Fun Twins Things


(photo: Foxsportsnorth.com)

10-24: The Twins record through their first 34 games, roughly 20% of their season.  Going in to 2012 I thought the Twins would be slightly better than a .500 ballclub, optimistically projecting them to win 83 games.  Yet here they are, 14 games under .500 with little reason to expect the Twins will be much better in the 128 games left on the schedule.  With that in mind, here is a list (of arbitrary length and order) of fun Twins Things from 2012.

  1. Josh Willingham – Willingham is leading the Twins in just about every offensive category you can think of, batting average, RBIs, on-base percentage, home runs, etc.  He’s come to Minnesota and established himself as a fan favorite.  Plus he looks like he’d be right at home chopping down trees in the forest with another Twins newcomer, Ryan Doumit.  Offense and tree chopping, two of my favorite things.
  2. Scott Diamond – Not exactly a success story in 2011, in his two starts since being called up in 2012 he has been perfect.  He’s pitched 14 innings without giving up a run and now has as many Wins in just two starts as any other Twins pitcher.  Also, Dick and Bert think that he looks like Cliff Lee, so take that for what it’s worth.
  3. Jamey Carroll – Before Sunday’s game FSN showed clips of some Twins players wishing their mothers (and sometimes their wives, too) a happy Mother’s Day.  During his segment Jamey Carroll referred to his mom as “the Bomb dot com.”  That was one of the best moments of 2012.  He’s also playing pretty great defense and was even rocking some variant of the Fu Manchu for a couple weeks.  Great stuff.
  4. The Joel Zumaya Saga – It is unfortunate that Zumaya couldn’t stay healthy and wound up heading back to the operating table before Spring Training was even in full swing because Zumaya had an opportunity to be the flame throwing reliever the Twins desperately need in their bullpen.  While the signing ultimately did not work out, there was plenty of fan excitement over the winter, speculating on the health and possible impact of a guy like Zumaya playing for the Twins.  Plus I liked saying, “Zoom-zoom”.
  5. Trevor Plouffe‘s hair – Love it or hate it, Plouffe’s curly locks have provided more humorous commentary in the Knuckleballs GameChat’s than just about any other Twins topic in 2012, follicle related or otherwise.
  6. Brian Dozier – For a while there when Dozier was hitting .400+ in AAA and it seemed like just about everyday some Twins blogger would be pining for the Twins to bring Dozier up to replace Carroll or Casilla.  Carroll and Casilla, in the meantime, managed to play pretty solid defense, but ultimately their lack of success in the batter’s box (and pretty much ever other Twins hitter as well) forced the Twins’ hand and they called up Dozier to be the everyday shortstop and he has not disappointed.  He’s been fun to watch defensively, getting to balls deep in the hole and showing off some pretty decent arm strength.  And he hit a home run yesterday!  Dozier is having fun playing baseball, and he’s even more fun to watch.
  7. Ryan Doumit’s defense – Just kidding.
  8. Lots of Roster Movement – 33 players have made appearances for the Twins this season.  Of those 33 players, 13 made the Twins debut (Jamey Carroll, Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Jeff Gray, Jared Burton, Clete Thomas, Sean Burroughs, Matt Maloney, Erik Komatsu, Brian Dozier, Jason Marquis, Darin Mastroianni and P.J. Walters).  Lots of new faces, lots of action on the waiver wire and plenty of evidence that Terry Ryan and crew realize the on-field product stinks and are looking at ways to make it better (Like when they sent Danny Valencia down to Triple-A, that was my favorite).

So it is not all bad.  There are some fun things to watch and follow every day.  If I missed any, feel free to fill me in.  

Baseball is still fun, even if 10-24 is not.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Blue Jays @ Twins #4, 1:10 pm

Happy Mothers Day!

The Twins have an opportunity to split the series with the Blue Jays with another strong performance from Scott Diamond.  A little run support would be nice too, as the Twins burned a nice pitching performance, from P.J. Walters, yesterday by scoring just a single run in a 2-1 defeat.  Denard Span is the only Twins player with more than 10 plate appearances against Blue Jays’ starter Ricky Romero and Span has been very successful, posting a 1.088 OPS in 18 plate appearances.

Alexi Casilla is off again today, and since starting back to back games on May 5 and 6, he has not appeared in back-to-back games and has not played at all in 4 of the last 6.  Last night he entered the game late and was o-1 with a strikeout, not exactly giving Gardenhire reasons to pencil him in.

