April 4, 2011

Bullet points and not-so-deep thoughts on a 1-2 weekend in Toronto

• My offseason-long worries about the new middle infield defensively looked legitimate as both Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka made several mistakes in the field. Nishioka in particular committed two obvious errors--booting a ground ball and making an errant throw to first base after coming in on a chopper--and also botched a run-down situation. If nothing else all those Twins-fed, end-of-spring articles touting Nishioka as a Gold Glove candidate seem sort of silly.

Justin Morneau was 1-for-10 in the series, but started all three games while striking out just once and made three or four loud outs on hard-hit balls to the outfield, including a near-double caught in the left-center field gap and a near-homer hauled in at the warning track. To me his durability and overall health remain far bigger question marks than his bat. If he's able to stay in the lineup consistently, he'll hit.

Joe Nathan successfully converted a two-run save in his first appearance since 2009, but it wasn't pretty. He threw just 15 of 31 pitches for strikes and allowed a run on two hits and two walks, with his first out coming on a long fly ball that nearly tied the game. More importantly, as was the case throughout spring training Nathan's velocity was way down. His slider wasn't sharp and his fastball clocked in at 88-91 miles per hour compared to 93-95 mph pre-surgery.

• While not quite as "off" as Nathan's velocity, Francisco Liriano's fastball was a few miles per hour lower than last season and his command was a mess. He walked five versus just three strikeouts, couldn't make it out of the fifth inning, and served up two homers after allowing more than one long ball in just two of 31 starts last season. Of course, next to Carl Pavano's eight-run, three-homer Opening Day outing Liriano's start looked downright impressive.

Nick Blackburn's start was a gem compared to Pavano and Liriano. He couldn't complete six innings, yet kept everyone but the reigning home run champ in the park and looked way more like the mid-rotation starter from 2008/2009 than the batting practice pitcher from most of last year. Blackburn did get away with some crushable pitches, as at least three outs were drilled to center field, but he induced 11 ground balls and his beard was also in midseason form.

• I'll avoid criticizing Ron Gardenhire too much for trotting out his usual "getaway day" lineup in the third game of the season, since presumably he wants to establish a consistent pattern of rest for the regulars, but some lineup decisions left me shaking my head. For instance Jason Kubel, a left-handed hitter with an awful .236/.313/.352 career line off left-handed pitchers, started both games versus a lefty while sitting out the one game against a righty.

• Kubel and Jim Thome each have no business being in the lineup regularly against lefties, yet the lack of a decent right-handed bat on the bench means at least one of them will usually be in there unless Gardenhire gives Jason Repko a rare start. However, to sit Kubel in favor of Michael Cuddyer in the one game started by a righty is just odd. Kubel's only real value is his ability to hit righties and Cuddyer hit just .261/.319/.423 off righties from 2008 to 2010.

• While the spring training debate centered on Luke Hughes versus Matt Tolbert for the utility infielder role, Tolbert winning that job was no shock given his ability to play shortstop and the fact that Gardenhire started him there over Casilla in Game 3. However, we've already seen how Hughes could still come in plenty handy as a righty-hitting alternative to Kubel (or Thome) against lefties. Unfortunately the decision to carry seven relievers leaves no room for him.

Denard Span's ability to bounce back offensively is a big key this season and he looked good at the plate, going 5-for-11 with a homer and two walks while seeing a ton of pitches. Span and Danny Valencia were the only Twins to homer in the series, whereas the Blue Jays went deep a total of seven times while out-scoring the good guys 22 to 8. Dating back to last year Twins pitchers have now allowed 32 homers in 12 games against the Blue Jays.

• Yesterday's bullpen usage was interesting, as Gardenhire turned to Jose Mijares in the sixth inning and then used Glen Perkins for the eighth frame. Not exactly the assumed lefty pecking order and showing that much faith in Perkins is ... well, let's say surprising. Also of note is that Matt Capps worked the seventh inning for the first since 2007 after Mijares had back-to-back walks leading off the frame. In general less rigid bullpen roles are a positive, but I'm skeptical.

• New third base coach Steve Liddle made a Scott Ullger-like mistake getting Valencia thrown out at the plate in the fifth inning when holding him up would have kept the Twins in a bases-loaded, no-out situation with a 2-1 lead and the top of the lineup potentially breaking things wide open. Not every out at the plate comes from a third base coach's error and Valencia may have been safe if not for a great throw, but that's a spot where taking a risk isn't needed.

• In the first inning of Saturday's game rookie Kyle Drabek struck out the side as Nishioka and Morneau complained about umpire Angel Hernandez's spacious strike zone. Meanwhile, amid the whiffing and moaning Joe Mauer drew a four-pitch walk. Drabek, who was acquired from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay trade and is the 23-year-old son of former Cy Young winner Doug Drabek, threw seven one-hit innings in his fourth career start and his cutter was nasty.

