Friday, May 31, 2019

That didn't go well

On Thursday morning I posted some (more so than usual) incoherent ramblings about Zach Littell. On Thursday evening he got to pitch for the first time in almost a week.

Neither went particularly well, Some 24 hours after I composed that post, I'm still not sure what the point was. Littell's outing yielded one positive: The meaningful pieces of the Twins bullpen were undisturbed by Martin Perez's poor start. Littell got rocked for 10 hits and eight earned runs, but he got 13 outs, and the Twins needed to use just one other reliever (Mike Morin for one inning).

That is, basically, Littell's role: Eat unimportant innings and try to pitch well enough to earn some important ones. Part one he did. Part two he didn't. I won't be shocked if the ultimate outcome for him is a return to Triple A Rochester; he's certainly not going to be called on again in the Tampa Bay series.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Zack Littell and the pitching inventory

Zach Littell is currently a member of the Twins bullpen, but pretty clearly the eighth man. He pitched two innings on May 24, and has been idle since. If the Twins decide to cut back to 12 pitchers as Nelson Cruz and Mitch Garver come off the injured list, Littell's job is in jeopardy.

Littell's projected major league role has dwindled since the Twins got him in July 2017 from the Yankees for Jamie Garcia. At the time he was pitching in Double A and having a superb season (he finsihed 19-1, 2.12, for three teams at two levels). While nobody was being wowed with his stuff, it was easy to be impressed by the results. A middle-to-back of the rotation future seemed quite possible.

By late last season he was being described by then-manager Paul Molitor as a candidate to be used with an opener -- good enough, by implication, to work twice through the order but not really good enough to be a traditional starter. And indeed, he was used as a bulk inning guy several times last September.

Now he's a reliever, although it's not really clear that this is a permanent move, as with Tyler Duffey and Fernando Romero. Unlike the latter two, Littell was mostly starting for the Redwings in Triple A before his call-up. Indeed, to the degree that one can deduce the Rochester starting rotation, he's been one of the cornerstones of that rotation, along with Kohl Stewart and Lewis Thorpe. Thorpe has nine starts, Littell and Stewart seven apiece. Nobody else has more than four, and one of them is Devin Smeltzer, who started the season in Double A.

The Twins this year have had a pretty durable major league rotation, even if Michael Pineda is currently on the shelf. They've only had three starts go to somebody other than the five starters who came out of spring training (Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Pineda and Martin Perez) -- two by Stewart and one by Smeltzer.

I heard Thad Levine, the general manager, talking on the radio pregame show Sunday about "lines of defense" -- the reinforcments already in the organization. Smeltzer probably wasn't seriously viewed as part of that during the offseason; Stephen Gonsalves was. But Gonsalves has barely pitched this year, and Smeltzer's stock has certainly risen.

I see more reason for optimism about the starters who are or have been in Double-A Pensacola this year -- Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak, Griffin Jax, Bursdar Graterol (now sidelined with a shoulder issue) -- than with the guys who've been in Triple A or the majors -- Stewart, Littell, Thorpe and Chase DeJong.

That Littell is sitting in the major league bullpen without much to do suggests to me that he's not prominent on the rotation depth chart these days.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Michael Pineda, Devin Smeltzer and the roster

Michael Pineda had on Monday what has become a standard Michael Pineda start -- six innings, three runs. He made five starts in May and allowed three earned runs in each. Three were six innings, one was five, one was seven.

Three earned runs in six innings is a minimal quality start. It's not wining him any Cy Young awards, but it's certainly acceptable from the back of the rotation. The Twins are just 5-6 in Pineda's 11 starts -- the bullpen gave up the lead he bequeathed Monday -- and his ERA remains over 5, but I wouldn't be eager to discard him.

So when the Twins put him on the injured list Tuesday morning with right knee tendinitis, I agreed with the social media theory that the Twins were taking advantage of a scheduling quirk to give Pineda a short break. (Pineda had surgery on that knee last September.) The idea going around Twitter was:

  • Devin Smeltzer gets Tuesday's start and is immediately optioned back to Triple A.
  • Nelson Cruz comes off the DL for Thursday's game in St. Petersburg against the Rays.
  • Luis Arraez is optioned out during the weekend when Mitch Garver is ready to return
  • With two off days in the offing (one of them today), the Twins don't need the fifth starter until Pineda is eligible to return.

That seemed a logical sequence of moves.

But after Smeltzer threw six highly efficient shutout innings on Tuesday, Rocco Baldelli signaled a different plan:

So no, I don't know what they have in mind. At some point soon, Cruz and Garver are coming back. Pineda doesn't figure to be out long. And the roster is jammed with productive players. It's a good probem.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

RIP, Bill Buckner

The first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1972 was Wes Parker, a 32-year-old switch-hitter who won his sixth-straight Gold Glove and was a better-than-league-average hitter -- not a lot of power, but more walks than strikeouts and a decent batting average in a rough time and place for hitters.