Here are the rest of the line ups:

Toronto Blue Jays

@

Minnesota Twins
 Johnson, K, 2B  Span, CF
 Escobar, Y, SS  Dozier, SS
 Bautista, RF  Mauer, 1B
Encarnacion, 1B  Willingham, LF
 Francisco, B, DH  Doumit, DH
 Lawrie, 3B  Plouffe, 3B
 Rasmus, CF  Komatsu, RF
 Arencibia, C  Butera, C
 Davis, R, LF  Carroll, 2B
  _Romero, R, P   _Diamond, P

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Toronto 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 3 10 1
Minnesota 0 0 1 0 3 0 0 0 x 4 10 1

The bullpen did not do Scott Diamond any favors this afternoon, but the Twins held on to a 4-3 victory thanks to 7 scoreless innings from Scott Diamond.  Diamond scattered just 5 hits throughout his afternoon of work, also picking up 4 strikeouts along the way.  Newcomer Brian Dozier had a solid day defensively and providing some offensive power with a solo homerun into the 2nd deck out in left field.

While Dozier certainly was exciting to watch, he’s only getting a small package of Girl Scout Cookies (his preference) for his work today.

Scott Diamond, Boyfriend of the Day (Credit: ESPN)

Scott Diamond is the BOD for the 2nd time in as many starts.  Congratulations Mr. Diamond, you earned it.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Angels @ Twins #2, 7:10 pm

No Denard Span tonight, but apparently that was the plan all along so we’re not supposed to read anything in to it. We’ll see.

The Knuckleballs crew is taping a podcast tonight during the first 45 minutes or so of the game, so if you don’t see us around, don’t freak out… wait until you hear the podcast, THEN you can freak out. Thanks to Phil Naessens for having us on. We’ll try not to screw it up too bad.

Go Twins!

ANGELS

@

TWINS
Trout, CF Komatsu, CF
Callaspo, 3B Dozier, SS
Pujols, 1B Mauer, 1B
Hunter, To, RF Willingham, LF
Trumbo, DH Doumit, DH
Kendrick, H, 2B Valencia, 3B
Wells, V, LF Plouffe, RF
Aybar, SS Butera, C
Iannetta, C Carroll, 2B
  _Haren, P   _Diamond, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
LA Angels 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0
Minnesota 3 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 x 5 12 0

Seven innings of shutout baseball thrown by a Twins starter… now that’s something we haven’t seen this season. Add to that 12 hits and five runs and you’ve got pretty much a complete effort. Josh Willingham had an early RBI double and Ryan Doumit hit his fourth HR of the season. Joe Mauer added a couple of hits of his own. Jared Burton and Matt Capps each added scoreless innings of relief.

But in his first MLB start of the season, Scott Diamond limited the Angels to just four hits over his seven innings and that’s good enough for tonight’s Boyfriend of the Day award!

Scott Diamond

Monday, Grumpy Monday

I’m in a bit of a grumpy mood this morning. That’s not an altogether unusual thing for me on a Monday morning, but I generally try to avoid human contact until noon or later on Monday so I can spare others having to deal with my mood and spare myself the chances I’ll say something I’ll regret later. I certainly avoid publishing written work on Monday mornings for a broad audience to read. But, despite that, here I am writing this.

Here are just a few things I’m feeling a bit… what’s the word my mom used to use?… “owlish”?… about this morning. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Twins Stuff

My mood isn’t only reflected in Twins-related topics, but since this is primarily a Twins blog, let’s start with those topics.

Brian Dozier

I like Brian Dozier. I think he has a chance to be a decent infielder, but I’m not optimistic that he’s going to be the long-awaited “answer” to the Twins’ revolving door at shortstop. But even if he is, I simply don’t get why he’s being called up now to be inserted as the everyday shortstop.

It’s not that I think Jamey Carroll is irreplaceable, nor is Alexi Casilla necessarily entitled to be an everyday infielder at the Major League level. But if you start a list of all the things that have worked WELL for the Twins this season, middle infield defense would be one of a very short number of things on that list.

Have Carroll and Casilla turned EVERY double play opportunity in to two outs? No. But if you can’t see the improvement over the swisscheese-like pairings that were on the field last year for the Twins, your memory sucks. The Twins’ pitchers are, by and large, awful and the results aren’t going to get better by changing the middle infield defense.

