Twins 3, Orioles 2
After taking six weeks to draw his first non-intentional walk last season, Rondell White has two free passes in two games. He'll still probably go several weeks without walking at some point, but showing some semblance of plate discipline is a lot different than what took place early last year, when he flailed away at everything within a couple feet of the plate. On the other hand, he may have caught the sliding-into-first-base bug from Nick Punto, although White added the extra wrinkle of going in feet first.
Along the same lines as White's sudden walk-a-thon, Joe Nathan has two saves in two games after saving just three of the Twins' first 30 games last season.
Continuing with the same basic theme, after needing all 162 games (and then some) to get alone atop the AL Central for the first time last season, the Twins needed just two games to take over sole possession of first place this year.
I don't think much of the Twins' depth, but at least they're not pinch-hitting Freddie Bynum for Alberto Castillo down a run in the ninth inning.
I'm generally of the opinion that the Twins take too many chances trying to steal bases, but they clearly saw something in Daniel Cabrera's delivery that they felt was exploitable and took advantage. Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven made it sound like Cabrera was simply easy to run on in general, but that's not actually the case. He gave up just 11 steals last season and has allowed a very solid 68-percent success rate on steals during his career.
The Twins went 4-for-4 taking second base off Cabrera and Castillo--who's gunned down over 40 percent of steal attempts during his career--and for good measure Joe Mauer took second base against Jamie Walker without drawing a throw. The most eventful steal came when Jason Tyner took off after pinch-running for White following his seventh-inning walk. For some reason Castillo decided to make the throw from his knees, and the ball predictably sailed to the shortstop side of the bag.
Tyner could have eased in safely, but tripped about five feet away and had to scramble by crawling there on his hands and knees to narrowly avoid the tag. The steal attempt and Tyner's post-trip hustle paid off when Jason Bartlett blooped a single into short left field, scoring Tyner with the go-ahead (and eventual game-winning) run. After going 101-for-143 (70.6 percent) on steal attempts last season, the Twins are 6-for-6 and have five players with a steal.
Luis Castillo is one of the guys with a steal and I'm now convinced that he's the slowest fast runner in the history of baseball (if that makes any sense). Castillo used Cabrera's 6-foot-9 frame for target practice, slapping one ball off his leg and another off his glove to produce a pair of infield singles. Castillo hobbles around the field and looked borderline drunk trying to haul in a pair of routine pop ups (a problem at times last year too), but he's 5-for-9 with a steal through two games.
Boof Bonser struggled with his command early and was on the verge of a quick hook, but fought through it to retire 10 of the final 11 hitters he faced on the way to allowing just two runs over six innings. He didn't pick up the victory, but it was a Quality Start and Bonser now has a 3.57 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 70.2 innings since returning from Triple-A last August.
Michael Cuddyer has struck out five times already, but that doesn't concern me because he's a power hitter who batted .284/.362/.504 while striking out 130 times last year. On the other hand, Punto whiffing four times already is a concern, because it suggests he could be falling back into bad habits. A big part of Punto's mini-breakout in 2006 came from his decision to stop approaching at-bats like a power hitter.
That meant trying to work favorable counts in order to put the ball in play, rather than trying to work favorable counts in order to draw a walk or unleash a non-existent home-run swing. Coming into last season, Punto had struck out in 20 percent of his career plate appearances. He cut that to 13 percent in 2006, which is how a .238 career hitter batted .290. Normally I wouldn't make an issue over a two-game sample, but Punto's bad habits actually started popping up at the end of last season.
He struck out in just 12 percent of his plate appearances through the end of August, posting an outstanding 50-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio while hitting .307/.383/.405. Then, from September 1 to the end of the regular season he posted an 18-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, bringing back bad memories with a .244/.258/.295 line. Perhaps I'm overreacting to six weeks' worth of performance or remain biased by Punto's sub par track record, but a refresher course with Rod Carew might be in order.
Remember all the rationalizing that went on about sending Matt Garza down to start every fifth day at Triple-A because the Twins were planning to skip their fifth starter several times early in the season anyway? Not so much, it turns out. Despite an off day Thursday, Sidney Ponson will start Saturday against the White Sox, with Johan Santana going Sunday on an extra day of rest. Of course, given that Saturday is the blogger get-together, it's probably appropriate that Ponson takes the mound.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.