And that was it for him. He spent 1973 doing TV for the Cincinnati Reds, 1974 playing in Japan, then pursued an acting career with, as far as I know, little success. 

Parker's retirement didn't exactly leave the Dodgers in a bind. They had options to take Parker's place -- two good ones, as it turned out.

Steve Garvey was a third baseman who couldn't throw. The Dodgers converted him to first base. Bill Buckner was an outfielder whose knees had gone bad and couldn't run without pain. The Dodgers converted him to first base too.

It wasn't quite that simple. Buckner got more than 600 plate appearances in 1973, playing mostly first but seeing time in left and right as well. That opened enough playing time for Garvey to get more than 350 plate appearances himself. 

The next year, Garvey and Buckner each got more than 600 PA, which meant Buckner was mostly playing outfield. The Dodgers won the pennant with Garvey and Buckner each hitting over .300.

The next year, Buckner's playing time and production diminished. He bounced back in 1976, still playing mostly in the outfield but suffering on those bad knees.

And then the Dodgers traded Buckner to the Cubs, and he got to play first base as a regular thing. He  blossomed. He hit an even .300 in eight seasons with the Cubs, won a batting title, led the league in doubles a couple of times, consistently drew down-ballot MVP votes. 

And then he wound up in Boston, and the moment that came to define Bill Buckner -- the grounder that went between his legs to end Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. 

There were a lot of things that went wrong for the Red Sox in that fateful ninth, and a lot of people who deserve more of the blame for the fiasco than Buckner -- Calvin Schiraldi, John McNamara, Rich Gedman, Bob Stanley. But it was Buckner who symbolized the collapse.

I was rooting for the Red Sox in that series, but with the passage of time I am comfortable with the outcome. The Mets of the mid- and late-80s were a historically great team, deserving of at least one World Series title. That was their one.

Bill Buckner died Monday, age 69. And yes, I remember Mookie Wilson's grounder going through his legs. But I also chose to remember the outstanding hitter. 

The Dodgers in the mid-70s made the right choice by making Garvey their first baseman; he was the better hitter and the better first baseman. But Billy Buck was pretty darn good himself.

Monday, May 27, 2019

An overthought from the weekend

The Twins have a 10-game lead on Memorial Day.

I was optimistic about this team when the season opened, but I didn't expect this.


This is probably overthinking the weekend, but I keep trying to find significance in an insignificant end-of-game move Saturday.

Rocco Baldelli started Jorge Polanco at designated hitter that game, with Miguel Sano at third and Ehire Adrianza at short. Late in the game, Baldelli pulled Sano for Luis Arraez, but inserted the rookie at shortstop and shifted Adrianza to third.

Adrianza's base position is shortstop. Arraez's is second base, but he had split this season in the minors almost evenly between second and third. He has very little time at shortstop. It seems to me more likely that if those two are on the left side of the infield that Arraez would be at third and Adrianza at short.

So why flip them? My overthought: If and when this team gets back to full health, Baldelli will have an overcrowded roster. At some point Nelson Cruz (wrist) and Mitch Garver (ankle) will come off the injured list, and two players on the active roster will have to come off. And unless somebody else goes on the injured list, those moves are difficult to identify.

Arraez, who has now played more in the majors than he has in Triple A, is a likely first demotion, not because he's struggled in the majors but because he's optionable and wasn't really expected to be knocking on the door at this point anyway. A second ...

Willians Astudillo is optionable, but I think the Twins want his unique skill set in the majors. Dropping to 12 pitchers is certainly a possibility -- the back end of the 'pen has been underused for more than a week -- but every time they do that they rapidly decide they need the 13th.

Which takes me to Adrianza. He's out of options, so the Twins would have to put him on waivers. If he clears, they presumably can outright him to Triple A and still have him available if they need another infielder in the majors. But what if somebody claims him? What do the Twins have as org depth at shortstop?

They have not played Marwin Gonzalez in the middle infield yet, in large part because Adrianza has been on the roster all season. DFA Adrianza, and Gonzalez would presumably become the No. 2 shortstop and second baseman behind Polanco and Jonathan Schoop. That works unless and until somebody goes on the injured list.

Behind them: Nick Gordon is on the 40-man roster and at Rochester, but he's only played a dozen games because of injury. Ronald Torreyes, who had a few good seasons on the Yankees bench and was signed as a minor-league free agent, is hitting under .150 at Rochester.

So they take a look at Arraez at short. They're not going to see that he can definitely handle the position in one or two innings, but it plants the seed in his mind that this team might need him to play shortstop down the road.