Speaking of the Twins pitching… talk about your mood dampeners. Can these guys get ANYONE out? If the Twins sent their entire rotation to Rochester and brought up the Red Wings’ starting pitchers, Wings fans would complain about getting the raw end of the deal… and rightfully so. Not that the starting quintet in Rochester has been all that good, but the Twins’ rotation has been THAT bad. Sending Hendriks down and bringing Scott Diamond up is a start, I guess, but both the Dozier and Diamond moves feel an awful lot like the proverbial, “rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic,” to me.

I don’t envy Terry Ryan these days. There are no easy answers to fixing the Twins. There really aren’t even any difficult answers, if you’re thinking in terms of salvaging anything this season. He’s got a fan base spoiled by a decade of relative success, at least as measured by contention at the Divisional level. He’s got ownership that ‘s providing payroll levels at least 30% higher than the Metrodome days and expecting at least competence in return. That combination is resulting in fewer people showing up at Target Field, which means lower revenues, which means lower future payrolls, which means a tougher job to assemble a roster that can turn things around any time soon.

But while I may not envy Ryan, I don’t feel sorry for him, either. He may have just recently taken over Bill Smith’s mess, but his hands weren’t clean. He was playing a significant role in the scouting and player evaluation process, even while Smith sat in the GM chair. As a result, the players on this team right now and in the minor league pipeline are just as much Ryan’s responsibility as they were Smith’s.

I don’t consider Ron Gardenhire blameless, either, but I really don’t know what manager could win with this collection of pitchers. I don’t know enough about the pitchers individually to know whether better “coaching” from Rick Anderson would help. But I do know that the organization is fast approaching a need to DO “something” to keep fans’ interest… or at least give us some sign that they’ve at least noticed that the wheels have come off.

Maybe it’s my mood this morning, but if I were Terry Ryan, I’d probably make a change right now in my manager and pitching coach. The problem is, I wouldn’t necessarily want to promote anyone from within my organization to the manager’s job that would give the impression he was going to be my manager for the next decade. Maybe Gene Glynn or Tom Brunansky or Jeff Smith will be logical selections or maybe I’d want to open up the search to outside candidates, but I don’t want to make such an important decision hastily.

Paul Molitor

So here’s my Monday Morning suggestion to Terry: Get on your knees and beg Paul Molitor to finish out 2012 as your manager. He’s supposedly not been interested in a field job with the Twins, but maybe on an interim basis, he could be convinced to take things over.

As for the pitching coach…  I really have no idea who in the organization would work on an interim basis, but try this name on for size: Bert Blyleven. OK, OK… once you’ve stopped laughing, think about it… he couldn’t screw the staff up any worse than they are already and at least he wouldn’t be up in the booth the rest of the year. Then again, I’m not sure how they’d get the monitor hooked up in the dugout in a way that would allow him to circle fans in the stands, so maybe it wouldn’t work after all.

Vikings Stuff

I’m a Vikings fan, not necessarily a “Minnesota” fan, so I’ll root for the Vikings wherever they call home in the future. That said, I’d REALLY prefer they stay in Minnesota. It’s where they belong, in my mind.

Philosophically, I understand the opinion that public money shouldn’t be used for stadiums. Then again, I think we use public money for a lot of crap that it shouldn’t be used for, while our health care system in this country is the laughingstock of the rest of the world’s modern civilizations.

Some things just are what they are and among those things is that communities that want major league professional sports teams have to pony up enough public financial support to provide modern playgrounds for those teams every quarter-century or so. This is particularly true with regard to NFL franchises, which are, whether we baseball fans want to admit it or not, the most popular major sports organizations in virtually every community that has one.

For the past couple of decades, this has been a difficult truth for Minnesotans and their political leaders (and I use the term “leaders” loosely here) to grasp.

So, sometime late tonight, I expect the Minnesota legislature to defeat a bill that has been negotiated in good faith by the Vikings, the city of Minneapolis, the Governor of Minnesota and legislators  from both political parties.

And that’s a damn shame.

