some real optimism." Yes, sir, but is there some real pessimism? 

Let us assume for the moment that the Twins are indeed confident that Castro will be capable of carrying his 2017 workload in 2019. That still leaves them about four-and-a-half months of 2018's regular season, plus, they hope, some playoffs. And their catchers are a relatively old rookie in Mitch Garver (27) and the well-traveled veteran Bobby Wilson (35).

LaVelle Neal said on Twitter that it's time to see what Garver can do. My expectation is that Garver will hit well enough to justify the bulk of the playing time, but he's no Castro behind the dish. So far Molitor has split the catching time pretty evenly between Garver and Wilson in Castro's absence.

Nothing's going to happen, barring further injury, for the next month or so. Once past the June draft, however, the Twins might start sniffing the trade market for a veteran backstop, especially if Garver doesn't perform well enough over the next month to merit the regular job. (There should be no expectation that Wilson can be anything more than a backup.)

 If they truly expect Castro back in form next season, their interest will probably be in a rental, a free-agent-to-be. If they are wary about his chances -- and this is his third operation on that knee -- they'll raise their sights.

Believe what they do more than what they say.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Big on small ball

For the second straight day, the winning run in the Twins game came scored when a team tried to bunt the go-ahead run from second to third and the defense not only couldn't take the offered out but threw the ball away.

On Monday it was the Twins' Logan Morrison failing; on Tuesday it was Luke Gregerson of the Cardinals.

Gregerson's miscue is a good example of why I believe the bunt is an underrated play. It makes a pitcher get off the mound and do something out of the routine. That seems to challenge many pitchers, even in the big leagues. That it was on Byron Buxton -- who can motor even when hampered by that hairline fracture in his big toe -- added to the challenge.

Morrison's error doesn't fit my rationale. because he's not a pitcher. And while some first basemen wind up at the position to minimize their need to throw, Morrison is a first baseman because he's not a fast enough runner to play outfield competently.

But the Morrison play did involve a really fast runner -- Dee Gordon was the man on second, and Morrison wanted to make the play at third. He threw the ball away when he had to go to Plan B.


One other comment: Bobby Wilson, RBI machine. The catcher hit a two-run homer after the Buxton bunt/Gregerson error. That's five RBIs in as many games for him. It won't last, but enjoy it while it does.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Rough day at the office

Monday was not a good day for the Twins.

Not only did they get shut down by the personification of a nonentity (that description is probably an oxymoron, but so be it) and literally throw the game away in the field, but they learned that Jason Castro isn't coming back as expected from his knee problem. And Frank Quilici, a beloved player, manager and broadcaster of the 1960s and 70s, died.

Start with Castro. Their No. 1 catcher was eligible to come off the disabled list today, but instead he's to have surgery for the third time on his right knee. This time it's for his meniscus, a piece of cartilege. It didn't respond as expected to a cortisone shot, so here comes the knife.

Four to six weeks is the prognosis. I'll wager on the longer time span, given Castro's fairly extensive history with that joint.

So Mitch Garver and Bobby Wilson get a genuine opportunity. We haven't really seen as much of Garver in the 10 days as I expected -- Wilson started four games, I believe, and seems to be particularly paired with Fernando Romero.


Quilici was a utility infielder who didn't hit much -- lifetime batting average .214, with five homers in a five-year career. He was part of the 1965 pennant winners' second base melange, but I remember him largely as a defensive sub for Harmon Killebrew when the slugger was playing third base. (Quilici, according to Baseball Reference, played third in 159 games but started only 31 of those games.)

He got the manager's job in midseason 1972 when Bill Rigney got the ax, less than two years after his final game as a player. He got three full seasons in as skipper and wound up a little south of .500.

Then he joined Herb Carneal in the radio booth; in his ghost-written autobiography, Herb said Frank was his favorite broadcast partner.

Quilici seems to have been a easy fellow to like. That isn't necessarily a plus for a manager, but I don't know that the early 70s Twins were going anywhere under any manager. He is the one guy Tom Kelly played for in the majors, and he is the last manager to play Rod Carew regularly at second base.


As for Monday's game: Ugh. Logan Morrison botched up a bunt play -- looked to third, realized he wasn't throwing out the speedy Dee Gordon, then threw the ball down the right field line, which scored Gordon with the only run of the game. Gordon reached on a double on which Eddie Rosario appeared to get a poor jump. Later in the inning Max Kepler lost a ball in the lights, which was ruled a single and got Trevor Hildenberger charged with an earned run as well as the loss. Ugly inning.

