Results tagged ‘ spring training games ’

Manny Ramirez Was Almost a Twin

MannyRamirez.jpgIt’s true.  As Howard Sinker noted last Sunday (by the way, look who’s now on his blog roll), the Twins considered taking Manny in the third round of the 1991 amateur draft.  Scout Herb Stein (who pushed the organization to draft the likes of Rod Carew and Frank Viola) was heavily urging them to draft him, but the organization ultimately decided to pass, taking first-base prospect David McCarty instead.  Ramirez was drafted in the 13th round by the Indians and went on to be the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation (and arguably in baseball history), while McCarty went on to enjoy a career as a utility infielder, batting .242./.305/.351 in his eleven seasons with the Twins and Red Sox. 

One has to wonder what the Twins’ lineup would have looked like with Manny Ramirez, though.  Especially since that lineup would also have had David Ortiz.  I doubt the Twins would have won any more World Series championships (Manny is not a starting pitcher, after all), but perhaps they could have been spared so many losing seasons.  I’m not sure if that is such a good thing, however.  The Twins would never have been able to keep either Ramirez or Ortiz if they became the offensive powerhouses we know and love.  They would probably have been outbid by larger-market teams, and would have been forced to either trade each one for whatever prospects they could get (as they did Johan Santana) or simply lose them to free agency (like Torii Hunter).  Worse yet, those losing seasons have helped shaped the current roster.  Justin Morneau was a first-round pick in the 1999 draft (3rd overall) as was Joe Mauer (1st overall, 2001 draft).  Imagine the current lineup without either one.

  • Speaking of David Ortiz…

Big Papi was 2-for-3 with a two run homer against his former team in today’s 9-5 loss to the BoSox.  The pitchingOrtizManginHeyman2.jpg wasn’t great on either side, though the Twins were much worse.  Scott Baker was once again burned by his tendency to give up the long ball, surrendering the two-run blast to Ortiz and a solo shot to Jason Varitek.  Baker gave up four runs on seven hits overall, and walked one while striking out two in three innings.  Matt Guerrier wasn’t very sharp either, surrendering two two-run homers in one inning of relief.  This is not good news for someone who struggled mightily down the stretch last season, and is going to have to be a key part of the bullpen this year. Jose Mijares pitched better than he has in his past couple of appearances, but he still wasn’t terribly effective.  He surrendered one run on two hits and walked one in his one inning of work, though he did strike out two.  Brian Duensing and Bobby Keppel were probably the most effective pitchers for the Twins, as they were the only ones who didn’t give up any runs.

At least the offense has started showing some life, though. Other than Justin Morneau, that is.  Johnny Canuck has been struggling a bit at the plate and he was hitless in today’s game, striking out twice.  Denard Span seems to have found his swing, and went 2-for-3 with a solo homer off of Jonathan Papelbon.  Alexi Casilla has been getting hot lately, too, and went 4-for-4 with two stolen bases.  While I doubt the two of them will be able to maintain this torrid pace during the regular season, they should at least be good enough to keep their one-and-two slots in the lineup.

  • At least Pudge can go play for the Astros now

Thumbnail image for usa_wins.jpgTeam USA rallied from a two-run deficit to defeat the Puerto Ricans and advance to the semifinals in the WBC.  This was quite a game, with the Americans down two runs in the bottom of the ninth.  David Wright drove in the winning runs on a single, capping off one of the most dramatic rallies in the WBC (second only to the Netherlands/Dominican Republic) thus far. Okay, to be honest I didn’t actually watch this game, as I was watching the Wild pull off an impressive rally of their own, but it sounds like it was good.  And now I’m officially cheering for Team USA, which means they’ll probably get eliminated right away in the next round (I was previously cheering for the Canadians and the Dutch, after all).

Well, It Was a Good Ride While It Lasted

  • Dutch eliminated in WBC, 9-3

usa_wins.jpgTeam Hollandaise was sent packing in spectacular fashion by the heavy-hitting American team last night.  The USA pounded the Dutch pitchers for nine runs on twelve hits, including a two-run homer by Jimmy Rollins and a solo shot by Adam Dunn.  The Dutch, on the other hand, eked out a mere three runs (though they also had twelve hits).  Things got a little chippy in the eighth, when Bryan Englehardt spent a little too much time admiring his solo shot (the Dutch were down 8-1 at this point) off of reliever Matt Lindstrom.  Lindstrom proceeded to throw behind Vince Rooi, and both benches were warned. That was about as close to any actual fighting as the two sides got, and the Dutch would score one more run on a sac fly before the US put the game away in the bottom of the inning. 

As I’ve said before, the Americans had a lot more on the line in this game than the Dutch.  The US was absolutely embarrassed in the 2006 WBC when they failed to make it past the first round.  They had already been humiliated by the Puerto Ricans, and a loss by the underwhelming Netherlands team would have struck a blow to the already-flagging interest in the tournament on the part of American baseball fans.  The Dutch, on the other hand, weren’t even expected to win a game in the WBC, let alone knock off a Dominican team that was loaded with major-league talent.  Losing to the Americans will do nothing to diminish interest in baseball or the WBC in the Netherlands, considering that there wasn’t much to begin with.  

