Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Contemplating Jake Odorizzi

Jake Odorizzi on Monday pitched the best game of his major league career to date.

That's a  subjective opinion, based on reasonably objective criteria and a little intuition. Some decades ago Bill James devised a metric he dubbed game score, to which the specifics can be found here.

Odorizzi's game score Monday was 79. He's had one better score, an 84, which also came against the Houston Astros -- but in 2014, when the Astros were bad. (Houston's DH that day was Jason Castro, and the cleanup hitter, Jon Singleton, was hitting .203.)

Whether or not Odorizzi has ever pitched better, he needed to be that good Monday, because today's Astros are a very good collection of hitters and the Twins got only one run themselves off Justin Verlander.

Part of my Monday morning post concerned Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco's meltdown the previous night against the same Houston Astros lineup that Odorizzi dominated. Carrasco held Houston to one hit through six but couldn't get out of the seventh -- third time though the order. Odorizzi did get through the third time Monday night, and Rocco Baldelli pulled him before he had to try a fourth time.

Odorizzi's pitch count was still rather low (86), but that decision was driven by batters faced, not pitches.

Fortunately for my sensibilities, neither Bert Blyleven nor Jack Morris was in the TV booth. Justin Morneau was, and he understands the third-time-though-the-order concept.

Morneau surmised that this was a tough decision for Baldelli. I don't know that it was. He had a rested back of the bullpen, and he knows how his bosses expect him to handle Odorizzi. Had it been a 5-0 game rather than 1-0, maybe he lets Odorizzi keep going. But a one-run lead against this potent lineup, with Odorizzi's established history -- not a chance.

Baldelli had already gotten more out of his starter than he had a right to expect.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

The Twins swept the Orioles again this weekend, hitting another 12 homers in the process.

It's no secret that Baltimore has a bad team this year. They were 47-115 last year and might be even worse this season. And I'm not sure they have any genuine foundation pieces on the roster. It's one thing to be bad. It's another to be bad and boring.

Anyway, the Twins are done with the O's. Six games, six wins, see ya next year. Maybe the Birds can find a way to win a game from Cleveland. What we know is that the Twins won't lose this division because they lost a game to Baltimore.


The Sunday night game between Cleveland and Houston presented an interesting data point on the "third-time-through-the-order" theory. Carlos Carrasco, who might be described at the Cleveland ace if not for the presence in their rotation of Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, was sailing along with a one-hitter through six innings.

And then came the third time through. Houston score four runs in the seventh, including a three-run homer from Robinson Chirinos, and the Astros won 4-1.

Terry Francona has typically been quite aggressive about going to his bullpen, but the Cleveland bullpen isn't up to its usual quality this year, and he tried -- hard -- to let Carrasco work his way out of it. It didn't work.

Now the Twins try again to solve the mysteries of beating the Astros. The Indians split four with them over the weekend. The Twins would be happy with that outcome this week, I think.


Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made his major league debut on Friday with Toronto. Setting aside the debate over the timing of his arrival, this promo ad from MLB -- narrated by his Hall of Famer dad -- touched me.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Transaction action

Before Friday's game the Twins filled the roster spot vacated by the demotion of Kohl Stewart by activating Matt Magill off the injured list.

This keeps the Twins at 13 pitchers, and I expect they will stay there for a while. As noted here a couple days ago, the Twins really need one of their minor four relivers -- currently Ryne Harper, Magill, Fernando Romero and Adalberto Mejia -- to step up into a more useful role than eating innings.

Three of them pitched Friday. Harper had a clean seventh, Romero had a messy but complete ninth, and Magill had a messier and incomplete eighth.

A move that didn't appear to have a specific necessity to it: Chase De Jong was outrighted off the 40-man roster. I don't see the point of this. It's not that De Jong is a good or even interesting pitcher, but taking him off the 40 slightly constricts the Twins roster flexibility, and there is no immediate gain for doing this now.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Let's race

Perhaps you saw Rhys Hoskins' 34-second home run stroll the other night and already know the backstory: On Monday Philadelphia pitchers hit a pair of Mets batters. In the ninth inning Tuesday, Mets reliever Jacob Rhame threw two heaters in the vicinity of Hoskins' noggin. And on Wednesday, Hoskins faced Rhame again.

Hoskins homered, and then took what is believed to be the slowest home-run "trot" since 2010, when Larry Granillo started tracking such things. (David Ortiz had held the record.)