Dick-and-Roy were insisting earlier in the game that Morrison is a good defensive first baseman, and that is indeed his reputation, but he hasn't been very good afield with the Twins.

And Wade LeBlanc ... well, I looked him up on Baseball Reference. This is, somehow, his 10th major league season, but that really overstates it. He has less than five years of service time, which means he's been not only bouncing between organizations (seven organizations, with some doubling up) but between those major league clubs and the minors.

Left-handed and breathing. Those are his credentials. And he shut down the Twins. It's one thing to be stifled by Shohei Ohtani; it's another to be this futile against Wade LeBlanc.

LeBlanc's travels: He signed with the Angels in the offseason of  '13-14. The Angels waived him in June, and the Yankees claimed him. The Yankees released him two weeks later, and the Angels promptly re-signed him. That's not unprecedented, but it's unusual.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Second-guessing the use of Zach Duke

The Twins lost Sunday 2-1. They didn't necessarily have to -- Ehire Adrianza did a sloppy job of running the bases and got thown out at the plate with the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth, after which Paul Molitor made the truly curious decision to have Zach Duke pitch against a series of right-handed hitters.

Chris Young (HBP on an 0-2 count), Martin Maldonado (sac bunt), Zack Cozart (RBI single). Game over. And had the game been alive after Cozart's hit, Mike Trout and Justin Upton were the next two hitters.

Duke has now pitched 13.1 innings this season, in which he's walked 10 and hit three. That's a lot of free baserunners. More to the point of second-guessing Paul Molitor's choice of Duke to pitch in a high-leverage situation against a string of right-handed bats, his OPS allowed is more than twice as high against righties as lefties.

Yeah, it's an extremely small sample size, but it is backed up with career numbers. Duke has always been better against lefties and since his move to the bullpen, his managers -- and there have been a lot of them for the veteran-- have treated him as a specialist. But Molitor has the notion that Duke has the stuff to thrive against righties, and he's gotten burned a couple of times that way.

To be sure, Molitor's preferred right-handed options -- Trevor Hildenberger and Addison Reed -- were probably unavailable. Hildenberger had pitched the previous three days, and Reed pitched two innings on Saturday.

And I don't blame Molitor for deciding to stay away from Phil Hughes. I don't know if Hughes is the bullpen is going to work, but we've seen nothing so far to make a manager eager to put a game in his hands.

But why not try Matt Magill? Magill has pitched nine innings since his call up and allowed one run. He's right-handed, and he has avoided so far the major failing of his previous major league experiences, walks. I would much rather pit Magill's stuff against the Cozart-Trout-Upton string of All-Star right-handed bats than Duke's.

The closest game Magill has pitched in was Friday's; he worked the eighth with the Twins down a pair and got the win when they scored three in the top of the ninth. Other than that, he's pitched with leads of more than four runs and deficits of three or more. He never even warmed up in Saturday's extra-inning affair; Hughes would have pitched the 12th had the Twins not taken the lead.

As with Hildenberger last year, it's understandable for Molitor to be cautious with him. But the "Greg McMichael Rule" -- if you get outs, they'll find a role for you -- suggests that Magill should soon get some more meaningful innings.

Had Adrianza scored on Robbie Grossman's double -- and he should have -- Molitor would have gone with Fernando Rodney in the bottom of the inning instead of Duke, and this rant never gets written. So Adrianza deserves the criticism he's getting elsewhere. But I firmly believe Duke shouldn't have been near the mound that inning.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Pic of the Week

The Seattle Mariners celebrate James Paxson's
no-hitter in Toronto.

New week, new Ichiro photo. And there's a lot here to unpack.

Ichiro's in uniform, but he's not really part of the team anymore, so while everybody else is in a mass hug of James Paxson, he's set apart but still there. I wonder how awkward it is around him these days.

His pose brought to mind the famous "Christ the Redeemer" statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro, as if he is supplying his blessing to the celebration.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Making your own luck

Mike Scioscia is in his 19th season as manager of the Angels. He's won 1,593 major league games and a World Series. He has, we can safely assume, a pretty solid notion of how to win games.

