- Slowey suffers setback in rehab
Well, there goes the season
Ugh, I hope it’s just a slight one. The Slow Man was supposed to throw
a bullpen session today, but his wrist injury flared up again and was unable to do so.
He’s supposed to try throwing again on Wednesday, and the Twins are
holding off on any further decisions regarding treatment until then.
So I’m going to hold off on any further panicking until then. What is
certain, however, is that he won’t be making his next scheduled
start on July 21 at Oakland. Anthony Swarzak will get the nod instead.
- Casilla up, Tolbert down, Harris back to the bench?
As LEN3 reported,
Alexi Casilla has been recalled from Rochester, while Matt Tolbert has
been sent back down. It’s essentially Casilla’s last chance to prove
he can stick in the major leagues, or the Twins will probably be moving
him in the off-season. Casilla struggled mightily at the plate earlier
this season, batting a mere .180/.242/.225, and all of the defensive
miscues certainly didn’t help his case. But he’s been on fire since
his demotion to Rochester, batting .340/.379/.449/.827 OPS for the Red Wings. Still, as Jason
Bartlett can attest, it’s very difficult to get out of Gardy’s doghouse
once you have been banished there. Casilla will probably have to magically
turn into Chase Utley overnight to keep his job, and even that wouldn’t
With Casilla getting the start at second, this begs
the question as to who will be the everyday shortstop. Gardy says he
will try to find playing time for both Punto and Harris, but this is
highly unlikely. Punto will most certainly be the starting SS, and
Harris will almost certainly be back to the bench. The Twins are paying
Punto $4 million this year, so he and his .201/.319/.223 line won’t be
playing the utility role. Gardy has already said as much.
And really, when you look at the numbers, neither one is exactly running away
with the starting job. Punto is terrible at the plate, but he’s a
career 21.0 UZR at the position, so his defense is good enough to make
him at least replacement-level. Harris isn’t very good on defense (he’s a
career -11.9 UZR) but his .275/.318/.392 line makes him just a little
better than replacement-level, but not enough to just hand him the job,
either. Now, if only there was a way to combine Harris’ bat with Punto’s glove…
- Gomez goes 3-for-4 with a home run and 5 RBI in series finale against White Sox
That goofball is bound and determined to make me love him.
Actually, I pretty much already decided that the first time I saw him sniff his bat.
- Francisco Liriano has his worst outing of the year and still gets the win
Even though he only surrendered three runs, this really was Frankie’s worst performance of the season. It took him a career-high 117 pitches to make it through five innings, and he faced no less than five batters in almost every single inning. He gave up seven hits and walked more batters than he struck out (six Ks vs. five BBs). That he only gave up three runs speaks volumes about the Brewers’ offense, and not so much about his ability to pitch out of a jam. Unlike his previous start against the Pirates, in which he was only a couple of meatballs away from pitching a gem, Frankie was only a couple of bad pitches away from a complete meltdown. It’s been so frustrating to watch him this season because he shows so much talent, and just when it starts to look like he’s starting to turn the corner, he has a performance as awful as this. The Twins have been patient with Frankie thus far, but obviously they can’t continue to do so and hope to catch the Tigers and win the division title. Moving him to the bullpen probably isn’t going to help either Frankie or the Twins much, since he struggles to pitch from the stretch and would likely fail in high-leverage situations. If he fails to show any progress in his next couple of starts, perhaps the Twins should consider sending him to Rochester. Working with pitching coach Bobby Cuellar seemed to do wonders for him last year, and he could be sent down with the promise that he would be called back up no matter what happens. Whether he would be called up as a starter or reliever would depend upon how well he does with the Red Wings.
