- Getting over the .500 mark is just too damn hard
Once again, a starter pitched well enough to get the win, and once again, it was all in vain. Of course, this time Nick Blackburn screwed himself out of the “W” when he surrendered three runs in the bottom of the eighth (with a little help from Michael Cuddyer), allowing Oakland to tie the game. Sean Henn and Matt Guerrier then conspired to give up the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Had they managed to close out this game, The Twins would have reached the .500 mark for the first time in nearly a month. Instead, the Twinks have fallen to 30-32 and are currently trailing the division-leading Tigers by four games. Oh, and their league-worst road record is now 9-20. Not good.
The bats weren’t exactly hot this afternoon, but the Twins did jump out to an early lead thanks to a three-run homer by Joe Crede. Gosh, that signing is looking better and better every day. Even though Crede’s batting average is a paltry .233, he’s clubbed seven homers in just 81 at-bats and now has ten already on the year. He has been a tad on the injury-prone side (to say the least), but at least his back hasn’t been much of an issue so far (*knocks on wood*). Of course, the organization is probably just trying to protect its investment, so they’ll likely keep him out of the lineup if he isn’t exactly 100%.
Joe Mauer went 1-for-4 and his batting average has now dropped to .410, and is in danger of not being the first player since Ted Williams to hit over .400 in a season. STUPID CHEAP TWINS WHY DIDNT U TAKE MARK PRIOR INSTEAD!!!1!!1!
Not surprisingly, Alexi Casilla was sent back down after Nick Punto was activated from the DL earlier this afternoon. Casilla made a few unfortunate misplays that nearly cost the Twins in Tuesday night’s game, but for the most part he hasn’t been that bad since being recalled from Rochester. He’s been hitting .308/.357/.385, which is a vast improvement over the .167/.202/.231 he was batting before his first demotion. However, Matt Tolbert is more versatile, and Nick Punto obviously isn’t going anywhere with that $8.5 million albatross of a contract he signed in the offseason, so Casilla was sort of the odd man out of the infield. Still, I would rather the Twins send Brian Buscher down instead, since he’s a liability both offensively and defensively and is seldom used anyway (he’s played in all of 32 games this season).
- 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.
Ordinarily I would dedicate my latest ranking on the leaderboard to a person, but I decided to do something a little different this time. I have decided to give my #10 to an important date in Twins history: October 10, 1924. It was on this day that the then-Washington Senators defeated the then-New York Giants 4-3, clinching the franchises’ first World Series title. This series has been considered one of the most compelling of all-time, as most of the games were very close and two went into extra innings. It featured two of the best pitchers of that era: Walter “The Big Train” Johnson (who was pitching in the World Series for the first time in his 18 year career) and Art Nehf. This is also the only World Series title the Senators would win while they were in Washington, and they wouldn’t win another one until 1987 when they became the Minnesota Twins.
This game in particular was probably the most exciting of the series. It was very close, until the eighth inning anyway. The Senators would jump out to an early lead thanks to a solo homer by Bucky Harris in the fourth, but would give up three runs in the eighth. Washington would then answer back with two more runs in the bottom of the inning. Staff ace Walter Johnson then came in to pitch a scoreless ninth and send the game into extra innings. Johnson struggled in the series up to this point, having lost his previous two starts. He struck out 12 batters in game one, but also gave up four runs on fourteen hits while walking six in a twelve-inning loss. The Big Train didn’t fare much better in game five, giving up six runs on thirteen hits, four of which to Freddie Lindstrom, who would later inadvertently help Washington clinch game seven.
By the way, Johnson and Nehf pitched all twelve innings in game one. By themselves. I can’t imagine any pitcher being left in so long these days, a manager would be fired for that. Guys barely make it past the sixth anymore, and nobody would ever be left in so long during such a crucial game. Pitchers are too delicate and too expensive to work that hard anymore.
