The Cure For What Ails You

I’m not going to go through a recitation of all of the ailments currently afflicting the Twins. If you want to go through all of that even more than you have already, you can click on any one of about a dozen of the blogs in our Twins blogroll over on the sidebar (including Howard Sinker’s return to his “A Fan’s View from Section 219” blog… welcome back Howard!). Instead I’m going to focus on a cure.

If ever there was a team that appeared prepared to provide a cure for what’s ailing the Twins, it’s this week’s opponent, the Baltimore Orioles.

If you haven’t paid much attention to the O’s lately, you might wonder why I’d make that comment. After all, Baltimore got off to a 6-1 start during the first couple of series of the year. But things have not gone so well over the past week or so for the Birds. They’ve lost seven games in a row and have been scoring runs at a pace that almost makes the Twins’ offense look productive by comparison. Almost.

They’ve also been bitten by the same injury bug that has chewed its way through the Twins clubhouse. Don’t look for old friend JJ Hardy out there at shortstop for the O’s, he’s down with a strained oblique muscle. They’re also missing pitchers Justin Duchscherer and Brian Matusz.

We’re all familiar with the early season struggles of Francisco Liriano (0-3, 9.42 ERA), but if you wanted to conjure up a cure for Frankie’s ills, I’m not sure you could do much better than the lineup he’ll face tonight in Baltimore… not to mention his opponent on the mound. Chris Tilman sports an 0-1 record and a 7.30 ERA covering three starts, during which he’s amassed just 12 and 1/3 innings pitched.

In fact, the only game in this series that looks to have to potential to be a bit of a pitchers’ duel is game three on Wednesday, when Nick Blackburn takes his 3.06 ERA up against the Orioles’ Zach Britton, who’s been pretty much the O’s lone reliable starting pitcher. Britton sports a nifty 2.75 ERA over his three starts.

Take aim! Eutaw Street beyond Camden Yards' RF fence (Photo: Brian Cassella-Times)

This would also appear to be a good series for Jim Thome to resume his assault on 600 career home runs. Not only is Oriole Park at Camden Yards known as a hitters’ park, but all four of the O’s starting pitchers this series are right-handers and Baltimore pitchers have already given up 19 home runs this season. That means Jimmers should get plenty of opportunities to put a ball out there on Eutaw Street. In fact, this would be an ideal time for Justin Morneau to find that home run stroke and the way Jason Kubel is swinging the bat, he could add a few taters to his total, as well.

Right now, the only Orioles hitter that’s been making solid contact is second baseman Brian Roberts. If you think Kubel and Denard Span are feeling a bit like they’re having to carry the load for the Twins, pity Roberts who doesn’t even have a partner to share the load with.

The Twins return home after this series and the Orioles will be hosting the Yankees and Red Sox as their homestand continues after our guys leave town. I’m sure both of these struggling teams are looking for this series to provide a cure to their recent ailments. Let’s hope it’s the Twins that come away with that cure.

Getting their first series win of the season on the road in Baltimore would go a long way toward making everyone, players and fans alike, feel better.

- JC

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

Just Keepin’ It Real

Wow, that game last night was kinda fun… the way it ended anyway. Not so much the first seven innings, but in Big Boy League, they play nine (or in this case, 10) and it was great to see our guys show some backbone and scratch out a W in the Bronx.

And it’s fine that we were all giddy last night… including the players, if some of their Tweets are any indication.

But today brings another game and the reality that not too much should be read in to that win. Just as I’d caution people not to think Monday’s loss was an indication that the season is going in the toilet or that the Yankees will continue to forever dominate the Twins, let’s not jump to the conclusion that last night’s win gets King Kong off the Twins’ backs, either.

As our old friend Nuke LaLoosh so profoundly stated, “Winning is like, you know, better than losing!” But as the Twins learned last season, pulling off one come-from-behind win over the Evil Empire in that Mausoleum in Bronx (and seriously, that’s all the better Yankee fans can do in terms of showing up for a ballgame? I don’t care what the weather was… that’s a joke. They call themselves baseball fans?) does not, in itself, constitute a reversal of a trend.

I have to kind of like the pitching matchups for the next two games and I’ve held the minority view that the Twins bullpen is actually better than the Yankees’ overall, despite how “vaunted” it is by the media (especially the YES network broadcasters, apparently). I mean really… how many fans would have been screaming for the heads of Bill Smith, Ron Gardenhire, and/or pitching coach Rick Anderson if the Twins would have left Ft. Myers with Luis Ayala in the bullpen (again)?

But we can debate pitching and middle infielding until we’re all out of breath (or our typing fingers fall off) and it really won’t matter in the long run. Yes, the starting pitchers need to stop giving up early gopher balls. Yes, Casilla and Nishioka need to step up their games a bit.