The "book" says you don't put the winning run on base. Scioscia violated that principle in the ninth inning, intentionally walking pinch-hitter Max Kepler to get at the weaker-hitting bottom of the Twins lineup. But Mitch Garver (pinch-hitting for Ehire Adrianaza) singled in the tying run, with Kepler taking third, and RBI machine Bobby Wilson got his second sac fly of the week.

Scioscia said after the game he preferred the matchups behind Kepler, and that's understandable. But intentionally walking the winning run is playing with matches and gasoline. On Friday, he got burned.


Wilson now has 10 career sacrifice flies (in 860 plate appearances). Question: Is that a lot?

Well, Miguel Sano has seven sac flies in 1,403 PA. Eddie Rosario, 14 in in 1,557 PA. I took a look at about a dozen Twins, past and present, and the only other one I encountered who averaged at least one sac fly per 100 trips to the plate was Gene Larkin (27 SF in 2,670 PA).

Larkin came to mind because his most famous plate appearance -- his game-winning single in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series -- was essentially a sac fly against a drawn-in outfield.

Hitting a fly ball on command isn't easy, and Wilson's apparent prowess is probably just a fluke.


The Fernando Rodney Experience was a lot of hard-hit balls for outs Friday.

Them's the breaks.


Another tweet:

To be blunt about it: Lance Lynn hasn't thrown enough strikes this year to deserve the breaks he compalins of not getting. He's walked 25 hitters in 34.1 innings. For a guy who throws almost nothing but fastballs, that's absurd.

Friday, May 11, 2018

So much for that winning streak

Sometimes a baseball season feels like a whack-a-mole: Fix one problem and another shows up.

Fernando Romero steps into the rotation to replace the struggling Phil Hughes, and suddenly the fifth starter's spot appears more than functional -- and somebody else is pitching poorly.

Thursday's game made three straight poor starts for Jose Berrios since his spectacular outing in Puerto Rico. I'm sure Berrios isn't about to be dislodged from the rotation. I'm also sure the Twins need to figure out how to get him on the right track again.


I commented Thursday morning on how well Max Kepler was hitting lefties. He homered Thursday night, the second of back-to-back homers (the other from Brian Dozier) that briefly tied the game.

Kepler last year had five extra-base hits all season against lefties (137 plate appearances). He's passed that total already in 2018 in 31 plate appearances.


And my prediction that Ryan LaMarre would be demoted to make roster room for Byron Buxton's return was, for once, accurate. The blind pig found an acorn.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

An intriguing pitching matchup on tap for Sunday: Fernando Romero for the Twins, Shohei Ohtani for the Angels. Gonna be some fastballs thrown in that one.


Byron Buxton is expected to come off the disabled list today, raising the question of who will leave the active roster to make room for him?

My guess is Ryan LaMarre. Two reasons:

  • The Twins are thinner in the infield than in the outfield;
  • Part of LaMarre's perceived value is as a right-handed hitter. But with Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario hitting much better this year against lefties than in the past, there isn't as much need for that right-handed bat.

That last point deserves some specific attention. The plate appearances are quite limited, of course, but Rosario has popped four extra-base hits against lefties so far and his slugging percentage against southpaws is .481. (Just 28 plate appearance, and he has no walks against lefties so far.) Kepler, who has 30 plate appearances with the platoon disadvantage, is actually hitting better against lefties so far (OPS vs. lefties .993, vs. righties .792).

Kepler isn't likely to sustain that, but the point is: right now, Paul Molitor doesn't need to platoon either.


Somebody told me when the Mets DFA'd Matt Harvey that the Twins had been listed as a potential "take a flier on him" possibility. That didn't make much sense, because the Twins aren't really in need of a rotation project.

They already have Phil Hughes trying to remake himself as a major league pitcher after thoratic outlet surgery. They don't need two such guys.

And unlike Harvey, Hughes

  • is willing to work out of the bullpen and
  • hasn't an established reputation as a jackwagon.

It's all irrelevant now, because Harvey was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. A 7.00 ERA fits pretty well with the rest of their rotation.

I was surprised the Mets got catcher Devin Mesoroco for Harvey. Not that Mesoroco is anything great, but he has more chance to be useful than Harvey does. The Mets certainly needed another catcher.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

HBP and retaliation

Another nice win for the Twins Tuesday. Day game after a night game after a 14-inning night gtgame with rain delays, so yeah, the Cardinals were probably pretty darn tired, but the Twins took full advantage of it.