Some genius animated a "race" between Byron Buxton running out his inside-the-parker in August 2017. It is a thing of beauty:

Rhame was suspended Wednesday for two games, by the way.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

A good bit of roster shuffling before and after the Twins' loss Wednesday to the Astros:

  • Optioned to Triple A Rochester before the game: reliever Tyler Duffey and outfielder Jake Cave.
  • Promoted from Rochester: starter Kohl Stewart and reliever Fernando Romero
  • Activated from the disabled list and optioned to Rochester: Reliever Gabriel Moya
  • Optioned to Triple A Rochester after the game: Stewart
  • A corresponding move will be made before the Twins next game on Friday.
Stewart's line score is unimpressive: six innings, eight hits, five runs, three walks, one strikeout. But he did give the Twins some length. They got though the game without using, or even warming up, any of their bullpen's Big Four. There is some value in that.


For one game, at least, the Twins had a 13-man pitching staff. It's back down to 12 with Stewart's return to the minors, but it will be 13 again if, as I expect, Matt Magill is called up Friday. Magill was pulled from Rochester's game Wednesday after seven pitches.

Magill would give the Twins eight relievers on the active roster. Of more importance: Will somebody emerge as a fifth reliable arm? They need some quality out of the quanity.

My guess is that Romero is going to get some opportunity to claim such a role. He has the arm for it. Whether he has the command and composure is unclear.


So the Twins won just one of the three games in Houston. No shame in that. Stewart vs. Verlander was not a prime matchup for the Twins in the rubber game; Verlander's going to the Hall of Fame when his career ends, and Stewart is not.

It was to have been Jose Berrios vs. Verlander, but Friday's rainout pushed Berrios' start to Saturday and messed up the rotation, which is why the Twins needed somebody for Wednesday night. As it turned out, Berrios would have needed a shutout to beat Verlander. 

The Twins still had a winning road trip to Baltimore and Houston. Now they get those same two teams at home. And -- of course -- the weather is about to turn chilly again in Minnesota.


Perhaps you saw the frightening video of former Twins bullpen prospect Nick Burdi, now with Pittsburgh, throwing a pitch and collapsing on the mound clutching his elbow in pain.

The news out of Pittsburgh the next day was surprisingly optimistic. Burdi may not even need surgery. But he described the biceps pain as “It was just kind of a sensation that you never forget,” and the Pirates have not revealed the results if the post-injury examinations.

Burdi still has his Rule 5 limitations in place, so he could, theoretically, wind up back with the Twins. But Pittsburgh has invested some time in him, and we'll see how this all plays out.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Double plays and the shift

At one point in Tuesday's Twins-Astros game the Twins were in a shift against a right-handed hitter in a double-play situation and Dick Bremer started talking about the complexity this alignment posed for second baseman Jonathan Schoop. On a grounder to the left side, Bremer noted, Schoop would have to go away from the throw to serve as the pivotman.

To which Bert Blyleven replied with something along the lines of: That's why the shift is reducing the number of double plays.

Blyleven has not exactly established himself as a scholar of baseball stats, but this assertion seemed at once plausible (the specific alignment the Twins were in does figure to make turning two more complicated) and unlikely (in most double play situations, a shfiting team moderates the shift so that the second baseman or shortstop has easier access to the base). 

So I did a quick-and-dirty check on double play totals to see if there is any basis for Rik Aalbert's assertion, or if he's just making it up.

I looked at DP totals the past three seasons, as shifts became increasingly common, and at DP totals in 1999-2001, before the analytics revolution began to take hold.

2018: The Angels led the majors in double plays turned (173). The Yankees were last (95). And the average team turned 136.

2017: Padres, 177; Yankees, 102; average, 147

2016: Rangers. 190; Dodgers, 101, average, 144

2001: Royals, 204; Cubs, 113; average, 148

2000: Angels, 200; Red Sox, 120; average, 157

1999: Rays, 198; Expos 125; average, 156

This is hardly a comprehensive study, but it does suggest that indeed there are fewer double plays turned today than there were 15 to 20 years ago. 

But there are other factors in play than the the shift. Strikeouts are much more common; the percentage of outs that come without a ball put in play has never been so high. And hitters in recent seasons have largely focused on hitting the ball in the air; the obsession with launch angle may be playing itself out now, but it has certainly been a thing in the 2016-18 time frame.

My suspicion is that those have played a larger role in the bulk decline of double plays than have shifts. I'm confident that there are indeed fewer double plays turned today than there were when Tom Kelly was a manager. I doubt the shift is the reason.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Delving into the bullpen depth

I intended to make today's post about something other than bullpen usage, which has been a pretty steady topic here.

But then Monday's game happened, and guess what? Bullpen usage played a pretty significant role.

