May 23, 2007

Twins Notes: Injuries, Theories, and Skipping

  • When the Braves released Craig Wilson last week, I immediately thought that he'd be a decent low-cost pickup for the Twins. Apparently Wilson's agent had the same idea, because Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the following:
    The agent for Craig Wilson contacted [Terry] Ryan after Wilson was released by Atlanta, but the Twins don't appear to have interest in signing the righthanded hitter. Wilson, 30, is a career .262 hitter, but he batted .172 in 54 at-bats for the Braves this season. He also is limited defensively, and defense is a big reason the Twins have clung to Lew Ford.

    It's true that Wilson is "limited defensively," but his defense has little to do with whether he'd be a good addition. Plus, Lew Ford is every bit as "limited offensively" as Wilson is "limited defensively," and he's started eight of the past 11 games. Ford has almost zero value, while at least Wilson could provide a right-handed bat capable of some offense against left-handed pitching. Plus, with 217 career innings behind the plate, he'd give Ron Gardenhire his beloved third catcher once Joe Mauer returns.

    Setting aside a bad month in Atlanta, here are Wilson's recent numbers against lefties:

    YEAR      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    2004 128 .259 .375 .537 .912
    2005 69 .283 .449 .415 .864
    2006 147 .278 .347 .496 .843

    Add it all up and Wilson hit .272/.378/.497 in 344 plate appearances against lefties. For comparison, Michael Cuddyer hit .297/.376/.518 against lefties last season. Wilson also did well enough against righties over that three-year span, hitting .255/.337/.458. He's a below-average fielder at first base or an outfield corner, but an .875 OPS against lefties and a .795 OPS against righties would be just fine at designated hitter, where the Twins have given multiple starts to Jason Tyner and Luis Rodriguez.

  • Speaking of Mauer's return, it sounds like he could be back as soon as this weekend. Getting Mauer back in the lineup will provide a huge, much-needed boost, but it's worth noting that Mike Redmond has hit a very Mauer-like .380/.436/.520 in 55 plate appearances with Mauer out.
  • Stuff like this really makes me wish I had some photo-shopping skills.
  • Random stat: Cuddyer drew just six walks in his first 148 plate appearances while hitting primarily fourth in the batting order. He's drawn eight walks in his last 31 plate appearances, with all of them coming as the No. 3 hitter.
  • Gardenhire has predictably decided against skipping Ramon Ortiz's spot in the rotation despite his 11.74 ERA in four starts this month and today's off day. Here's how he explained the need to keep Ortiz on his normal routine:
    He wants the ball. If you were to tell him, "Hey, we're going to skip you," that would be tough. We'd more like to see him go out there and have a good ballgame. That's what this ballclub needs.

    As usual with Gardenhire, that quote seems perfectly reasonable until you actually examine it a little bit. Gardenhire says that it "would be tough" to tell Ortiz that he's being skipped in the rotation, but he had little trouble skipping Scott Baker's turn whenever possible last year. Apparently Gardenhire felt that a 24-year-old Baker was better equipped to handle the tough news and deal with a change in routine than the 34-year-old Ortiz (although Baker's ugly ERA last year suggests otherwise).

    The good news is that Ortiz's leash is seemingly tightening rapidly (or at least as rapidly as a mediocre 34-year-old's leash can tighten with the Twins). Christensen wrote on his blog Wednesday that he thinks "Ortiz will be out of the starting rotation if he continues his May struggles on Saturday against Toronto." If true, that means the small-market Twins, whose low payroll is constantly painted as a huge disadvantage, will have paid about $5 million for 16 combined starts from Ortiz and Sidney Ponson.

    On a related note, the $9 million trio of Ortiz, Ponson, and Carlos Silva have now combined for a 5.45 ERA in 140.1 innings, with the Twins going 9-16 (.360) in their 25 starts. The Twins are 13-8 (.619) when someone other than Ortiz, Ponson, and Silva takes the mound, and the rest of the pitching staff has combined for a 3.45 ERA. But hey, it's not like someone could have possibly spent the entire offseason predicting that this exact scenario would play out.