Arraez at short isn't ideal, and it may never be necessary. But that possibility, however thin, might be behind that slightly odd Saturday move.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Math so easy, I can do it in my head (well, some of it)

So the Twins have scored exactly 300 runs in exactly 50 games -- six runs per game.

OK, break out the calculator: 6 runs per game for 162 games equals 972 runs for the season.

That's not a record, not even close. The Boston Beaneaters of 1894 scored 1,220 runs. They had a team batting average of .331. Hugh Duffy, who has a plaque in the Hall of Fame, hit .440. And they finished third.

Since World War II, only two teams have scored at least 1,000 runs: The 1950 Boston Red Sox, even though Ted Williams played in just 89 games, and the 1999 Cleveland Indians, with Manny Ramirez driving in 165 runs. (I had forgotten that Doc Gooden made 22 starts for that team.)

As well as the 2019 Twins have hit, they'll have to step up the pace to match those kinds of numbers. Considering the quality of the pitching on their AL Central "rivals" these days and the fact that most of their remaining games are against those teams, it seems almost plausible.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Minnesota Lumber Company

Sixteen runs and eight homers. The Twins so badly mauled the Angels pitching staff Thursday afternoon that the MIAC is about to expel them, too.

(For those non-Minnesotans unfamiliar with that reference, check this link.)

The Twins, through 49 games -- 30% of the schedule -- have:

  • 289 runs, most in the American League
  • 98 homers, most in the AL
  • 102 doubles, most in the AL
  • a .516 slugging percentage, first in the AL
  • a .272 batting average, second in the AL
  • a .340 on-base percentage, third in the AL

I was concerned coming into the season that the Twins offseason emphasis on power over on-base percentage was going to result in a lot of solo homers and nothing else. Not so. And even if it were, eight solo homers should win most games.

They are scoring more than two runs a game more than Cleveland, their chief rival in the AL Central. We are fast approaching Memorial Day, my theoretical time to start paying attention to the standings. Well, the Twins have an eight-game lead on the Indians. If the Tribe's current losing streak continues, Minnesota might have a double-digit lead by the holiday.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Ex-Twins watch: Denard Span

My current Strat-o-Matic project -- don't fear, this is just a starting point -- involves the Negro League set of cards, and the other day I was contemplating the card of one Jimmie Crutchfield: left-handed hitting outfielder, fast, good defense, weak throwing arm, no power.

He's the Negro League Denard Span, I thought. And then: Where is Denard Span these days, anyway?

Apparently involuntarily retired appears to be the answer. The three-year guarantee on the free agent pact he signed with the Giants ran out last year, and the Mariners -- the third team he played for while on that contract and the fifth of his 11-year career -- bought out his option year.

There was, and is, no interest in Span's services despite a solid 2018 at the plate. That's not terribly surprising. He turned 35 in February and he pretty much convinced everybody while in San Francisco that he is no longer a quality defensive center fielder. So he's now an aging slap-hitting corner outfielder in an era in which power is preferred. The Twins have no roster spot for Jake Cave, and I'd rather have Cave than the 2019 version of Span.

Span started with an unseen role in the book Moneyball, cited by author Michael Lewis in the chapter on the 2002 draft as exactly the kind of athlete Athletics general manager and protagonist Billy Beane wanted to avoid -- a raw high school athlete with bonus expectations. The Twins took him with the 20th overall pick, one year after taking Joe Mauer with the first overall pick, and he didn't get to the majors until after Mauer had become a star.

The decision in spring training 2008 to go with Carlos Gomez as the regular center fielder that year and send Span back to the minors was one of two major decisions that cost the Twins the divisional title that year. Span outplayed Go-Go during camp, but Gomez was the big get in the Johan Santana trade, and he got the benefit of the doubt. (The other costly decision was Ron Gardenhire's decison to keep Craig Breslow in a secondary relief role as the rest of the bullpen frequently imploded, but let's not get sidetracked on that again, Eddie.) By midseason Span was in the lineup and hitting leadoff, but the gap probably cost the Twins a game or two in a season in which they ended in a Game 163.

Stardom wasn't in the cards for Span, although he did lead his league in triples twice and hits once. He never made an All-Star team, never won a Gold Glove, had a career high of 12 homers. He was a good regular outfielder and leadoff hitter, but short of greatness.

Jimmie Crutchfield's Baseball Reference page says his career ended at age 35 too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Getting outs

A few observations, and maybe some conclusions, about pitching ....

1. Michael Pineda can be really tough to watch. That was certainly the case Tuesday night when he gave up three runs in the first inning while working at a glacial pace. Given the time zone difference on a Tuesday night, I would imagine that there are a lot of the Twins fans surprised this morning to find the Twins won.

