Early Adjustments

Yes, a 5-10 record after the first 15 games of the season looks ugly… every bit as ugly as this Twins team has played much of this young season. Make no mistake, they have totally earned that 5-10 record.

Obviously, things are not going the way anyone with the team (not to mention its fans) hoped for. With that in mind, some changes are now being made.

On Sunday morning, Manager Ron Gardenhire announced that Matt Capps would be taking over Joe Nathan’s duties as closer. Not only that, but it seemed Nathan was not going to be relied upon to fill a significant set-up role, either, so that meant more adjustments were necessary in the bullpen roles.

Jose Mijares appears to be losing his late-inning lefty spot to Glen Perkins. But that still left a hole at the back end of games for a right handed set up arm. With Kevin Slowey on the DL and Jeff Manship not pitching well, only newly arrived Alex Burnett could even be considered for important right handed innings.

Jim Hoey

So, exit Manship to Rochester, enter Jim Hoey. Hoey’s promotion was announced following Sunday’s win over the Rays.

Hoey had several good performances in spring training (along with a couple of clunkers) and was told by the Twins, at the time he was sent down, to work on developing a reliable offspeed pitch to go with his high-90s fastball. The theory is that if a pitcher doesn’t have an offspeed pitch to keep batters off balance, MLB hitters are good enough to time any fastball, even those that approach 100 mph, like Hoey’s. Since I have doubts about whether a pitcher can develop a good offspeed pitch in two weeks, I guess we’re about to test that theory.

Down in Rochester, Hoey has struck out 8 hitters in 6 2/3 innings, while giving up 5 hits and walking only 1 (for a .90 WHIP) while appearing in four games and accumulating a 2.70 ERA. Maybe AAA hitters are more easily overwhelmed by pure heat than MLB hitters?

These moves are encouraging to me and not just because I advocated for using Capps as the closer and Hoey earning a spot in the bullpen out of spring training. At this point, my encouragement comes from the organization’s recognition that adjustments must be made… that you can’t wait until May or June to correct obvious problems. The 5-10 record is ugly, but the Twins situation could be much worse.

This team may be 6 games out of first place, but the teams at the top of the AL Central are the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals… two teams that, let’s be frank, are not likely to remain in their lofty perches throughout the season. Following Sunday’s games, the Twins trail the White Sox by only two games and, depending on how their late afternoon game turns out, will trail the Tigers by either 1.5 or 2.5 games. Those are the two teams the Twins are likely to be contending with over the course of the season and neither of them have exactly rushed out of the starting gate, either.

So… there’s plenty of time to get this thing turned around. It would be nice to get guys like Joe Mauer (viral infection), Justin Morneau (flu symptoms) and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (broken fibula) back in the line up and to get some other players hitting the ball. But I believe the offense will come around.

And if I’m wrong, there are signs of offensive life already down in Rochester.

Outfielder Rene Tosoni is off to a hot start for the Red Wings, with four doubles and three home runs already and shortstop Trevor Plouffe has also already knocked three balls out of the yard, to go with a pair of doubles.

I’m trying to remain hopeful, despite some tough losses lately. But for right now, I’m just encouraged to feel the Twins are showing signs already that they won’t hesitate to make necessary changes. That has not always been their method of operation.

Finally, just in time if you happen to be a fan in dire need of a smile right now, the Twins have come up with another commercial (courtesy of a tweet from @MinnesotaTwins)… this one featuring Jim Thome and one or two other Minnesota icons!

- JC

GameChat – Twins @ Rays #4, 12:40, FSN & am1500

Looking to avoid getting swept out of St. Petersburg, Gardy has apparently decided the trick is to have the strongest pinch hitting options on his bench and filled out the line up card accordingly. I suppose his options are somewhat limited, though, since reports are that the flu bug has now bitten Justin Morneau. Denard Span is apparently being rewarded for his big day at the plate yesterday with a day off today, as well.

In other news (the Pioneer-Press’ Kelsie Smith was a tweeting machine this morning), Joe Nathan met with Gardy and pitching coach Rick Anderson after last night’s meltdown and the triumvirate concluded that perhaps Joe should pitch in less critical situations while he finds the old magic. That leaves the closer spot to Matt Capps. While that’s who I thought should have had the job all along, he hasn’t exactly shut the Rays down the last couple of games, either.

Gardy also apparently hinted at more changes in the bullpen. Hard throwing righthander Jim Hoey is likely to be brought up. He has a 1-0 record in Rochester, with 8 Ks and only 1 walk in his 6 2/3 innings of work spread over four appearances. Gardy and Anderson told Hoey to work on an offspeed pitch when they sent him down near the end of spring training, in favor of keeping Jeff Manship. I don’t know whether Hoey has found an offspeed pitch or has just been blowing his 98 mph heat past AAA hitters, but it sounds like we’re about to find out.

I argued in favor of keeping Hoey out of spring training, in addition to giving Capps the closer job to start the season, so obviously Gardy is starting to realize he should just do what I say. If that trend continues, clearly the Twins should start turning things around very soon!

Of course, one way the Twins could choose to deal with the dilemma of who to have protect 1-2 run leads in the 9th inning would be to have bigger leads in the 9th. That would require hitting more and scoring more runs. Which brings us back around to today’s… interesting… lineup. Maybe this group will rack up a dozen runs or so. Stranger things have happened.

- JC

TWINS @ RAYS
Tolbert, 2B Fuld, DH
Casilla, A, SS Damon, LF
Kubel, RF Upton, B, CF
Thome, DH Lopez, F, 3B
Young, D, LF Shoppach, C
Cuddyer, 1B Zobrist, RF
Valencia, 3B Rodriguez, S, 2B
Holm, C Johnson, D, 1B
Repko, CF Johnson, E, SS
Duensing, P Hellickson, P

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 0 4 9 0
Tampa Bay 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 8 1

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we in the business refer to as a “win”. It’s been a while, so it’s understandable if some folks don’t remember what those are.

The new pairing of Glen Perkins as the set up man for closer Matt Capps got the job done as they preserved the two run lead they were handed following another very nice performance by a Twins starting pitcher. Brian Duensing went seven strong innings. He struck out 5 and spaced out seven hits and a couple of walks. For that performance, Brian earns an assortment of baked goods (although, Brian, if someone hands you cookies, you might want to check them closely… some of those things have been getting dumped in ovens and on floors lately).

The Twins’ much-maligned outfield defense stepped up today, too. It should be interesting to watch for Web Gems tonight since Jason Repko had a terrific diving catch and Delmon Young contributed as well.

But on the strength of a couple of great plays deep in right field AND an opposite field home run, the GameChat crew awarded today’s Boyfriend of the Day award to Jason Kubel! Way to go KUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUBE (keep this up and you may get out of jamar’s doghouse by the All Star break!).

Jason Kubel