The Senators would have lost this game were it not for two crucial fielding errors by the Giants’ third baseman Freddie Lindstrom. The Senators were down 3-1 in the eighth inning, and it looked as though the Giants were cruising to yet another championship title. Bucky Harris hit what should have been a routine ground ball to Lindstrom to end the inning, but the ball hit a pebble and hopped over the infielder’s head. Two runs came in to score and tie the game. Later, in the bottom of the twelfth inning. Earl McNeely hit what, once again, should have been a routine grounder to third, but the ball skipped away from Lindstrom and allowed the winning run to score.
Interestingly, this was also the final extra-innings World Series game played until game three of the 1991 Series, when the Twins lost to the Braves in twelve innings. The Twins might not make a lot of World Series appearances, but they sure like to make it interesting when they do. I guess you could say that Twins baseball hasn’t changed much in the past one hundred years or so, either. A couple of balls taking funny hops and a big blast is still pretty much the way the offense works to this day.
- Joe Nathan Aching Shoulder Watch:
Nathan threw a bullpen session earlier today and reportedly feels fine. There is no lingering soreness in his AC joint, so we can all stop worrying about our closer and get back to worrying about who’s going to pitch in front of him. And if the Twins are really seriously interested in Chad Cordero (NOOOO!!!!).
It doesn’t sound like there’s anything seriously wrong with his shoulder, more likely it’s his 70-innings-per-year average that’s starting to catch up with him. We’ve been spoiled here in Minnesota with such a durable and effective closer, and considering that our alternative is an Ayala/Crain/Breslow/Mijares closer committee, forgive us for getting a little nervous.
- Scott Baker was much better today, Twins defeat Puerto Rico 3-2
Baker wasn’t nearly as awful against Puerto Rico earlier this afternoon as he was in his first start against the Yankees. This time he only gave up three hits in his three innings of work, while recording two strikeouts and one walk. Actually, the pitching staff looked pretty good once again, with Anthony Swarzak giving up the only runs to Puerto Rico. Joe Crede finally got the start at third, and got his first hit as a Twin: a double that plated a pair of runs, giving the Twins the lead. Brian Buscher had an RBI single in the seventh to put the Twins on top again for good, and pitching prospect Ben Julianel closed out the ninth.
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.
Spring is here! Although you wouldn’t know it here in
Southern Canada Minny. Pitchers and catchers officially reported to Fort Myers yesterday, but most of the players on the 40-man roster have already shown up. The few stragglers still have until Friday to report to camp. It might not be as exciting as the news coming out of the Yankees’ camp, but here’s what’s been reported so far:
Joe Nathan isn’t happy with Alex Rodriguez. Or any of the other admitted ‘roiders for that matter.
The bullpen is determined to not suck this year.
Francisco Liriano apparently has decided not to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. He was supposed to pitch for the Dominican Republic, but would rather focus on getting ready for the upcoming season.
Brian Buscher is ready to compete for the starting third base job.
Corey Koskie is trying to make a comeback. He’s hoping to win a spot on the roster for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic and draw interest from major league teams. I wish him the best.
Joe Mauer has been working out, but he hasn’t participated in any baseball activities yet. He’s still feeling some lingering soreness from his operation to remove a kidney obstruction. He’ll probably miss some spring training games, but is still projected to be ready by Opening Day.
Meanwhile, Jose Morales is hoping that Mauer’s recovery opens a spot for him on the roster. He’s struggled with injuries of his own after tearing the ligaments in his ankle while running the bases in his first major league game. He’s not the catcher of the future, that would be Wilson Ramos, but he could serve as a competent backup should the Twins part with Mike Redmond after the season.
And sadly, former outfielder Ted Uhlaender passed away from a heart attack last Thursday. He was 68. Uhlaender made his big-league debut for the Twins in 1965, and played with them for four seasons until being traded to the Indians in 1969. He once led the Pacific League in hitting, and played in the 1972 World Series for the Cincinnati Reds. Most recently he was working as a scout for the San Francisco Giants, until he fell ill with multiple myeloma. He is survived by his wife Karen, daughter Katie, and son Will.