  • Meanwhile at Rochester, Kevin Slowey and Matt Garza continue to shut down Triple-A lineups after losing rotation-mate Baker to the majors. Slowey has video game-like numbers through eight starts, with a 1.76 ERA, 50-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .195 opponent's batting average in 56 innings. Garza got off to a slow start and his overall numbers aren't as spotless, but he still sports a 3.49 ERA, 46-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .255 opponent's batting average in 49 innings.
  • With Dennys Reyes likely to join Jesse Crain and Glen Perkins on the disabled list with shoulder problems, the Twins' bullpen is undergoing a dramatic change save for the still-healthy late-inning threesome of Pat Neshek and Juan Rincon setting up Joe Nathan. Julio DePaula and Carmen Cali have already been called up to replace Crain and Perkins, respectively, and the team will likely make a move today to replace Reyes.

    I gave a scouting report on DePaula here last week, although my optimism about his future didn't help him avoid getting crushed by the Rangers in his second career appearance. I don't think nearly as much of Cali, who signed a minor-league contract with the Twins after being let go by the Cardinals in November. Cali was far from dominant at Triple-A before being called up and nothing has really changed with him since he signed in December, so here's what I wrote about him back then:

    Cali has always had above-average raw stuff, but he was knocked around to the tune of a 9.45 ERA in two stints in the majors with the Cardinals and has struggled at Triple-A for two straight seasons. He pitched well after a demotion to Double-A last year, but prior to that had posted a 5.46 ERA, 64-to-47 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .300 opponent's batting average in 85.2 innings at Triple-A between 2005 and 2006.

    The good news is that Cali is still just 27 years old and held left-handed batters to .235/.297/.284 with 27 strikeouts and zero homers even while struggling overall last season, suggesting there could be a decent LOOGY hiding in the ugly numbers. Much like Reyes, Cali's ability to become a dependable major-league pitcher will depend on whether or not pitching coach Rick Anderson can mold him into something he likes.

    In Rick Anderson We Trust, but between Ortiz, Ponson, and Silva this hasn't been his strongest season for miracle working (although at least Kyle Lohse is back to stinking in Cincinnati). If the Twins want to keep two lefties in the bullpen, the top candidates to replace Reyes would seemingly be Ricky Barrett and Jason Miller. For whatever it's worth, while Reyes competed with Darrell May and Gabe White for a bullpen spot in March of 2006, I wrote that "I'd love to see the Twins give Miller a chance."

  • Jason Bartlett is scheduled to undergo an MRI for ongoing neck and shoulder pain that are keeping him out of the lineup and may go a long way toward explaining his defensive struggles this season. If there's a good part about having a utility infielder like Nick Punto as your starting third baseman, it's that he can slide over to shortstop when necessary.
  • I ranked Alex Romero as the Twins' No. 18 prospect this winter before the team waived him in order to make room on the roster for Ortiz. Romero was claimed off waivers by the Diamondbacks and is currently hitting .335/.369/.449 in 43 games at Triple-A. Now, those numbers are nothing special in a hitter-friendly environment like Tucson, but given the playing time going to Tyner and Ford it's pretty obvious that the Twins could use a 23-year-old outfielder who can hit a little bit.
  • I've long been frustrated by Gardenhire's tendency to criticize young players through the media while simultaneously putting forth what often seems like an endless series of excuses for poor-playing veterans. For example, Gardenhire has had little problem taking Bartlett or Kubel to task with a bunch of reporters standing in his office, but then turns right around and says stuff like this to "explain" Ford's increased playing time:
    It's not always about him hitting doubles and triples, it's about him having good at-bats, and he's having them. I like the way he's moving defensively, and I like his energy. He can move around the bases pretty good. So we're just going to let him play out there a little bit.

    Like with the Ortiz quote, Ford "having good at-bats" sounds perfectly reasonable until you realize that he's hitting .214/.267/.286 and has a 5-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And the ability to "move around the bases pretty good" sounds like a valuable skill until you realize that there isn't a whole lot of moving around to be done when you're getting on base 27 percent of the time. Can you imagine Gardenhire saying anything close to that about Bartlett or Kubel (or Baker, if he struggles again)? Of course not.

    For years I've thought that Gardenhire treated young players unfairly and irrationally favored mediocre veterans. That may actually be true, but of late I've started to think that perhaps it has less to do with "young" or "old" and more to do with "good" or "bad." Does Gardenhire favor guys like Ford because he's a veteran or because he's simply not a very good player? Does he take young players to task because they're inexperienced or because they might actually turn into good players some day?