I’ve been a registered Republican for over three decades and over that period, I’ve been relatively active in state and local politics where I live. While I don’t want to turn this in to a political discussion, I’ll say that I’m disappointed by the way my party has been hijacked by extremists over the past several years at the national level. But if there’s one thing that makes me feel better about what’s happened to the GOP at the national level, it’s seeing what a bunch of political hacks seem to be running the GOP in Minnesota.

Sure, there were missteps along the way by all parties and governing is often about compromise. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” is more inherent to American politics than separation of powers.

If, as a legislator, you oppose public funding of a stadium, in principle, so that’s how you will cast your vote, I can respect that. But what the GOP leadership is essentially telling the Governor… and the people of Minnesota… is that it’s not so much opposition to the bill in principle that could likely cause its demise tonight, it’s that the Governor wouldn’t give them his signature on a couple of tax and bonding bills and they’re going to vote against the Vikings stadium bill as political “payback.”

If that means the Vikings are playing in LA or Toronto in 2013, so be it… at least the GOP won’t have let a Democratic Governor “win.”

If that’s what passes for statemanship in Minnesota these days, that’s unfortunate.

– JC

GameChat – Twins @ Mariners #2, 8:10pm

One Day without Ron Gardenhire, one win.  Do with that what you will.

Per La Velle E. Neal, Justin Morneau, who is still struggling with wrist, soreness has finally landed on the Disabled List.  When Morneau left the game last Monday against the Angels it seemed like a trip to the DL was inevitable. Now, after playing almost an entire week with 13 pitchers and almost no bench players, the Twins finally make the call.  The Twins probably still get no-hit last Wednesday even if someone was called up, but you never know.

Even Without Gardenhire, Scott Ullger continues the Twins tradition of putting a new player into the lineup, giving Erik Komatsu the start in right field.  Hard to blame Ullger for taking a look at Komatsu as it pushes Ryan Doumit back behind the plate and relegates Drew Butera to the bench.

Here are the lineups:

 Minnesota Twins

@

Seattle Mariners
 Span, CF  Ackley, 2B
 Carroll, SS  Ryan, SS
 Mauer, DH  Suzuki, I, RF
 Willingham, LF  Montero, C
 Doumit, C  Seager, 3B
 Parmelee, 1B  Jaso, DH
 Valencia, 3B  Smoak, 1B
 Komatsu, RF  Carp, LF
 Casilla, A, 2B  Saunders, M, CF
  _Marquis, P   _Hernandez, F, P

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

 Minnesota

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

 Seattle

0

0

0

0

0

2

5

0

X

7

7

0

 

Jason Marquis pitched six innings giving up just 2 earned runs, scattering 6 walks and recording only one strike out.  In the 7th Anthony Swarzak, Matt Maloney, and Jeff Gray combined to give up 5 earned runs and the game was suddenly out of hand.

Regardless of what the pitching staff did, the real story of the night was Felix Hernandez.  He pitched 8 strong innings, struck out 9 Twins and gave up just a single Twins hit. The Twins were held scoreless again tonight and were just one Denard Span single away from being no-hit a 2nd time in a week.

Big changes to the Twins lineup are in the pipeline as Brian Dozier and Scott Diamond should be with the Twins on Monday.  Morneau will officially be moved to the DL and Liam Hendriks will most likely be option to Rochester to make room.

Twins have a chance to win the series tomorrow afternoon at 3pm, but it will take more than just one hit.

-ERolfPleiss

Twins On The Hot Seat

As the Twins near the end of the first month of the season, things aren’t going very well. True, few fans really expected that things WOULD be going well, given the combination of last season’s record and the brutal April schedule that MLB saddled them with. Nonetheless, we can’t really be blamed for being disappointed with some of the performances we’re seeing on the field, thus far.

Given the way their most recent season or two have gone, we all had legitimate questions about what we could expect out of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and even Denard Span. We theorized that, if those three guys could somehow prove to be healthy, this team would have plenty of offense and that alone could allow them to threaten to play .500 ball. Guess what? All three players have been healthy and productive… but the team has still managed to lose twice as many of their first 15 games as they’ve won.

So, who’s to blame? More specifically, who’s roster spots… and perhaps even who’s future in Major League Baseball… are on the line already in this young season? Honestly, the list of underachievers on this Twins team so far is so long that it will be a challenge to list all the players with their heads on the chopping block in one post. But let’s try. We can certainly cover the names at the top of the list.

