Twins 4, Mariners 1
Let's get right to the bullet points, shall we?
Ron Gardenhire, like Tom Kelly before him, likes to get as many people as possible involved on getaway day. With Joe Mauer on the bench anyway after two straight days behind the plate, Gardenhire took last night as an opportunity to get cute with his lineup.
LF Shannon Stewart
2B Nick Punto
CF Torii Hunter
1B Justin Morneau
DH Matthew LeCroy
RF Jacque Jones
3B Michael Cuddyer
C Mike Redmond
SS Juan Castro
Despite Luis Rivas and Jason Bartlett both being right-handed hitters who are off to good starts, Gardenhire sat them against left-handed starter Bobby Madritsch. Lew Ford, a right-handed hitter who has extremely good numbers against southpaws in his career, also found himself on the bench. Meanwhile, Jacque Jones started against a tough lefty despite horrible career numbers against southpaws, in part because Gardenhire always starts him against lefties and in part because Jones hit a homer off lefty Matt Thornton the night before.
Jones ended up going 1-for-3 with an RBI, although his one hit (a bunt single in the seventh inning) came against Ryan Franklin, a right-handed pitcher. He was 0-for-2 with a strikeout against Madritsch. Juan Castro and Nick Punto, the replacements for Bartlett and Rivas, went a combined 2-for-6 with two walks and two runs scored. So for one game at least, the lineup shuffling worked out pretty well.
Castro, our million-dollar supposed defensive whiz utility infielder who can't hit a lick, botched his first fielding chance of the season in the first inning, misplaying a relatively tough grounder in the hole. I point this out not because it was a big deal or a horrible play (it was called a hit, after all), but because of how little value Castro has to the team if he isn't providing incredible defense. (In all fairness, he made a couple of very nice plays on grounders in the fifth inning.)
For a guy who wasn't even with the team until days before the season, Wilson Valdez looked pretty good defensively at shortstop during the series. He's the type of passable middle infielder who the Twins never seemed able to come up with to challenge Rivas and Cristian Guzman over the past few years. Nothing great, but his minor-league numbers suggest he could hit .270 or so with a decent on-base percentage (for a middle infielder, at least) and some speed. If nothing else, he's a nice short-term find for a Seattle team that would have been in some trouble at shortstop without him. Of course, he went 0-for-8 at the plate in three games and, for all I know, will be back on waivers within a week.
Michael Cuddyer's arm strength is really going to be an asset at third base. I still would have liked to see him get a shot at second base, because I think he could have handled the job defensively and his offense would have been even better over there, but he is certainly able to take advantage of his rocket arm more effectively at third base. He even slid over to first base in the late innings last night, which I guess shows why the Twins were willing to cut Terry Tiffee and go with a bench made up of catchers and utility men.
There is no bigger schmuck than Bert Blyleven on his birthday, and I mean that in the best possible way. Incidentally, about 10 seconds after Blyleven said that he asked Matthew LeCroy to hit him a home run on his birthday, LeCroy took Madritsch deep to left field for a three-run bomb. Blyleven then said he would buy LeCroy a drink if only LeCroy drank, which really ruined the mental picture I had of LeCroy off the field.
I don't know much about Madritsch, but I know that there isn't much that says badass quite like a neck tattoo. Sadly, the look he had when he left the game in the fifth inning with what appeared to be a shoulder injury was one of complete disgust, like someone just told him his dream was over. The look, combined with the fact that Madritsch has a history of shoulder problems, and I'm guessing the injury turns out to be pretty serious.
This has nothing to do with last night's game, but Michael Restovich, who was claimed off waivers by the Devil Rays and then released a couple days later, has been claimed again by the Colorado Rockies. I have no clue whether or not Restovich actually has a chance to stick in Colorado, but there obviously isn't a better place for a hitter to end up. Here's hoping he gets a chance to put up some big numbers on Planet Coors. I still say he should have been starting in right field against Madritsch last night.
While checking other scores between the fifth and six innings, I noticed that the White Sox came back from down 3-0 in the ninth inning to beat the Indians 4-3. I'm not sure whether I should be rooting for Cleveland or Chicago at this point, so I'm just hoping they split all their matchups until we can better determine which one is the bigger threat to the Twins this year. I will say that I instinctively want to root against Chicago, despite my picking the Indians to finish in second place.
Oh, and remember the White Sox and their new "small ball" approach? Well, they scored a grand total of one run in their first 16 innings of the season, and then hit two homers while scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth yesterday. In other words, they couldn't score until they started to hit for some power. Shocking, I know. Speaking of other scores, I see that Doug Mientkiewicz hit a solo homer off of Eric Milton last night. I think that speaks for itself, so I won't add anything to it.
Carlos Silva had a typical Silva game. He worked quickly, threw strikes, and made the Mariners put the ball in play. He didn't record a single strikeout or walk, needed just 68 pitches to get 21 outs, gave up a bunch of singles, and got some very timely ground balls to get out of trouble. A lot of people see his low strikeout rate and assume Silva's success last year was a fluke, but I think he can put together a similar season this year. He actually had a lower-than-average percentage of his balls in play turned into outs last season, which makes his 14-win season different than, say, what Joe Mays did in 2001.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Silva gave up three straight singles with one out, and just when it looked like the game was about to get out of hand, he got Dan Wilson to hit a routine grounder to Cuddyer at third base for an easy double play. Not that Scott Spiezio is any great shakes, but I was surprised Seattle didn't pinch hit him for Wilson in that spot. Perhaps they were saving Spiezio to pinch hit for the next batter, Valdez?
Even on a day when the opposing starting pitcher had to leave the game suddenly with a shoulder injury, there is nothing scarier than seeing a batter get hit in the head with a pitch. Ron Villone's two-strike pitch to Justin Morneau hit him right in the ear flap, and Morneau hit the deck like a ton of bricks. He looked more shocked and dazed than actually hurt, and eventually got up and walked off the field on his own. The biggest concern is obviously that the pitch caught something that wasn't covered by his helmet, but a secondary concern is that Morneau may let being hit in the head get to his head.
Most hitters, particularly in the major leagues, seem able to simply shake it off and forget about it, but some can't. I was hit square in the forehead with a fastball in Little League and was never quite the same (not that I was any good to begin with). It doesn't make you afraid of the ball, really, but it does make you a little tentative at the plate. Or at least that's what happened to me. Here's hoping Morneau is a little more equipped to deal with it than a 13-year-old Aaron Gleeman was. I'll be interested to see how he reacts to the next big-breaking curveball a left-handed pitcher throws to him.
UPDATE: The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, La Velle E. Neal, had some good Morneau-related stuff in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Morneau went to the hospital, had a CT scan that "came back negative," and was cleared to fly home.
Quotes from Morneau: "They wanted to make sure I was OK. They are not going to let you fly if you have a concussion. I wasn't dizzy at all. I've had concussions before. I was once kicked in the back of the head with a hockey skate."
Quotes from Gardenhire: "They asked him, 'Where are you?' He said, 'I'm on the ground at home plate in Seattle.' I thought he might be OK. When you ask a question like that and he makes an answer like that ... I've been hit in the head before and did not have those kind of answers."
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Ten Things I Didn't Know Last Week (by Studes)
- Fantasy Mailbag: 4/7/05 (by Ben Jacobs)
Today's Picks (6-4, +$260):
Los Angeles (Weaver) +120 over San Francisco (Tomko)