This game was so difficult to watch I had to keep reminding myself that the Twins were actually winning. As awful as Frankie was, Milwaukee starter Jeff Suppan was even worse, giving up seven runs (four earned) on nine hits while walking three. The Twins jumped out to an early lead in the first, when Michael Cuddyer struck out but reached first on a wild pitch, loading up the bases for Joe Crede. Crede then lashed a double over the head of Mike Cameron, plating three runs. Carlos Gomez (who had a pretty good night, going 3-for-5 with a pair of runs and RBI) later singled and then hustled to second when Cameron took his sweet time getting the ball back to the infield. He then scored on a single by Brendan Harris, putting the Twins up 4-2. A fielding error by J.J. Hardy opened up a three-run third inning, giving the Twins a 7-3 lead they would never relinquish. Good thing the Brew Crew decided to play more like a beer-league softball team, allowing the Twins to reach the .500 mark for the umpteenth time this season and keep pace with the Tigers.
Joe Mauer is SI‘s cover model this week, for only the second time in his career. The issue dealt with his pursuit of .400, so naturally he’s gone 0-for-8 in his past two games and dropped his average to a mere .395. The SI curse probably has little to do with it though, since hitting .400 is really hard to do in the first place and Mauer was starting to show signs of slowing down even before the issue hit the stands. Still, you’d better start sleeping with one eye open, Tom Verducci.
Milton Bradley had a very tough day at work today. He lost Jason Kubel’s routine fly ball in the sun, which put two on with nobody out and set up a two-run inning for the Twins. Later in the same inning, he couldn’t field Michael Cuddyer’s line drive to right, playing a single into a run-scoring double. But, most hilariously, he also had a major brain fart on a Joe Mauer pop fly. Bradley forgot how many outs there were in the inning and threw the ball into the stands (hint: there was only one, Milton). Nick Punto scored easily and Brendan Harris was awarded third base. Personally, I think the play should’ve been ruled a home run. That ball went right into the stands! So what if Bradley was the one who threw it there? Bradley kind of redeemed himself by hitting a big two-run double in the sixth, cutting the Twins’ lead in half at that point. Unfortunately, he couldn’t redeem himself completely, allowing Delmon Young to rob him of the potentially game-winning hit in the eighth.
For Twins fans and Cubs haters alike, this was a great game. Joe Mauer hit his 13th home run of the season, a two-run blast that gave the Twins an early lead (and tied his career high set in 2006). Jason Kubel hit a solo shot in the ninth that extended the lead to 7-4, his tenth of the season. And Brendan Harris went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored, which should help his case to be the starting shortstop (at least until Gardy realizes he isn’t a utility role player anymore). Nick Punto even hit the ball out of the infield a couple of times. I can’t remember the last time I wrote that.
Kevin Slowey was cruising along through the first five innings, allowing one hit and striking out nine Baby Bears. I guess he decided not to rely on the worst defensive outfield ever behind him. Slowey did start to fall apart in the sixth, when he surrendered three runs and cut the lead to only one run. None of that can be blamed on the defense though, all of those runs came on some very hard hit line drives (the outfield didn’t walk Mike Fontenot, either). The bullpen wasn’t great, but they managed to (barely) hang onto the lead for a change. Joe Nathan retired the Cubs in order to pick up his fourteenth save of the season in a very non-heart-attack inducing manner.
Ron Gardenhire gets a lot of criticism from fans for his management of the bullpen, especially his reluctance to use Joe Nathan in anything other than a save situation. And since the front office has consistently failed to put together a decent bullpen, the few reliable relievers on the staff get overworked (sometimes to the point of injury, see Pat Neshek and Jesse Crain). Case in point: Matt Guerrier. Matty G. had logged 28.1 innings coming in to today’s game (where he was asked to record the final out in the eighth) and had made three straight relief appearances, while Joe Nathan had only logged 23.1 and hadn’t worked since Wednesday. I realize that this is a national league ballpark, and the thought that Joe Nathan might come up to bat isn’t particularly appealing, but it was a save situation anyway and it makes sense to use Nathan since he’s had more rest. Guerrier was awful in the second half of last season, posting a. 8.88 ERA and 2.092 WHIP after the All-Star break, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that he was overworked. And with all of the innings he’s logged the past six seasons, it’s probably only a matter of time before he too ends up on the surgery list.