It's time for Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer and Thome to show up

But no matter what anyone else does, this team’s fortunes are going to be tied to how the heart of the batting order performs with the bat and, so far, they flat out haven’t performed well. If and when Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Jim Thome start hitting with some consistent authority, this team will win a lot of baseball games. It’s really that simple.

At this point, none of those guys has been able to accumulate as much as a .150 batting average. Yes, I know BA isn’t the be-all and end-all of offensive statistics, but I think it’s safe to say that if you aren’t hitting above .150, chances are none of your other fancy in-depth sabremetric offensive stats are going to be looking too good either.

If all people want to fret about is whether your middle infield or 4th and 5th starters or middle relievers are performing up to standards, then everyone is missing the giant elephant in the room. It’s only five games in to the season, but the problem right at this moment is not the middle infield… it’s the heart of the batting order.

Pardon me for continuing to channel my inner Nuke today, but it’s time for the studs on this team to start announcing their presence with some authority.

- JC

When Major Leaguers Are Minor Leaguers

If you’ve been paying attention to reports coming out of Ft. Myers for the past week or so, you’ve no doubt read or heard about various Twins playing in minor league games and perhaps you’ve wondered just exactly what that means… and why these established stars would be playing in minor league games.

It seems like there has been even more of that kind of thing this spring than normal and that’s probably due to a couple of reasons. First, so many Twins missed the first several spring training games and they need to get a few extra cuts in order to get their timing down. Second, the quirks of this spring’s schedule resulted in the Twins playing most of their games over the past week or so on the road and the organization hasn’t been anxious to make stars with various aches and pains compound those issues by spending several hours on buses crisscrossing the state of Florida.

But what exactly does it mean when it’s reported that Justin Morneau or Jim Thome is “2 for 4 in a minor league game”?

As I’ve mentioned in another post, the best way I can think of to describe what happens is to envision these Major Leaguers showing up to play in your Sunday afternoon beer-league softball game. The scattering of fans who happen to be hanging out around the minor league complex to watch their games get that kind of close-up view of whatever Major League Twins might be participating in a given day.

Fans are litterally 6 feet away from Justin Morneau as he prepares to hit

Michael Cuddyer signs for fans before the minor league game

On Tuesday, before heading to the airport for my flight home, I stopped by the Twins minor league complex to watch a few innings of the games being played there. On this particular day, there were two games going on between the Low A and High A Twins and their counterparts from the Rays camp. Jim Thome DH’d in the Low A game, while Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau played RF and 1B, respectively, in the High A game.

They gave those fans in attendance plenty to watch.

You see, the Major Leaguers hit every inning. For example, in the High A game, Cuddyer and Morneau batted second and third… every inning for as long as they stayed around. That’s how these players get 4-5 plate appearances while only playing half the game.

If course, you have to curb your enthusiasm a bit when you hear that one of these guys launched a couple of home runs in one of these games (as Thome did in one such minor league game earlier this week), because they’re often facing 19-20 year old Class A pitchers who show up expecting to face guys destined for Beloit and find themselves trying to slip an inside fastball past MVPs and future Hall of Famers!

Doubtful the Rays Class A pitcher expected to face this guy every inning when he got on the bus

Of course, the games aren’t all you’ll see on the minor league complex. When I arrived, a familiar face was dragging the practice infield adjacent to the minor league clubhouse and an hour or so later, a Hall of Famer was hitting ground balls on that practice field to a couple of minor league first basemen.

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly drags the infield on a minor league practice field

Hall of Famer Paul Molitor works with a couple of minor league first basemen

All of this is just a long way of letting you know that, if you ever go down to Ft. Myers during Spring Training, only to find that the Twins are playing road games while you’re there, don’t let that dissuade you from checking out the action at the Lee County Sports Complex. Not only can you watch the Twins stars of tomorrow playing games there every afternoon, but you may get a closer look at some of the Twins’ stars than you’re ever likely to get anywhere else.

A few more pictures from the Tuesday minor league games… not much for zoom lenses needed for most of these pictures.

- JC

It’s All Coming Together

I’m trying to restrain myself, but on days like this, it’s not easy. I think with good health and a little bit of luck, this Twins team could be something special.

As Joe Reardon, the fictional manager of the Durham Bulls so eloquently put it, “This is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.” On Saturday afternoon, the Twins did all of that and did it well.

This is what I came to Ft. Myers to see. Now I just hope everyone stays healthy and we see exactly this kind of performance all season long.

Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey both looked sharp. Blackburn gave up seven hits, but 2-3 of those were infield hits that I generally don’t mark against a pitcher’s performance. He did give up a 2-run home run, but since it was off the bat of a former Cedar Rapids Kernel (Casey Kotchman), I’m willing to let it slide. Slowey struck out three in his three innings and gave up only one hit.