There is some bad news for Team USA (and the Marlins): Matt Lindstrom has a strained rotator cuff and will be unable to pitch for at least 10 days.  This isn’t the first time the Americans have suffered injuries in the WBC, Chipper Jones, Ryan Braun, and Dustin Pedroia have all suffered injuries of varying seriousness.  While none of these guys are likely miss any of the season, fans and baseball executives alike are all nervous about their favorite players suffering devastating injury in a tournament that isn’t very important to them.   This is one of the major criticisms of the WBC: that it is held during spring training, when guys aren’t quite in game-shape and are much more injury-prone.   It has gotten so bad that Team USA manager Davy Johnson has threatened to forfeit the tournament if anyone else gets hurt. 

  • Twins fall to Yankees 5-1

Perk_Goof.jpgI’m not going to harp on the lack of offensive production in Sunday’s game at Steinbrenner field, considering that the lineup was full of guys who have no chance to make the team this year (though the few regulars who were in did pretty well, except for Denard Span).  I’m also not going to rake anyone over the coals for the piss-poor defense, either.  While no Twins players were actually charged with any errors, those of us who actually saw the game know better. There were some defensive miscues by the infield, and a dropped pop fly by SS Trevor Plouffe that led to some not-so-earned Yankee runs.  While Glen Perkins officially gave up three earned runs on five hits, in truth he probably gave up one earned run on three hits.  Other than that, the pitching was really good (aside from Bobby Keppel, but he’s probably going to start the season in AAA).  Nick Blackburn pitched two spotless innings in relief, and gave up only one hit while recording a strikeout.  Blackburn is scheduled to make his next start on Tuesday, as the soreness in his knee is apparently gone now.  Philip Humber will start in his place today against Baltimore.

By the way, Perk is apparently fine after getting hit in the calf by Hideki Matsui’s broken bat (he even got Matsui to sign it).  He wanted to come back out and pitch the fourth, but the team decided not to take any chances on the projected fourth starter for a spring exhibition game and put in Nick Blackburn instead.  He should make his next start against the Yankees on Friday.

Andy Pettite looked really sharp on the mound for the Yanks, shutting out the Twins for three innings.  More importantly, though, Jorge Posada caught three innings without experiencing any pain in his shoulder.  He also went 2-for-2 and plated a pair of runs.  That is very good news for Yankee fans who already have enough to worry about as it is.

  • Twins vs O’s

The Twins were hitting! And not stranding that many runners for once!  Most importantly,capt.7b71d6ac29fb4dc6906798f0d2083c89.puerto_rico_twins_spring_baseball_flsr109.jpg Denard Span went 2-for-3 with a triple, which is his first extra-base hit of the season I believe.  Span has been struggling at the plate so far, and it appeared in yesterday’s game against the Yankees as though his timing was off.  It was pretty clear that he was seeing the ball well, as he was taking a lot of pitches and was working some deep counts.  However, he would end up either grounding out or popping out, and it appeared he was a little in front of the ball.  Hopefully Span has finally found his swing.  Joe Crede hit a two-run homer in the third with two outs, that put the Twins on top for good.  Crede hasn’t been having a good spring, either, but considering that he only played in 91 games last year because of his back, and that he tends to be a bit of a slow starter, it’s a little too early to panic just yet.

And Philip Humber pitched well, giving up no hits and no runs while striking out two in his two innings of work.  Actually, the only runs given up by Twins pitchers were by guys who will most likely spend the season in Rochester:  Armando Gabino (leadoff homer to Aubrey Huff) and Sean Henn (another leadoff homer to catcher Guillermo Rodriguez).  Oh, and Rule 5 draft pick Jason Jones gave up one run on four hits in two innings.  I’m not sure if Jones is going to remain on the roster or not.  Although the Twins will have to offer him back to the Yankees if they choose to send him down, it doesn’t sound like the Yanks are too interested in him so some sort of deal might be worked out.

  • Still No Mauer News

Thumbnail image for mauer.jpg 
There’s still no official word on what is ailing Joe Mauer.  According to the Star Tribune, he was in the clubhouse this morning and seemed to be in a good mood, so maybe there isn’t anything seriously wrong.  While it would be nice to know what, if anything, is going on, I doubt it is serious otherwise there would have been some sort of announcement by now.  At least that’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

Jose Mijares Is Not Ready for Prime Time

  • Jose Mijares gives up four runs in one inning, Twins lose 9-5

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for xIWBYjDe.jpgWell, today’s game against Florida started out really good.  The offense finally started coming to life, and Kevin Slowey looked really sharp out on the mound.  The Twins had jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, and the relief pitchers were effectively shutting down the Marlins’ offense.  Until Jose Mijares came in to pitch the seventh, that is.  Mijares gave up four earned runs on three hits and recorded only one out.  He was yanked in favor of knuckleballer R. A. Dickey, who quickly mopped up the mess (before getting into trouble himself in the eighth). What was once a five-run lead became a mere one-run lead.  Then it became a four run deficit due to some defensive miscues by, well, a bunch of guys who have no chance at making the team anyway so I guess it doesn’t matter that much. 