• Next up: Four games against the Yankees in New York. No big deal or anything.

50 Comments »

  1. Twins better pack a lunch because the yanks are better than the jays in every way.

    Comment by pk — April 3, 2011 @ 9:54 pm

  2. 5-2 isn’t a bad way to start the season.

    Comment by Jontler — April 3, 2011 @ 9:55 pm

  3. The Jays have more power and potentially better pitching than the Yankees, so I wouldn’t say “every” way.

    Comment by spookymilk — April 3, 2011 @ 11:36 pm

  4. 1-6 is though.

    Comment by Wes — April 3, 2011 @ 11:43 pm

  5. Get ready for a long season. Tolbert spelling Lexi and Nishi regularly because of slumps and errors is going to be painful. The lack of right handed bench bat and catcher who can hit along with Gardy’s tendency to play lefty’s against lefty’s is going to be rough.

    Comment by brian — April 4, 2011 @ 1:08 am

  6. a 1st win is a 1st win…but all other things..really rough

    Comment by chris — April 4, 2011 @ 2:52 am

  7. Gardy’s substitution in the 8th was also quizzical. He used his bench (Casilla and Repko) for pinch runners, thus removing Morneau and Kubel, but he didn’t pinch hit for Butera with runners in scoring position and two outs.

    Comment by Obie Holmen — April 4, 2011 @ 7:29 am

  8. When will people give up on comparing everything to Hudson and Hardy last year? They played 76 games together, hit horrible .268/.330, were brittle and will be this year. Not saying Casilla and Nishi will be great but I think their potential and ability appear as good if not better than the boys from last year.

    Comment by mell — April 4, 2011 @ 8:12 am

  9. If you think Hardy and Hudson’s hitting was “horrible” last year, you are not going to like the 2011 Twins. Also, “brittle” is an exaggeration. Hardy playing 100 games and Hudson playing 120 isn’t great, but it was also below average for them, meaning they normally play more. They could be “brittle” again this year, but there is no reasoning that suggests they will be, and I would wager on over 130 games for both. Either way, Nishi is an unknown, and Casilla has never played more than 100 games in a season (mostly to do ineffectiveness instead of injury, though).

    Comment by Kopy — April 4, 2011 @ 8:25 am

  10. mell, maybe it’s becasue they were awesome on defense last year, and Casilla has never been consistent on defense…and he’s been an awful hitter over his career.

    As for the relief pitching, I loved that Gardy brought in his “best reliever” in the 7th in a high leverage situation. It’s almost like he read the interwebs over the winter or something. I loved that part.

    Nathan’s “save” shows just how stupid that metric is. He was horrible yesterday, yet of all the relievers he gets the cool stat and the big bucks (not saying he’s not the best RP, just pointing out how stupid the stat is).

    That said, I don’t get his pinch running fetish. I don’t get how Thome or Mauer doesn’t PH in the 8th. I’d rather have Tolbert hit with the bases loaded after the intentional walk, than ever have Butera hit. Ever.

    Gardy resting Kubel against a righty was just odd. I doubt he can explain his thinking. Frankly, odd is too nice a word.

    I hate the 7 relievers thing, but it is what it is, and I hope I don’t complain about it all year.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — April 4, 2011 @ 8:26 am

  11. The STrib noted that the original plan was for Mijares to finish the sixth and pitch the seventh, but he ruined that with his inability to throw strikes to the bottom of the order. Capps had to get all three outs in the seventh, so they didn’t want him to pitch two innings after pitching Saturday, so Perkins was brought in. That worked brilliantly as Perkins went 1-2-3 with a K. Also, I haven’t seen anyone get quotes from Gardy, Liddle or Valencia, but Danny was so close behind Kubel, I almost wonder if Liddle would have been able to stop him. Anyway, Travis Snider played it brilliantly, staying back on the high hop and throwing a strike all the way to the catcher.

    Comment by SoCalTwinsfan — April 4, 2011 @ 9:04 am

  12. I noticed that the radar gun in Rogers Center was a couple of miles per hour slow. Several pitchers who normally sit in the 93-94 rage were sitting at 91-92. The only pitcher who threw harder than 93 was Drabek. So I’m not that concerned about Liriano’s or Nathan velo. I suspect the Yankee stadium gun will give us a better sense of how hard our guys throw.

    Comment by cmathewson — April 4, 2011 @ 9:29 am

  13. I noticed that the radar gun in Rogers Center was a couple of miles per hour slow. Several pitchers who normally sit in the 93-94 rage were sitting at 91-92. The only pitcher who threw harder than 93 was Drabek. So I’m not that concerned about Liriano’s or Nathan velo. I suspect the Yankee stadium gun will give us a better sense of how hard our guys throw.

