July 18, 2007

Twins Notes: Tough Guys, Censors, and Little Things

  • Last month, when Joe Mauer returned following a stint on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury, Torii Hunter had this to say:
    I think some people take pain in different ways. Some people have to play at 100 percent, and Joe may be one of those guys. I've seen it happen. Joe is a good player, and he wants to perform at 100 percent, not at 80 percent. Me, I grew up in a different time. I'm ready to play no matter what--broken toe, hamstring, groin, back--and that's the mentality I've grown to have.

    I criticized Hunter for those comments last month and was met with the usual assortment of outrage from the subset of fans who aren't being ironic when they call him the "face of the franchise" and think that he can do no wrong on or off the field. That wasn't the first time Hunter has bragged about being a tough guy and he's predictably convinced people like Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven that he's indeed "ready to play no matter what."

    In fact, last night Bremer launched into one of his trademark breathless monologues about how incredibly tough and durable Hunter is ... after he left the game with a strained hamstring. Hunter has missed just two games this season, but he's exited early with an injury no fewer than four times and sat out 103 games over the previous three years. To be very clear, I have absolutely zero interest in criticizing Hunter for missing time with injuries, because doing so would be absurd.

    Injuries are simply a part of baseball and missing time with them rarely says anything about a player's toughness or character. With that said, for a player who's missed significant time with injuries to put forth a tough-guy act to the media at the expense of a teammate is laughable and should be noted somewhere in the midst of the continuous praise heaped on Hunter for his supposed leadership skills, self-proclaimed toughness, and sparkling personality.

    If you want to be an actual leader instead of merely a good player whose willingness to provide quotes has made friends in the media, don't accuse teammates of lacking the toughness to play through injuries when you've missed over 100 games in the past three years. Similarly, don't act as if the inability to play through injuries is a character flaw when, if it was, you'd be plenty flawed. Regardless of someone's "mentality," injuries happen. Fortunately for Hunter, Mauer isn't a quote machine.

  • Given the rose-colored coverage they receive on FSN and MLB.com, it's no surprise that the Twins are trying to censor criticism on their radio broadcasts. The offenses? Host Dave Thompson "made reference to the 10-game suspension Juan Rincon received in May 2005 for violating baseball's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and suggested Rincon hasn't been the same" and analyst Jack Morris asked a question about pulling Johan Santana "with 91 pitches and a shutout bid" last week.

    Here's what Ron Gardenhire had to say about the situation:

    It's been talked about and it's being addressed. We've had our say with our president, and he's going to take care of it. He's going to talk to them. They're supposed to be with us. And some of the things that were said were uncalled for and wrong.

    If you're keeping track, three of the five media outlets that offer the most Twins coverage fit Gardenhire's "they're supposed to be with us" label. No wonder people read blogs.

  • If you're unfamiliar with MLB.com's "they're supposed to be with us" Twins coverage, Leslie Parker's recent article about "clubhouse favorite" Nick Punto is par for the course. Here are some excerpts taken directly from an article written by someone who presumably went to journalism school:
    - He keeps the clubhouse loose with jokes, entertains (and sometimes scares) teammates and coaches with his headfirst slides into first base and helps Minnesota secure victories with seemingly impossible plays in the field.

    - Everyone in the clubhouse is cheering for Punto.

    - Hunter has named Punto his "pick to click" for the second half.

    - Even reigning American League MVP Justin Morneau knows Punto will eventually turn it on.

    - What he lacks in offensive consistency he more than makes up for with his dependable defense.

    - When he does get on a roll and break out of the slump, his teammates will be the ones cheering the loudest.

    Difficult as it may be to believe, Parker's job title is "associate reporter."

  • At the opposite end of the reporting spectrum, after watching the Twins drop to eight games behind the Tigers last night, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote: "The way things are going, the Twins have a better chance to be sellers than buyers before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline." LEN3 isn't the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com for nothing, although I fear that he'll never be able to land a gig at MLB.com. Oh, and Mr. Gardenhire wants to see you in his office.
  • On the same day that Gardenhire chose to start Jason Tyner in left field against left-hander Nate Robertson, Jim Leyland called him "the best manager in the league." Tyner is a 30-year-old veteran of seven big-league seasons and has hit .253/.289/.257 for a .546 OPS against lefties during his career, including .174/.240/.174 for a .414 OPS against southpaws this season. Tyner went 0-for-2 against Robertson and the Twins were shut out for the eighth time in 93 games. "Nice blog."
  • Dropped from the rotation and demoted to Rochester earlier this month after going 3-0 with a 5.84 ERA in his first seven major-league starts, Kevin Slowey tossed a complete-game shutout Tuesday. Alexi Casilla's leadoff homer provided all the run support that Slowey needed on the way to beating Toronto's Triple-A affiliate 1-0. Slowey now has a 1.59 ERA and 70-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 79.1 innings at Triple-A, including a 1.80 ERA and 13-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio following the demotion.
  • Despite holding the best offense in baseball to three runs over eight innings to finish last night's game with a 2.65 ERA, Santana's record dropped to 11-7 because the Twins' offense provided him with three or fewer runs of support for the 11th time in 20 starts. The first four lineup spots combined to go 8-for-18, but the last five spots went 2-for-19. Since scoring 32 runs in a doubleheader against the White Sox, the Twins have totaled 24 runs in eight games. Hey, maybe they need some hitting help!
  • Once upon a time the Twins were legitimately good at "small-ball" and "doing the little things," but these days they're simply living off that long-expired reputation. Here's an excerpt from the Detroit News' recap of Tuesday's game (which the Twins lost 1-0 thanks to an error):
    It also helped that the Twins didn't do the little things well that they usually do. For instance, after a leadoff four-pitch walk to Lew Ford from Macay McBride in the eighth, Nick Punto failed to get a bunt down and ended up flying out to right instead. After that, Luis Castillo hit into an inning-ending double play.

    Given the number of times that they've failed to get a bunt down, run into an easy out on the bases, or been unable to simply make contact in a key spot, it seems that many people have a difficult time differentiating between a team that doesn't hit for any power and a team that actually "does the little things well." For instance, in leaving 14 runners on base in last night's 3-2 loss, the Twins didn't hit for any power and they didn't "do the little thing well."

  • Former Twins prospect J.D. Durbin, who began his major-league career by going 0-3 with a 10.91 ERA while spending time in four organizations, finally picked up his first big-league victory Tuesday. Starting for the Phillies, Durbin held the Dodgers to one run over six innings to drop his ERA from 10.91 to 8.49 and also went 3-for-4 with three singles at the plate.

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

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