Mijares was very impressive with his few appearances with the Twins when he was called upvsmaga93.jpg in September.  The hard-throwing lefty gave up one earned run on three hits in ten relief appearances last year, posting an ERA+ of 465.  His stuff was absolutely filthy, and he wasn’t afraid to challenge big-league hitters even if he was behind in the count.  Mijares will probably be a dominant set-up man, and could perhaps take over for Joe Nathan at some point.  However, he needs a lot more work. He showed up grossly overweight at camp this year, after the coaching staff told him he needed to get in shape during the offseason.   Although Mijares was very good in his first appearance, clearly his lack of physical fitness is affecting his effectiveness.  He’s labored in his past couple of appearances, and has just generally looked like he was out of breath out there on the mound.  It wouldn’t be so bad, but Mijares refuses to take responsibility for his lack of physical conditioning and instead blames a sore ankle for his poor performance (um, a sore ankle wouldn’t cause you to huff and puff after throwing a single pitch).  It seems as though Mijares thought he was a lock to make the active roster out of Spring Training (despite Bill Smith’s assertion to the contrary) and simply failed to put forth the effort necessary to compete for a job.  The best thing for the young lefty at this point would be to send him to AAA for more seasoning.  He certainly can’t be relied upon to pitch out of the bullpen in such poor shape, and he really needs to learn to listen to the coaching staff.

  • Francisco Liriano pitches effectively enough, Twins lose 1-0 to Reds

Thumbnail image for p1franciscolirianosi.jpgFrancisco Liriano wasn’t that sharp against the Reds yesterday, but he was still effective enough.  His one bad mistake was a solo homer to Jonny Gomes, but that was the only run he allowed in 3 1/3 innings of work.  Frankie struggled to locate his fastball and his changeup wasn’t terribly impressive, but he still only gave up three hits and struck out five batters.  Although he isn’t exactly the same pitcher he was before his Tommy-John surgery in 2006, Liriano is on track to become one of the top pitchers in the American League.  While it’s a bit premature to say he will be a legitimate Cy Young contender, I do think that Frankie will at least challenge Scott Baker for the top spot in the rotation.

Jesse Crain looked really good on the mound yesterday, too.  Crain has been having a really good spring, and his stuff was electric when he pitched for team Canada in the WBC.  This is very good news, considering how awful the bullpen was last season.  The team is still in need of a set-up man, and Crain is making a very good case for himself to earn that job.

I was going to complain about the lack of offensive production from the regulars yesterday, but Micah Owings and Edison Volquez are both some of the best young pitchers in the National League, so I guess I won’t whine too much.  Besides, they more than made up for it in today’s game against the Marlins.  Too bad the defense couldn’t make it stick.

Scott Baker is a good pitcher, but…

  • Pirates victimize the projected Opening Day starter

PH2007083102132.jpgThe Pirates hit three home runs off of Baker yesterday, two of which came from former Twin Craig Monroe.  The Twins traded for Monroe prior to the 2008 season, and he was a bust.  He batted .212/.274/.405 before being released just after the All-Star break.  This is one of those deals that didn’t make a whole lot of sense when Smith pulled the trigger, as it appeared that Monroe was pretty much washed up at the time.  The reasoning behind the deal was pretty sound:  the Twins needed a right-handed power bat and the Cubs weren’t asking much in return.  However, Monroe clearly was not the bat they were looking for.  Other than his monster season in 2006, he had never hit more than 25 home runs in a year, and the most he had ever hit was 22.  But I digress, this post is supposed to be about Scott Baker!

This game highlighted one of the 27 year old righty’s major weaknesses:  the tendency to give up the gopher ball.  Baker gave up 20 home runs in his 28 starts last season, and is projected to give up anywhere from 19-22 again this year.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that his fastball isn’t very fast, usually topping out at around 91 mph.  It (and all of his other pitches for that matter), is very effective if he can locate it, which is something he obviously struggled with yesterday.   Still, Baker has a solid K/BB ratio of 3.36 and doesn’t put a lot of runners on base, so the damage is usually limited to solo homers (as all of the Pirates’ homers were yesterday).

  • Joe Mauer may or may not be ready for Opening Day

joe_mauer.jpgAccording to the Star Tribune, Mauer is currently in Baltimore getting a second opinion on his back problem.  This was apparently a mutual decision between the player and the organization, who are taking no chances with their All-Star catcher.  We should know more about the injury and if Mauer will be ready for Opening Day once the results of the exam come back.  However, even if Mauer isn’t ready at the start of the season, the Twins aren’t completely sunk.  They do have some other good options behind the plate:

  1. Mike Redmond:  Red Dog has always been a solid backup catcher, and could probably handle all of the catching duties himself if he were asked.  But he’s 37 years old, and though he would probably post better numbers than he did last year with more playing time, it’s unlikely his body could withstand the grind of catching six nights a week.