And it starts with the starting pitcher. Jake Odorizzi couldn't get through the sixth. This is who he is as a pitcher. This is his sixth role in a major league rotation, and he not only has zero complete games, he's only completed seven innings 10 times. When he starts, the bullpen is going to pitch a substantial portion of the game. So the Twins had to piece together 10 outs, and ideally do so without using Trevor Hildenberger or Taylor Rogers, who were used hard during the weekend.

* Trevor May got the last out of the sixth. He was wild -- eight pitches, just three strikes. And since he threw 27 pitches on Sunday, he was just in to get the one out. Rocco Baldelli would probably have preferred skipping him too.

* Ryne Harper got the seventh inning with a five-run lead and the meat of the Astros lineup coming up. Carlos Correa hit a three-run homer. Harper's ERA rose from zero to 2.89. Harper, who got ten outs in his previous outing and had therefore been idle in the Baltimore series, threw 24 pitches to get through the seventh, so he didn't come out for the eighth.

*Adalberto Mejia got the eighth after the Twins kicked the lead back up to four. He didn't pitch in the Baltimore series either, but not because of heavy useage. I don't think Baldelli is eager to give Mejia high leverage innings, but the alternatives weren't attractive, and it was the bottom of the Houston lineup. Mejia got though the eighth unscathed, but it took him 20 pitches.

* With just three outs to go, Blake Parker, after a weekend off with a virus, got the call for the ninth. He gave up a hit but needed just 14 pitches to close it out. Not an official save, but he probably would have pitched with a 10-run lead.

I don't know that Monday really changed anything I believe about this team, or at least this bullpen.

The Twins still need more from May than he's provided. The three relievers not in Baldelli's "big four" of Hildenberger, May, Parker and Rogers are still prioritized Harper, Mejia and Tyler Duffey. I didn't expect Harper to put up zeros all season, and at least this crooked number didn't cost him the game, but it didn't encourage Baldelli to increase his role, either.

The bottom line on Monday: The hitters got enough runs for the weaker half of the bullpen to get late outs.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Fernando Romero and the search for bullpen depth

The Monday print column devoted about 475 words to pooh-poohing the notion that Craig Kimbrel is the solution to the Twins bullpen.

Which doesn't mean the Twins shouldn't be concerned about their bullpen depth. The Twins haven't blown leads with regularity, but they have certainly danced some uncomfortable tightropes. On Sunday both the eighth and ninth innings ended with Orioles on every base.

Blake Parker was reportedly ill and unavailable during the Baltimore sweep, so the Big Four was reduced to the Big Three. Trevor May, Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers all got the job done, if barely so. But even if Rogers can pitch today, I doubt he should after 45 pitches Saturday and Sunday.

The Twins could certainly use more stable outings from May. And they could certainly stand to have a fifth pitcher emerge as somebody manager Rocco Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson can turn to with some confidence.

Which brings us to Fernando Romero, the hard-thrower who graduated from the prospect list last year as a starter and has been converted to relief work. Romero was tabbed Saturday to be the 26th man for the second game of the doubleheader. He pitched two innings and allowed three runs in an unimpressive outing.

The wildly high upside to Romero in the bullpen is what Josh Hader provides the Brewers -- dominating stuff for multiple innings a couple days a week. Romero isn't close to that right now. Guys like Hader aren't mass produced, of course, and they're easy to burn out when they do turn up. And Romero isn't to be discarded because he isn't a right-handed version of Hader. But right now, he doesn't appear to be a good answer to the bullpen depth issue.

Romero, returned to Rochester, will doubtless get another chance down the road. For now, the Twins have to try some other possibilities.

Ryne Harper -- and Tyler Duffey -- are different kinds of answers. They are curve ball specialists, not power arms. We may in the next couple of weeks see one of them get some valuable innings. What I call the Greg McMichael Rule has eternal application: If you get outs, they'll find a role for you.

Harper and Duffey (to a more limited extent) have gotten outs. A role awaits.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Ryne Harper and roster churn

Michael Pineda had a short start on Thursday, and Ryne Harper picked up the slack with 3.1 scoreless innings.

Which may be too much of a good thing for Harper personally. He emerged from that outing with the same 0.00 ERA with which he entered (8.1 innings), but it figures to be a few days before he pitches again. If he has options left, and I'm guessing he does, the Twins may ship him to Rochester to bring up a fresh arm.

This sort of roster shuffling has become routine, and it's part of why teams routinely go through dozens of players over the course of a season. The Twins last year used 54 players. The 1970 Twins -- a cherry-picked example, I freely admit -- used just 35. There is simply much more roster churn than there once was.

Is it an effective approach? Well, if the Twins demote Harper for a fresh arm, he's gone a minimum of 10 days. They lose, in effect, a week of Harper for the benefit of somebody being available to pitch the next three days. And in most cases, that's a somebody who's really only on the roster to work low-leverage innings -- there to pitch innings the manager doesn't want to put on the likes of Trevor May or Taylor Rogers.