Alexi Casilla

Alexi Casilla – I’ve always loved Lexi. I admit to that bias, going all the way back to his time here in Cedar Rapids with the Kernels. He’s traditionally a slow starter, so it’s hardly a surprise to see him hitting below .250. But he’s not getting on base at a much higher rate and his fielding has been frustratingly inconsistent. With Brian Dozier hitting over .300 and sporting an .841 OPS through Saturday, you have to wonder how long Lexi’s leash is, at this point.

Of course, Dozier can only play one position and Casilla isn’t the only Twins infielder performing at a disappointing level. Which brings us to…

Danny Valencia - Unlike Casilla, I’ve never had a warm and fuzzy feeling toward Valencia. There’s something about his personality that just rubs me the wrong way. Then again, I don’t need to “like” a player to appreciate their talents if they’re contributing a little something to my favorite team’s success. So if Danny would… say… hit the friggin baseball once in a while, I’d overlook the whole personality thing. But he hasn’t done that. Not this year and, really, not last year. So exactly why should we assume he’s entitled to a regular position in the Twins line up?

Brian Dozier

Dozier could take his spot just as easily as Casilla’s. Either Casilla or Jamey Carroll would likely be an upgrade at 3B over Valencia defensively, making room for Dozier in the middle infield somewhere.

In fact, if the Twins really wanted to send a message (or if they could find another team foolish enough to take one or both of Casilla and Valencia off their hands), there’s another infielder in Rochester more than holding his own. Mike Hollimon was somewhat impressive during a short stint with the Big League club in Spring Training and he’s carried that production in to the season. He’s only hitting .256, but he’s getting on base and hitting with a little pop. In other words, he’s doing the things Valencia is supposed to be doing… and isn’t.

But let’s be honest, there’s one guy who’s Big League future is in even graver danger of coming to an end. We’re speaking, of course, about…

Francisco Liriano - Remember when he was known as “The Franchise”? If he’s been saving his money, maybe he’ll be able to buy a Popeye’s Chicken franchise, but his days as a starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins are running short.

Francisco Liriano

We all know that Spring Training numbers are not necessarily predictive of regular season performance (if they were, Luke Hughes would be in his second year as a starting infielder for the Twins instead of awaiting word of his fate after being Designated for Assignment last week), but how in the world does a pitcher go from giving up just four runs on 10 hits in 18 Spring Training innings to the level of suckage we’re seeing out of Frankie now? An 11.91 ERA? 22 hits and 9 walks in 11.1 innings? Really?

Liriano’s facing the Tampa Bay Rays today… a Rays team that isn’t shy about swinging at pretty much anything that’s thrown near the plate. If he can’t put something together resembling a decent start against these guys, it might be time to think about moving on. Maybe Frankie can be effective out of the bullpen. Pitching one inning at a time gives a pitcher less to think about and, in his case, that has to be a good thing, right?

But who would replace him in the Twins rotation? It’s not like the organization is brimming with high level pitching prospects. Scott Diamond, however, is sporting a nifty little 3-0 record in Rochester, with a 1.47 ERA. If you don’t like Wins and ERA as measuring sticks (and, really, who does?), that’s fine. He’s also struck out 14 hitters and walked only 5 in his 18.1 innings of work and fashioned a nice 1.200 WHIP. He’s given up only one home run.

With Dozier and Diamond looking very good in Rochester, the Twins have some options… and while it’s only the end of April, we’ve seen enough of Casilla, Valencia and Liriano over the past several seasons to pretty much know that they are who they are… and who they are is not terribly good.

– JC

What I Learned On Vacation

Make no mistake, the worst part of spending a week hanging around the Twins Spring Training site in Ft. Myers is the first day back at work when you get home. But as bad as that is, it’s well worth it to have made the trip.

Channeling the inner child in me, today I thought I would reflect and write a bit about what I learned on my vacation, much the way my 2nd grade teacher asked the class to do upon the start of a new school year.

I attended five “official” spring training games, as well as parts of a few minor league games, several of which included appearances by various members of the Twins MLB club. I arrived at just about the right time to start getting looks at Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, who hadn’t taken part in games before I got down there. On the other hand, I only got to see Michael Cuddyer face minor league pitching and take batting practice (which, let’s face it, is pretty much the same thing for a hitter of Cuddyer’s abilities). So, what have I learned?