  2. Jose Morales:  Having Morales and Redmond share the catching duties is probably the best option.  Morales showed a lot of promise when he was first called up in 2007, but suffered torn ligaments in his ankle when he was rounding the bases in his first major league game.  This injury ended up sidelining him for most of the season last year, but he had more surgery and is now apparently pain free.
  3. Drew Butera:  The son of former major-league catcher Sal Butera, the 24-year old prospect has been having a pretty good spring, though he’s only started five games so far.  He isn’t one of the top-ranked prospects in the organization, though, and has yet to advance past AA ball.  He would probably only get called up if Mauer is out and the Twins needed a third catcher.     
  4. Wilson Ramos:  Ramos is the catcher-of-the-future should the Twins decide they cannot afford to keep Joe Mauer.  I’ve written about Ramos before, and he’s been pretty impressive during camp.  Not only has he been hitting very well, he has also demonstrated an ability to handle the big-league pitching staff.  Naturally this has led some people to speculate that Ramos might get the call if Mauer will indeed miss some of the season. However, Ramos is only 21 years old has yet to advance higher than Advanced A ball, so he’s probably not quite ready to make his big-league debut just yet.  Very few prospects can make the jump from the low minors to the major leagues successfully, and even fewer can do so while playing the most difficult position on the field.  It would be best to allow Ramos to develop further, and to let Morales or Butera split time with Redmond at backtstop.
  5. Pudge Rodriguez:  Do. Not. Want.  Yes, Pudge has been tearing the cover off the ball in the WBC, but he’s been declining both offensively and defensively over the past few years (of course, his decline might have something to do with his alleged use of PEDs).  He’s a year older than Redmond, and clearly his best days are behind him.  Pudge batted .276/.319/.374 with 7 home runs and an OPS+ of  87 between Detroit and the Yankees last year.  While adjusting to a new team after being traded might have affected his numbers some (he was clearly better in Detroit than New York), the effects were likely minimal because he wasn’t much better the year before that.  In comparison, Redmond hit .287/.321/.333 with an OPS+ of 80 in the 38 starts he made behind the plate last season.  The Twins would be better off saving their money and letting Redmond and one of their prospects handle the catching duties.


  • Wild fall to Avalanche 2-1

Ugh, just when I thought they couldn’t possibly play any worse, the Wild go and lay an egg against Colorado at Pepsi Center.  The Wild were pretty bad against the Sharks on Tuesday, but at least they showed some life in the third period.  They would score three goals in that period and tie the game, only to fall in OT when San Jose D Christian Erhoff picked off an errant pass by Antti Miettinen and scored the winning goal.

The Mild (yes, that’s what I’m calling them from now on) never showed up against the Avs last night, and this was a game they absolutely had to win.  The Avs are the worst team in the Western Conference, and it appears that Minnesota took their opponent lightly.  They got off to a quick 1-0 lead, but never mounted much of a threat since then.  Poor Niklas Backstrom was under siege all night long, but he managed to turn aside 40 shots, while his counterpart Peter Budaj faced a mere 16 shots on goal the entire game.

How bad was the Wild’s offense last night?  About as bad as poor Patrik Stefan:

I never thought I’d say this (Okay, I’ve been saying this for awhile, but humor me), but it looks like our guys are just playing out the season now.  This team can’t even win two games in a row (though they obviously have no problem putting together a losing streak), how in the world are they going to make a successful run for a playoff spot?

  • Speaking of playing out the season…

The Wolves dominated the Grizzlies 104-79 at Target Center on Wednesday night, snapping an eight-game losing streak.  I was starting to get kind of excited about the season and hoped our guys could finish at .500 for a change.  Then I looked at the standings and realized the Wolfies haven’t even won 20 games this year.  Oh well, at least we have that high draft pick to look forward to.  And the Wolves aren’t even the worst team in the league, so there’s that.  And Al Jefferson’s rehab is apparently going really well so far, so he should be back next season.  Maybe then they won’t post a losing record for once!

Oh yeah, and Glen Taylor has no intention of letting Kevin McHale come anywhere near the front office again, so I guess there’s some hope for our Wolfies.

Long Live the Orange

  • Great Googly Moogly: Netherlands upset Dominican Republic in 11 innings

netherlandssmall_84508.jpgThis has to be one of the greatest baseball games I have ever seen, period (boy, am I glad I decided to spring for that subscription even though I don’t have any money).  Actually, most of these WBC games have been better than a lot of World Series games in recent years. It’s been a series of stunning upsets so far:  Italy over Canada, Australia over Mexico (and nearly over Cuba, too) and now the Dutch have knocked off the Dominican Republic.  I don’t think anybody gave Team Hollandaise a chance to win this one, I know I certainly didn’t.  I thought the DR lineup was too potent, and that they were going to come out swinging. And I was partly right, they did come out swinging, but unfortunately everything they hit barely made it to the warning track.  I wouldn’t exactly characterize this game as a pitcher’s duel; the DR kept threatening to break the game open, but the Dutch pitching staff kept making pitches when they needed to.  The Dominican staff was brilliant (somebody give Pedro Martinez a job) through 11 innings, who recorded a combined 15 strikeouts (10 of which were by Ubaldo Jimenez! That has to be some sort of record) and held the Dutch hitters to a mere five hits.

When the Dominicans scored the first run in the top of the 11th on an error by Gene Kingsale, I figured that the Dutch were done for.  They don’t have a potent offense, and they hadn’t been able to manufacture any runs against any of the DR pitchers.  Carlos Marmol was coming in, and it looked like the game was over.  But then Sidney de Jong hit a leadoff double to deep left center, and suddenly the Dutch were back in business.  de Jong then advanced to third on a groundout, and all of the sudden the tying run was 90 feet away with only one out.  Kingsale, who made the crucial error in the top of the inning quickly redeemed himself by singling to right, and started one of the most miraculous rallies I have ever seen.  Kingsale advanced to second on a bad pickoff attempt by Marmol and then came around to score the winning run on an error by first baseman Willy Aybar, who will be known as the Dominican Bill Buckner from now on.

And to Mike Francesca or any other blowhards who whine about how the WBC is essentially a series of meaningless exhibition games:  kindly shut the hell up.  This game meant a lot to the Dominican Republic, a proud people with a great baseball tradition.  And now it sure as hell means a lot to the Dutch.