The Twins presumably think Harper is better than Ryan Eades or Zack Littell. I'd rather see him stay than be shuttled.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Contemplating Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey is back in the majors, having taken the berth previously occupied by Andrew Vasquez. He threw two scoreless innings on Tuesday after the Twins fell behind; it wasn't exactly a mop-up assignment, but it wasn't high leverage either.

The intriguing aspect to Duffey's return is his declared de-emphasis of his sinker (two-seam fastball). His focus is going to be pairing curves with four-seam fastballs up.

Duffey made a splash in the final two months of the 2015 season as a starter. He used two different curves -- one sharp and faster, one bigger and slower -- and two different fastballs -- two- and four-seamers -- and went 5-1 with a 3.10 ERA down the stretch.

What we don't see in that mix is a straight changeup. Neil Allen, then the Twins pitching coach, was really big on changeups. Duffey spent spring training the next year working on a changeup. He spent 2016 in the rotation -- 26 starts, second most on the team -- but put up a 6.43 ERA in 133 innings.

So 2017 found him in the bullpen, where he spent most of his collegiate career before the Twins drafted and signed him out of Rice. He was good for about a month and a half working multiple innings with two or three days off between outings, but things got rough when the thinness of the bullpen prompted manager Paul Molitor to start using him on consecutive days. And he's had just 27 major league innings the past two seasons combined.

My sense on Duffey's repertoire is complicated:

  • Two different curves and two different fastballs should be sufficent variation.
  • There hasn't been a notable velocity difference between Duffey's two- and four-seam fastballs.
  • There also doesn't seem to be much movement on his two-seamer.
  • If a pitcher has two pitches of similar velocity and movement, he doesn't have two useable pitches. Duffey may grip them differently, but the hitters don't care.

This is a oversimplification, but as a general rule, pitchers who throw four-seamers are going for strikeouts; pitchers who throw two-seamers are looking for weak contact. Duffey's four-seamer isn't all that fast, but if he can command it in the upper part of the strike zone, it's doing something different than his curves, which are supposed to bend and drop.

Command is the key. Keep that four-seamer up, change the hitter's eye level, and use that curveball. He needs a good run here before some of the injured relievers start coming back -- especially since Ryne Harper gives the Twins another right-hander who specializes in curves.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The search for five

The number from Monday's Blue Jays-Twins tilt that matters was five, and not just because the Jays scored five runs to win it. It's because the game from the Twins viewpoint was about the No. 5 starter and a fifth bullpen arm.

The starter

Martin Perez's line in his first start of 2019 was good. One run in six innings? Yeah, we'll take that. Two walks and five strikeouts is certainly acceptable. The velocity was good, and he even hit 97 in his final innings. He threw 86 pitches, less than one might wish for from a starter, but he's been trapped by the sporadic schedule for the first three weeks of the season in the bullpen with limited pitches.

On the bad side, there were a lot of hard-hit balls, not only among the seven hits but several of the outs. And the Jays helped him with a pair of base-running gaffes.

The reliever

Left-hander Aldaberto Mejia was handed a genuine test: A 3-1 eighth-inning lead to protect against a lineup heavy with right-handed hitters. He failed.

The thing is, he was ahead of all the hitters leading up to the Teoscar Hernandez three-run homer that put Toronto up for good. He couldn't put any of them away.

Mejia's background is as a starter, and as such he should have weapons to use against right-handers. He didn't get them out on Monday, at least not before giving up the lead. It was not an outing that encourages manager Rocco Baldelli to increase his role.

The Twins bullpen has four guys Baldelli trusts (Trevor Hildenberger, Trevor May, Blake Parker, Taylor Rogers) and three he's tried to avoid using in winnable games (Ryne Harper, Andrew Vasquez and Mejia).

Four trustworthy relievers are not enough if the starters are going to go six innings max. And I've never believed that the Twins were going to avoid going to an eight-man bullpen for long.

Baldelli used his big four pretty heavily against the Tigers Saturday and Sunday. He was clearly trying Monday to stay away from them in the seventh and eighth innings. What he would have done with the ninth and a lead, I don't know.

Harper made his first appearance in almost a week Monday, and he sliced through the 8-9-1 hitters in the Toronto order with two strikeouts in the seventh. He certainly brings a different approach than the rest of the righties in the Minnesota bullpen, and he's easy to root for. But no manager is going to be eager to lean on a 30-year-old rookie without velocity. If Harper is going to get a role, he'll have to earn it with more outings like Monday's.