Tsuyoshi Nishioka looks like the real deal. He’s riding a ten game hitting streak and he’s been very impressive at second base. He and Alexi Casilla are looking very smooth turning double plays, as well.

Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert

There actually is a very real and very close competition for the utility infielder spot on the roster. Most of us just assumed Matt Tolbert would be handed the job, but Luke Hughes has hit five home runs and three doubles in 19 games. He’s also leading the team with 15 strikeouts, but the prospect of having a right handed hitter with some pop on the bench has to be pretty attractive for Ron Gardenhire. That said, over the past few days, it has been Tolbert that’s looking better at the plate and he’s certainly more accomplished and versatile with the glove. This race is still too close to call, though if I were the one getting to make the decision, I think having that strong righthanded bat available off the bench would nudge me in the direction of giving the job to Hughes.

Gardenhire has announced that Kevin Slowey is the odd man out of the rotation to start the season, assuming everyone stays healthy over the last week of Spring Training. That makes sense to me and Slowey is handling it like the classy professional he is. His shift to the bullpen means the competition is coming down to the wire for the three remaining spots in the pen.

Depending on which media outlet you read and on which day, any one of seven candidates are “likely” to claim one of those three roster spots. Here’s a rundown on the guys still competing for those spots, including the three that I believe should… and will… open the season in the Twins bullpen.

Scott Diamond, who is the Rule V draftee that the Twins took from the Braves, is a lefthanded pitcher that the Twins reportedly have long “liked”. I didn’t see enough of Diamond to really judge his abilities, but I don’t see much chance that he opens the season with the Twins. Ideally, they can send Atlanta a minor leaguer in exchange for the right to keep Diamond and send him to Rochester, but from what I’ve seen and read, if the Twins have to send him back to the Braves, it wouldn’t be a catastrophe.

I’ve seen articles indicating the Twins like Kyle Waldrop enough to keep him on the roster to open the season. Maybe. But if that’s the case, they sure have a funny way of showing it. He’s only pitched five innings in Spring Training (about half of what most of the other bullpen candidates have thrown) and while his numbers are impressive (no earned runs, 7 Ks, no walks), if they were serious about keeping him to open the season, I think they’d be giving him more opportunities to pitch. Let’s see how much work he gets in the next few games. UPDATE: mlb.com’s Rhett Bollinger reported Wednesday afternoon that the Twins announced Waldrop would be among a group of players who would make the trip to Atlanta for the final exhibition games and then be reassigned to a minor league team.

Jeff Manship is another guy who a lot of people seem to think will be sticking with the Big Club. I don’t see it, unless the Twins do trade Slowey before Opening Day. I see Slowey and Manship as potentially filling the same role in the bullpen and as long as Slowey is there, Manship would be redundent. Manship’s spring pitching line (6.30 ERA in 10 innings, 11 hits, 5 Ks, 3 BBs) just hasn’t been all that impressive when compared to some of the guys he’s competing with.

Carlos Gutierrez is the young, up and coming bullpen arm that Gardy has been hinting he’d like to keep around. It’s not going to happen. As long as there are other options, the front office is going to want to hold off on bringing Gutierrez up until at least June to keep his MLB service clock from starting until then. If he were head and shoulders better than any other option, you wouldn’t let the service time issue keep him down on the farm, but he’s not… so it will. UPDATE: mlb.com’s Rhett Bollinger reported Wednesday afternoon that, like Waldrop, the Twins announced Gutierrez would be among a group of players who would make the trip to Atlanta for the final exhibition games and then be reassigned to a minor league team on March 30.

That leaves these three guys as those I believe should, and will, fill those final three spots in the pen:

Glen Perkins

Glen Perkins is a guy a lot of Twins fans seem to love to hate. He’s certainly given plenty of reasons for us to doubt him over the past few years, but this spring, when asked to compete for a bullpen job, he’s done so and pitched well. He’s thrown 9 innings and has accumulated a 2.00 ERA, giving up 8 hits, striking out 6 and walking 3 hitters. I suggest fans put the past behind us and look forward to Perkins being in the Twins bullpen. He’s out of options and there’s no way he would clear waivers so the Twins would lose him if they don’t give him one of the bullpen spots. They could conceivably still trade him before Opening Day, but he’s clearly been one of the three best relief pitchers among the contenders listed here, so I expect #15 to open the season with the Twins.