  • Crisis Averted (For Now): Joe Mauer is apparently fine

mauer.jpgFurther testing has revealed that Joe Mauer simply has an inflamed sacroiliac joint in his back.  His doctors are going to put him on stronger medication, and he ‘s going to rest for a few days, and that should be that.  The pain he’s been experiencing has nothing to do with his kidney surgery (evidently it is located in his right buttock), and once again, he should be ready by opening day.  The good news is that the pain hasn’t been holding him back from participating in most baseball-related activities.  He can hit, catch, and throw with ease, but wasn’t able to run very well (which is kind of important if you intend to get on base).

Obviously this is great news, though I’m still a little concerned that Mauer might not be ready for Opening Day and that he will continue to have problems throughout the regular season (that awful Dome turf certainly isn’t going to help).  The lineup has been struggling to score runs without the M&MVP boys, though they have still managed to win most of their spring training games.  The Twins have been stranding a lot of runners, though, especially in today’s game against Baltimore when they left 29 men on base.  While the pitching has been good enough to keep them in the games so far, the Twins might as well forget about making the playoffs if they don’t score any runs.

More importantly, whether or not Mauer can stay healthy this year will weigh heavily on the organization’s decision to offer him a contract extension.  By all accounts, the Twins are interested in signing him, and Joe reportedly wants to stay, but it doesn’t make sense to spend so much money on a player who might spend half of the season on the DL.  I’ve weighed in on the pros and cons of signing Mauer to a long-term deal before, and I’m extremely torn about the idea.  On the one hand, Joe is one of the best catchers in baseball, and nobody wants him to remain a Twin more than I do.  But not if he isn’t going to be healthy.

I Know it’s Still Early, But…

  • Twins’ pitching has been pretty impressive so far

p1franciscolirianosi.jpgOnce again, the pitching staff just missed a no-hitter in yesterday’s game against Baltimore, when Matt Wieters singled off of Bobby Keppel in the bottom of the ninth. This is actually the second time this spring that the Twins have taken a no-hitter into the late innings. Francisco Liriano was perfect in this outing and recorded five strikeouts.  Joe Nathan pitched brilliantly too, recording no hits and no walks while striking out two in his lone inning of work. Better yet, his shoulder doesn’t seem to be bothering him at all anymore, which is great because the Twins don’t anything else to worry about right now. 

Kevin Slowey pitched pretty well against the Rays today, giving up two runs on four hits, but striking out four batters in 3 1/3 innings of work.  The bullpen looked pretty good once again, too, including Matt Guerrier.  Matty G struck out one and walked one in 2/3 of an inning, but didn’t give up any hits or runs.  Actutally, his worst performance so far this spring was probably against the Pirates, when he gave up two runs on two hits and walked one in one inning.   I think that, as long as he can return to his previous role in the seventh and doesn’t have to pitch too many innings this year, Guerrier will likely bounce back from his awful 2008 campaign.

  • The offense, however, is not

Carlos Gomez bunting.jpgIt’s a good thing the pitching staff has been so stingy about giving up runs; the offense has been reluctant to score any.  I realize that most of the regulars are playing in the WBC, and so the offense might be a little anemic when it’s being carried by the likes of Carlos Gomez.  Still, some key players are still in camp and haven’t been terribly productive yet. Michael Cuddyer has been a miserable .188/.235/.313 so far, and Joe Crede has recorded only one hit in his 14 plate appearances (though he has two walks).  These guys are both coming off of injury-shortened seasons last year, and it will probably take awhile for them to get comfortable at the plate.  In particular, Crede’s back doesn’t seem to be bothering him anymore, so it will probably just be a matter of time before he starts hitting.

I am more worried about Denard Span, however.  As I’ve written elsewhere, he was a great leadoff hitter for the Twins last season, something the lineup has lacked since the departure of Doug Mientkiewicz in 2003.  However, he never had that much success at the plate in the minor leagues, and so I have been concerned that last season might have been a fluke.  So far, that concern has been real since Span has only hit .111/.111/.235, though he’s drawn four walks in 18 at-bats.  Span has grounded out 9 times, and flown out 5 times, so it appears as though he’s simply hitting the ball to a fielder.  This might be an issue with his mechanics, and I would much rather he go through these problems here in camp than during the regular season (or the middle of the playoff chase).

The news isn’t all bad, though.  Delmon Young, another big question mark entering into spring training, seems to be taking Tony Oliva’s advice to heart:

Young apparently wasn’t very happy with his disappointing performance last year.  While he hit a respectable .290/.336/.405 with 10 homers overall, most of his offensive production came in the second half.  Before the All-Star break he was a mediocre .286/.330/.390 and had shown little power.  Worse yet, he had struck out 62 times in that period and seemed to be struggling to find his swing.  His name had been mentioned in several trade rumors during the offseason, and it looked as though he would be out of a job with the crowded outfield situation.  But so far Young has responded by tearing the cover off the ball, hitting .529/.550/.789 and has driven in five runs in his 19 plate appearances so far.  Three of his ten hits have been for extra bases, and his only homer of the season is the two-run bomb he hit today against the Rays.  He still hasn’t shown a ton of patience at the plate, though, and has yet to draw a walk (though he has yet to record a strikeout, so I guess that’s progress).

