Joe Mauer in Cedar Rapids – Day 2

Tuesday night was a big deal at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids.

Twins Joe Mauer and Ricky Nolasco were in the Kernels’ line up together and at least twice the usual Tuesday night crowd squeezed in to the ballpark to watch them.

I don’t know that from witnessing it first hand, but only from accounts from media and family members that used my season tickets that night.

Seems I had foolishly committed to making a business trip to St. Louis Sunday through Wednesday this week.

So I missed the filled ballpark and, from what I understand, filled pressbox on Tuesday when Nolasco pitched and Mauer DHed for the Kernels, who beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 9-0 that night.

I did make it home from St. Louis Wednesday in time to see Mauer’s rehab debut in the field at first base. I didn’t expect to see another huge crowd, but I certainly didn’t expect to see what was essentially a pretty normal 2,000+ crowd, either. Yet, that’s exactly what I saw.

I’m not sure what that says about baseball fans in Eastern Iowa.

Maybe it says we aren’t as awe-struck by the presence of big leaguers as some people think we should be.

Maybe it just reemphasizes that the Twins organization still has a lot of work to do in the area if they want to truly make a dent in the Cubs’ stranglehold around here and make this area a part of “Twins Territory.”

Maybe it reflects the reality that Joe Mauer, himself, does not have the star power that he did when he was winning batting titles and MVP awards, not to mention being the cover-boy of MLB video games for two straight years.

Still, while a lot of the Twins fans in Minnesota who have been booing Mauer at Target Field this season might scoff, he’s an almost certain future Hall-of-Famer and he was in uniform playing for the Kernels Wednesday night. If you’re a baseball fan, why the heck would you NOT show up to watch?

You can’t say nobody tried to get you out there.

The Kernels began marketing the Mauer arrival even before they could officially announce it was happening. When it was still an “unofficial” thing, the Kernels announced via every media outlet they could get access to that they would have special extended ticket office hours Saturday and Sunday.

And people did take advantage. They got tickets for Tuesday and they got tickets for this weekend’s games, but there was little demand for Wednesday’s contest.

It’s great that there will be big crowds Friday and Saturday, but honestly, there were going to be big crowds Friday and Saturday, anyway. Already-planned promotions and tie-ins with a major local employer or two this weekend guaranteed the Kernels would have a couple of pretty full houses those two nights, with or without a big league headliner.

That’s good, perhaps, because there’s no assurance that Mauer will play both nights. He’s scheduled for an off day on Thursday and he indicated after Wednesday’s game that he still has a few things on his, “checklist,” that he wants to accomplish before returning to the Twins, so I think we can safely assume he’ll be on the field Friday night. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on him also being with the Kernels on Saturday night.

I would also be betting he’s en route to Houston to rejoin the Twins before the Kernels take the field on Sunday.

Anyway, I just don’t understand the mediocre crowd Wednesday night.

At least the fans who did show up didn’t boo Mauer when he walked to the plate. They didn’t rise to their feet with an ovation, either, but the polite applause is better treatment than he gets from his home town fans at Target Field these days. I don’t understand that treatment, either.

Anyway, on Wednesday night, Mauer continued to kick off the rust a bit. He went 0-3 before calling it a night. He grounded in to a force out in the first inning and was stranded at second base. He barreled up on one in his second at-bat and drove the ball to the warning track in left-center field. In his third trip to the plate, he watched two strikes go by and then went down swinging.

Defensively, I don’t recall a ball being hit to him at all. He did get one ball thrown to him on a DP attempt that went in the dirt and he didn’t come up with it.

He obviously is not lighting up the Class A pitching he’s seeing, but that’s why you rehab in the minors. Keep in mind, it’s not like he’s been taking BP throughout his time on the Disabled List. His injured oblique muscle meant he was pretty much on the shelf until taking a few cuts in the few days before coming to Cedar Rapids. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to sit out a month and then step in and immediately hit any level of professional pitching has never tried to do it.

If he’s not making consistent solid contact by the time the weekend is over, then I’ll be a bit concerned.

