Twins Notes: Covers, Promotions, Delusions, and Bingo
Joe Mauer is on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated with a headline about his "chase" for .400, which is amusing given that going hitless last night pushed his batting average below .400 before the magazine even showed up on newsstands. There's a reason why no one has batted .400 in almost 70 years and it has nothing to do with any silliness about a "cover jinx." Here's a comparison between this week's cover and Mauer's previous SI cover in August of 2006:
You'll notice that "hometown hero" appears on both covers.
Given a promotion after hitting .284/.373/.483 with seven homers, 25 total extra-base hits, and a nice 40-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57 games at Double-A, Danny Valencia went 3-for-5 with a double in his Triple-A debut last night. Valencia ranked sixth on my list of the Twins' best prospects heading into the season and it looks like he may be ready to take over for Joe Crede as the starting third baseman in 2010. I'm not convinced that he'll have big power, but Valencia should be a solid all-around player.
Asked yesterday about the Twins' decision to designate Luis Ayala for assignment while calling up Bobby Keppel from Rochester, Ron Gardenhire revealed that Ayala was unhappy with his middle-relief role and requested a trade several weeks ago. As you can imagine that didn't sit well with Gardenhire, which explains why the Twins were willing to cut him loose despite Ayala proving reasonably useful in low-leverage spots. Here's some of what Gardenhire had to say:
He wanted an eighth-inning role, that's why he signed over here. He wasn't pitching well enough to be an eighth-inning guy. So there you have it. His thoughts were if we gave him the ball in that eighth inning, he'd be able to do the job. My thoughts are if you're not getting them out, you're not going to pitch in the eighth inning. We're trying to win. So there's your difference.
Gardenhire has every right to react the way that he did and ultimately Ayala is expendable enough that he's not worth the hassle, but part of the reason why he "wanted an eighth-inning role" is that the Twins talked him up as a setup man when they signed him. He was never worthy of that job and Gardenhire deserves credit for realizing that when Bill Smith couldn't, but Ayala had reason to be delusional about his ability given what the front office no doubt told him about his likely role during the courtship process.
Back when Ayala signed in February nearly every story about the move included some mention of his supposed "sinker." Here's what I wrote at the time:
When you walk into my office and tell me you don't like your role--and he talked about his contract for next year--you lose me right there. I don't deal with that. We're talking about winning now. That's why he's out the door and another guy's in there to pitch. And it's not because he's a bad guy. His theories are a little different.
Can the people who get paid to write about the Twins please stop referring to him as a "sinkerballer"? When the Twins signed Ayala two weeks ago Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Phil Miller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press both called him a "sinkerball specialist" and last week LaVelle E. Neal III called him "the sinkerballing Ayala." Ayala and the Twins may tell you that he throws a sinker, but he hasn't actually had an above-average ground-ball rate since 2004.
Sure enough, Joe Christensen's story about Ayala being cut included a note about how "the Twins had grown increasingly frustrated with Ayala's inconsistency with his sinker." Shocking!
On a related note, remember all that stuff about how Sean Henn "features a 95-mph fastball"? Turns out, he's averaged 92.4 miles per hour with his fastball since being called up last month, which is very close to the 91.7 miles per hour that he averaged with his fastball in previous stints as a big leaguer. If only there were ways for journalists to research this type of data rather than just relying on the subjects they're reporting on to provide them with information.
I've toyed with the notion of creating a Bert Blyleven drinking game, but feared that too many AG.com readers would die of alcohol poisoning if/when he said "left the ball up" a couple hundred times during one of Scott Baker's starts. All of which is why Seth Stohs creating the "Bert Blyleven Bingo Board" is a much better (and safer) idea. It seems like fun, but playing would involve taking my television off mute during Twins games and my ears aren't prepared to take that chance.
Nick Punto's refusal to cease sliding head-first into first base has now created one injury along with zero base hits and countless moments of ecstasy for Dick Bremer. Yay for false hustle!
Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.