Jason Kubel has been a menace at the plate too, hitting .400/.538/.800 in his ten plate appearances thus far.  Kubel doesn’t have a lot of extra base hits yet, just a double and a solo homer, but I think those will come.  At least he’s showing more confidence anyway.

  • This is not good news at all

Joe Mauer is apparently still having a lot of back pain and is scheduled to have a magnetic resonance anthrogram on Wednesday.  Obviously we don’t know yet what, if anything, is wrong, but it doesn’t look like Mauer will be ready for Opening Day.  Mauer swings what is arguably the most valuable bat in the lineup, so losing him for any part of the season would be a huge blow.  I will hold off any speculation as to what the Twins will do without Mauer in the lineup until we know if indeed he will be out of the lineup.

Meh, I knew they were going to lose eventually

  • Red Sox end Twinkies’ perfect Grapefruit League record

redsux.jpgToday’s game against the Sox was actually a very close pitcher’s duel, well until Matt Guerrier came in to pitch the sixth that is.  He promptly walked the first two batters he faced, and Julio Lugo reached on an error.  Reigning MVP Dustin “The Jockey” Pedroia then drove in the first run on a sac fly.  YOOOOUUUUK!!! hit the game-winning solo homer off of Craig Breslow in the seventh, but Breslow quickly regained his composure and didn’t allow another hit.

xIWBYjDe.jpgBesides those two notable exceptions, the Twins’ pitching was pretty impressive today.  Kevin Slowey looked as though he’d been pitching all winter and was perfect in his two innings of work.  He recorded only one strikeout, but it was a big one against David Ortiz.  Glen Perkins pitched a shutout in his three innings of relief, allowing three hits but no walks and striking out two.  Philip Humber was much better in his second relief appearance, only allowing one hit and no walks.

The Twins couldn’t muster much offense against the Sox, withgogo_steals.jpg Carlos Gomez recording the only hit through six innings (it was an infield hit, naturally).  Justin Morneau was limited to a single, and Joe Crede still doesn’t look comfortable at the plate.  I’m not too concerned about the lack of production from some of the Twins’ heavy hitters just yet, as it’s still very early in the spring.  The closer it gets to Opening Day, however, the more anxious I will become.

  • Playoffs?!

“I just hope we can win a game”, indeed.  The Wild aren’t technically out of the playoff picture just yet, but they might as well be.  They lost another must-win game against Edmonton last night, and neither the goaltending nor the defense were particularly sharp.  The Mild Wild are currently in the midst of a six-game, ten-day road trip against Western Conference foes that will determine if they will even make the playoffs this year.  Up next are some very difficult games against Vancouver (have I mentioned how much I hate the Canucks? Because I do) and San Jose.  Good thing my Mom has decided against instituting a swear jar, although sports and my slow-as-molasses-in-Janurary internet connection are really the only things that make me use bad words.  And that’s probably often enough to buy a new car.

This is why I have grey hair

Well, it was ugly but the Twins took the first game of a back-to-back series against the Yankees.  The pitching was less than stellar, and the key members of the 2009 lineup didn’t produce much (besides Morneau and Kubel). Still, our Twinkies managed to battle back from an early three-run deficit and win 5-4.  Of course, it helped that the Yankees were without most of their star players in the lineup, the exception being Jorge Posada (who was 2-for-3). 

  • Scott Baker was terrible

PH2007083102132.jpgThe projected Opening Day starter struggled to find the strike zone, and to keep the ball down.  He was hit pretty hard, giving up three runs on six hits in his two innings of work (one of which was a solo shot to Justin Leone).  Baker certainly wasn’t the only one who struggled, and the pitching in general wasn’t anything to get excited about.  Brian Duensing wasn’t very sharp either, giving up two walks and two hits in his brief relief stint, but at least he didn’t allow any runs.   Kevin Mulvey, one of the prospects acquired in the Santana trade, probably put forth the best performance, giving up one hit in two innings and striking out one. 

Mike Gosling made things much more exciting than they needed to be in the bottom of the ninth, loading up the bases with nobody out.   He might have gotten out of the inning without any damage if Danny Valencia had not made a crucial error at third, but as it is he only allowed one run.

Overall, six Twins’ pitchers combined to give up four runs on fourteen hits while walking five.  Were it not for some timely hitting by their minor league prospects (!) the Twins would have lost this one for sure.

  • How about Wilson Ramos?

The catcher-of-the-future gunned down two baserunners, and wasn’t half bad at the plate either.  He drew a walk and ended up scoring the winning run off of a Dustin Martin sac fly. If the Twins decide they would rather not commit a ton of money to Joe Mauer, they will probably still be in good hands with this guy.

By the way, the Twins’ radio broadcasters John Gordon and Dan Gladden reported that Mauer has been increasing his workouts.  He caught an 18-minute bullpen session yesterday, and apparently felt fine afterwards.  This is obviously great news since it means Mauer’s recovery is on track and will probably be ready for Opening Day.

  • More Kubel, please

It was Jason Kubel’s solo shot in the sixth that got the rally started.   This was his first homermlb_g_kubel_200.jpg of the year, and came with two outs (and no runners on, unfortunately).  Kubel has the potential to be a 20+ homer guy, so hopefully this is the start of something good.

Joe Crede didn’t do much in his much-anticipated debut with the Twins, drawing a walk in his first at bat but then striking out and grounding into an inning-ending double play.  It seems like his timing was off, but that should come with more at-bats.  At least his back doesn’t seem to be bothering him anymore.