By the way, the best part of the game is that Wrigley was half full of Twins fans. Seriously, if Wrigley Field weren’t so distinctive, one would think the Cubs were the visiting team. Chants of “M-V-P!” and “Where’s Mark Prior?” whenever Joe Mauer came up to bat warmed even my icy cold heart. There was plenty of cheering whenever the Twins would score, or when Kevin Slowey struck out yet another Cub. There was also a lusty booing of Cub players, although I don’t think all of that was coming from Twins fans.
On a completely unrelated note, but because I find the idea so delightfully disgusting, here is former Toronto pitching coach Bob Miller discussing the fine art of spitting tobacco juice on umpires:
- Twins survive ninth-inning nightmare to beat Oakland 10-5
This game was much, much closer than the final score would indicate. The Twins had a 10-0 lead going into the ninth. Scott Baker had pitched brilliantly, holding the A’s two just two hits in eight innings, and since he’d thrown only 96 pitches, was going for a complete game. And that’s when things got a lot more interesting than they really needed to be. Baker was obviously gassed, and loaded up the bases without recording an out (although he didn’t get any help from Alexi Casilla, more on that in a minute). Jesse Crain was brought in to relieve Scotty, but ran into trouble of his own. After Alexi Casilla again failed to field a routine ground ball that allowed a pair of runs to score, Crain had trouble finding the strike zone. He walked Jack Cust with the bases loaded, and was yanked in favor of Jose Mijares. Mijares struck out Jason Giambi, but then suffered some control issues of his own. He walked the next two batters and forced in a pair of runs. With the score now 10-5, and the bases loaded with only one out, Joe Nathan was brought in to complete what had suddenly become a save situation. He struck out Jack Hannahan and Rajai Davis to end the threat and pick up his 12th save of the year.
I’ll admit that I was nervous before Nathan came in. If there’s any team that can screw up a 10-0 lead in the ninth inning, it is the Twins. They’ve had such awful luck on the road this season and it really wouldn’t have surprised me if they ended up losing 11-10. Besides, it’s not like this kind of thing has never happened before.
The horrorshow that unfolded in the ninth overshadowed what had been a rare quality road win. Not only did Baker pitch a gem, but the bats sprang to life and gave him some much-needed run support. Delmon Young, who’s really been having a rough season both on and off the field, went 2-for-4 with a double (his first extra-base hit since April 22) and three RBI. Justin Morneau made me look silly for suggesting he might be in a slump, going 4-for-5 with a solo home run. Jason Kubel hit a three-run homer. Brendan Harris, who saw his career-high 12 game hitting streak come to an end on Monday night, went 3-for-4 with a walk and a run scored. Even Carlos Gomez, who was put in the leadoff spot when Denard Span was forced to leave the game, came up with a big two-run double (though he also struck out twice). It’s a good thing too, because the Twins needed every single one of those runs to hold off the A’s and get the win.
- Bert Blyleven is an a**
OK, here comes a mini-rant. I’m not really a fan of the Twins’ broadcast team, but I don’t usually complain about them here because it’s a waste of time. The Twins aren’t going to fire Bert and Dick simply because I don’t like them, and rehashing ad nauseum all the dumb things they say is enough to give me a headache. And since most of my readers don’t have to listen to Dick and Bert, they’d probably have no idea what I’m talking about, anyway. But when Blyleven called out Scott Baker during the broadcast for failing to pitch a complete game, I felt I needed to make an exception. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but he made it sound like the ninth-inning collapse was all Scotty’s fault, and it wasn’t (Alexi Casilla had a lot to do with it, but I’ll get to that). Baker was on his game all night: he struck out eight batters, didn’t walk anyone, and allowed only one extra-base hit. He retired fourteen straight batters coming into the ninth inning, and considering how much Baker has struggled this season, his performance had already exceeded expectations. The complete game would simply have been icing on the cake. But Bert ripped into Scotty when he loaded the bases without recording an out (again, not really his fault), accusing him of lacking the mettle to pitch a complete game. Ridiculous. If Baker truly wasn’t interested in trying to finish the game, then what the hell was he doing out there in the first place? It was obvious that he was exhausted, and one would think that if Baker didn’t care about finishing the game himself, he would’ve simply told Gardy that he was done for the night. Scotty didn’t deserve the public tongue-lashing Bert doled out from the safety of the broadcast booth, not after pitching eight innings of two-hit ball. And it will never happen, but Bert owes Scotty an on-air apology. Maybe I should change the title of this blog to “Fire Bert Blyleven”.