    I wasn’t going off the Rogers Center radar gun. Also won’t be going off the Yankee Stadium radar gun. There are better sources for velocity data at this point.

    Comment by aarongleeman — April 4, 2011 @ 9:37 am

  14. I’m still baffled by Butera in the eighth. I understand resting Mauer (although the third game seems ridiculous) but wouldn’t it still count as rest if he only caught the last inning and a half after pinch-hitting (against a righty) for Butera? It’s as if Gardy plays with a three-man bench when Mauer rests – it can’t hurt him too much to pinch hit or catch an inning or two can it? Also, I wonder if there would have been a difference with him catching Nathan (that’s complete conjecture, and I’m assuming Nathan and Butera have never worked together…)

    Comment by lazers — April 4, 2011 @ 9:37 am

  15. Disturbing was seeing Nishioka’s blunder on the rundown. Who after the fifth grade chases the runner with his throwing hand at his waist? You’re supposed to hold the ball face high, wrist back, then flip the ball to the guy at first by sticking your throwing fingers “in his eyes.” Instead, Nishi gunned it like an unschooled kid.

    I acknowledge that he’s got great potential, but I’m seeing an unfinished ballplayer in Nishioka.

    Comment by jimbo92107 — April 4, 2011 @ 9:47 am

  16. 11 errors in hardy’s 100 games and 8 errors in 123 games for hudson, defense good but not great or “awesome”. I just hope we can quit comparing to those two at some point.

    Comment by mell — April 4, 2011 @ 9:57 am

  17. 11 errors in hardy’s 100 games and 8 errors in 123 games for hudson, defense good but not great or “awesome”. I just hope we can quit comparing to those two at some point.

    You’re in the wrong place to be quoting errors as the way to evaluate defense.

    Comment by aarongleeman — April 4, 2011 @ 9:58 am

  18. Geez, Aaron. Giving up on Nishioka’s defense after 3 games? He’s switching positions and is fighting some nerves because every move he makes is being watched by us and the Japanese baseball market. I could do without the shakey play too, but it’s still too early to hammer down the judgment at this point.

    Comment by TMW — April 4, 2011 @ 10:04 am

  19. Geez, Aaron. Giving up on Nishioka’s defense after 3 games? He’s switching positions and is fighting some nerves because every move he makes is being watched by us and the Japanese baseball market. I could do without the shakey play too, but it’s still too early to hammer down the judgment at this point.

    Where am I “giving up on Nishioka’s defense” or “hammering down the judgment”?

    Also, he’s only “switching positions” in the sense that he played shortstop last season. He won a Gold Glove award at second base in Japan.

    Comment by aarongleeman — April 4, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  20. I really think Nishioka will settle down and be fine at 2B. I think this is a case of nerves; he’s pressing and he should be fine once he settles in and gets more comfortable. I was happy that after looking a little shaky, Gardy didn’t yank him in the “get away” game for Tolbert.

    With the starters failing to get deep in a game in this series, the 7-man bullpen is looking less stupid right now, but I still have hope that once the season gets rolling one of these guys will get sent down or traded in favor of a RH bat for the bench.

    1-2 isn’t a great start to the season but it’s hardly anything to panic over. A sweep by the Yankees isn’t even enough to really freak out over, though I’m sure most people will. If the Twins get a split, it’ll be a pretty solid start, especially considering how badly Pavano & Liriano tanked their first 2 starts.

    I’m a little concerned about Nathan’s velocity and command, although the curve looked really good. I’d like to believe the mixing & matching of bullpen guys means Gardy is going to be less rigid in bullpen roles and will use the top guys in high-leverage situations in the 6th or 7th innings, but I doubt it.

    Other than Span & Kubel the whole team has started out hitting pretty poorly, but it’s an awfully small sample size. The bats will be fine. I do think Span’s approach at the plate this year with a little more aggressiveness may be very good for him, but time will tell.

    Comment by Josh — April 4, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  21. Aaron, where in your first bullet point am I supposed to get the impression that you’re NOT coming to a conclusion about his defense?

    Comment by TMW — April 4, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  22. Aaron, where in your first bullet point am I supposed to get the impression that you’re NOT coming to a conclusion about his defense?

    Stuff like this makes me sad.

    I had questions about the middle infield defense and both middle infielders performed poorly in the first three games. That’s the entirety of the first bullet point. That you can read this entry and think I came to a “conclusion” about Nishioka’s defense is depressing. You’ve been reading this blog for a long time. Have you found that I often base things off three-game samples?

    Comment by aarongleeman — April 4, 2011 @ 10:38 am

  23. ‘Have you found that I often base things off three-game samples?’