Beating Carlos Martinez around impressed me. Martinez doesn't get the attention, but he's a quality pitcher who'se been about as good as anybody in the early going -- 1.40 ERA entering the game -- and the Twins took good at-bats and scored four runs in five innings. The fielders didn't help him much, but still ...

Anyway: On Monday Fernando Romero hit catcher Carson Kelly in the upper back with a pitch. Kelly is a career .163 hitter, so this was probably the easiest way for Kelly to get on base, but I've no doubt that it hurt. I've also no doubt Romero wasn't trying to hit him, or even knock him down. As Yogi Berra supposedly told Jimmy Piersall, we don't throw at .200 hitters.

The next inning, Cardinal pitcher John Gant knocked down Eduardo Escobar. This is non-proportional retaliation. Usually, if a team thinks a HBP was intentional, the retaliation is proportional. In this case, going after Bobby Wilson would have been the protocol. The Cards targeted the Twins cleanup hitter. (Escobar then walked and scored a run.)

It's been years since Tony LaRussa managed the Cardinals, but his belligerent influence is still there. This kind of thing made the Cardinals a regular participant in base-clearing incidents during his tenure.

Move on to Tuesday. Martinez hit Mitch Garver with a pitch. Again, it made no sense for him to be targeting Garver. It was a scoreless game at the time, and the HBP loaded the bases with no outs. I doubt there was malign intent.

But ... it was the ninth batter Martinez has hit already this season. Someday, he's going to hit somebody, and the other team will retaliate, and the Cardinals will be all wounded innocence. That's textbook LaRussa too.

As for the Twins, 6-0 and 7-1 is the best revenge.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Bobby Wilson, RBI machine, and other thoughts

Bobby Wilson, who caught Sunday afternoon, caught again Monday night. Apparently the idea was:

  • With another day game today, the two catchers were going to split the starts
  • Wilson has caught Fernando Romero before, and Mitch Garver hasn't.

So Dick Bremer said. I know I was at a spring training game in Port Charlotte in which Garver was in the lineup and Romero pitched, but Garver may have been subbed for the by the time Romero entered. Anyway, Wilson apparently caught Romero once during their joint time in Rochester; Willians Astudillo had the bulk of the work.

Wilson was solid back there. And the light hitter even drove in a pair of runs, with a sac fly and a softly hit but well-placed double. (And then he got thrown out at the plate, because somebody apparently forgot that he's a 35-year-old catcher.)

Which leads me to a third reason, this one unstated by Bremer, to start Wilson in Monday's game and Garver today: Carlos Martinez is a higher quality pitcher than John Gant. Garver is a higher quality hitter than Wilson. Paul Molitor may well have figured that they could score enough runs against Gant without Garver, but they would need Garver against Martinez.


I switched back and forth between the FSN broadcast and the ESPN version, partly because I wanted to hear a non-local perspective on Fernando Romero. Executive summary: Rick Sutcliffe predicted Romero will finish the season as the Twins closer.

I wouldn't turn to Sutcliffe for insight in the Twins' thinking, but even if this was just an off-the-top-of-his-head comment, I get the idea:

  • Whenever Ervin Santana returns, the Twins will have four veteran starters in the rotation (Santana, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn) plus Jose Berrios.
  • As I said after Romero's first start, the Twins almost certainly want to limit his innings to 150 or so. Left in the rotation he'll get there by season's end, and the Twins certainly aren't out of the playoff hunt.
  • His power arm would play well in relief.
But we're some ways away from that decision. Santana, to my knowledge, has yet to officially begin a rehab assignment. I doubt he'll be back in the majors this month. This is the sort of issue -- oh, we have too many starters -- that tends to solve itself. 


So the Twins have won four straight. Three of them came against the Chicago White Sox, who are not a good team. This one came against a team that played 14 innings (with two rain delays) Sunday night. At least the Cardinals didn't have to travel.

A win's a win, and the Twins have lost too many games they should have won already. I'm not declaring their problems solved.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Backup backstops

 Bobby Wilson's
the same age as Joe
Jason Castro went on the disabled list with a "slight" tear in the meniscus in his right knee. I put the word "slight" in quotation marks because I dislike minimizing somebody else's pain or discomfort.

It's bad enough to make him sit for a week-and-a-half, not bad enough for in-season surgery.  Cortisone shot and rest, that's the treatment. I've had a couple cortisone shots in my left knee for a similar injury in the past, but I wasn't trying to catch 150 major league pitches a day at the time.