    Ford is an interesting test case, because Gardenhire used to rip into him plenty during the brief stretch when he was actually a valuable player. Ford's production has fallen off over the past few years and now Gardenhire is taking up for him. Another piece of evidence for my little pet theory is Garrett Jones, who has a total of one week of major-league experience and yet has Gardenhire saying nice things about him to reporters:

    We let him get his feet wet. But I'd like for him to get a soaking. I really like the instant run production he can put up there when he walks up to the plate.

    Based on Gardenhire's comments, you'd think that Jones was great during his brief stint. In reality, he went 1-for-8 with a single. I have a tough time imagining that same performance leading to similar sentiments from Gardenhire if the player in question was a legitimate prospect rather than a 26-year-old who has a career on-base percentage of .300 and is in his third season at Triple-A. My theory is that what "allows" Gardenhire to say good things about Jones is that he's mediocre.

    If Jones was good, Gardenhire would surely be telling anyone who would listen that he strikes out too much or needs to work on his defense or isn't "having good at-bats." But because Jones has all those weaknesses and isn't good, Gardenhire lets the compliments and words of encouragement fly. I used to think that Gardenhire put guys like Jones in the "young" category with Kubel, Bartlett, and Baker, but it's starting to seem like he views them as "mediocre" with Ford, Silva, Juan Castro, and Tony Batista.


  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    May 22, 2007

    Game #45: The Johan & Justin Show

    One night after they bludgeoned Carlos Silva and Julio DePaula for 14 runs, Johan Santana took the mound in Texas and the Rangers had trouble simply making contact. After serving up a long solo homer to Sammy Sosa leading off the second inning, Santana got swinging strikeouts on the next five batters he faced and never looked back. He finished one short of a career-high with a season-high 13 strikeouts in seven innings, with Sosa's homer accounting for the lone run.

    Santana picked up at least one strikeout in each of the seven innings he worked, striking out the side in both the second and sixth frames. Amazingly, all 13 of his strikeouts were of the swinging variety, which is what can happen when Santana's second-to-none fastball-changeup combination is truly clicking. It was the 35th time in Santana's career that he's reached double-digit strikeouts, with No. 34 coming last time out against the Indians.

    Unlike that start, when Fausto Carmona tossed a complete-game shutout to slap Santana with a hard-luck loss, the Twins' lineup provided him with some run support. After Sosa put the Rangers up 1-0, Justin Morneau took the lead with a two-run homer in the fourth inning and then added a three-run bomb in the next frame to put the Twins up 5-1. With Santana exiting after setting the Rangers down 1-2-3 in the seventh inning, Torii Hunter tacked on a two-run shot in the eighth inning to make it 7-1.

    Pat Neshek and Joe Nathan combined for five more strikeouts in two innings of relief to lock down the victory, with Santana improving his record to 5-4 despite receiving more than three runs of offensive support for just the third time in 10 starts. Along with lowering his ERA to 3.05, Santana reclaimed the league lead in strikeouts with 80, overtaking Erik Bedard and C.C. Sabathia. Here's how his current numbers compare through the same point in previous seasons:

    YEAR     GS     W     L       IP      ERA     SO     BB     HR     OAVG
    2004 10 2 2 54.2 5.60 48 17 10 .301
    2005 10 5 2 68.1 3.82 83 8 8 .228
    2006 10 4 4 68.1 3.42 75 14 8 .240
    2007 10 5 4 65.0 3.05 80 18 10 .222

    Santana has traditionally been a slow starter, but this year he turned in a fine April and has been even better in May. The result is the best ERA of his career through 10 starts (although a league-wide drop in scoring has helped), but aside from carrying ugly numbers into June during his first full season in the rotation, Santana more or less found his groove by late May in both 2005 and 2006. In fact, it's remarkable how similar Santana's numbers through 10 starts have been in the past three seasons.

    He won 5, 4, and 5 games. Pitched 68.1, 68.1, and 65 innings. Posted ERAs of 3.82, 3.42, and 3.05. Racked up 83, 75, and 80 strikeouts. Served up 8, 8, and 10 homers. And allowed opponents to bat .228, .240, and .222 against him. As was the case at the end of April, not only does Santana have the rest of the league right where he wants them for another Cy Young award, he's on track for the best season of his career. Oh, and the game's other hero is playing pretty well too.