1A. Pineda's final line -- three runs allowed in six innings -- supports my Monday print column conclusion earlier this month: He may not be a Cy Young contender, but there are a lot of teams that would love to have a fifth starter like him.

2. Were either Bert Blyleven or Jack Morris doing this road trip on FSN, they would be doing conniption fits. On Monday Jake Odorizzi threw five shutout innings and was relieved without facing a batter in the sixth; he told reporters that he encouraged manager Rocco Baldelli to pull him. The Twins bullpen allowed one run in four innings and the Twins won 3-1, although Odorizzi didn't get credit for the win.

On Tuesday the Angels' Trevor Cahill threw five scoreless innings, then gave up a leadoff double to Max Kepler.  Brad Ausmus pulled him, and the Twins quickly went double-homer to tie the game off his successor.

We've all heard Blyleven and Morris say the manager would have had to fight them to pull them from a shutout. But Odorizzi and Cahill are veteran starters with well-established histories as five-and-fly gues. They aren't 200-inning machines, as Blyleven and Morris were decades ago. 

Baldelli and Ausmus handled them properly. The difference is that Baldelli's bullpen got the job done on Monday (and Tuesday); Ausmus' did not.

3. Part of the bullpen meltdown for the Angels was Luke Bard. Bard was drafted and signed by the Twins out the the same draft in which they landed Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios; he was prominent in a group of college closers the Twins drafted that year (2012), many of whom the Twins sought to make starters.

Most of them washed out, although the Twins still have Tyler Duffey. Bard spent a lot of his time in the Twins system on the shelf, and even when healthy they showed little real interest in pushing him to the majors. The Angels took him in the Rule 5 draft last year and carried him for part of the season before returning him to the Twins; then they signed him as a minor league free agent.

He was hardly great Tuesday night -- four runs, all earned, in one inning -- and was charged with the loss. The Angels' defense did him no favors, but that was only part of the problem.

I would like him to make the Twins regret not giving him a major league opportunity. I doubt he will.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

'A' is for Adrianza

The 2019 default infield for the Twins has been C.J. Cron at first base, Jonathan Schoop at second, Marwin Gonzalez at third and Jorge Polanco at short.

None of them were at those positions Monday night in Anaheim. The first three were on the bench and Polanco was the designated hitter. Monday's infield was Willians Astudillo at first, Luis Arraez at second, Miguel Sano at third and Ehrie Adrianza at short.

The initials of three of those four notwithstanding, that is not the Twins' A-team infield. And yet ... Sano hit a two-run homer, Adrianza drove in the Twins' other run, Arraez had three hits and Astudillo had another.

Sano, of course, was always supposed to be a foundation piece of this team. Arraez is only up because Mitch Garver and Nelson Cruz are on the injured list. And it very well may be that, if and when everybody is healthy, either Astudillo or Adrianza loses his roster berth.

My assumption has been that Adrianza, despite being out of options, is the more likely to be bounced. But he has certainly been playing a lot lately, and all over the field.

Which is nothing new; he has, in his time with the Twins, played everywhere but center and catcher. I don't call him a superutility player because I reserve that term for somebody who is a regular without a constant position, a la Gonzalez or Ben Zobrist. He doesn't hit well enough for that kind of role. But his versatility gives him value. especially on a roster with 13 pitchers.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Contemplating Luis Arraez

The Twins carried Nelson Cruz and his ailing wrist on the active roster for a few days but finally moved him to the injured list and called up infielder Luis Arraez.

The 22-year-old Venezuelan debuted as a mid-game substitution Saturday and got a double; he started Sunday's loss and got a single and a pair of walks.

I saw him a few years ago when he was with Cedar Rapids. Here's what I wrote about him then.

And I'm not sure there's much more to add to it. He's hit on every level (.331 career in the minors), he draws about as many walks as strikeouts, he doesn't hit many homers (six in six professional seasons), and while Dick Bremer said on one of the telecasts that his defense has improved, I'm pretty certain he lacks the arm for third or short. (I do see that he played about as often at third base for Pensacola as he did at second before he moved up to Triple A Rochester.)

The bat-to-ball skill is impressive. Everything else feels a bit light.

The future of the Twins infield is more likely to be built around Jorge Polanco, Royce Lewis and Wander Javier than around Arraez. He might become a major league regular, but I suspect it will require a trade. If he keeps on hitting, and there's no reason to doubt that, he might be a pretty decent trade chip as early as this summer.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Good-bye, Addison Reed

The Twins wrote off the rest of Addison Reed's two-year deal Thursday and designated the veteran reliever for assignment. The move opened a spot on the 40-man roster for Austin Adams, who inherited the berth on the active roster vacated by Wednesday's demotion of Trevor Hildenberger.