Dusty Hughes

The Twins are likely to open with three lefties in the pen because, in addition to Perkins and Jose Mijares, Dusty Hughes is going to make the team. The Twins snatched him off waivers from the Royals, largely because a number of Twins hitters confirmed to the staff that the guy is tough for them to hit. If the Twins’ own talented stable of lefthanded hitters think a pitcher is tough, he’s a guy worth taking a chance on. Hughes has proven worthy of their praise this spring, having yet to give up a run and allowing only six hits in 10 innings on the mound. He has walked five hitters, however, which matches the five he’s struck out.

That leaves one final spot and this is the spot I feel strongest about. The Twins need Jim Hoey in the bullpen.

Jim Hoey

Hoey, obtained from the Orioles as part of the JJ Hardy trade, got off to a bit of a slow start this spring in his first few appearances, but over the past week, he has demonstrated why the Twins wanted him. He brings one thing that none of the other Twins bullpen arms (or starting pitchers, for that matter) have… and that is overpowering velocity. While virtually every other pitcher on this list has a fastball that tops out in the low 90s, Hoey throws 95 mph… warming up. When he’s serious, he’ll fire in there somewhere in the 97-99 mph range. His issue, early in camp, was controlling that heat, but he’s been throwing his fastballs at the knees and if he can do that regularly, look for a lot of strikeouts, ground balls, and broken bats.

And here’s the thing… when you have a guy who’s 6′ 6″ and throws the ball almost 100 mph, you don’t really WANT him to have pinpoint control. The only chance 90% of Major League hitters have of hitting a ball traveling that fast on the sweet spot of the bat is if they can dig in and swing early. If the pitcher has a reputation for being jussssssst a little wild, not many hitters will be doing that “digging in” thing. We’re not talking Nuke LaLoosh wild here, either. TC Bear isn’t going to get beaned and John Gordon isn’t going to have to be ducking in the radio booth.

Finally, while not a lot has been written about it lately, a decision is going to have to be made with regard to whether Joe Nathan or Matt Capps starts the season as the Twins closer.

The sentimental favorite is Joe Nathan. He’s certainly earned the faith and loyalty of the Twins coaches, as well as the fans’ devotion. But, frankly, he just hasn’t pitched as well as Matt Capps this spring and unless something changes over the next week, I’d have to give the closing job to Capps while Nathan serves as the primary set up arm. Nathan has an 8.53 ERA and has given up seven hits and walked three, in just 6 and a third innings of work. Granted, a lot of the damage was inflicted in one very poor outing, but as much as I wanted to see the old Twitchy out there on the mound this past week, I don’t think he’s all the way back. Capps, on the other hand, has yet to give up a run in 7 and a third innings, allowing only four hits, not walking anyone, and striking out five hitters. Sentiment aside, Capps has earned the closer role, at this point.

In the end, here’s the main thing I learned on my vacation… looking at this lineup, and even at the quality of the players who will NOT make the Opening Day roster, I see a team with the potential to be very, very good.

Let’s get this party started!

– 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

Bullpen: White Knights or Black Hole?

If you’ve been reading anything about the Twins’ offseason, you may have heard this already… The Twins are going to need some new relief pitchers to fill out their bullpen. Shocking, I know.

Bullpen up in the air?

Truth is, the thing I find more surprising than anything else is that so many people seem to care so much about who’s going to make up the bullpen on Opening Day. I’m not ignorant of the fact that the Twins are losing half of the strong bullpen they finished the 2010 season with. Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier are already members of other teams, with Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch, Randy Flores and Ron Mahay likely to follow.

So with all of the uncertainty about who will be keeping bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek company this season, why am I surprised that so many people are devoting so much time to fretting over the makeup of the Twins’ relief corps? It’s simple really.

It matters to me that the Twins appear at least one top-of-the-rotation pitcher short at the moment. Going in to the season with the current five young starting pitchers, backed up only by unproven younger options, and relying on being able to trade for a top starter at mid season is a risky proposition. It may work out. It may not. But it matters and if they don’t have someone like Carl Pavano in the rotation that can consistently go deep in to games and give the bullpen a rest, then it matters even more.