Jim Hoey, who got one inning of work sandwiched in between Blackburn’s five and Slowey’s three, had another solid performance. That’s two appearances I’ve seen this week from Hoey and let me just say, this man can throw a baseball! He was in the upper 90s again today and he sure didn’t look like he was having any control issues to me.

Every starting position player except Jeff Bailey collected at least one hit. Delmon homered. Span and Nishioka doubled. Span, Casilla and Young all stole bases.

Speaking of Nishioka, I’ve been very impressed with his play at second base. He made three excellent defensive plays in today’s game, in addition to teaming with Casilla to turn a couple of double plays. Denard flashed some speed and leather, as well, tracking down a couple of gappers.

But my goal here today is to try to give you a bit of the flavor of a beautiful day at a ballpark. After all, you can read all you want to know about the performances on the field by checking out any of the great beat writers. Speaking of beat writers, mlb.com’s Kelly Thesier is moving on to greener pastures (quite literally, I suppose, since she’s going to work as communications director for the LPGA) and Sunday is her last day covering the Twins. I’ve enjoyed reading Kelly’s reports, her blog and her Tweets and I wish her all the success she deserves in her new job.

I worked up the nerve to introduce myself to both Kelly and the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III on Thursday over at the minor league complex when several Twins were getting some extra work in over there. They were both very gracious (meaning neither of them yelled at me for bothering them) and I appreciated that.

So let me tell you about my terrific day and share a few pictures (I took 257 of them today… I get carried away sometimes).

I slept in a bit after the late night on Friday. I didn’t get back to Ft. Myers from Sarasota until nearly midnight and by the time I uploaded pictures and posted on the blog, it was after 2:00 before I get to sleep. I’m too old to get by on very little sleep, so I decided that the three days I’ve spent over on the practice fields this trip will have to suffice.

I pulled in to the stadium parking lot about 11:00am and spent a little time dickering with some of the ticket brokers there, before finding one with a single seat available in the section I was hoping to sit in today… the area behind the Twins dugout. Around noon, I entered the stadium and wandered around, watching a few Twins wrap up their workouts. As I was enjoying a beverage, I looked out over the now-deserted Twins practice field and saw a solitary figure in workout clothes, wayyyyy down the far left field line, signing autographs for fans who handed him things to sign over the fence.

At first, I couldn’t tell who it was, but I suspected it might be one of today’s cut victims, getting every last moment he can out of his allotted time with the Big League club before moving over to the minor league complex. I thought he would probably sign for a few people, like the players generally do, and then go about his day.

I was wrong on both counts.

Joe Nathan accommodated every autograph request

The player turned out to be Twins closer Joe Nathan and he just kept signing… and signing… and signing. I watched him sign anything that people stuck over the fence to him for close to half an hour, until he had literally signed for everyone who asked. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Major League player anywhere near Nathan’s level sign autographs until there’s nobody left to sign for.

In fact, he signed two more autographs when he finally did reach the fence that connects the practice field to the stadium. It takes a lot for professional athletes to impress me when it comes to interacting with fans, but I was impressed. That earned Joe my “good guy award” today.

All that signing may have tired Joe out...

... but it didn't stop him from signing more

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shortly before game time, I grabbed some food and another beverage and found my seat. Before I could even sit down, someone a few seats away recognized me as Jim Crikket from the  Knuckleballs blog. Seriously. I’ve never had that happen before. Thank God he didn’t ask for my autograph… I haven’t given any thought whatsoever to what I should charge for that kind of thing yet.

This was my last visit to Hammond Stadium this spring. I’m going to two more games before heading home Tuesday, but both games are on the road. Sunday is up in Dunedin against the Jays and Monday is in Bradenton against the Pirates. I’ve never been to the Jays’ ballpark, so I’m looking forward to seeing that. It’s been a couple of years since I was at the ballpark in Bradenton, but it’s one of my favorites, just because it’s an old-school neighborhood setting that reminds me of the ballparks you used to find in small and medium sized towns across Iowa and Minnesota back in the 1960s.

With that, here are a few more pictures from my day at Hammond Stadium:

Hammond Stadium brats are some of the best I've had... well worth the wait

Grab food and beer, then check the lineup board

Newbie Luke Hughes with Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan

Casey Kotchman and Joe Mauer, just prior to Kotchman's launch

Picture quality doesn't do justice to this Nishioka web gem

Coach Steve Liddle "communicating" with Nishioka

Coach Jerry White and Jason Kubel (for our Jerry White fan club)

It's all good fun when TC Bear breaks out the super-soaker...