Reed had been on a rehab assignment at Triple A Rochester, and it was not going well. Reports said he showed good movement on his pitches, but his velocity remained well down from his accustomed levels, and he was getting hit hard.

Somebody may pick Reed up; he's only 30 and has a good resume as a late-inning reliever, with 125 career saves. But getting him back to that level is, clearly, going to take more patience than the Twins can afford. The Twins could have waited to make the move until his rehab period was up, but they needed the roster space immediately.

So Reed, who signed a two-year deal with the Twins during the 2017-18 offseason for $16.75 million, is not going to be part of the solution to Minnesota's bullpen depth issues.

That, of course, was the intent when he was signed. And Reed was effective for basically the first half of 2018. But he had a couple of disasterous outings in June, went on the disabled list in July and was obviously not the same pitcher after his return from the DL.

Reed is a cautionary tale of the risks involved in signing veteran free agent relievers. There are, without question, Twins fans who believe that Craig Kimbrel is the solution to the bullpen depth problem -- and it is a problem. But Kimbrel is not a low-cost solution. He figures to be an expense on the multiples of Reed, and the Kimbrel we saw last postseason was ... not effective.

The Twins need bullpen help. There have to be viable alternatives that don't carry the risk Kimbrel poses. Unfortunately for the Twins and for Addison Reed, he's not one of them.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A demotion that matters

Trevor Hildenberger wasn't charged with an earned run in his first 12 appearances this season. He was charged with at least two in six of his next eight, including three on Wednesday.

And shortly after that debacle, he lost his job, sent to Triple A with an ERA of 8.36.

The Twins did not immediately announce the corresponding move, although multiple reports had Austin Adams en route to join the team in Seattle, where the Twins play the Mariners tonight. The Mariners also have an Austin Adams, also a right handed reliever; the Twins version has more major league innings on his resume and a worse career ERA. No additional move to fit Adams onto the Twins 49-man roster has been announced either; that will have to come today.

Most demotions involve the fringes of the roster; this one does not. Hildenberger has been one of the four relievers Rocco Baldelli has relied on in high-leverage situations. He is not being replaced by a guy who figures to step into such a role. I have obsessed in this space for weeks about the need for a fifth dependable reliever. This is going backwards.

Hildenberger has a history of running hot and cold. Last summer, after the Twins traded closer Fernando Rodney, he was the defacto closer for a few weeks and wound up with seven saves but an ERA for the season of 5.42. He was charged with at least one run allowed in five of his final seven outings in 2018, including two meltdowns of five and four runs.

I expect Hildenberger to return, eventually. But his problems have severely thinned the Twins bullpen. There are still eight arms out there, but not nearly that many the manager wants to entrust games to.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Contemplating Mitch Garver

We might have a better idea later today of how badly damaged Mitch Garver's ankle is after Tuesday's plate collision, but the immediate diagnosis -- a high ankle sprain -- suggests a few weeks on the injured list.

At the start of the season, losing Garver for a month (or whatever it turns out to be) wouldn't have seemed as daunting as it does today. As it is, we might rather have had Byron Buxton's throw -- which only cut down the tying run -- be off line and pull Garver out of harm's way.

That's not a choice anyone gets to make. Buxton made a remarkable throw -- Statcast puts the throw at 253 feet and 98.6 miles per hour -- from a dead stop, and both Garver and baserunner Shohei Ohtani did what the rules regarding plays at the plate say they are supposed to do, and Garver got hurt anyway.

Garver, of course, has been a major part of the remarkable production the Twins have gotten from their catchers (he hit a two-run bomb on Tuesday before the injury). They still have Jason Castro and Willians Astudillo, the latter of whom just came off the injured list himself. Both figure to get more playing time while Garver is out, and presumably Astudillo will play less third base-outfield-first base.

Meanwhile, Nelson Cruz nurses a sore wrist -- Rocco Baldelli has shuffled Garver and Astudillo through the DH role the last two games -- and Miguel Sano is nearly ready to come off the injured list. I rather expect that will be the move, Garver on the IL and Sano activated.

We're already seeing Marwin Gonzalez start to move around the field some after a more than a month of being pretty much locked into third base. His multiposition versatility is a big part of his value, and we haven't seen it in action much because of Sano's absence. Garver's injury figures to reduce Astudillo's use at other positions, so even though Gonzalez isn't a catcher, Garver's injury makes it more necessary to move Gonzalez around.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Live by the shift, die by the shift

The Twins shift a lot -- some 43 percent of the time, third highest in baseball. They are generally pretty effective with it, too. Last year the Twins were tied with the Rays with 31 runs saved by the shift, as figured by Sports Info Systems, third most most in the majors.