Of note: Gabriel Moya and Matt Magill, two mainstays of the 2018 bullpen, are starting rehab assignments. Moya's probably the crucial one, as the Twins could really use a second reliable lefty in relief and neither Mejia nor Vasquez have been that so far.

My guess is that Vasquez and a position player are gone when Moya and Magill are ready to be activated.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Trevor Hildenberger, fireman

The bullpen gave the Twins a bumpy ride this weekend, but the late leads were held and the Twins got their chilly two-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers.

Blake Parker, who appears to be Rocco Baldelli's preferred ninth-inning arm, had consecutive appearances in which he lacked command of his preferred out pitch. He got through the first one on Saturday, but was pulled with one out and the bases loaded Sunday. Trevor Hildenberger threw seven pitches for two strikeouts and had a nice line postgame to discribe it:

Back in the day, before the term "closer" was invented, relief aces were known as "firemen." "Small kitchen fire. Baking soda," is evocative of that old bit of baseball lingo.

Hildenberger has now inherited 14 runners this young seasons. Only three have scored, all in that ugly meltdown inning against the Mets when Jake Odorizzi, Andrew Vasquez and Hildenberger couldn't throw strikes. 

For what it's worth, the Twins have five saves -- three for Parker, one for Taylor Rogers and now one for Hildenberger. Of Baldelli's four late-inning options (those three plus Trevor May), Parker is the one in whom I have the least faith. It may be that Parker just needs some warmer weather to rediscover his splitter. At any rate, the guys who got the Twins out of jams late were Rogers and Hildenberger. The roleless bullpen rolls on.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The "Crush" Crash

The Twins didn't play Thursday; it was yet another scheduled off day. They won't play today either, for reasons obvious to everybody living south of, let's say, Brainerd.

So let's talk something else. Let's talk about the astounding combination of incompetence and bad luck that is Chris Davis, the Baltimore Orioles first baseman who went 0-3 on Thursday. He has now gone hitless in 53 straight at-bats and counting dating back to last year.

This is the longest hitless streak for a position player in major league history. (Bob Buhl, a pitcher of the 1950s and '60s, went 0-for-88 to establish the overall record. He hit .089 for his career.)

Davis, unlike Buhl, is a hitter of some accomplishment. He hit 53 homers in 2013; he led the league in homers again in 2015 with 47, and has two other seasons with more than 30 dingers. He also has two seasons of 200-plus strikeouts and three more in the 190s and has never been known as a hitter for average. He's an all-or-nothing batter.

But "Crush" Davis -- a play on the Crash Davis character in the Bull Durham movie -- got the "all" result on his swings often enough that after that 2015 season the Orioles signed him to a seven-year contract at $23 million a season.

It would be an overstatement to blame the last two offseasons' free-agent freeze on Davis' implosion, but it would be silly to ignore it as a factor, Davis turned 30 before the 2016 season opened; in his 30s he is now .198/.295/.388.  His story is not the reason to avoid signing aging sluggers, but it has become a prominent cautionary tale.

Davis hit .165 last season, and is obviously .000 this year. He's hit a few balls hard this year, but not enough to say he's just hitting in hard luck. The .165 may be a pretty accurate measure at this point.

Cue Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler singing "Money for Nothing." If Davis were hitting .165, he would just draw scorn; .000 makes him something of sympathetic figure. And I do feel for the man. Failure on this level in the public space he occupies is not fun. He's not trying to be this bad, certainly, but he also seems unable to change that which once worked and no longer does.

The men who signed him to that contract are gone; the new Baltimore regime is without the emotional investment that Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter had in him. Much as ownership would like to get something out of the (almost) four remaining seasons on Davis' contract, there will come a time when playing him gets in the way of somebody they need to develop. I don't think that's the case yet.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Babe Ruth's dead. Throw strikes.

Big picture: The Twins just finished a seven-game road trip that included five games without the DH (and without Nelson Cruz in the lineup) and emerged with a winning record. That's acceptable.

Big picture: They had a two-game series in New York facing Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard and emerged with a split. That's acceptable.

Small picture: Wednesday's loss feels inexcusable because the pitchers -- specifically starter Jake Odorizzi, rookie Andrew Vasquez and Trevor Hildenberger -- took the Twins out of it through their inability to throw strikes.

The bulk of the Twitter scorn seemed aimed at Vasquez, who was called up earlier Wednesday to replace Chase De Jong. (Once again proving that I don't understand the current front office, the Twins shipped De Jong back to Triple A after his Tuesday appearance.) Vasquez wasn't good, certainly (13 pitches for the lefty, just two strikes).