    With a pair of homers Morneau now ranks second among AL hitters with 13 long balls, behind only Alex Rodriguez (who blasted 14 in April alone). Morneau is sporting a .285/.362/.570 line through 45 games, which is actually better than the MVP-winning .321/.375/.559 line he finished last season with once the league-wide drop in scoring is accounted for. Of course, Morneau wasn't hitting nearly that well last May, so here's how his current pace stacks up with last season's performance at this stage:

    YEAR      G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR     RBI     RUN
    2006 40 165 .243 .303 .473 9 34 19
    2007 45 196 .285 .362 .570 13 32 32

    Morneau actually had more RBIs at this point last season despite not being particularly good, but the rest of his numbers are up significantly this time around. Interestingly, through the Twins' first 45 games back in 2005, Morneau was hitting .319/.364/.588. However, he had played in just 31 of those games thanks to getting beaned in the head by Ron Villone during the season's first series and went on to post a horrific .213/.285/.388 line for the remainder of the schedule.


    Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    May 20, 2007

    Everyone, Meet Scott Baker

    With an ugly 6.37 ERA lingering as the last impression he left with the team and a slew of top-notch pitching prospects coming up through the system behind him, Scott Baker was surely aware when he took the mound in Milwaukee Saturday that it might be the beginning of his last chance to keep himself in the Twins' long-term plans. Called up from Triple-A ahead of Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey, Baker confidently stepped into the rotation for Sidney Ponson and turned in an impressive effort.
     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
    8.1 6 2 2 0 4 2 96

    He pounded the strike zone, throwing 74 percent of his offerings for strikes, handing out zero walks, and recording 25 outs on 96 pitches. Baker certainly wasn't dominant, but it was the sort of outing that shows why the Twins turned to him as Ponson's replacement, rather than go with Garza or Slowey. Of course, it was also the sort of outing that shows why trusting young pitchers like Baker was a better idea than messing around with Ponson or Ramon Ortiz in the first place.

    Judging from the comments left here and the e-mails I've received on the subject, it's clear that Baker's performance last season convinced a huge percentage of Twins fans that he'll never be a good major-league pitcher. In fact, I'm not sure that I've ever seen a fan base turn so quickly and strongly on a young player based on one bad half season. I've been relatively steadfast in my support of Baker and, while it was just one game, Saturday's start against the Brewers showed why: Baker can pitch.

    When he's going well, Baker throws strikes, changes speeds, attacks hitters with a diverse arsenal of pitches, and misses a fair number of bats in the process. However, while he was at his best Saturday against a strong lineup, Baker's faults were also on display if you looked hard enough. Both Milwaukee runs came on solo homers, with J.J. Hardy taking Baker deep two batters into the game and Bill Hall homering in the ninth inning.

    Hall's homer caused Ron Gardenhire to pull Baker two outs away from a complete game despite the fact that the Twins were still up three runs with no one on base and Baker was still four pitches short of the century mark. When Gardenhire brought Joe Nathan in to replace Baker, Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven repeatedly told the television audience that it was a save situation. It wasn't. Because Nathan didn't start the inning, the tying run would have to have been on deck for a save to be in play.

    With no one on base when Baker exited up 5-2, that wasn't the case. However, I'm not bringing up Nathan's non-save to criticize Bremer and Blyleven (although it certainly seems like something a pair of baseball announcers should know). Instead, my point is that Gardenhire yanked Baker with no real danger present. The bases were empty, his pitch count was low, and he needed to record two outs without allowing three runs to score.

    Pulling Baker on the verge of a complete game isn't a particularly big deal either way (although it's silly if a "save" was behind it in any way), but it shows that perhaps Gardenhire perceives him as a pitcher who can implode quickly. And in a way, he's right. Baker's 11 ground-ball outs were a career-high and just the second time he's reached double digits, yet he still served up two homers and two doubles, and saw several hard-hit balls find gloves among his seven fly-ball outs.

    As one of the most extreme fly-ball pitchers in baseball, Baker is more susceptible than most to a big inning sidetracking an otherwise strong outing. When a ground-ball pitcher is cruising along and leading by three runs, it takes a string of hits to get him in trouble. When a fly-ball pitcher is cruising along and leading by three runs, it takes two baserunners to put a serious game-tying threat in play. None of that takes away from Baker's start, but it's important as he goes forward in the rotation.

    Baker's outing showed why he deserved another chance, but it also showed why he'll likely always be walking a relatively thin line as a quality middle-of-the-rotation starter. After Saturday's start, Baker now sports a 5.02 ERA and 99-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 145 career innings. Those are decent enough numbers through the first 26 starts of a young pitcher's career, but the homers he allows (24 so far over that span) will go a long way toward determining whether he can bring that ERA closer to 4.00.


    Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    May 17, 2007

    Link-O-Rama

  • I tend to pick on Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan, calling him "Shecky" because of his tendency to fill columns with lame attempts at humor in the form of hacky one-liners and forced pop-culture references. I'll admit to getting a kick out of seeing other people refer to him using that nickname, but every once in a while I reconsider whether the constant jabbing is warranted. Thankfully, whenever I begin to have doubts, Souhan seems to write something like this:
    This position is about as fashionable these days as cell phones the size of Cornish hens, but I agree with Twins General Manager Terry Ryan. Ryan has responded to cries for the acquisition of a righthanded bat by arguing that one hitter would do as much good for the Twins as a Dixie cup of water would do for the Boundary Waters conflagration.

    Those are the first two sentences of a column about baseball that appeared in the sports section of the No. 1 newspaper in a major market earlier this week. Seriously. Coming right out of the box with "cell phones the size of Cornish hens" is certainly a bold decision in that it's completely random, painfully forced, likely fails to resonate with a huge chunk of the audience, and ultimately makes little sense. Of course, actually being funny or informative or interesting would be even bolder. So yeah, Shecky it is.

  • When two of my all-time favorite people get together to talk boxing and mixed martial arts, it makes for a great podcast.
  • As someone who recently bought his first home in Minnesota, I was surprised to read the following in an article about the current state of the country's real-estate market:
    In the Midwest, existing home sales fell 6.1 percent to a pace of 1.5 million units. The median single-family home price was $154,600, down 2.8 percent from a year earlier.

    To put that in some context, the article lists the median single-family home prices as $336,200 in the West, $268,900 in the Northeast, and $177,800 in the South. Sadly, no word on what the median home prices are for guys who write about baseball from bed.

  • Deadspin's Will Leitch is slightly better at blogging than singing.
  • Friend of AG.com and fellow Twins blogger Trevor Born wrote an excellent piece in the Star Tribune about the impact GPA requirements have on high-school athletics. I'm 24 years old and know how to use a computer, so I don't actually pay to have a bunch of articles printed on paper and delivered to my doorstep each morning, but I'm told that Born's piece appeared on the sport section's front page. I think that officially makes him the LeBron James of sportswriting, because Born's still in high school.
  • To me, stuff like this is what the internet will always be made for.
  • After Mother's Day dinner, my family was sitting around talking and the subject of The Office came up. Apparently the fact that Jenna Fischer is a strong Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate is well known in the people-related-to-me demographic, because my 15-year-old cousin asked if it was true. Actually, she got sort of a disturbed look on her face and I think her exact words were, "You really like the secretary?"

    I tried to explain the attraction to Fischer (by way of Pam Beesly) without getting too creepy, although I'm not sure if my uncle (her father) chiming in to agree with me helped or hurt that effort. What I am sure of is that our little discussion--and in-depth, back-and-forth debate about the attractiveness of a woman who's clearly extremely attractive--appears to have jinxed Fischer. Here's a report from the New York Post's famous "Page Six":

    "The Office" star Jenna Fischer won't be going back to Buddakan any time soon. The pretty brunette was celebrating her series being renewed Monday night with friends when she slipped on the restaurant's marble steps and fractured four bones in her back. A friend said she spent the night in St. Vincent's hospital and had to cancel an appearance on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and a Harper's Bazaar shoot. Fischer's rep, Lewis Kay, said yesterday she's "doing much better and is resting at her hotel. Her husband [director James Gunn] flew in to be with her."

    Ouch. Incidentally, James Gunn is the brother of Brian Gunn, who's a friend of AG.com and occasional contributor to The Hardball Times.

  • With Fischer sidelined, Jessica Alba has taken full advantage of the opportunity to jump right back into the OFGoAG.com race.
  • Formers Gophers wrestler and WWE star Brock Lesnar is scheduled make his MMA debut on June 2 against 7-foot-2, 355-pound Hong Man Choi (not only is that a real name, he's a legit fighter). Also on that fight card: MMA legend Royce Gracie and longtime NFL wide receiver Johnnie Morton.
  • The Twins wasted yet another strong start from Johan Santana yesterday afternoon, getting shut out by Fausto Carmona to complete a three-game sweep at the hands of the Indians. Santana has a 3.26 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 58 innings, but he's just 4-4 because the offense has given him horrible run support. The lineup has scored 0, 3, 2, 3, 3, 6, 2, 3, and 7 runs in Santana's nine starts, which works out to a pathetic average of 3.2 runs per game. The AL as a whole is averaging 4.7 runs per game.