They aren't ranked so high so far this season, however. And on Monday night they gave up three hits via the shift -- a bunt by Kole Calhoun and two groundballs pushed to the right side by Albert Pujols, one of which drove in a run.

And good on Pujols. It's probably about time he did that.

There was a story late last season about how Pujols was the most-shifted-on batter in baseball and how much he struggled against the shifts. He certainly appeared Monday to be willing to follow the ancient dictum of Wee Willie Keeler and  "hit 'em where they ain't." Neither of those against the shift hits were smashed, but as another saying goes, they look like line drives in the box score.


The Twins didn't stay at 12 pitchers for long. Jake Cave was optioned out Monday and Tyler Duffey -- the 26th man for Saturday's doubleheader -- was returned to the roster.

I wonder if they even had him leave town Sunday or if they knew they were going to do something to keep him around.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Thoughts from the weekend

Must ... resist ... the impluse to read too much into the Detroit series. Splitting with the Tigers isn't a disaster, but it wasn't what I expected either. It was a series in mid May, or perhaps a bit earlier than mid May, with a doubleheader, and Rocco Baldelli gave the reserves a good bit of run.

A few bullet points:

* The Twins got less-than-dominant starts Saturday and Sunday. This was not really a surprise from Michael Pineda and Kohl Stewart, even if the Tigers have a notably light-hitting lineup; it says a lot about how quickly Martin Perez has risen in my esteem that his outing surprised me.

*Deeper thoughts on Pineda and Stewart in the Monday print column.

* A good bit of roster shuffling this weekend connected to the makeup doubleheader Saturday. Stewart came up to start Saturday' second game; officially he was taking the place of Perez, who was on paternity leave for the birth of his son. Tyler Duffey was the 26th man for the doubleheader and pitched a strong inning to wrap up that one.

And La Tortuga is back from the injured list. The Twins cut back to 12 pitchers after Saturday and reactivated Willians Astudillo, who caught and led off Sunday. This makes him the fourth catcher to hit leadoff in Twins history -- John Roseboro, Butch Wynegar in the past and Mitch Garver and Astudillo this year.

* I had expected that, if the Twins were to cut back to 12 pitchers, that Mike Morin would be the loser, but it was Fernando Romero instead. Baldelli,  on the radio pregame show Sunday, had an intriguing reason for that: Romero isn't getting enough regular work in the major league bullpen to develop. They want him to pitch two days in a row, to finish an inning and go back out ("up-and-down"), and those opportunities aren't there with the Twins. Or they're there, but it's the Big Four being asked to do them.

* One of those Big Four, Trevor Hildenberger, is definitely in a pitching slump, surrendering a pair of runs both Saturday and Sunday. Again, must resist the urge to overreact -- but Hildenberger has shown a tendency for bad streaks in the past.

* Miguel Sano's rehab tour of the minor leagues is near its end. He's at Triple A now and hammered a couple of doubles over the weekend (and struck out a few times too.) Meanwhile, Nelson Cruz came out of Sunday's game with a sore wrist, which is to be examined today. If Cruz has to sit a while, that probably gets Sano back on the roster without bouncing either Jake Cave or Ehire Adrianza, and opens up a lineup slot as well.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

A hot streak

Well, yeah. We'll see what happens today, with Michael Pineda and Kohl Stewart starting the two ends of the doubleheader. And for that matter, Martin Perez, slated for Sunday's start, went on paternity leave Friday, so the Twins might be reaching for somebody to work that one as well.

But if there's a team to be working your organizational pitching depth against, it's probably the Tigers. Miguel Cabrera -- he of one homer and a sub-.400 slugging percentage so far in 2019 -- recently explained his lack of power production on the weak hitters surrounding him.

Ron Gardenhire is trotting out a light-hitting lineup, dead last in the AL in runs scored so far. But Cabrera, who turned 36 last month, ain't what he once was either.

None of this is to be dismissive of Jake Odorizzi's outing Friday -- one hit in seven innings. He now has a 20-inning scoreless streak going, which would be impressive if it all came against the Tigers. He's done this against better lineups too.

Friday, May 10, 2019

A bullet dodged

The Twins starting pitching so far has been pretty darn good. Excellent other than Michael Pineda, and even he hasn't cost 'em many games or killed the bullpen.

But consider this: The Twins two winters ago really wanted to sign Yu Darvish. They didn't, of course. It appeared that he wanted a bigger market, and it's a reasonable guess that the Twins interest only served to up his bargaining power with the teams he was interested in. He signed with the Cubs.

For whom he's been hurt and or awful. On Thursday Darvish walked six men in four innings. For the season he has walked 33 hitters in 36.3 innings.And he's given up eight homers.