But the real villain was Odorizzi, who started the walk parade and concluded his outing by walking Syndergaard, the opposing pitcher.

Back in my youth, I read something that categorized a bases-loaded walk as a mental mistake on the basis that a major league pitcher should always be able to throw a strike. I've come to realize that that is not necessarily the case -- Jim Palmer has spent about three decades bragging that he never allowed a grand slam but conceding that he did issue some bases-loaded walks -- but walking the opposing pitcher, at least if it's not Shohei Ohtani, probably is a mental error.

My hope for Odorizzi -- who is a significant part of the Twins plans for the season -- and Vasquez -- who isn't -- is that this fiasco doesn't get into their heads. My fear, particularly with Odorizzi, is that it already has. He walked three of the seven men he faced in his previous start, he walked three in a row to finish this one, he tried mightily to throw a wild pitch and was saved on that by some sloppy baserunning by the Mets.

A case of Steve Blass Disease would be a big problem in the big picture.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

deGrom, De Jong and de manager

The prospect of facing Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in a two-game series in Queens was rather daunting; I would have been quite satisfied with a split. Now that the Twins have not only won the first game but battered the defending NL Cy Young winner -- well, rationally the split is still sufficient, but a sweep sounds a lot better.

If you were paying attention Tuesday night, you know how rare that game was. DeGrom had had 26 consecutive quality starts, tied with the 1968 version of Bob Gibson for most ever. His ERA last year was 1.70. And the Twins scored six earned runs in four innings off him. From the New York Post's Joel Sherman:

That was as many as he had permitted last July. Don’t look for the date — the whole month of July. That was as many as he allowed last August. That was one fewer than he let in last September. And it was six more than he had yielded in two starts to open 2019 ...
The Twins didn't pick on a punching bag Tuesday night. At least not until they got into the Mets bullpen.


Chase De Jong, handed the ninth inning mop-up duties, was awful. He walked three, gave up four earned runs and basically looked like he had no business back in the major leagues.

To be fair, he hadn't pitched in a while; he was supposed to have started the opener for the Rochester Red Wings, but they got weathered out, and then he was called up to provide length in the Minnesota bullpen after Jake Odorizzi stunk things up last Friday.

I said on Twitter that De Jong was pitching his way off the roster. But ... the Twins bullpen is still in pretty good shape. De Jong shouldn't be available after throwing more than 45 pitches in that ugly inning, but the rest of the bullpenners worked short stints. Taylor Rogers didn't pitch at all, and Trevor Hildenberger and Blake Parker faced just one man each.

And Rocco Baldelli apparently intends to get Martin Perez some innings in this series. My guess is that even if Odorizzi throws six scoreless innings today, Perez gets the ball for the seventh. After all, there's yet another offday on Thursday, and who knows what the weather holds for the homestand to follow.

So De Jong, who is out of options, might stick around after all. His lousy outing -- and it was lousy -- didn't stress the rest of the bullpen.


Baldelli could have gone for the length from Perez after Hildenberger got the Twins out of the fifth inning. In fact, that's what I expected. Instead, he pieced the rest of the game together with a pitcher use reminiscent of Ron Gardenhire's -- one inning from Trevor May, split an inning between Aldaberto Mejia and Parker, an inning from Ryne Harper, an inning from De Jong. Nobody but DeJong was used hard, and all should be available today.

But I suspect that Baldelli would prefer not to use any relievers today other than Perez and Rogers. He's not often used anybody on consecutive days so far, although there have been so many off days that we probably shouldn't draw any conclusions about his bullpen use patterns.

Assuming that he does go for length from Perez today, he will have handled the 'pen in this series as if we were still in spring training -- give everybody a little work to stay sharp, give Perez some length to stay stretched out for his eventual entry into the starting rotation. Doing those things and winning the games is ideal.


Multi-position man Marwin Gonzalez played a lot of first base with the Astros -- more than twice as many games, starts and innings at first than at third in his seven seasons with Houston.

Multi-position man Willians Astudillo entered Tuesday having played more third base in the majors than anywhere other than catcher and with just two innings at first in his brief big-league tenure.

But Baldelli on Tuesday started Gonzalez at third and Astudillo at first, La Tortuga's first big league start at that position. (Baldelli later took Gonzalez out in a double-switch, but Astudillo played the full game at first base.)

My interpretation of that: As long as Miguel Sano remains off the active roster, Gonzalez is primarily a third baseman. He has played four innings at first. He hasn't seen the outfield yet, and he hasn't been in the middle infield either.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Goodbye, Tyler Austin

On Monday morning, the Twins announced that they had traded Tyler Austin to the San Francisco Giants for a minor league outfielder, of whom more later. On Monday evening, Austin was in the Giants lineup as the first baseman, with Brandon Belt in left. He singled in a run, scored himself, and was pulled for defensive purposes, with Belt moving back to first and Geraldo Parra taking over left.