The Kernels and Twins PR guy Andrew Heydt have done a good job of getting media access to Mauer without totally disrupting the clubhouse and other aspects of the game day routine for the Kernels. As was the case Tuesday, Mauer met with the media after exiting the ballgame in an auxillary locker room near the Kernels’ clubhouse.

Here’s some video I shot of that exchange. I think you can tell he’s not pleased with his results on the field, but he’s also glad to just be back on the field again. His response to a question I posed also gives a little insight in to those items on his “checklist” that he still wants to try to do before rejoining the Twins.

The Kernels got pretty well drubbed in the game. Chih-Wei Hu had his first rough start as a Kernel, giving up six runs in the fourth inning.

Nick Burdi pitched the ninth inning for Cedar Rapids. He maxed at 99 mph on the scoreboard gun, which is known as a “slow gun.” We use a +2 guideline in Cedar Rapids, adding 2 mph to what shows on the board, which means Burdi likely hit about 101 on that pitch. Otherwise he was in the mid-upper 90s with the fastball and around 90 with the slider.

Finally, here are a few photos of the evening.

You may have heard, Joe Mauer is a Cedar Rapids Kernel this week.

You may have heard, Joe Mauer is a Cedar Rapids Kernel this week.

She'll have a story for her kids some day.

She’ll have a story for her kids some day.

"Hey, I think I recognize this guy."

“Hey, I think I recognize this guy.”

Jake Mauer picking up after his younger brother after Joe is left stranded at 2B

Jake Mauer picking up after his younger brother after Joe is left stranded at 2B

Wednesday was Joe Mauer's first game in the field in more than a month

Wednesday was Joe Mauer’s first game in the field in more than a month

First time Mauer played behind Chih-Wei Hu. May not be the last time.

First time Mauer played behind Chih-Wei Hu. May not be the last time. Wednesday’s fourth inning notwithstanding, Hu has been very good for the Kernels.

We’re celebrating my grandson’s first birthday on Friday by having a “Party at he Park,” and I’m looking forward to seeing Mauer donning one of these, “Jimmy Buffet Night” jerseys on Saturday night.

Hawaiian_Jersey_Promo_8g1ishv5Mauer may well be on his way to Houston to rejoin the Twins by Sunday, but I’ll be at the ballpark that afternoon to watch Ricky Nolasco stretch himself out to 75 pitches in his second rehab start with the Kernels. – JC

Eating Crow with the Minnesota Twins

crow eatAlmost a week ago, with the Twins in the middle of being swept by the Oakland Athletics, I wrote (over at BaseballTwins.com) that the Twins had no chance of being above .500 for the entire season, and then went so far as to loudly proclaim the same stance on the most recent Talk to Contact podcast.  After a weekend of hot baseball, from the offense and pitching staff, the Twins are now back to .500, at 6-6, and with an off day today to prep for a three game series at home with the Blue Jays, I find myself on the verge of eating crow.

How did this happen?

The Twins pitching turned in their three best performances of the year, the Twins’ bats woke up in a big way, and some timely defensive miscues allowed the Twins to steal a victory on Sunday.

On Friday night, Kyle Gibson put in another strong start, going 6.1 innings and giving up just one run.  Like his first start of the year, Gibson once again walked four batters, and recorded just three strike outs, so it wasn’t a perfect start, but he got the outs he needed and avoided any real damage (and the run he gave up in the first inning was directly related to Pedro Florimon booting a tailor-made double-play ball).

Not to be outdone, on Saturday afternoon, Ricky Nolasco pitched eight strong innings of one run ball, controlling the ball well, recording four strike outs and surrendering only a single walk.

While Nolasco and Gibson put up strong performances, the Twins hitters did their jobs too, scoring 17 runs in those first two games, with a balanced lineup that saw key hits from Dozier, Suzuki, Pinto, Mauer, Kubel, Colabello and Plouffe.  Everyone was hitting except Florimon and Mastroianni, who managed to be 0-8 (but did chip in two walks) while the rest of the team recorded a .346 on base percentage.