... until he's looking straight at you!

So long, Hammond Stadium... see ya next year!

 

A “Minor” Change of Plans

When I set up my plans for this year’s trip to Ft. Myers, I knew the Twins would only have two home games during the six full days I would be here. That’s really not a big deal to me because I kind of enjoy seeing some of the other spring training sites around the state of Florida.

I planned to make the trip up to Lakeland today for my first look at the Tigers’ spring training home, not to mention seeing a bit of action from the only other member of the AL Central Division that trains in Florida. In fact, I was so certain I would be making the 2+ hour drive north that I did something I don’t normally do down here… I bought a ticket in advance.

That ticket is still waiting for me at the Will Call window, I suppose.

When the Twins announced yesterday that the batteries of Carl Pavano/Drew Butera and Matt Capps/Joe Mauer would be getting some work in during a pair of minor league games, I decided to skip the Tiger game and hang around the Lee County Complex today. I’m really glad I did.

Sure, I would have enjoyed seeing Luke Hughes hit home run number five this spring and it sounds like Dusty Hughes, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla provided some highlights. But I didn’t really need to see Brad Penny drill Casilla and Delmon Young with pitches and I certainly didn’t need to see Pat Neshek give up two home runs.

Instead, I got out to the Twins complex around 9:00 this morning and spent some time watching the minor leaguers working out before heading in to Hammond Stadium where some of the Twins who didn’t make the trip to Lakeland were taking batting practice.

The last grouping included Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer (nattily attired in his WIN!/Don’t Be Denied! t-shirt) and sure enough, there next to the batting cage were none other than Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew. Oliva has been a fixture at the complex, but Killebrew just arrived Wednesday night.

Killebrew met with the media earlier in the morning and is expected to be on hand for three days. Usually, by the time I get down to Ft. Myers, Killebrew has been here and gone, but this year, his trip was delayed a bit due to his health issues. I hate that Harmon is going through the challenges related to fighting esophageal cancer, but for a child of the 60s like me, it was terrific just to get to see him on a ballfield again.

After the Twins’ BP finished up, I slipped back over to the minor league side of the facility again and struck up a nice conversation with a couple from the Quad Cities while we waited to find out which fields Pavano, Butera, Capps and Mauer would be playing at.

I’ve got to be honest… I’m not a huge Carl Pavano fan. Sure I want him to do well and since Bill Smith couldn’t/wouldn’t come up with a true top-of-the-rotation pitcher in the off-season, I was fine with bringing Pavano back as long as it wasn’t on a bank-breaking deal. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret… when media types write about what a great, fan-friendly group of guys the Twins players are, they aren’t referring to Carl Pavano. He may be a lovely human being among his friends and family and he may even love kittens, but… well… yeah I’d bet he hates kittens… almost as much as he seems to dislike baseball fans.

And in case you think this is just a JC thing… I’ll just mention that it’s an opinion I found to be shared rather widely among other fans I talked to today.

I even have to admit I found it just a little amusing when Pavano got knocked around a bit by a bunch of kids wearing Red Sox minor league uniforms. Some people just seem like they could use an occasional humility lesson. I suspect Pavano is one of those people (then again, some would say I am, too). I also could almost see him do a slow burn when one of those Red Sox punks laid down a bunt that died along the third base line for a hit.

Not to fear, however, the ‘Stache’s trusty sidekick, sweet Drew Butera, gunned down the little twerp when he tried to steal second base.

I was actually more interested in the game on an adjoining field where Matt Capps was pitching the first two innings and Joe Mauer was doing the catching.

Capps looked pretty good to me and I think the young hitters he was facing would probably agree. He didn’t give up any earned runs (a bit of miscommunication between his left and center fielders resulted in an unearned run) and it was good to see he can go more than one inning, when necessary.

Joe Mauer batted in both the first and second innings and while he was 0 for 2, he hit a couple of balls very, very hard. He hit a deep fly ball to CF and almost ended his day by hitting in to a triple play. He hit a shot at the third baseman who immediately doubled off a runner at second base. The second baseman didn’t make a throw to 1B to try to turn the triple play and probably wouldn’t have got that runner if he had made the throw… but it might have been close.

After Capps and Mauer finished up their two innings, I watched Pavano and Butera a bit more. Drew had a nice double to the gap and Pavano settled down after that nasty second inning. I watched Pavano throw five innings before heading out to a Sports Bar to watch some NCAA Tournament basketball. I don’t know if he threw another inning or not, but then again, I really didn’t care all that much.

If you’re wondering what it’s like to have Major League stars play in minor league spring training games, imagine having them show up at your local beer-league softball complex. It makes getting your picture album filled up pretty easy, that’s for sure. Here are just a few examples from the 150 or so I took today.