He's making Pineda look good. And he's demonstrating the wisdom of the adage, Sometimes your best moves are the ones you don't make.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Fitting Addison Reed into the Twins bullpen

Addison Reed -- who I believe is the highest-paid pitcher the Twins have -- threw a hitless inning in his first rehab assignment outing for Rochester. The righty reliever has been on the injured list with  sprained left thumb since spring training.
One of my chronic topics here has been the search for a fifth reliable reliever. An Addison Reed pitching to his pre-Twins track record -- and, really, what he did last season before June 10 -- is certainly that.

He was pretty bad after June 10 last year, and I spent the offseason expecting the Twins to discard him. They didn't. He is presumably nearly ready to be reactivated. To how prominent a role in the Twins bullpen, I don't know. I'm not really inclined to trust him over Ryne Harper in moments that matter, but the Twins haven't been eager to step up Harper's role, either. Reed has the track record that Harper lacks.

The Twins currently have eight relievers. With four starters stifling lineups regularly, eight relievers is too many; Dick Bremer was talking last night about how seldom Blake Parker has pitched the past couple of weeks. It's plausible right now that the Twins could return to 12 pitchers when Miguel Sano returns, but that makes fitting Reed on the active roster all the more complicated.

Work this out: We can assume that the Big Four -- Parker, Taylor Rogers, Trevor May and Trevor Hildenberger -- are safe. Harper's certainly done nothing to put a target on his back. That leaves Fernando Romero, Mike Magill (fresh off the injured list himself) and Mike Morin.

Morin seems like a fairly obvious name to swap out for either Sano or Reed. It gets tougher after that. Romero has the highest ceiling -- and the lowest floor. Magill strikes me as rather Reed-like but without the resume.

Neither Sano or Reed is quite ready for activation yet, of course, and things have a way of working themselves out. These aren't decisions that have to be made today. But they are coming up, perhaps as soon as next week.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The weird career of Mike Fiers

Mike Fiers threw a no-hitter -- the second of his career -- Tuesday night in Oakland, in a game delayed by an an outage in the lights in left field.

Fiers is 34 and has been kicking around major league rotations for nine seasons. And you never know what you'll get.

He has a career ERA of 4.11, and the no-hitter still left his career record short of .500, 57-58. He has never thrown 200 innings in a season and has only three times pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title -- and was traded in mid-season in two of those seasons.

In 2017, he led the Houston Astros in innings pitched, but he had an ERA of 5.28 and didn't see action in the postseason, when the Astros won the World Series. (He fell short of the 162 innings qualifying standard that year.)

No-hitters are relatively rare, and multiple no-hitters are rarer still. Just 31 pitchers, including Fiers, have more than one to their credit. He isn't high on the list of guys I would expect a no-no from, but he's done it twice.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

There has been a great deal of ridicule in my Twitter feed of the notion that Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s fielding is/was weak enough to justify his spending the past calendar year in the minors.

I don't know. I'm fairly confident that his bat was major-league ready last year, but he certainly didn't look like a competent defensive third baseman Monday night.

Guerrero took an 0-for-3 last night at the plate, striking out twice, and is now 5-for-33 (.152) in his first nine games in the majors. Justin Morneau and Dick Bremer were speculating about a return to Triple A for him. I don't think that's going to happen. If the Blue Jays had realistic playoff ambitions, maybe. But they don't, and they may was well accept the growing pains and let the kid play.


Jason Castro hit his fourth homer Monday night. Later he got plunked in the right arm Monday night and left the game in the eighth inning. He's day-to-day.

Willians Astudillo remains on the injured list, but he's eligible to return Wednesday.

The Twins have gotten a lot of offensive production from the their three catchers (Castro, Mitch Garver and Astudillo), and I am inclined to believe the rationed playing time has helped that. Nobody catches three days in a row, so nobody's getting too beat up back there.

Of course, if none of them were hitting we'd probably hear grousing about how playing time is so sporadic they can't get their timing down.


The obvious, and likely, demotion when Astudillo comes off the DL is Jake Cave. Bremer and Morneau were saying complementary things about Cave during his plate appearance Monday night (he walked), but the very fact that playing time for him is so scarce indicates why he's the obvious guy to come off the roster.

He's a left-hand hitting outfielder on a team with two left-hand hitting regulars in the outfield corners. He has no real role other than waiting for someone to get hurt.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Contemplating Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda has now made seven starts for the Twins. He's 2-3 with a 6.09 ERA, and to paraphrase the manager in "Bull Durham," How'd he ever win two?

Mid-May was the point in the season in which, in the Terry Ryan era, the Twins were generally willing to lop a struggling veteran starter who was trying to milk another year out of his arm. Ryan isn't running this organization now, of course, and I suspect the current front office isn't contemplating dropping the ax on Pineda just yet.