It's not easy for me to see the fit for Austin with the Giants. Their active roster shows just three outfielders -- Parra, Kevin Pillar and Steven Duggar. None of them figure to hit well enough to justify a prominent lineup role. It may be noteworthy that the Giants described Austin as a "first baseman-outfielder." He saw no outfield time with the Twins, either last season or this spring, but it's certainly plausible that the Giants may try to fit both him and Belt in the lineup by playing one on left on a regular basis.

But there's a further complication to that, and his name is Buster Posey. The Giants supposedly wish to pare back the future Hall of Famer's time behind the dish, as there are signs that his body is breaking down. He's 32 and confronting the same conundrum as Joe Mauer did -- catching destroys careers. I don't think the Giants can have Posey, Belt and Austin in the lineup together without Posey catching.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Giants specifically wanted Austin because he hits lefties well, and I can see that purpose. They're in a division with a few teams that lean heavily on lefty starters, although the Dodgers' list of southpaws has been pretty sharply diminished by injury.

As for the Twins' return: Malique Ziegler is a 22-year-old Iowan who has spent four seasons in the Giants system without notable production and hasn't risen out of A ball. He now joins a farm system with a bunch of well-regarded outfield prospects. While he can't be counted out until he's released or retired, there doesn't appear to be much of a path to the majors for him in Minnesota.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

The Twins hit a few homers in Philly over the weekend. Eddie Rosario's three-run ninth inning homer off the foul pole on Saturday opened up the game and might be the most memorable.

But it was Sunday's leadoff homer from Max Kepler that stands out to me. A solo shot, of course -- all leadoff homers are -- but it was also the the only run the Twins got all game. And that's why it stands out. My previous post said that my concern that the lineup was geared around the solo homer hadn't be borne out. On Sunday it was.


Friday's sloppy play resulted in something rare. On Saturday the Twins skipped batting practice and took infield instead.

I've noted in the past that daily infield practice has faded away. It was once a pre-game staple between batting practice and the drawing of the foul lines/batters boxes. Supposedly the Atlanta Braves in the mid 90's did away with it as a means of conserving energy in the summer heat there, and the other teams soon followed suit -- and eventually the commissioner's office put the traditional time for infield off limits. It was too lucrative as a time for promotional activities.

So if a manager, such as Rocco Baldelli, decides that the response to sloppy play is a review of the fundamentals, it has to come either before BP or in its place.


The Twins brought up a 12th pitcher Saturday after Jake Odorizzi couldn't get through the first inning on Friday. Tyler Austin was designated for assignment in order to bring up Chase De Jong.

De Jong himself was DFA'd in January. He cleared waivers and outrighted to Triple A. I wouldn't bet on this stay lasting very long.

As for Austin, I doubt there's much of a market for him. He hits for power and he plays a bit of first base, and that's not enough to hold a bench job. I don't know that he's a worse player than C.J. Cron, but his fate with the Twins was sealed when the Twins claimed Cron on waivers last November. He may or may not get claimed. I'm not sure if he's been outrighted before; if not, the Twins might still be able to retain him at Triple A.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Small sample size theater

The Twins have won four of five in the young season. They have done so by hitting one (1) homer.

There are extenuating circumstances to that power drought. The Cleveland starters -- you may have heard this already -- are pretty darn good. Kansas City's starters aren't, but Kaufmann Stadium might be the least homer friendly in the majors. And -- again, you may have heard this already -- the weather has been rather chilly the past week.

So the conditions have not been favorable for home runs. But just one in five games? I would not have believed that this lineup could produce enough runs to win four of five with that few homers.

But ... Minnesota is second in the American League in doubles (17, one behind Seattle in three fewer games), and stood third in slugging percentage according to Baseball Reference in the predawn hours (not sure when the stats are updated from last night).

One week of sporadic play does not suffice to prove or disprove a theory, of course. But so far my fear that the Twins would be overly reliant on solo homers has been mistaken.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

La Tortuga

Willians Astudillo's swing in the second inning wasn't
a thing of beauty, but it resulted in an RBI single.

I've pulled back this year on my use of Associated Press photos for a variety of reasons, but this one tickled my fancy too much for me to resist.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

The good news from Tuesday's Twins game: The Twins won in 10 innings.

The bad news: Byron Buxton -- hitting .308 -- bruised his back running into the centerfield wall on Aldaberto Mondesi's game-tying inside-the-park homer. He certainly won't be in the lineup this afternoon, and I won't be surprised if he misses at least part of the weekend series in Philadelphia.

