- Twins ground into five double plays, still beat Pirates 8-2
Well, not really. But this was a statistically strange game for the Twins. I mean, how in the hell do you ground into five double plays and still manage to score eight runs? Obviously a good number of those came with a runner on third and nobody out. I guess if you’re going to ground into a lot of double-plays, it should always be with less than one out. And a runner on third. While it’s certainly an unusual occurrence, it isn’t unheard of and isn’t any kind of record or anything. The Tigers also grounded into 5 double plays on the way to a 13-8 victory over the Blue Jays on April 16, 1996.
Joe Mauer went 4-for-4 with an RBI double, but no home runs. Slacker. Although, he was robbed of his last chance to hit one when Brendan Harris grounded into an inning-ending double play in the eighth. Right now, Mauer is batting .429/.497/.756 with 13 home runs. While it’s unlikely that Mauer will finish the season batting over .400 (he is a catcher, after all), he will most certainly be in contention for his third batting title as long as he remains healthy. Which is important because the Twins are probably going to try to sign him to a long-term deal, and obviously his numbers are going to have a significant effect on his value. The front office is obviously aware of the PR nightmare that would ensue if they failed to re-sign their native son, not to mention that they can’t seriously expect to contend for a World Series title if they keep letting their top talent go.
Glen Perkins was pretty effective, if not exactly dominant, in his first start since coming off the DL with elbow inflammation. He surrendered seven hits, but only two runs, and struck out four through six innings. His one mistake was to Nyjer Morgan, who blasted a two-run homer that cut the Twins’ lead in half. Paul Maholm wasn’t exactly sharp, but he also got a lot of tough breaks. Delwyn Young lost a Joe Crede fly ball in the lights for a Dome double that scored a run. And then there was that bizarre stikezone.
One of the things I hate the most about the Twins’ broadcast team (both radio and tv) is their obsession with pitch counts. Well, that and their inability to pronounce
Muhollam Mahalo Maholm’s name correctly. Obviously they had to bring it up last night, since Perk was on a relatively short leash. This has been the subject of heated debate for years, and Rob Neyer wrote an interesting piece that sort of defends the concept behind the pitch count. I actually agree that pitch counts are unnecessary, but not for the same reasons as Bert Blyleven. Yes, they’re arbitrary and probably don’t really help prevent injury (it’s a lot more important to avoid a dramatic increase in workload, but that’s for another post), but they’re also, well, arbitrary. That is, unless they’re dealing with a rookie, most managers don’t really adhere to them too strictly and tend to let the starter pitch as long as he feels comfortable. If it’s the eighth inning and a starter is near 100 pitches, he’ll probably be allowed to go over that limit as long as he doesn’t feel fatigued. If it’s the fifth inning and a starter is near 100 pitches, then he’s probably laboring and should be taken out anyway. So the furor over pitch counts is a little overblown.
- Speaking of injures
Denard Span was placed on the 15-day DL. He has vestibular neuritis, which if I understand correctly, is essentially inflammation of a nerve in the middle ear caused by some sort of infection. Apparently it isn’t serious and he is expected to make a full recovery, but he’ll need to be out at least the next few games. In the meantime, Jason Pridie has been recalled from AAA and there’s a pretty good scouting report on him here. Most Twins fans probably remember Pridie as the guy who blew the save for Joe Nathan against Toronto last year, when he misplayed a single into a triple. Pridie came over as part of the Delmon Young trade, and doesn’t project to be anything more than a fourth outfielder at best. It isn’t likely that he’ll see much playing time, and will probably just be used as a defensive substitute in later innings.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Jesse Crain has been optioned to AAA Rochester. He hasn’t pitched in the minor leagues in nearly five years, and was obviously stunned by the news. Crain hasn’t even been marginally effective since May and the Twins really couldn’t afford to wait and hope he would work through his issues any longer. It was either that or release him, and obviously the organization isn’t ready to give up on him just yet. The Twins will go with only eleven pitchers for now, since they need to carry extra bench players at least as long as Denard Span is on the DL. The starters have been averaging about six innings per start this season, so it might not be necessary to carry more than six relievers. The only real issue is that Matt Guerrier, who’s already overworked, might have to carry an even heavier workload with fewer relievers in the ‘pen. However, it isn’t as though Crain was taking a lot of work away from Matty G. in the first place and the Twins may decide to call up another pitcher once Span is activated.
- Anthony Swarzak shuts down Cubs, then gets optioned to AAA Rochester
Swarzak pitched the best game of his young career against the Baby Bears, scattering four hits and striking out six while walking only one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep his spot in the rotation, and Swarzak was notified of his demotion right after the game. Glen Perkins will most likely be activated from the DL on Tuesday, and with Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer out an indefinite length of time, the Twins can’t really afford to carry an extra pitcher at the sake of a shorter bench. They have called up backup catcher Jose Morales in the meantime, and how long he’ll stay with the team depends on Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span (more on that in a minute).