JIm Thome gets some BP, surrounded by Mauer, Morneau, Killebrew, and Cuddyer (Tony Oliva was behind the cage)

Michael Cuddyer's shirt says it all

From inside Hammond Stadium, looking out over the practice fields

Denard Span doing the autograph thing

Joe Mauer gets loose before his game on the minor league complex

The 'Stache delivers during his game on the minor league fields

Matt Capps was looking good against the RedSox kids

Of course, these were MINOR LEAGUE games, so we really should give a couple of those guys some love. A couple of the Twins top prospects were also playing in these games. Miguel Sano was a team mate of Joe Mauer for the day and Aaron Hicks provided some offense behind Carl Pavano.

Aaron Hicks

Miguel Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it for today. Friday night, I’ll be making the trip up the highway to Sarasota to watch Francisco Liriano face off with the Orioles (again). Rumor has it that Justin Morneau may make the trip and Joe Mauer may get a few more swings in during another minor league game in the afternoon.

I hope all of you in the great upper midwest are staying warm! Excuse me while I put something on this little sunburn before I head back to the Sports Bar for some more basketball.

- JC

JC in Spring Training: Focus on Communication

Yes, I know the big news at the Twins Spring Training site on Wednesday was the long-awaited debut of Joe Mauer in their game with the Mets, but what is there really to say about that? He hit a line drive up the middle in his first plate appearance off of Mets starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey. In fact, Pelfrey himself might have said all that needs to be said about Mauer’s debut. “I threw a slider in, and he hit a rocker right up the middle,” he was quoted as saying after the game. “He’s obviously Joe Mauer for a reason…” Indeed.

But for those of you who don’t believe what you don’t see, here’s the evidence I captured at the game.

For me, though, I’m a bit of a people watcher and today, I was interested in watching people just talk… communicate.

Not the greatest picture, but it was entertaining to watch... and listen to

One of the more humorous bits of “communication” was the bantering between Manager Ron Gardenhire and the fans surrounding the backstop of the Twins’ practice field during batting practice. Just before the last player (Jim Thome) finished getting his cuts, Gardy himself picked up a bat and stepped in the cage. From that point on, the only “communication” coming from Gardy was the word “ouch!” after each swing.

Not long after I settled in to watch some batting practice on the field where the AA level minor leaguers were getting their swings in, a group of today’s cuts from the Major League camp showed up. Rene Tosoni, Joe Benson and Chris Parmalee were not going to be going north with the Twins and today was the day they got the official word and joined their minor league brethren… and the coaches working with those young players. Among the coaches and instructors on this particular field were former Twins outfielder Tom Brunansky, who’s now a coach in the Twins organization, and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. I just hope all of these guys know enough to take advantage of the advice available from the guys who the Twins have around this camp.

Chris Parmelee and Paul Molitor have a chat around the cage

Before heading in to Hammond Stadium for the game, I stopped along the “autograph fence” that runs between the Twins practice field and the stadium. This is where players often pause on their way to the stadium after practice to interact with fans. I found two players doing exactly that, pitcher Scott Diamond and Mr. Incredible, Jim Thome. Diamond certainly seemed popular with the young ladies.

Scott Diamond poses for a picture

Jim Thome signing autographs

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once inside the stadium, I spotted a few people having conversations that I would have been interested to listen in on… like these:

I couldn't help but wonder what Morneau and Nishioka were talking about during warm ups

Morneau and Jason Bay chatted before the game. Bay, Like Morneau, missed the second half of the 2010 season with a concussion

I'm not sure if Nishioka understood anything 1B coach Jerry White was saying, but he nodded a lot.

Nishioka didn't seem to have any trouble understanding what TC Bear was communicating

After coming out of the game, Alexi Casilla and Nishioka got some running... and talking... in, out along the LF wall

What’s that you say? Wasn’t there an actual game going on today?

Why yes, there was. In fact, the Twins won the game with a walk off hit in the bottom of the ninth inning. After Matt Brown opened the inning with a double to the RCF gap, Danny Lehmann followed up with a hit that drove in Brown and saved his team mates from having to endure the most hated thing among ballplayers… a spring training extra-inning ballgame. Here, below, are a few more of the 250 or so pictures I took today, beginning with a shot of Lehmann’s game winning hit.

Lehmann drives in the winning run in the 9th

Brain Duensing had another effective start

Jim Hoey hit 99 mph with a fastball on the Hammond speed gun while striking out two Mets

Finally, while Johan Santana is still on the shelf, the Twins did reunite for the day with a couple of former team mates. Jason Pridie started in centerfield and Luis Castillo started at second base for the mets.

