Twins Take 2 of 3 From Indians
Dave Gassner was exactly as advertised and pitched about as well as could have reasonably been expected in his first big-league game. I found it impossible to watch Gassner without thinking of Jamie Moyer, from the lack of velocity and abundance of off-speed stuff on the outside corner to the slow-motion left-handed delivery. With Carlos Silva's miraculous recovery from a knee injury that reports initially had keeping him out for at least half the year, Gassner is likely headed back to Triple-A very soon, although the Twins could certainly decide to keep him in the bullpen over Matt Guerrier.
It was really wonderful to watch as Gassner's family congratulated him after the game. More than 100 of them traveled to Cleveland from Wisconsin to see his major-league debut, and many of them got very emotional. A young woman whom I assume is Gassner's wife gave him a long, intense hug and then began sobbing as she turned away from him. I can voice my skepticism about Gassner being successful in a major-league rotation on a long-term basis, but all that stuff takes a backseat when you see just how much winning a game in the big leagues means to someone.
La Velle E. Neal's game story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune had a good quote from Gassner: "I was a little nervous. My game, really, is that I have to concentrate and locate the ball. I don't throw hard enough to blow it by anybody, so I have to stay calm, stay slow and in control and let the defense do the rest." We also learned, thanks to Ron Gardenhire, that Gassner's nickname is "The Gassman." Not great, but considering the lack of decent nicknames around baseball these days, that one is actually not too bad.
Gassner's final line: 6 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO, 1 HR
I thought Gardenhire's decision to bring Terry Mulholland in to relieve Gassner was a very strange one. It was a 3-2 game in the bottom of the seventh inning, and Cleveland had right-handed hitters Jose Hernandez and Ryan Ludwick due up, followed by switch-hitter Josh Bard. Hernandez and Ludwick were only in the starting lineup in order to face the left-handed Gassner, so why bring a lefty in to relieve him and face them? And if you're going to bring in a lefty in a one-run game in the seventh inning, why your long reliever and not J.C. Romero?
It worked out well enough, as Mulholland got out of the inning without allowing any runs and the Twins then scored three in the top of the eighth to take a four-run lead. Still, I don't get the thinking behind it. Since when does Mulholland protect small leads in the late innings? Where was Romero or Juan Rincon, or even Jesse Crain? It almost came back to bite the Twins too, as Mulholland gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth when Hernandez singled and Ludwick homered. Gardenhire had to bring closer Joe Nathan in to get the final out in what was suddenly a two-run game.
Thankfully, bringing Mulholland in wasn't the only "interesting" pitching decision of the game. With Kevin Millwood sitting on 101 pitches through seven innings, having allowed three runs, Cleveland manager Eric Wedge sent him back out to the mound for the top of the eighth. Here's what happened:
I have no doubt that part of Wedge's reason for leaving Millwood in the game was that Millwood missed out on wins in his first two starts of the year thanks to poor run support. Down just one run in the eighth, Wedge wanted to give Millwood a chance to get through one more frame in the hopes that Cleveland's offense could take the lead for him in the bottom of the inning. The problem is that, even in the best-case scenario that has Millwood pitching a 1-2-3 inning, he would have finished with 115-120 pitches thrown. Is that really the sort of early season workload you want a starting pitcher who missed a big chunk of last season with elbow problems to have?
This stuff about Johan Santana having a blister on his middle finger is very concerning, because that is by far the worst non-serious problem a pitcher can have. It's the sort of thing that can linger all season while making a pitcher ineffective without actually keeping him out of action. Santana says it isn't a big deal and he certainly looked great against the Indians, but it is troublesome nonetheless. On the other hand, he is 3-0 with a 4.00 ERA and spectacular 27-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio right now, after being 0-0 with a 6.46 ERA and 10-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio after three starts last season.
I commented to someone a few minutes before Friday's game that I was surprised Santana, who has had problems serving up homers in the past, hadn't allowed one yet this season. He then gave up two solo shots to the Indians, of course. Santana is certainly not quite on the top of his game yet and is giving up a few more singles per game than you'd like to see, but 27 strikeouts in 18 innings is a thing of beauty and his control has been amazing. I also like that after getting 18 ground ball outs compared to just six fly ball outs in his first two starts, Santana had five of each against Cleveland.
After months of complaining about Lew Ford's lack of outfield playing time, I am really loving Gardenhire's new outfield rotation. Ford started in center field Thursday, moved to right field Friday, and played left field Saturday. In each case Gardenhire gave the "normal" starter at the position a day off from defense, sticking him at designated hitter.
Now, obviously putting Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones at DH isn't a great thing, but Gardenhire realizing that Ford playing zero defense on an everyday basis is a huge waste is a good thing. I think we're probably one tight Shannon Stewart hamstring from Ford getting some serious outfield action, and it was nice to Ford in right field and Jones on the bench yesterday against lefty C.C. Sabathia.
Jason Bartlett (unfortunately) provided a nice example of why we shouldn't get caught up in early season numbers. In discussing Bartlett's defense on Thursday, I wrote: "It also helps that he's hitting .360." After taking Thursday's game off, Bartlett went 0-for-4 Friday and 0-for-5 Saturday, and then sat out another game Sunday. He is now hitting .265. Of course, Bartlett's .265/.306/.412 is better than what Cristian Guzman hit last year (.274/.309/.384) and way better than what he's "hitting" so far this year (.122/.159/.146).
Juan Castro can't hit, he costs too much money, and his place on the roster is both superfluous and redundant. The man is also one hell of a fielder. That play he made on the horrific hop Friday was amazing. I only pray he doesn't start taking at-bats away from Michael Cuddyer at third base, although after Cuddyer's error there yesterday afternoon I'd say it's a very real possibility.
The season is 12 games old and guess which team is tied for the best record in the American League? Just wait until the cavalry starts coming off the disabled list.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- News, Notes and Quotes (April 18, 2005) (by Aaron Gleeman)
- Rivals in Exile: Slow Starts (by Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken)
Today's Picks (13-7, +$680):
Arizona (Webb) -105 over Colorado (Chacon)
Toronto (Bush) +180 over Boston (Schilling)
Oakland (Haren) +105 over Texas (Park)