    Santana hasn't been the league's best pitcher through six weeks of the season, so right now it's a non-issue. However, if he ends up turning it up a notch and finishing the year at the top of the AL, the lack of run support will likely cost him the Cy Young award. And if you don't believe me, look back to the 2005 season, when Santana was clearly better than Bartolo Colon in nearly every possible way, yet lost the Cy Young award because he managed just 16 wins thanks to horrible offensive support.

  • Yes, yes he is.
  • The Big Picture continued their ongoing series of outstanding interviews with bloggers by talking to Henry Abbott, who turned his True Hoop blog into a full-time gig with ESPN.com
  • When I first read that University of Georgia golf coach Todd McCorkle "shared a sexually explicit Paris Hilton video with the team" I thought two things. One, that's really odd. Two, it's amusing that there are enough sexually explicit Hilton videos that you have to refer to it as "a" instead of "the." After reading a little bit further, I realized that McCorkle coached the women's golf team. Let's just say that I understand why he was fired.
  • Which inner-circle Hall of Famer is next on the chopping block? On the same day, ESPN.com's front page featured Scoop Jackson calling Roger Clemens "the most selfish man in sports" and Jemele Hill calling Brett Favre "a selfish brat." ESPN.com already made it abundantly clear that Barry Bonds is the worst person in the history of mankind, so I suppose at some point you have to move on to ripping other historically great athletes in order to "shock" the audience. You know, since "writing good articles" was apparently never an option.
  • Are any AG.com readers planning to watch UFC 71 at one of the local bars and restaurants that are showing the pay-per-view? I'd love to watch Chuck Liddell fight Quentin Jackson, but I'm not so sure I want to drop $40 to do it.
  • Back in March, while suggesting that going with Ramon Ortiz, Carlos Silva, and Sidney Ponson in the starting rotation would likely lead to another poor start, I wrote the following:
    I've gotten comments along the lines of: "What's the big deal? The Twins can always ditch them and bring up the prospects." While technically true, that line of thinking ignores several key points.

    First, games played in April and May count as much as games played in August and September. The Twins dug themselves out of a deep hole last year, but planning to do the same every season is hardly a successful strategy. The AL Central may contain four of the 10 best teams in baseball this year, and the Twins will almost certainly need every win they can get.

    After getting swept in Cleveland, the Twins are 18-22 and seven games back in the AL Central. After 40 games last season, the Twins were 17-23 and 9.5 games back in the AL Central. I hope they kept their shovels.

  • This week's "Gleeman Report" video on NBCSports.com focuses on two of baseball's top starting pitchers going down with injuries. I also did my twice-weekly call-in segments on NBCSports.com's "Fantasy Fix" show. Monday's show included my usual waiver-wire suggestions and me inserting Tiffany Simons' name into a famous Satchell Paige quote. Thursday's show featured Tyler Bleszinski of Athletics Nation talking about the A's many injuries and talk of my mom's favorite player.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    May 16, 2007

    Twins Notes: Crain Out, DePaula In, Neshek Reading

  • For the second time this month, Pat Neshek was interviewed at ESPN.com. The latest version had Buster Olney asking the questions via e-mail and included an interesting response from Neshek regarding his worries about how his blog would be received by teammates. However, this was by far my favorite back-and-forth:
    Olney: How many hours per day do you usually spend on your computer, and what are your favorite sites?

    Neshek: Probably about 2 hours a day on the net. I always start it by checking some e-mails, checking the baseball blog sites, newspapers, google, stocks, eBay, rotoworld player news, fantasy baseball sites, tmz.com, deadspin, my site, then back to all the sites to see if anything new has popped in ha ha :) ... I probably visit about 25 sites before I start my day ... I'm an info freak and feel like it's a big reason why I have advanced.

    I already knew that Neshek reads AG.com, because he's linked to it on his site, but it's nice to hear that he's also a regular reader of my Rotoworld work. Along with writing the "Daily Dose" column, a big part of my Rotoworld duties involve writing 100 percent of the "Rotoworld player news" for all the AL teams each morning--when Neshek says that he's checking them out--so perhaps I'll try to sneak in a secret message to him at some point. Any requests, Pat?