Jason Pridie

Luis Castillo

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s a wrap for today. I’m not sure whether I’m going to make the trip up to Lakeland for the Tigers game Thursday or stick around Ft. Myers. Media reports are that Carl Pavano, Drew Butera, Matt Capps, and Joe Mauer are going to be playing in a minor league game at the Twins’ complex and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew is reportedly going to be arriving at the complex Thursday as well.

If you want to read a bit more about my time at the Twins complex, check in periodically with Howard Sinker’s “A Fan’s View from Section 219” over at the StarTribune site. I’ll be sending periodic reports to Howard which he may be posting.

Of course, I’ll be trying to post something daily here at Knuckleballs, as well.

-JC

Gardy’s Bi-lingual!

Who’da thunk it?

We all wondered how long it would take for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to learn to communicate with the Twins’ most recent import from the other side of the globe. Well, thanks to 1500ESPN radio’s Phil Mackey, we now know that Gardy has learned enough of his new infielder’s native language to communicate a bit… even if the player himself appears to be having a little trouble understanding exactly what his manager is saying.

Oh… you think I’m talking about Gardy knowing enough Japanese to chat with Tsuyoshi Nishioka? Heavens no… I think we’ll be seeing Gardy with his handy-dandy English/Japanese pocket dictionary all summer long.

Luke Hughes (Photo: Brian Henricksen)

But apparently he’s been much quicker to pick up enough Australian to communicate with red-hot rookie infielder Luke Hughes, as evidenced by this quote from Mackey’s post game notes:

“I asked him, ‘Mate, have you ever played shortstop.’ He went, ‘Are you serious?’ And I went, ‘Very serious.’ Then I went, ‘Nevermind the question, just go play short.’”

That’s our Twins manager… Crocodile Gardee!

One other item in Mackey’s post that I really liked to see was his quotes from Kevin Slowey.  You may have heard that Gardenhire has handed out four of the starting rotation spots already and, with one spot remaining, Slowey and Scott Baker are the last two men waiting for the music to stop in this rather bizarre cake walk game.

Slowey’s thrown 10 innings in his past three starts without giving up a run, so you could certainly understand if he was feeling a bit overlooked, and possibly even disrespected, by his manager stringing him along. But here’s Slowey’s response when asked how much he’s sweating out these last couple weeks of Spring Training:

“None, really,” he said. “It’s not really worth sweating it. I think you ask any one of the guys in this clubhouse, we’ll do anything it takes to help this team win. And I think we’ve seen that the last couple years.

“You’ve seen a guy like Jim Thome, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he doesn’t get 300 at-bats last year. He’s not complaining one bit. He’s talking about how excited he is to be a part of a championship team. I think if a guy like that can be satisfied with just being part of the team, certainly I can do the same.”

Is that a great response, or what? It also goes to show what kind of example Mr. Incredible, Jim Thome, is providing in that clubhouse.

I’m outta here!

This is it… the time has finally come… I head to Ft. Myers tomorrow (Tuesday) morning and while the weather outside isn’t TOO bad here, it’s nowhere near what I’m seeing in the forecast for Ft. Myers for the next seven days. (Wednesday through Tuesday… Highs ranging from 83-84, lows 58-62 and Sunny every day except Wednesday, when I’ll have to deal with partly cloudy skies. I’ll try to cope.)

I’m planning on spending Wednesday morning at both the Major League and minor league practice fields and then catching the Twins and Mets in the afternoon. Media reports are that Joe Mauer may very well making his Spring Training debut as a DH Wednesday and, since the following two games are on the road, I would expect to see pretty much all of the A-list position players in that game.

I am wondering a bit, though, how both Mauer and Thome will be managing to get swings in during the week I’m down there. The Twins have only two home games during the next week, Wednesday’s game with the Mets and Saturday’s with the Rays. The other four games between now and a week from today are road games with the Tigers (Lakeland), Orioles (Sarasota), Blue Jays (Dunedin), and Pirates (Bradenton). It’s hard to imagine either Mauer or Thome rattling across Florida on a bus. With minor league games getting started, maybe they’ll get a few cuts in one or two of those games.

Check in here at Knuckleballs from time to time… I’ll try to post a bit while I’m gone. I’m also going to try to send Howard a report or two that he can post over at “A Fan’s View From Section 219″… something he’s been gracious enough to let me do for several years now.

Finally, let’s sign off by sharing the following excellent Public Service Announcement, shown during Monday’s Twins/Marlins broadcast, from Michael Cuddyer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (video clip from the Star Tribune):

 

Cuddy is our Buddy

I’m not really sure what to make of this, so I’m just going to lay the facts out there and let others draw conclusions… or not.