Worse yet, there was little rage directed at the true goat of the game: Alexi Casilla. The second baseman booted a couple of routine ground balls, one of which might have been a double-play. If Alexi even made one of those plays, Baker likely would’ve escaped the ninth having pitched a three-hit, maybe one-run complete game. But because of Casilla’s incompetence, Baker had to settle for eight innings and three unearned earned runs. And the Twins had to use their closer to save what should have been a complete blowout (of course, Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares could’ve pitched better, too). Ugh, I never thought I’d be so happy to hear that Nick Punto is coming back soon. I will take a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can make routine plays over a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can’t any day.
- Scott Baker will start the season on the DL
First it was Joe Mauer and his aching back. Then Brian Buscher had a health scare. Delmon Young, Joe Crede, and Michael Cuddyer have all been struck with various hand injuries. Justin Morneau is battling stiffness in his back. And if all of that weren’t enough, now starter Scott Baker is going to start the season on the DL with stiffness in his right shoulder. It isn’t clear at this point how long he will be out, and he will be re-evaluated on Saturday, but things certainly aren’t getting off to a very good start for the Twinkies. Baker doesn’t think the stiffness is anything serious and would have preferred to pitch anyway, but the Twins have decided not to take any risks with their $15.25 million-dollar arm. In the meantime, Francisco Liriano has now been given the Opening Night nod opposite Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, and R. A. Dickey will take Baker’s spot in the rotation. With Baker going down, there is now an extra spot in the bullpen, so it looks like both Philip Humber and Brian Duensing will be coming north with the team.
The only real position battle left now for the Twins is the final bench spot. Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, and Brian Buscher have all been competing for the utility role, with Harris having somewhat of an edge because he’s out of options. The Tenth Inning Stretch has raised the intriguing possibility of Buscher being traded to the Cardinals, as Troy Glaus’ recovery from shoulder surgery isn’t going as well as expected. While I would be sad to see Buscher go, he isn’t the greatest defensive infielder and he isn’t the most versatile, either. Still, I would be kind of surprised if the Twins did move him. Joe Crede is hardly a sure thing at third, and the organization might be more apt to keep Buscher around simply to provide more depth.
Speaking of Liriano, he was effective in his brief start against the Red Sox. He was only allowed to pitch three innings, as he will be starting right away on Monday, and gave up two hits and a run while walking one and striking out three. He wasn’t struggling with his command like he was in his previous appearances, which is very good news. Well, it’s good news for the Twins and bad news for opposing hitters. Unfortunately, Brian Duensing wasn’t as effective in relief, giving up a two-run homer to Jason Bay. Luckily the offense was able to bail him out to the tune of seven runs on twelve hits, with Michael Cuddyer doing most of the heavy lifting.
By the way, The Answer Man has an interesting interview with Joe Nathan.
- Wait, Sidney Ponson has a job?
Remember all those nice things I said about the Royals? Yeah, never mind. They’ve decided that Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez are going to be the fourth and fifth starters this season. Apparently Dayton Moore was so impressed with Ponson’s performance in the WBC that he thought the pudgy righty could be an effective major league starter, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Horacio Ramirez is remembered very fondly on the South Side for being the worst reliever in Sox history. What either one of these two is doing in the starting rotation for a major league ballclub is beyond me, especially over the likes of Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar. Perhaps it’s all part of of some elaborate, Major League-esque scheme to build the worst team in baseball and get out of their lease at Kauffman stadium.