So Bobby Wilson, peripatetic backup catcher, is back in the majors. This is the ninth season that he's had all or part of the year in the majors, and the Twins are his seventh team. They had him stashed in Triple A for just this eventuality. He hit (not a typo) .042 in Rochester -- one hit in 24 at-bats. It was a homer, but still, 1-for-24 in Triple A is more likely to get a 35-year-old released than called up.

But there he was Sunday, catching Kyle Gibson and putting up an 0-for-3 line in the box score.

Some 30 years ago I had a notion that the best job in baseball was backup catcher. Sal Butera was the inspiration for that notion. Guys with the defensive chops to avoid glaring mistakes behind the plate and the ability to get along with everybody in the clubhouse (especially the pitchers and the stars) seem to be hang around forever even if they can't hit. Sal Butera never had 200 at-bats in a season, but he spent nine seasons on the fringes of major league rosters.

It's not hard to find similar examples. One would be Butera's son, Drew, now in his ninth major league season. Another: Chris Gimenez, Castro's caddy last season.

But there's a pretty obvious numbers squeeze coming for Wilson. Castro isn't expected to be out long, and Mitch Garver probably -- and should -- rank ahead of Wilson. Backup catcher is a good job, but it's not easy to find the right berth.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Pic of the Week

The great Ichiro Suzuki's 2018 season is done, but
his playing career -- probably -- isn't quite over

Ichiro Suzuki is no longer on the active roster of the Seattle Mariners. He is a "special assistant to the chairman" of the team. But he will still don a uniform before games, take part in batting practice, shag fly balls -- then, when the game begins, vacate the field and dugout.

He's not officially retired. The M's will open the 2019 season with a short series in Japan against the Oakland Athletics, and it appears the plan is for Ichiro to get a few at-bats in that series as a final coda to his brilliant career.

Ichiro is 44, and his days as a star or even as a regular are well in the past. Last year he came one hit short of the record for pinch hits in a season, which suggests that he was still a useful player, if only in a bit role.

But what a player he was at his best. I'm glad I got to see him play.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

The lead to an obit in today's Free Press:
Rose Anna Monson passed away peacefully at her home Wednesday, May 2, 2018 surrounded by her children - and after watching her beloved Minnesota Twins win one last time.
So she got to see Fernando Romero's debut.

Which is good, because Thursday's walk-off loss probably would have killed her.


No matter how the Fernando Rodney Experience plays out in Minnesota -- and the veteran closer did close out Friday's win in Chicago -- there appears to be one positive from having him around.

In spring training Rodney showed Romero his changeup. And the younger Fernando R. appears to have adopted it pretty well.

Romero has long had the fastball and slider. I don't know that he has mastered the change as well as Rodney has, but a Rodney-caliber change could genuinely make Romero an ace. Well, assuming he has the command and durability to pitch 200-plus innings a season.


Brian Dozier hit second Friday. Last year he hit leadoff every time he was in the starting lineup. I don't know that dropping him a slot in the batting order is why he broke out of his slump, but it sure worked.


Albert Pujols got his 3,000th hit Friday. I don't believe he's really helping the Angels much, but I also view him as the greatest first baseman in baseball history. The milestone is just piling on.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Contemplating Robbie Grossman

The Twins have no shortage of culprits to blame for Thursday's loss if they are so inclined, but the one that I'm going to pick on is Robbie Grossman, whose bumbling play in right field allowed the White Sox to tie the game.

Grossman is, emphatically, a poor defensive outfielder, But he's getting considerable playing time in the field right now in the absence of Byron Buxton, who last played on April 12. 

This weakens the Twins at two outfield slots, as Max Kepler is not nearly as good in center as Buxton and Grossman is nowhere near Kepler as a right fielder.

This is overly simplistic, but the Twins are 4-12 this year when Grossman starts in the outfield. They are 7-4 when Buxton is in the lineup.

And, not to pick on Dick Bremer too much, but the TV play-by-play guy has been assuring us for quite a while that Grossman is hitting well now after a horrid start. Over the past six games, Grossman is 2-for-20 with two walks, a slash line of .100/.167/.150. Yes, Dick-and-Bert's-stand-ins are paid to sell the team to the audience, but they also need a decent regard for the truth.

And the truth is that Grossman isn't hitting, and if he isn't hitting, there's nothing else he does well enough to help a team.