On Sunday, Kevin Correia worked seven scoreless innings, but let the first three batters of the inning reach base, and Brian Duensing came in with two one and one in already.  He couldn’t stop the bleeding and the Twins were down 3-2 going into the home half of the eighth.  IN the bottom of the inning the Twins loaded the bases and Chris Herrmann grounded to the pitcher Wade Davis who tried to start a home-to-first double play, but instead threw the ball away allowing two runs to score.

While the Twins might creep over .500 before this home stand ends, I still think that the Twins next four series after that, against the Royals, Rays, Tigers and Dodgers will put the Twins firmly below .500 without much chance of a return.

For now though, the Twins are interesting, and I look forward to eating crow.

GameChat – Royals @ Twins #2, 1:10pm

Since today is so much cooler, I’m glad that it’s an afternoon game. AND I am glad we’re coming off a win. However, I always get nervous the game after a big hit parade…

Let’s see if a little public shaming will work on Ricky… Mr. Nolasco, you were chosen to be our #1 Starter so far. Has it escaped your notice that our #5 guy – basically an MLB rookie – is KICKING YOUR ASS in pitching ability so far this season? Let’s work on that shall we?

Kansas City

@

Minnesota
Aoki, RF Dozier, 2B
Infante, 2B Mauer, 1B
Hosmer, 1B Plouffe, 3B
Butler, B, DH Colabello, RF
Gordon, A, LF Kubel, LF
Perez, S, C Pinto, DH
Moustakas, 3B Suzuki, K, C
Cain, L, CF Hicks, CF
Escobar, A, SS Florimon, SS
  Shields, P   Nolasco, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Kansas City 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 6 2
Minnesota 1 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 x 7 6 0

That’s two straight W’s for our guys!

Not a ton of hitting by either team, but the Twins made the most of what they got and took advantage of one bad inning of pitching and defense by the Royals.

It was a game that saw some Mauer Pauer as Joe launched a home run in to the right-center field seats.

But, in the end, whether or not it was Babs’ public shaming, Ricky Nolasco showed the stuff Twins fans hoped he would bring to Target Field, going eight strong innings for the win… and good for the BOD award, as well.

Ricky Nolasco (AP Photo)

Ricky Nolasco (AP Photo)

Episode 62: Rule 5 Drafts and other Non-Sense

Episode 62 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Paul's sad Christmas tree.

Paul’s sad Christmas tree.

This week on the podcast we have a full slate of beers and a full tray of Twins news. Christmas comes early this season for Twins fans as Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes are Minnesota Twins; what does it all mean? Seth Stohs joins us to break down Rule-5 Draft possibilities and to talk minor league ball. The Hot Stove is on fire this seasons, listen in for analysis of Twins moves, roster transactions and more.

It’s another long episode this week, but with so much news, and so many beers, it was impossible to keep it any shorter.

Enjoy the podcast!

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which helps the the Vikings draft another terrible quarterback.

Santa Came Early for Twins Fans

Yes, Santa Clause showed up early for Twins fans this year – and he brought presents.

Terry Ryan’s reputation among Twins fans has historically been more Ebeneezer Scrooge than Santa Clause over the years. Whether he’s been visited by apparitions who have shown him the errors of his ways or merely by an owner who has grown weary of being blamed by fans for being miserly, Ryan has been doing his holiday shopping early this year and he’s delivered a couple of early gifts to Twins fans.

Terry Ryan (Photo Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs)

Terry Ryan (Photo Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs)

More than a week before the traditional baseball flea market that is the sport’s Winter Meetings, Ryan has signed two of the more in-demand starting pitchers on the market in Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes.

Nolasco and Hughes are not “aces,” so of course there’s a certain faction of Twins fans that are not happy with the additions. Some of those fans remind me of kids who, despite finding some cool presents under the tree on Christmas morning, simply pout because they didn’t get the pony they asked Santa for.

There’s absolutely no downside to these additions and plenty to like about them.