- Twins hit four homers against O’s
The Twins teed off on Baltimore yesterday, bashing four home runs. Justin Morneau hit his second dinger in as many games, a two-run shot off of Jeremy Guthrie in the first. Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert(!) and Delmon Young all homered off of Adam Eaton in the sixth, though the wind did help out a little bit (except for Brendan Harris’ rocket off of the Walgreen’s sign in left field, and Morny’s laser to center). And while nobody homered in today’s contest against the Marlins, the offense managed to produce eight runs on twelve hits. Starter Kevin Slowey had two hits and three RBI of his own, while shutting down the Fish for five innings (his lone run was a Dan Uggla solo shot).
The Twins have now scored 29 runs in their past four games. While some readers thought that I was just being negative when I complained about the lack of offense, it turns out that a little tough love is what the guys really needed. You’re welcome.
- Chicago pounds Oakland, 20-5
Kyle Orton threw two touchdown passes, and Chicago added a couple of field goals on their way to a rout of Oakland. The Raiders couldn’t solve the Bears’ stifling D, and only managed to score a field goal and a safety.
Seriously, though, this has to be the ugliest boxscore ever. Paul Bako had four hits and three RBI even though he didn’t come in until the sixth inning. Oakland reliever Edgar Gonzalez barfed up seven earned runs in 2/3 of an inning, giving him a 94.50 ERA for the day. Andrew Bailey was the only Oakland pitcher who managed to toss a scoreless inning.
- Japan defeats Korea, 5-3 to repeat as WBC champs
I’m not going to lie, I fell asleep on the couch in the bottom of the eighth and didn’t get to see how the game ended. I can’t help it, I was tired! And it looked like Japan pretty much had this one in the bag, anyway. Luckily the good people at Ghostrunner on First were paying attention, so I didn’t have to. While I think that the tournament has its flaws (the timing is wrong, the formatting should be better, etc.) these games have to be some of the most exciting I’ve seen in a long time. After being deprived of baseball for four long months, it just felt really good to have that had all of the excitement and intensity of playoff matches. In March! Four years just seems way too long to wait for more.
- But what if you don’t really want either one?
The geniuses in the St. Paul Saints‘ public relations department have dreamed up another brilliant promotional scheme. These are, after all, the same people who came up with the Larry Craig bobble foot doll (in honor of National Tap Dance Day, of course):
In honor of Minnesota’s never-ending Senate recount, the Saints created the “Re” Count bobble head doll:
The “Re” Count doll will be distributed to the first 2,500 fans on May 23, prior to a game against the Sioux Falls Canaries. Hopefully this whole thing will be over with by then. But I wouldn’t count on it.
That’s right, the Twins are now perfect in meaningless games against opponent’s B-squads. Today’s game against the Reds wasn’t broadcast anywhere, but it sounds like our guys played well. The offense came to life, scoring 10 runs, and the pitching (with one exception) was stellar. Okay, let’s just start the regular season right now, I don’t want to wait anymore!
Here’s the important stuff:
- That’s no way to earn a spot in the bullpen, young man
Philip Humber gave up four runs on four hits in his one inning of work, and plunked a guy on top of it. None of these hits left the park, but this still isn’t very good news for someone who is competing for Boof Bonser’s former job. Or wait, maybe it is. Anyway, he hasn’t completely blown his audition yet. Jason Jones didn’t inspire much confidence yesterday, though he didn’t give up as many runs. R. A. Dickey, who’s also in the mix, pitched a scoreless inning against the Reds today, striking out three and giving up one hit. By the way, if you’ve ever wondered how to throw a knuckleball, Dickey gives an instructional here.
- The rest of the bullpen was just fine, though
Matt Guerrier put up a zero in his single inning of work. I don’t know if he looked very sharp, but I’m going to guess that he was pretty good since he didn’t give up any hits or walks. Craig Breslow also pitched a scoreless fourth, with one strikeout. Jose Mijares is starting to look like he’s the real deal, pitching one scoreless frame and striking out two while walking one.