@mcuddy5 (Photo: JimCrikket, Knuckleballs)

If you follow Twins man-of-all-positions, Michael Cuddyer, on Twitter (@mcuddy5), you may have noticed a brief exchange last night between Michael and others about Mr. Incredible. I believe it started with a fan telling Cuddy that he looks like Mr. Incredible, to which Cuddyer responded that, no, that would be Jim Thome. That’s when things got interesting… at least from a Knuckleballs point of view.

Another tweeter forwarded Cuddyer a link to a web site that had an image of Mr. Incredible in a Thome Twins uniform. Since the link was condensed for use on Twitter, you had to link to it to find out where it linked to. I saw the re-tweet from @mcuddy5 and the comment that he thought the picture was great… and that’s about when my part of town lost electrical power. I spent the next hour and a half or so near my fireplace, reading by candlelight.

When the power came back on and I got around to firing the laptop back up, the first thing I did was check in here at Knuckleballs and glanced at the “Visitors” clicker. It didn’t look right. Doing a little digging just confused me more. Our counter widget showed we had had several hundred visitors in the past couple of hours.

Now… to a lot of our fellow Twins bloggers, that would probably be no big deal. But (and I know this may shock our loyal readers) there are weeks where we don’t get “several hundred visitors” to Knuckleballs, so this kind of activity was unusual, to say the least. Then I remembered the Cuddyer tweets.

Our Mr. Incredible, Jim Thome (Image: TD Davis)

A little investigating resulted in some good news and some bad news. The good news was that, yes, the condensed URL that a fan had sent to Michael and which he retweeted to his legions of followers was to one of CapitalBabs’ Knuckleballs posts. It included the image of Mr. Incredible as Jim Thome created by TD Davis (a friend of a friend of Babs’). The bad news is that the link was “bad” and for some reason wasn’t actually linking to the post. So the hundreds of new visitors were actually getting some kind of “page not available” message instead of seeing Mr. Davis’ terrific work of art… and our blog.

I sent @mcuddy5 a corrected link and I think others must have followed up with him as well… I admit I went to bed without spending much more time online… but this morning, it turns out we had over 900 visitors to our blog yesterday (and from the looks of things, most are now successfully reaching Babs’ Thome post) and a couple hundred of them took a peek at other pages as well as we ended up with something like 1,100 page views. By the time I got up this morning, thawed out, and looked in on the blog, we had another 150 or so visitors already this morning.

Seth Stohs wrote a piece this week for his SethSpeaks blog and the TwinsCentric blog on the Strib site about the way Twins fans, players and front office are interacting via Twitter. I have to admit that I’m very much a “minor league” Tweeter (@JimCrikket, if you must know), so maybe that’s why the effect of Cuddy’s retweet caught me so by surprise. Apparently this Twitter thing is popular.

As I stated at the outset, I’m not really sure what to make of this. I do think it’s great that Mr. Davis’ work got recognized and appreciated… I think it really is a cool image.

It doesn’t and won’t change what we do here, which is primarily just try to have fun and share our thoughts and opinions (for whatever they’re worth). But it was kind of fun seeing our numbers spike like that, even for just a day or two, and if a small number of those new visitors find their way back to us from time to time, that would be great, too.

- JC

Does the Twins Front Office kill your Offseason Optimism?

Ok, this is now the third rewrite of this post because I’m so distracted/lazy/busy/otherwise occupied that every time I’m about ready to put it up, the Twins front office goes and does something else that changes (AND ADDS TO) at least part of what I had to say.  So… if there are parts that are confusing, just keep all that in mind.

The original beginning of this post covered the seemingly rare ability our team management has to keep whatever discussions they are having so quiet and under the radar that there is virtually no discussion of it – which is a GREAT aggravation to fans who are assembling/disassembling/reassembling the 2011 roster in hopes of coming up with that perfect proposal for Bill Smith if only he would listen to us bloggers.  In fact, some fans mistake that discretion for lack of activity.  Do I know for certain that discussions are actually taking place?  Well, no, not until they do something like sign a couple contracts out of the blue.  Do I prefer to choose the optimistic viewpoint that Smith likes his job and isn’t sitting on his thumbs wondering why no one is calling him? Yes, yes I do.  I’m not sure where the overreaction to silence comes from in the blogging/sports fan community.  But then again, I have never known why there is so much overreaction to any given activity in the fan base.  It’s almost as if it’s an addiction to the drama.  The Twins fan/blogosphere is like an odd combination of American Idol+Twilight+WWE. (Besides, I’m sure that Simon Cowell is already a vampire, right?)

Of course, that’s all setup for this optimist to say I’m still looking forward to the season! Do I agree with all the moves that the team has made this offseason?  Not even close.  It’s about 50% for the moves I like vs the ones that puzzle or annoy me.  It’s hard to settle down my feelings in a general way without covering specifics for a few of them.