First, the obvious: Nothing short of an injury should keep both of these two pitchers from outperforming the 2013 levels of every starting pitcher who toed the rubber in a Twins uniform this past season.

Neither pitcher will cost the Twins a draft choice next June. Nolasco’s mid-season trade to the Dodgers was a blessing for the pitcher and the Twins.

Some have questioned the Twins for giving arguably generous multi-year deals to the two arms. That thinking simply doesn’t take in to account the Twins’ situation. There are teams who rightfully are interested only in signing free agent pitchers to one or two year deals. The Twins are not one of those teams.

Whether or not it was by design, the Twins have an enormous amount of “payroll flexability.” That’s shorthand for, “they have cut payroll to an obscenely low level, so there is literally nobody on the market they can’t afford.”

Almost everyone believes the Twins have no shot at being competitive for the postseason in 2014. (I don’t necessarily agree, but that’s a discussion for another day.) The consensus thinking is that the Twins have hitters either on the roster now or likely to arrive by 2015 or 2016 that will be good enough to score runs. There’s much less confidence concerning the pitching situation.

So, the Twins need veteran starting pitchers that have a likelihood of being at least legitimate middle-of-the-rotation pitchers, not just in 2014, but for a number of seasons beyond that. That is exactly what Nolasco and Hughes are.

Are they sure-things? No. Are they potential aces? Nope, not likely at all. A week ago, the pitcher most likely to become a true ace in a Twins uniform was prospect Alex Meyer. That remains true today.

But here’s something that wasn’t true a week ago: Before the Nolasco and Hughes signings, the agents for next off-season’s top-tier free agents did not see the Twins as players in the free agent market for their clients’ services. Now, as long as the Twins show some notable improvement this season, you can bet they’ll take a call from Terry Ryan next November and they’ll listen closely to what Ryan has to say.

In that way, the Twins demonstrating a willingness to pay what some might argue is above market value for good free agent talent could work in their favor down the road.

In fact, the Twins may not have to wait until next year for this benefit to kick in. Media reports are that the team is still actively looking to add another starting pitcher, as well as a veteran starting catcher. I’d be willing to bet there are players on the market (and their agents) much more interested in talking to the Twins today than they were a week ago.

Terry Ryan has made a statement. The Twins are intent on improving right now, not at some indefinite time in the future. And it’s a statement being made with actions – and money- not words.

I’m certain that current members of the Twins are excited to see indications the club is committed to winning more games in 2014. I am, too.

You could say these are the sorts of moves Ryan should have been making last year or even the year before that. You’d be absolutely right. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t appreciate that it’s happening now.

Christmas came early for Twins fans this year. Enjoy it. You’re not going to get the pony – this year. But what you’re getting is a lot better than the chunks of coal Santa left in your stockings last year!

– JC

Episode 60: Jon Rauch’s Terrible Neck Tattoo

Episode 60 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Eddie Rosario during an AFL game. Phot Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Eddie Rosario during an AFL game. Phot Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

60 is a number worn my several Twins throughout the years, including current “closer” Glen Perkins from 2006-2007, and most recently by Pedro Hernandez (2013) and Jeff Gray (2012), but most notably by Jon Rauch and his terrible neck tattoo in back to back seasons (2009-2010). This week on the podcast we discuss a plethora of minor league happenings, including the pending 50-game suspension of Eddie Rosario and recent 40-man roster moves. The debate wages on over which starting pitchers make sense for the Twins to sign, as Eric, Cody and Jay each make their cases of Ricky NolascoBronson Arroyo and Matt Garza. Who would you take? There’s a considerably lengthy discussion about the true value of the Metrodome baggie and who the real winner is in the Prince Fielder Ian Kinsler trade. Also, if you are a Leinenkugel Beer affectionado, you may want to stick around for the “Beers from Around the World” segment. This episode also features an interview with noted sabermatrician, FanGraphs writer/editor and BBWAA member, Carson Cistulli (@cistulli). This is a long episode, almost 2 hours, but it’s pure gold from beginning to end.

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which helps the Twins pitching prospects break the 93 MPH barrier.