Also noteworthy is the performance of two of the Twins’ most intriguing pitching prospects: Anthony Swarzak and Armando Gabino. Swarzak pitched a scoreless eighth, while striking out one. He will most likely start the season in AAA, but should be first in line in case someone gets injured. Gabino also pitched pretty well in the ninth, though he did give up a walk. He’ll probably advance to AAA this year.
- There’s the offense I was looking for
The Twins had an offensive explosion this afternoon, tagging four different Reds pitchers with ten earned runs. And these were not all bloop hits, either. The Twins homered twice, one was a two-run shot by Brian Buscher, the other was a grand-salami by prospect Brock Peterson. In all, eleven different players combined for ten runs on fourteen hits, though they only drew two walks, And struck out six times, leaving nineteen men on base.
I am not at all worried about what will happen to the Twins if Joe Crede turns out to be a bust because Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher have been tearing the cover off the ball so far. Both had very productive at-bats again in today’s game. Buscher went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer and Harris also went 2-for-3 with a double. However, it’s not just the spring training games that have sold me on the former third-base platoon partners. Given how effective Buscher has been against righties (.297/.354/.411) and Harris against lefties(.295/.360/.440), the Twins will be just fine if they can utilize the two effectively. Buscher is kind of a long shot to make the team now, with the signing of Crede, but if he keeps hitting like this the front office will have no choice (I prefer a deeper bench anyway, especially since there’s no need to carry more than 11 pitchers this season).
One of the Twins’ biggest question marks, Carlos Gomez, didn’t do anything. Instead, he went 0-3 in his first spring-training start and though he didn’t record a strikeout, he didn’t draw any walks, either. That is no way to earn a starting job, young man.
- The back end of the Fearsome Five looks pretty good so far
Yesterday, Glen Perkins pitched two scoreless innings and only gave up one hit. Today, Nick Blackburn pitched two perfect innings. I know this is a small sample size, and these are only spring training games, but it’s encouraging that the two most questionable members of the starting rotation are off to such a good start. I would prefer to not have to worry about the starters this year. I have a feeling the bullpen is once again going to keep me from sleeping at night.
- Boof Bonser’s agent isn’t very happy with the decision to delay surgery
Bonser’s agent, Larry Reynolds, expressed frustration with the Twins’ organization and its handling of his client’s injuries. He felt that surgery should have been performed much sooner, preferably right after the season was over. This is not the first time the Twins have come under fire for their handling of a pitcher’s injury. Armchair physicians everywhere were quick to question team doctors when they told Pat Neshek to put off surgery in favor of rehabilitation, and Neshek ended up having surgery anyway.
However, these two cases are very different. The Twins knew that Neshek had a partially torn UCL, but felt that rehab would be a better option than surgery at that point. Neshek got a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews (yes, that Dr. James Andrews), who agreed with the team doctors. Neshek’s rehab was going really well until he started throwing off the mound, when he completely tore the ligament and was then forced to have surgery. Whether or not Neshek should have had the surgery in the first place is certainly debatable, but at the time the partial tear in the ligament didn’t seem serious enough to require an operation.
Bonser, on the other hand, was much more difficult to diagnose.&n
bsp; He started having soreness in his throwing shoulder towards the end of the season, but an MRI and an X-ray failed to show anything serious. The team doctors thought it was just tendinitis, and prescribed rest. It wasn’t until Boof arrived at camp and started his throwing program that his problems started to resurface. Even then, no structural damage showed up on a second MRI and so the team decided that exploratory surgery was necessary to diagnose the problem. Unfortunately, the operation revealed partial tears in his labum and rotator cuff that will sideline him for the rest of the season. In this case, the team probably did the right thing. Unless a tear shows up during diagnostic testing, there is no reason to take such drastic measures. It’s also possible that the injuries didn’t occur until after Bonser started throwing again (it would be very difficult to finish the season with a torn rotator cuff, after all).
Even if the surgery had been performed right after the season was over, as Reynolds suggested, there’s no guarantee that Boof would be ready to pitch this season. He would probably have to spend most of the season rehabbing his shoulder in AAA, not pitching out of the bullpen. At least this way he should be ready by Opening Day of the 2010 season.