  • Nick Punto's error meant that all six runs Jesse Crain allowed Tuesday were unearned, but giving up four hits and hitting a batter made his outing plenty ugly anyway. Crain was placed on the disabled list immediately after the game and the initial diagnosis is that he has both a torn rotator cuff and a torn labrum. It won't be official until Crain gets a second opinion later this week, but that's essentially the worst-case scenario for a pitcher, multiplied by two.

    Either injury would knock Crain out for this season and likely keep him sidelined into next year, and the combination of injuries would put his career in jeopardy. It's a tough blow for the Twins on a number of levels, because Crain has filled an important middle-relief role for several years and was part of the bullpen depth that could be used to deal for an impact hitter. Beyond that, the Twins signed Crain to a three-year contract this spring rather than negotiate year-to-year deals through his arbitration eligibility.

    Here's what I wrote about the deal back in March:

    Even when the three-year deal runs out following the 2009 season, the Twins will still have Crain under their control for one more year, his final arbitration-eligible season. In other words, he's still their property through 2010, just like he was before the three-year deal. All this does is give the team some cost certainty and give Crain some insurance in case he suffers a major injury.

    The key sentence is obviously the last one and Crain should be thanking his agent today.

  • Julio DePaula was called up from Triple-A to take Crain's place on the roster and in the bullpen. Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 1999, DePaula is a right-hander who induces a ton of ground balls with a sinker-slider combo and has a 2.85 ERA in 347.1 minor-league innings spread over six seasons. Now 24 years old, he had a 3.15 ERA, 10-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .209 opponent's batting average in 20 innings at Rochester prior to being called up.

    DePaula split last year between high Single-A and Double-A, posting a 2.09 ERA, 53-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .215 opponent's batting average in 82 innings. Since the beginning of last season, he's served up a total of four homers in 102 innings while sporting a 2.5-to-1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio. In other words, DePaula is the type of pitcher Carlos Silva would be if his reputation was anything close to accurate. He doesn't have a huge upside, but I like DePaula's odds of being a solid middle reliever.

  • Following Sidney Ponson being let go over the weekend, Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote an interesting piece about how he had to balance rooting for Ponson with reporting on his struggles in an unbiased way. The short version is basically that everyone liked Ponson, but he simply didn't get the job done.
  • Like many things with the Twins it took about a year longer than I would have liked, but Ron Gardenhire has finally decided to flip Punto and Jason Bartlett in the batting order. I suspect the move had far more to do with Punto's struggles than anything Bartlett has done, but whatever gets him away from the bottom of the lineup is fine with me. Since being called up from Triple-A last season, Bartlett has hit .296/.360/.371 in 504 plate appearances. Punto has hit .274/.342/.354 over that span.
  • After hitting .190 in 16 games with the Twins last year following a midseason trade, former No. 1 overall pick Phil Nevin has decided to call it a career after a dozen seasons. Whether because of their tendency to overvalue washed-up veterans or merely by coincidence, Nevin joins Bret Boone and Jesse Orosco in retiring right after an unsuccessful recent stint with the Twins. I was all set to add Tony Batista to that list, but then the Nationals went and handed him a roster spot.
  • Given what I wrote on the subject yesterday, suffice it to say that I wasn't surprised to see Silva struggle last night against the Indians. Silva's ERA rose 64 points from the outing, but much like with Ramon Ortiz, his secondary numbers suggest that there's still plenty of "correction" yet to come. The Twins have now paid $9 million to go 9-14 when Silva, Ortiz, and Ponson start for them, and that threesome has combined for a 4.99 ERA in 131.2 innings.
  • Mike Venafro made some noise during spring training by tossing 10 scoreless innings, but ultimately failed to land a spot on the Opening Day roster. The decision to cut Venafro was met with some amusing gnashing of teeth by a certain segment of the team's fan base, but he accepted a demotion to Triple-A, no doubt hoping to follow the same path that Dennys Reyes took last season to a full-time bullpen job (and multi-year contract).

    Instead, Venafro showed how meaningless spring-training numbers are by beginning the season with a 5.40 ERA in 11.2 innings at Rochester. With several other left-handers in the bullpen at Triple-A and no Reyes-like promotion to the majors in sight with Glen Perkins serving as the Twins' second southpaw reliever, Venafro requested a trade last week and got it. The Twins sold his contract to the Blue Jays for what the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III, reported as one dollar.


  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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