Also failing to do much at the plate were infielders Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla, and Casilla committed an egregious throwing error on top of it.  By the way, I think it’s absolutely criminal that Nick Punto gets paid more than Orlando Hudson.  The Twins would’ve been much better off signing him and moving Casilla to short than re-signing the offensively-challenged Punto.  Besides, it’s not like Punto is any less injury-prone.

The battle for the starting outfield job has gotten more interesting.  Delmon Young was much more productive in his second start, going 2-for-2 and driving in a run, though he has yet to hit one out of the park.  I am still not very impressed with his defense, though he hasn’t been a liability in the field so far. He will likely win the starting job, since Carlos Gomez has yet to get a hit.  Gomez drew a walk in his second at bat, but that was about all he did at the plate.  He did make a spectacular play to throw out Angel Berroa trying to stretch a single in to a double, though.   It won’t matter how good he is in the field, however, if he can’t hit the ball!

  • Okay, I’ll say something nice about the Yankees

I was really impressed with Brett Gardner.   I don’t know how he factors into the Yankees’ plans this season, but they could use someone like him at the top of the lineup.  He’s got speed, he gets on base a lot, and he’s good in the outfield, too.   I know Melky Cabrera has more major league experience, but it sounds like the organization is getting frustrated with his work ethic (or the lack thereof) and might consider giving Gardner a shot.

Tomorrow’s game against the Yanks promises to be even more exciting, with Francisco Liriano scheduled to pitch against Joba Chamberlain.  I doubt the Twins are going to win this one, but you never know. I didn’t think they were going to win this game, either, especially not after they were down three runs. I know I shouldn’t care about spring training games so much, but the other Minnesota sports franchises haven’t been giving me much to cheer about lately.  The Wild probably won’t make the playoffs, the Gophers have likely played themselves out of a NCAA tournament bid, and the Wolves are battling with the Thunder for last place in the Northwest Division.  A Twins win looks pretty good right now, even if it doesn’t really count.

2-0, Baby!!!

That’s right, the Twins are now perfect in meaningless games against opponent’s B-squads.   Today’s game against the Reds wasn’t broadcast anywhere, but it sounds like our guys played well.  The offense came to life, scoring 10 runs, and the pitching (with one exception) was stellar.  Okay, let’s just start the regular season right now, I don’t want to wait anymore!

Here’s the important stuff:

  • That’s no way to earn a spot in the bullpen, young man

humber.jpgPhilip Humber gave up four runs on four hits in his one inning of work, and plunked a guy on top of it.  None of these hits left the park, but this still isn’t very good news for someone who is competing for Boof Bonser’s former job.  Or wait, maybe it is.  Anyway, he hasn’t completely blown his audition yet.  Jason Jones didn’t inspire much confidence yesterday, though he didn’t give up as many runs.  R. A. Dickey, who’s also in the mix, pitched a scoreless inning against the Reds today, striking out three and giving up one hit.  By the way, if you’ve ever wondered how to throw a knuckleball, Dickey gives an instructional here.

  • The rest of the bullpen was just fine, though

Matt Guerrier put up a zero in his single inning of work.  I don’t know if he looked very sharp,matty_g.jpg but I’m going to guess that he was pretty good since he didn’t give up any hits or walks.  Craig Breslow also pitched a scoreless fourth, with one strikeout.  Jose Mijares is starting to look like he’s the real deal, pitching one scoreless frame and striking out two while walking one. 

Also noteworthy is the performance of two of the Twins’ most intriguing pitching prospects:  Anthony Swarzak and Armando Gabino.  Swarzak pitched a scoreless eighth, while striking out one.  He will most likely start the season in AAA, but should be first in line in case someone gets injured.  Gabino also pitched pretty well in the ninth, though he did give up a walk.  He’ll probably advance to AAA this year.

  • There’s the offense I was looking for

brian_buscher.jpgThe Twins had an offensive explosion this afternoon, tagging four different Reds pitchers with ten earned runs.  And these were not all bloop hits, either.  The Twins homered twice, one was a two-run shot by Brian Buscher, the other was a grand-salami by prospect Brock Peterson.  In all, eleven different players combined for ten runs on fourteen hits, though they only drew two walks,  And struck out six times, leaving nineteen men on base.  

I am not at all worried about what will happen to the Twins if Joe Crede turns out to be a bust because Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher have been tearing the cover off the ball so far. Both hadbrendan_harris.jpg very productive at-bats again in today’s game.  Buscher went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer and Harris also went 2-for-3 with a double. However, it’s not just the spring training games that have sold me on the former third-base platoon partners.  Given how effective Buscher has been against righties (.297/.354/.411) and Harris against lefties(.295/.360/.440), the Twins will be just fine if they can utilize the two effectively.  Buscher is kind of a long shot to make the team now, with the signing of Crede, but if he keeps hitting like this the front office will have no choice (I prefer a deeper bench anyway, especially since there’s no need to carry more than 11 pitchers this season).

One of the Twins’ biggest question marks, Carlos Gomez, didn’t do anything. Instead, he went 0-3 in his first spring-training start and though he didn’t record a strikeout, he didn’t draw any walks, either. That is no way to earn a starting job, young man.