This was an overlooked drawback to the signing of Logan Morrison. Adding Morrison's power bat pushed Grossman out of the DH role and into the fourth outfielder slot of the roster. (Morrison hasn't hit all that well either -- .184/.283/.322 -- but his slash line is still slightly better than Grossman's.) And Grossman doesn't fit that role well.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Contemplating Fernando Romero

A nice major league
debut for Ferrnando
The Twins got about as good as they could have hoped for from Fernando Romero on Wednesday: 5.2 shutout innings.

He's not an efficient strike thrower. He walked three and hit one. He needed 97 pitches to get 17 outs. But the bottom line was no runs allowed, and the bullpen followed suit, and the Twins got a sorely needed W.

My "Greg McMichael Rule" applies: Get outs and they'll find a role for you. I think it's safe to expect Romero to remain in the rotation until he stops getting outs. What else should we expect?

A rough cap of about 150 total innings. He had 21 innings in four games (three starts) in Rochester, so he's at 26-plus now.

Romero had a career high of 125 innings last season in Chattanooga (Double A); his season really deteriorated in August (17 earned runs in his last three starts, none of which went more than five innings). He did not get a September callup as a result, even though he was already on the 40-man roster and even though he was widely regarded as Minnesota's best pitching prospect.

Romero's workloads have been limited in part because of his Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him for all of 2015. He threw 90 innings in 2016, 125 last year, and I would expect that 150 is a reasonable target for this year. And I suspect the final 25 will be a challenge for him.

Five and fly. Those 97 pitches Wednesday were a season high for him. A perusal of his Baseball Reference game logs suggest that he's reached 100 pitches only once in his professional career. He did have a few upper-90s pitch logs last year with Chattanooga.

Even if he can consistently throw 95 pitches a game without breaking down physically -- more on that concern later -- Romero is not efficient enough to get into the seventh inning consistently. He's not going to get 20 outs in a game often.

Injury risk. His release point was obviously inconsistent Wednesday, and he clearly struggles to repeat his delivery. Romero's stuff is comperable to that of Jose Berrios, but Berrios repeats his mechanics.

Romero's had significant injuries already in his young career, and the biggest indicator for future pitching injuries is past pitching injuries. The Twins would love to get 25 more starts and 125 more innings from him. That's not guaranteed to any pitcher, much less one with Romero's risk factors.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The record they deserve

"We're getting what we deserve." That simple sentence from Paul Molitor accurately described his Minnesota Twins after yet another merited defeat.

Brian Dozier won a Gold Glove last season at second base and was charged with five errors all season. He had four errors in April. Errors are a flawed measure of defense, but this is indicative of the sloppy play that has permeated the team this year.

Tuesday night's game was marked with a pair of wild pitches in a three-run 10th inning, and the young reliever who threw those balls past Mitch Garver, John Curtiss, was promptly returned to Rochester's roster after the game. Kyle Gibson gave the Twins only five innings, and the two most reliable relievers last month (Ryan Pressly and Addison Reed) each surrendered runs. It was a winnable game, and it was a loss the Twins deserved.

They are 7-16 on the young season, a .304 pace. That translates into 49-113 for a full season. It is the record they deserve.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

More roster moves (and another loss)

The Twins on Monday brought up John Curtiss to replace Tyler Duffey, who was demoted after Sunday's loss.

This is a level higher than most of the roster-shuffling transactions. While Duffey hasn't had a key bullpen role this year, he did last year -- and Curtiss has the velocity and talent to eventually emerge with a major late inning role. First he has to establish himself, though.

But there was another move of sorts Monday of immediate significance. The Twins are moving Phil Hughes to the bullpen and bringing up power-armed prospect Fernando Romero for Wednesday's start.

No roster move has been made yet; Romero is still, officially, a Rochester Red Wing. Something will be done today to make room for him.

Hughes' spot had been, in my mind, ticketed for Ervin Santana when he returns from his rehab work (finger surgery). I don't know that they have a specific timeline yet for him, however, and at this point they might well target Lance Lynn for replacement, assuming that Romero thrives in the major league rotation (which is not a given).

Lynn's ERA now stands at 8.37, which screams for replacement. He's walked 23 in 23.2 innings, including five on Monday. It has been an ugly, ugly April for the late-spring signing.

The Twins are sticking with him for now. But with their ambitions swirling around the drain a month into the season, the decision makers are being given reason to act sooner rather than later.