While the timing of the news might have been unfortunate, it isn’t entirely unexpected. Swarzak hasn’t pitched that much better than the starters who have been struggling this season, namely Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker, and both of them have started to pick things up as of late. And while three of his five starts have been quality ones, his peripherals suggest that he isn’t quite ready to pitch in the major leagues. In his five starts, Swarzak has an ERA of 3.90 but with an xFIP of 5.63, a 1.34 WHIP and poor 18/10 K/BB ratio, that ERA should probably be closer to
6.00 (oops, I mean 5.00. proofreading is important). He had some very good outings against the Brewers and the Cubs, but he got smacked around by the Indians and wasn’t terribly impressive against either Boston or Oakland. Still, he does show some promise as a starter, after all, a three-pitch pitcher can make it in the bigs as long as those three pitches are pretty good. Swarzak will most certainly get another shot, whether it’s as a September call-up or because someone else is injured/continues to suck. At any rate, it’s nice to know that the organization does indeed have some pitching depth, and not just a surplus of arms.
- I guess you can’t have too many outfielders
Coming in to the season, the Twins’ outfield was awfully crowded and Ron Gardenhire was charged with the difficult task of finding playing time for all four outfielders (five, if you count Jason Kubel). Right field was the only position settled, with Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, and Delmon Young battling for the three remaining spots. This job has been made more difficult by the fact that two of them, namely Gomez and Young, have been very disappointing at the plate thus far. But now that Michael Cuddyer is out with a finger injury (go figure), and Denard Span is suffering from an inner-ear problem, suddenly the outfield doesn’t look quite so deep. It’s hard to say how long either one will be out of the lineup, both are still listed as day-to-day, but Cuddyer is scheduled to meet with a finger specialist on Monday so it’s a good bet he’ll end up on the DL. Span is recovering from what’s being called an “inner ear disorder”, but there’s no official word on when he’s expected to return to the lineup. Obviously, losing Span has hurt the most, since he’s batting .291/.380/.386 in the leadoff spot while showing a lot of versatility as an outfielder. Cuddyer might have more power, but he also strikes out a lot and can’t really play any other position than right field. In the meantime, Jason Kubel has been starting in right, and while his bat has been hot lately, he isn’t the greatest defensive outfielder and there’s always concern that playing in the outfield will aggravate his balky knees. Obviously, the Twins don’t seem to think either Cuddyer or Span will miss much time, or they probably would’ve called up another outfielder instead of a backup catcher.
Normally I would be upset when the Twins lose five games in a row, especially when they blow about a million chances to win. But not this time. No, I think getting swept in Yankee Stadium, and now getting blown out by the White Sox, is actually a good thing. Yes I do. Because now the front office has been forced to confront the fact that this team just isn’t going to contend the way it is currently constructed. And um, I was going to post a rant about the failure of the front office to upgrade both the bullpen and the middle infield during the off-season, and how they like to wait until it’s too late to try to make any improvements, but they’ve just made a
big move that changes everything ok, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it is a change that makes me rewrite what I was going to write in the first place.
While the Twins might not actually have the worst bullpen in the league, this group of relievers is still pretty bad. In particular, the relief corpse has been terrible at allowing inherited runners to score. And apparently the FO has gotten sick of it too, because lefty Craig Breslow has been claimed off waivers by Oakland to clear space on the roster for Anthony Swarzak (more on Swarzak in a minute). While it’s no secret that Breslow has been struggling this year, the move is still a bit surprising. I thought the Twins would give him more time to turn things around, especially considering how well he pitched last year, but Breslow evidently became expendable once Sean Henn was called up right after Perkins was placed on the 15-day DL. Henn was once a promising prospect for the Yankees who’s never managed to stick in the major leagues, and he probably won’t serve as anything more than a LOOGY at this point. Still, the Twins haven’t even had an effective LOOGY since losing Dennys Reyes to free agency. At any rate, pitchers like Breslow are always available on the waiver wire, so it isn’t a huge loss even if Henn doesn’t exactly work out either (and after giving up a couple of runs to the Pale Hosers last night, this is entirely possible).
Swapping Henn for Breslow doesn’t exactly solve the problem, though, as the Twins are essentially trading one soft-tossing lefty with control issues for another. But more help might be on the way, perhaps in the form of Anthony Swarzak. Swarzak has been called up from Rochester to replace Glen Perkins in the rotation, and he’s been one of the most intriguing pitching prospects in the organization (there’s are a couple of good articles about Swarzak here and here). Through his first seven starts for the Red Wings this season, he’s posted a 2.25 ERA with a 32/11 K/BB ratio and 1.159 WHIP. If he impresses during his stint with the major league club, it’s possible he might be kept in the bullpen once Perkins returns from the DL.
By the way, Perkins’ elbow has apparently been bothering him for sometime and is likely the cause of his struggles after his first three starts. He had been hiding the injury in hopes that he could simply pitch through the pain. Obviously this is never a good idea (just ask Francisco Liriano). At the very least his stubbornness and pride has cost the team wins, and he’s lucky to have avoided the worst-case scenario so far. Gosh, with three of his teammates (Liriano, Bonser, Neshek) having faced surgery and serious questions about ever pitching again, you would think Perk would be smarter than that.
- 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.