Yesterday, Glen Perkins pitched two scoreless innings and only gave up one hit.  Today, Nick Blackburn pitched two perfect innings.  I know this is a small sample size, and these are only spring training games, but it’s encouraging that the two most questionable members of the starting rotation are off to such a good start.  I would prefer to not have to worry about the starters this year. I have a feeling the bullpen is once again going to keep me from sleeping at night.

  • Boof Bonser’s agent isn’t very happy with the decision to delay surgery

Thumbnail image for boof.jpgBonser’s agent, Larry Reynolds, expressed frustration with the Twins’ organization and its handling of his client’s injuries.  He felt that surgery should have been performed much sooner, preferably right after the season was over.  This is not the first time the Twins have come under fire for their handling of a pitcher’s injury.  Armchair physicians everywhere were quick to question team doctors when they told Pat Neshek to put off surgery in favor of rehabilitation, and Neshek ended up having surgery anyway.

However, these two cases are very different.  The Twins knew that Neshek had a partially torn UCL, but felt that rehab would be a better option than surgery at that point.  Neshek got a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews (yes, that Dr. James Andrews), who agreed with the team doctors.  Neshek’s rehab was going really well until he started throwing off the mound, when he completely tore the ligament and was then forced to have surgery.  Whether or not Neshek should have had the surgery in the first place is certainly debatable, but at the time the partial tear in the ligament didn’t seem serious enough to require an operation.

Bonser, on the other hand, was much more difficult to diagnose.&n
bsp; He started having soreness in his throwing shoulder towards the end of the season, but an MRI and an X-ray failed to show anything serious.  The team doctors thought it was just tendinitis, and prescribed rest.  It wasn’t until Boof arrived at camp and started his throwing program that his problems started to resurface.  Even then, no structural damage showed up on a second MRI and so the team decided that exploratory surgery was necessary to diagnose the problem.   Unfortunately, the operation revealed partial tears in his labum and rotator cuff that will sideline him for the rest of the season.  In this case, the team probably did the right thing.  Unless a tear shows up during diagnostic testing, there is no reason to take such drastic measures.  It’s also possible that the injuries didn’t occur until after Bonser started throwing again (it would be very difficult to finish the season with a torn rotator cuff, after all). 

Even if the surgery had been performed right after the season was over, as Reynolds suggested, there’s no guarantee that Boof would be ready to pitch this season.  He would probably have to spend most of the season rehabbing his shoulder in AAA, not pitching out of the bullpen.  At least this way he should be ready by Opening Day of the 2010 season.

Well, that’s not such a bad way to start things  off

Yes, I realize it was just a meaningless spring training game, but beating the Red Sox 5-2 is a good way to start (sorry, Julia, Elizabeth, and Ben).  I didn’t actually get to see the game, I just listened to it on the radio.  Radio does have its limitations and I couldn’t actually see the pitches or any of the hits, but I got the impression that they played pretty well overall.  Please feel free to correct me on anything I might have gotten wrong and to add things I might have forgotten.

Here are some things I noticed:

  • Is Joe Nathan just rusty?

Please tell me this is just rust.  After his struggles midway through the regular season last year, I’m not so sure.  Yes, I know he only gave up one run on two hits, but it sounded as though he was struggling to find the strike zone.  The announcers were complaining that the umpire wasn’t calling strikes, but it didn’t seem to be a problem for the other pitchers.  Oh God, the last thing I need is to have to worry about our All-Star closer.

I would feel much, much better if the Twins would go out and get Juan Cruz.  But they’re not going to, so never mind.

  • Luis Ayala actually pitched well

At least that was the impression I got from John Gordon and Dan Gladden.   He didn’t strike out anyone, but it sounded like his pitches weren’t hit very hard.  I know this is a small sample size, and I don’t think he faced any of the Sox’s heavy hitters, but it is encouraging nonetheless.

  • The Twins’ offense was deceptively productive

I’m not going to say that they were hitting well.  A lot of their hits seemed to be of the bloop variety, which has a lot more to do with luck than skill. Besides, most of their runs came off of Tim Wakefield, who they tend to hit hard.  They struggled to do much of anything against the Sox’s good pitchers.  Justin Morneau and Brian Buscher were the only ones who hit anything that hard through eight innings, but nothing left the park.  I am really hoping that this isn’t a precursor for the rest of the season.

Oooh, I almost forgot. Third-baseman-of-the-future (probably) Danny Valencia had a very productive night at the plate.  He was 2-for-2 with a pair of singles.

  • Everybody except Joe Nathan pitched well

Glen Perkins sounded like he was sharp through two innings, only surrendering two hits.  It also sounded like Jesse Crain’s fastball was back up in the mid-90s, also a very good sign.  Probably the only pitcher who struggled as much as Nathan was Jason Jones, the new guy.  He pitched himself into a bases-loaded, one-out jam before inducing a groundball double-play to end the inning (but not before surrendering the second run of the game).  Mike Gosling, Bobby Keppel, and Sean Henn also pitched decently, with Henn recording the save.

The Twins face the Cincinnati Reds tomorrow afternoon, but the game isn’t being broadcast anywhere.  I am not sure who is getting the start tomorrow, either.  I would like to see some better hitting from, well, pretty much everybody in the lineup.  Joe Crede doesn’t make his debut with the club until Friday’s game against the Yankees.  That will be interesting to watch, indeed.

That’s all I got for now.  I’ll try to post updates on the Bonser and Cruz situations.  Neither one is likely to change much in the next few days.