Buck's gotta stop running into walls.


Michael Reed, who spent most of spring training in Twins camp, was traded to the Giants on March 23 and opened the season not only on the Giants roster but in their starting lineup.

Unfortunately for Reed, he opened the season 0-for-8. The Giants traded Tuesday for centerfielder Kevin Pillar from Toronto and designated Reed for assignment.

Maybe if Reed had opened 5-for-8 he'd still have a job. Maybe.


The Twins' first save opportunity of 2019 went to Taylor Rogers. The second, I guess, went to Rogers as well -- he's charged with a blown save for Mondesi's inside-the-parker -- but I don't know that Rocco Baldelli brought Rogers in with the intent of getting a six-out save from the lefty.

Anyway, the next save opp, be it the second or third, went to Blake Parker, who walked one and struck out one and kept his splitter out of the dirt this time.

The roleless bullpen rolls on.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Minor thoughts on shortstops

The Twins announced on Monday their season-opening minor league rosters, and shortstop -- the primary position of three of their most prominent prospects -- was of some note.

Royce Lewis will open 2019 at High-A Fort Myers, the same level he ended 2018. This is a mild surprise -- I rather expected him to be pushed up to Double-A Pensacola -- but he did miss a good part of training camp with an strain in his rib cage, and there's a case for letting him get some reps at the lower level before giving him his next challenge.

Wander Javier is staying in extended spring training. Not a huge surprise; it was to be expected that the Twins would be reluctant to expose his post-operative (non-throwing) shoulder to the April chill of Low-A Cedar Rapids. Javier impressed in his limited exposure in major-league camp, and he will be a good reason to make an Iowa trek this summer.

Nick Gordon is opening the season on the injured list of Triple-A Rochester with acute gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining. I wouldn't pretend to know how long this might keep him out, but I will say this: Anything interfering with the digestive process on an athlete as skinny as Gordon, with his track record of late-season fades, should be of concern.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

There was some grumbling on my Twitter feed about the quick hook for Michael Pineda, who worked just four innings, allowing one hit and throwing just 40 pitches, before giving way to Martin Perez.

The complainers generally recognized that the plan coming into the game was four innings from each, in a "piggyback" arrangement designed to keep Perez, destined for a starters role, stretched out, But with Pineda faring so well, their argument went, let Perez do his extra throwing in the bullpen to imaginary hitters and let Pineda go deeper.

Were that game being played in the defunct Metrodome, I might grant that argument. But it was outdoors on a chilly if sunny day, and Pineda is in his second full season after Tommy John surgery. A quick hook for him was justified.


Three games for the Twins under new skipper Rocco Baldelli, three different starting catchers -- and essentially one batting order, with whoever is catching hitting eighth.

I daresay the three previous Twins skippers, dating back more than two decades, would have made a point of getting everybody on the bench a start in the opening series. Baldelli did not. Ehire Adrianza, Tyler Austin and Jake Cave all got into Sunday's game late, after it was all but decided, and each got an at-bat, and Cave pinch-ran Saturday.

And that's all the action that trio got in the Cleveland series. Each, in my estimate, is on the active roster only because of injury and the rash of off-days. None has a real purpose on the roster.

Plenty of managers -- and Tom Kelly was emphatically of this mindset, Ron Gardenhire less so -- take the approach of: If he's on the roster, I need to find a use for him. Three games in, it appears Baldelli is not interested in crimping the playing time of his regulars to get this trio some at-bats.


Cleveland was, and doubtless remains, the consensus pick to win the AL Central. I've grown increasingly skeptical of that in recent weeks, partly on the basis of the Tribe's unwillingness/inability to rebuild its outfield.

Cleveland played this series without middle infielders Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis, and Lindor's absence in particular took a key piece out of their puzzle. But even when Lindor and Kipnis return, this is a shallow lineup.

Assume that Lindor and Kipnis return as legitimate top-half-of-the-order hitters, something Kipnis hasn't been the past two seasons. We'll assume it as a best-case scenario anyway. That will give Cleveland some order of Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Kipnis and Carlos Santana hitting leadoff through cleanup, and that's not bad at all (again, assuming Kipnis is the Kipnis of 2013-16). But the bottom half of that lineup ... ugh.

Add in the depletion of their bullpen, and it's not pretty. The Indians have genuine strengths -- that's probably the best rotation in the majors -- and there's a force of habit at work prompting people to forget that Terry Francona doesn't have the talent on hand that he's had in the past. But this weekend displayed the Indians' genuine flaws. The Twins are better balanced, and I think they not only can win this division, they should win it.