So, my offseason commentary will continue with the most recent activity and move backwards:

A) Pavano’s contract is exciting for me.  They stuck to their guns when a talented pitcher wanted to go three years.  It’s my biggest pet peeve that these contract extensions are just getting ridiculous.  This game is just too unpredictable to sustain that level of commitment.  And they didn’t overpay either which leads me to believe that Carl Pavano and his family actually really liked it here and wanted to come back.  I’m sure that he didn’t give the Twins a discount per se but I think he was ready to take whatever they were willing to give (within reasonable negotiations of course).  I like having him in our rotation.  Of course, that gives us 6 starting pitchers.  Yet another calculation that has some fans up in arms.  Is there a trade in the works? Who should go? Honestly? I don’t think there is going to be a trade. I’m not worried that any of my favorite arms are going to be gone (unlike my favorite fielders *sigh*). I am simply looking forward to spring training to see what shakes out. It seems more likely given the emptiness of our bullpen, that whoever doesn’t make the starting rotation in April, will occupy the BP until the inevitable bump in the road for one of the lead-off guys which will be very handy to have an experienced starter ready to step into the spot.  Whoever that pitcher ends up being is probably less happy with that option than I am.

B) Matt Capps being signed is far less interesting for me.  I know this may be hard to believe but I disagree with JimCrikket and his premise that Capps is the new Punto. Maybe I’m projecting my own feelings out there on other folk but this is my perception.  The feelings about Capps just aren’t strong enough about him personally to equate to the love/hate extremes Punto engenders. And for the record, it has NOTHING to do with Ramos. I still haven’t figured out what it is about Capps that people like. There’s just nothing there for me. Maybe it is my love of Joe Nathan and the holdover disappointment that Capps just isn’t it him. But you know, I didn’t have that reaction with any of the other temporary closers we had in Nathan’s place. I actually grew to like Rauch a lot despite his somewhat rocky second half. So, I don’t really think it’s the disappointment factor for me entirely.

I propose that Matt Capps is actually the new Delmon Young. I think he has a LOT of talent but doesn’t employ it consistently enough to give fans confidence in him when he walks out onto the grass. Those who want to see the talent develop and feel like the potential is just too high to let go (especially given Nathan’s uncertainty) are excited by this signing… I’m just not one of them. I don’t despise Capps, that would imply a level of investment that I just haven’t made with him – again much like Delmon. I just haven’t felt the ‘chemistry’ yet. His record is what it is and he could get better or worse – stats just don’t have much to do with it at this point in my book. The one thing I keep reminding myself is that, again like Delmon, he’s a much younger guy than he looks when he’s out there. He’s only 26 and that supposedly gives him time to continue to improve. I hope he does. I wish him well and would love to see him succeed – again like Delmon – I just think we’re paying him too much for I feel is at best a ‘maybe’.

C) THOME! Ok, I really like this signing and it does make me feel better about the offseason. Do I think there were other DH’s out there we could have signed that would have had fun hitting in TF? Yep.. and I could have accepted Vlad (he still scares me at the plate) or even Thames in that role but I LIKE Thome and I think he was a natural fit here and still has the ability to play for what we need in that spot. Like Pavano, I think he feels the same way and hearing that he received legitimately good offers from other GOOD teams but chose to stay here for less tells me that he has a lot of faith in what this team can do in 2011. I choose to see that as optimism.

As for the rest of the moves made this offseason (excluding the outlier event of Nishioka), I have been disappointed in the actions. I thought they should have kept more of our bullpen intact and we have a seriously depleted pen now. I would have liked to see us keep Guerrier and possible Rauch but obviously my opinion carries little weight. I’m downright depressed that Hardy is gone, and I’m not sure I will know what to do with a bench with no Punto.  But here’s the thing, I don’t think I need to agree with the moves the Front Office makes in order for me to believe they are actually trying to do what they believe is best for the team. Even when I disagree, I can trust the motive. The track record for this team’s success isn’t when they have miraculous signings or when they got that perfectly right player over the offseason. This team succeeds when they take whoever they have (or have left) and go out and play with everything they have. It’s the character of the guys in the locker room that will or won’t send us to the postseason again.  Whether it happens during Spring Training or August, they rally together and fill the holes.  That attitude is more important to the success of the team and to this fan than any single contract’s consequence.

*Per MLB Trade Rumors: Nick Punto is going to the Cardinals. *sigh* I’m going to miss him for all the flak he got around here.  Good Luck Nicky!  http://bit.ly/e1wGXg

For this optimist, I’m taking it all in stride and looking forward to Spring Training and really curious and excited to see where the 2011 season takes the MN Twins!