It matters to me that the Twins are apparently comfortable with a defensive outfield that is, to be kind, less than swift. It baffles me a bit that the Twins looked at the way Target Field played in its inaugural season and recognized that they needed more contact hitters with speed on offense to take advantage of the field’s outfield gaps that tend to kill power but favor gap hitters… but didn’t also arrive at the conclusion that they should upgrade the defense with the addition of at least one more outfielder with the range to prevent opposing hitters from benefiting quite so readily from this particular stadium quirk.

It matters to me that the Twins will once again start the season with a new middle infield combination. I happen to be more of an optimist with regard to Alexi Casilla than many are and, while I’m on record as having preferred that the Twins hang on to JJ Hardy, I believe there’s been far more gnashing of teeth over his departure than is warranted. I suspect Tsuyoshi Nishioka will do just fine offensively and defensively… and is much more likely to bring stability to the middle infield for the next few seasons than either Hardy or Orlando Hudson would have. But regardless, yes, this new middle infield combination matters to me.

It WOULD matter to me if the Twins had nobody returning with a history of providing adequate performance at the back end of the bullpen. But while they won’t start the season with as many proven late inning options as they had at the end of 2010, the combination of Joe Nathan, Matt Capps and (to a somewhat lesser degree) Jose Mijares has demonstrated in the past that they are capable of getting a few outs toward the end of a ballgame. Even though Nathan’s healthy return to pre-injury status is not guaranteed and that, as is the case with Lexi, I’m a bigger fan of Matt Capps than most of Twinsville seems to be, I can’t honestly say I’d be a whole lot more comfortable with late inning options if any of the departing arms were still around. Some people act like Crain, Rauch, Guerrier and Fuentes never coughed up a game in their careers.

There are four open spots in the 2011 bullpen. All are long relief and middle inning positions. Who will fill those spots? I’m sorry… but I can do no better than turn to the wisdom of Bill Murray for a response. In his first leading role in the 1979 “classic” film, Meatballs, Murray captured my feelings perfectly when he said (repeatedly)… “It just doesn’t matter!… it just doesn’t matter!…”.

Will Glen Perkins or Alex Burnett or Jeff Manship or Rob Delaney be the long relief options… or will one of the current five starting pitchers get bumped to the pen if Pavano re-signs? Who cares? It just doesn’t matter! They’re going to be used when the starting pitcher gets shelled in the first three innings of a game the Twins are highly unlikely to come back and win anyway.

Who’s going to bridge the gap between a starting pitcher who labors through four or five innings and the set-up guys during a game that the offense is managing to keep close? Will it be Pat Neshek, Scott Diamond, Jim Hoey, or some free agent yet to be signed? I don’t know and it just doesn’t matter! Regardless of who fills those spots, I can guarantee you that sometimes they are going to pitch well and sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they will get lucky and sometimes they won’t. If they pitch poorly or are unlucky too often early in the season, one of the other candidates will be plugged in and get his shot. But, as Ed Thoma pointed out this week on his Baseball Outsider blog, it’s not like Gardy and Rick Anderson have never had to build a bullpen before.

Still… since so many people see the bullpen as an issue to get riled up about (and because I’m devoting 1,000 words or so to the topic here), I feel compelled to come up with at least one suggestion for the Twins to consider. So here it is.

Hiroyuki Kobayashi

Never heard of him? That’s OK.

Hiroyuki Kobayashi

Kobayashi is a Japanese free agent (which means he’s available to sign without having to go through the posting process), was a team mate of Nishioka’s with the Chiba Lotte Marines and does have some international experience as a member of the Japanese national team. After a few mediocre seasons as a starting pitcher under the Marines’ former manager, Bobby Valentine, Kobayashi was moved by Valentine’s replacement in to the closer role in 2010 and apparently performed well enough to help Chiba win the Japanese championship.

Reports are that he doesn’t throw extremely hard (fastball runs 89-91 mph) but mixes in several other pitches effectively enough to miss bats consistently (striking out around 8 hitters per 9 nine innings in his career).

Some people have lamented the Twins not being aggressive about signing Hideki Okajima or some other Japenese relief pitcher to perhaps minimize the cultural shock Nishioka is inevitably going to face next season. What better way to do that than to bring in one of his team mates?

Gotta be more important stuff, right?

That’s enough from me today. Now we can turn our attention to more important stuff… I’m not sure what that might be, but there has to be SOMETHING more important than finding out who gets the duty of carrying the backpack of goodies to the bullpen this season.

– JC