Early Impressions

Spring Training Rule #1: Don’t read too much in to… well… anything, really.

I know, I know… I have some trouble taking my own advice at times (like, for example, when the Twins hitters can’t seem to get a ball out of the infield off of a procession of wanna-be Red Sox pitchers). But the rule still holds. This early during Spring Training, you just have to try to sit back and enjoy the simple fact that our guys are playing baseball again… finally. Well, most of them are, anyway.

Still, we do have blog space to fill here, so there’s a certain amount of obligation to write SOMETHING about the first few Spring Training games. So here’s what I’m thinking at the moment:

It’s very cool to see Joe Nathan back.

I’m one who’s remained skeptical that he would be able to return to his old form right out of the gate, just a year after Tommy John surgery. It’s sure looking good at the moment, though.

And here’s a couple of positive thoughts regarding Joe. First, I think it’s great that he’s been working on change up to add to his arsenal of pitches. He says it’s to try to stay a step ahead of hitters who, he believes, were starting to figure him out a bit. Second, I would imagine he could benefit a bit from the fact that hitters HAVEN’T faced him in over a year. If they were, in fact, starting to figure out his pitch patterns, etc., then they’d have to go back about a year and a half in their memories (and scouting reports) to recall what to expect. That lack of recent familiarity, along with a new pitch to think about, could give him a little edge.

There’s nothing to the Liriano trade rumors. But still…

Yes, it seems like every day a new report surfaces alluding to some kind of “inside source” indicating the Yankees and Twins are talking about, have talked about, will talk about, would talk about, might talk about a swap of Francisco Liriano to the Yankees for either five top prospects or five magic beans (depending on the source). It’s either just one source feeding garbage to all those reporters or it’s just a coincidence.

Yes, Terry Ryan was spotted scouting the Pirates/Yankees game this week. I’m sure it was just a coincidence.

Yes, I know the Twins, one of the most tight-lipped organizations in baseball when it comes to personnel matters, have gone oddly public with their pronouncements that they are not interested in extending Liriano’s contract. That’s a coincidence, too, I’m sure.

Finally, I know the team has announced Liriano will pitch in a “B-squad” game against the Rays on Friday, instead of the regularly scheduled game that afternoon. I can’t think of any reason why that might be significant, but I will say that, if I were in Ft. Myers this week, I’d be camped out at that B-squad game at 10 am Friday and checking to see who all was sitting around with clipboards and speedguns.

It’s all just a bunch of idle chatter and coincidences right now and it would be absolutely nuts for the Twins to even consider trading any of their six starting pitchers before they get much, much closer to Opening Day. But if March 15 rolls around and all six starting pitchers are healthy and looking relatively sharp… well, I’m not a real big believer in coincidences in the first place.

Brian Duensing’s role

There’s been a lot of debate over whether Brian Duensing should be in the rotation to start the season or whether he should be the guy, assuming all six experienced starting pitchers are healthy, who is sent to the bullpen.

Some people say he should go to the pen because he’s proven to be effective there the past two years. Some say he’s “earned” a rotation spot with his excellent stats the past two years when called on to be a starting pitcher. Others point out his peripheral stats may indicate he’s likely to regress a bit. In other words, everyone has a couple of different reasons why he should or shouldn’t be a starter or a bullpen guy. So I’m going to simplify it.

If, at the end of Spring Training, he’s looking like one of the best five starting pitchers, then he’s going to be in the rotation. Period. Nothing else should matter.

Look, this shouldn’t even be a debate. There simply is no comparison between the value of a starting pitcher, who will have a major influence over the outcome of every fifth game of the season, and a middle relief pitcher, who will very, very rarely EVER have a major influence on the outcome of any game.

If you have a guy who gives every appearance that he’s one of your best starting pitchers, that’s how you use him. The ONLY legitimate reason not to do so would be if you have reason to believe he’s not going to be able to give you 180+ innings of work in a season (due to pitching significantly fewer innings than that the prior season, for whatever reason).

Duensing threw about 130 innings last year. If you want to pace him a little bit to keep him from risking getting worn down just when you need him most, fine… maybe have him skip a start here or there. But there’s no reason he shouldn’t be ready to go 180 innings this season.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s early reviews

Nishi hasn’t hit much yet, but at least he’s making contact. He’s also apparently looking pretty good covering ground at second base. It’s still way too early to judge how the Nishioka-Casilla experiment is going to play out, but I haven’t heard or read anything yet to raise my concern level.

One thing I really am glad to be reading is that he seems to be getting pretty comfortable in the clubhouse and on the field with a number of his team mates… or at least as comfortable as you can get when you have some obvious communication hurdles to overcome. But from all accounts I’ve read, both he and the other Twins players are making efforts to make his transition as smooth as possible.

And I know it’s just one fan’s opinion, but I think he looks much better in the uniform pants than he did in capris.

Michael Cuddyer’s wart

I was bound and determined not to even bring this up in a post, but you can’t read an article about the Twins without it being mentioned, so there you go. It’s simple really… not all warts are the same. Some are totally harmless, some are in a location that is problematic. Some go away easily. Some don’t. Michael and the Twins are doing their best to get rid of the damn thing. Hopefully, they’re successful. ‘Nuff said.

Justin Morneau’s head

This may be the issue I’m struggling with the most, in terms of trying not to be concerned. I really want to just sit back and not worry about Doc until Opening Day rolls around.  But we’re about eight months out from when he incurred his concussion and he’s obviously not yet asymptomatic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being critical of Morneau or the Twins or their doctors. It is absolutely right that everyone concerned approach this issue conservatively. We may still not know all we’d like to about concussions, but one thing the researchers have figured out is that incurring another concussion before you’re fully recovered from your last one is bad. Bad bad. Really bad.

So, from that standpoint, I’d probably be inclined to have him stay out of competition until days… maybe even weeks… maybe even a month… after his last symptom. If we learned one thing from Joe Mauer missing the month of April a couple of years ago, it’s that missing a little time early in the season is not the worst thing that can happen.

I want to see Justin Morneau hitting the crap out of the ball in September (and maybe even October?) for a change and if it takes a little extra time in March, or even April, to assure that we get to see that… so be it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned.

T-minus two weeks and counting

March 16, exactly two weeks from today, I’ll be watching the first of six Spring Training games I hope to attend on my annual trip to Florida, when the Twins host the Mets in Ft. Myers. This is going to be a long two weeks.

- JC

PROGRAMMING UPDATE: What’s that you say? Reading all this stuff and you still need MORE JimCrikket? If so, you should probably get a life, but if that’s just not realistic, consider tuning in to Fanatic Jack’s podcast tonight (Wednesday) at 9:00. Jack will be talking Twins baseball with John Bonnes (the TwinsGeek) and me. Should be a hoot. Never mind… Jack had to cancel his podcast. Everyone is spared having to listen to me!- JC

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