A 6.09 ERA is ugly, no question, and that ERA has more than doubled over the course of his last four starts, including Sunday against the Yankees.Seven homers allowed in 34 innings isn't good either, and his body language frequently evokes unpleasant memories of Mike Pelfrey.

But there are reasons for patience:

*His walk-strikeout rates (9 walks, 30 strikeouts) are good. Those remain my preferred "leading indicator" stats, the ones that point to the quality of his pitches and the ability to hit the strike zone. As Jim Kaat said during the telecast, Pineda still has swing-and-miss stuff.

*The Twins signed him coming off Tommy John surgery as a two-year project, and they have been rather ginger in handling him so far this chilly spring. I doubt they're going to pull the plug six or seven weeks into the anticipated payoff on that investment.

*I don't think there's a starter in the minors who looks like a possible upgrade right now. In the aforementioned Ryan era, the likes of Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz were plugging a back-of-the-rotation spot to buy time for prospects to marinate in the upper minors. But the best current upper minors starter now is probably Stephen Gonsalves, and he has yet to pitch this season.

* Pineda is not killing the team. The Twins are 3-4 in his starts. Sure, you'd like better, but winning half the starts of your fifth starter isn't terrible. The Astros pinned two of those lousy starts on him; that will happen.

Bottom line: He's going to keep getting the ball.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Best team in the league?

The Twins thumped Houston again in Thursday's nooner, so they exceeded my series split ambitions and took three of four from the Astros and six of seven on the home stand.

And, with the Rays having hit a bump in the road in Kansas City, the Twins now sport the best won-lost record in the American League.

We're not a week into May yet, and I don't pay a lot of attention to the standings before Memorial Day. but things are pretty clearly going well for the Twins. Sweeping Baltimore is nice; taking three of four from the Astros -- and getting three long starts in that series -- is more impressive.


Adalberto Mejia went on the injured list Thursday and Mike Morin, a right-hander who has bounced around between the Angels, Royals and Mariners with little success, was called up. He gets to celebrate his birthday today (28) on a major league roster, so good for him.

Morin was signed as a minor league free agent and he pitched 12 innings in Rochester to a 2.25 ERA before getting the callup. I'm not expecting much.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

A night of two pitchers

Wednesday's events may signal a bit of a turning point in the nascent AL Central race.

In Minnesota, Martin Perez dominated the powerful Astros lineup with eight scoreless innings. (Reliever Trevor Hildenberger allowed two runs in the ninth but the Twins won 6-2.) Perez allowed four hits and struck out seven.

Perez was so good he had ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe babbling about him as a top-of-the-rotation arm. That might be premature, but he was impressive -- and I am quite certain now that I was absolutely wrong this offseason when evaluating the signing. But in my defense, Perez is not the pitcher now that he was in Texas. He and the Twins have adjusted his delivery and changed his repertoire.

In Miami, Cleveland ace Corey Kluber was hit in his right forearm/elbow by a 102-mph liner. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has a non-displaced fracture of the ulna and his pitching arm is in a cast. He's to be evaluated today back in Cleveland, but it's safe to assume that he's going to be out of action for a good while.

Kluber's pitching in April wasn't up to his usual standard, but this is still a significant blow to the Indians. I don't root for injuries. I root for greatness, and "the Klubot" has been just that for five years.

The starting rotation was perceived to be Cleveland's big advantage over the Twins. But even that advantage may now be gone. It has certainly faded.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment

The less said about the details of Tuesday's Astros-Twins game the better.

But Michael Pineda and company made Jake Odorizzi's performance on Monday shine even more.


John Curtiss, shipped by the Twins to Anaheim before spring training for a minor leaguer who doesn't have to be on the 40-man roster, was designated for assignment by the Angels. He got into one major league game for the Halos and walked three of the 12 men he faced in that performance.

Daniel Ozoria, the 18-year-old infielder the Twins got for Curtiss, is presumably still in extended spring training awaiting the opening of either the Appy League or the Florida State League.


USA Today this morning printed a Bob Nightengale piece (it appeared online earlier in the week) that is a really good example of a journalistic genre that I think of as "the suck-up story." Today's topic is Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager. Maddon is on the last year of his contract, and his bosses are being very obvious about not talking to him about an extension, and Nightengale can't for the life of him see why that might be the case.

Nightengale's probably not really that oblivious, but the point of that story is less to inform the reader than to make Maddon think more fondly of the national reporter than the local beat writers. That makes Maddon more likely to tip off Nightengale first if and when the ax falls -- or he gets that extension offer.

Anyway ... Nightengale says Maddon. always a lineup tinkerer, is telling his players the lineups a series in advance -- "yes, even before MLB's gambling sponsors know."

He's gonna get in trouble with the commissioner's office for that. Imagine, a manager prioritizing his team over the legal bookies. That's a violation!