    Not at all, that’s why I called it out. It seemed out of character. But how do you not write something that comes of over-reactionary in a ‘first impressions, bullet points’ type of entry? So I’m not too bent out of shape about it.

    Your ability to keep the long run in mind is typically great and refreshing compared to the majority of coverage in this town. But you’re affirming worries and already linking the fluff pieces like we already know how it is when it’s still way too early to tell.

    Comment by TMW — April 4, 2011 @ 10:56 am

  24. Sigh.

    Comment by aarongleeman — April 4, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  25. I forgot the only way to measure defense is in UZR. Only everybody is getting upset with the new guy making some errors, which is why errors were mentioned with the golden ones (H & H). Morneau played that rundown a little sketchy too. With Hardy and Hudson this team ranks with the ’27 yanks. Let’s admit they can play better and the Twins have not been all that great defensively in several years. No need to hit the panic button.

    Comment by mell — April 4, 2011 @ 11:17 am

  26. Seriously, how hard is it to coach third base? Guys are going to get thrown out sometimes, but not by that much, and certainly not with no outs. It shouldn’t be that hard.

    I don’t think anyone should poop their pants over a bad road series against a good team. I think that 1-2 was the mostly likely outcome beforehand, and that is what we got even if it was pretty ugly.

    Dusty Hughes will be off the roster by June 1.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — April 4, 2011 @ 11:22 am

  27. Who is panicking? Some people are pointing out that there were concerns coming into the season about the MIF, and that those concerns were only reinforced in the first three games. I don’t see anyone drawing conclusions about the whole season. I see people saying, “hey, I was a little worried, and I still am.” Nothing more, nothing less.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — April 4, 2011 @ 11:23 am

  28. Aaron: TMw is off base. Thanks for your thoughts on the first, disappointing series.

    Comment by brookynegg — April 4, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

  29. It was nice to get the win yesterday, but obviously this wasn’t a good series. I wonder what Mauer thought about the rest yesterday? I’m sure he wanted to at least DH and get in a good early-season groove. That was the most questionable move.

    The defense was not good at all throughout the series. A lot of the season will rely on Delmon, Cuddy, and the MIF playing consistent defense. I’m not too optimistic about that though.

    I am optimistic about the ‘pen. I think if Gardy pulls the right strings, the pen will be very effective. However, I don’t think the personnel with remain the same.

    It seems the the Twins too often get off to rough April starts because they don’t have the right players in the right roles. Not only is this evident in the pen, but especially with Hughes/Tolbert.

    Here’s to hoping we can win 2 or 3 (if we win 4, I’ll fly) at the Stadium.

    Comment by Zach Morris — April 4, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

  30. Sorry for the double post, but I just thought that Gardy may have rested Mauer so we can play all four Yankee Games. Either way, he still should have pinch-hit for Butera. Even Bremer subtly said it.

    Comment by Zach Morris — April 4, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

  31. I think people will get a kick out this…

    Baseballreference.com lists D. Butera as the Twins best player for 2011.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/MIN/

    Comment by pk — April 4, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

  32. Seems like the Mijares/Perkins deal might be less about “faith” in Perkins as the fact that Gardy wanted Jose to pitch the 7th as well (until he walked 2) and then went to Capps. Seems like the plan was for Jose 6th & 7th, Capps 8th and then Nathan 9th based on his post game comments and actions during the game.

    Comment by Robb — April 4, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  33. I think Slowey would normally get that call in the 8 before Perkins, but he was used Friday and Saturday already.

    Comment by TMW — April 4, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

  34. Anyone know if the game tonight on ESPN3.com is blacked out here the Twin Cities?

    Comment by MickJ — April 4, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

  35. generally espn3.com action that is locally broadcast is blacked out….and sometimes even action that isn’t locally broadcast is blacked out. So, if FSN or someone here in MN is broadcasting, I can almost guarantee it will be blacked out. Or, you can get an IP scrambler, so they don’t think you are in MN, and it might, might work here (something I should check into for mlb.tv – why would I pay for mlb.tv if I can’t watch the Twins?).

    Comment by mike wants WINS — April 4, 2011 @ 3:12 pm

  36. Wow. AG usually doesn’t reply to the comment rabble. Must be fired up at the beginning of the season. Also thought you were refreshingly more unfiltered during your game twitter. More of those please.

    Comment by brian — April 4, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

  37. i started a twitter account because of AG.

    Comment by pk — April 4, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

  38. I saw AG save a cat from a tree once :P

    Isn’t it a little unfair that the Yankees got Friday off, thus giving their rotation an extra day of rest? Or am I just being whiny and paranoid?

    Comment by Zach Morris — April 4, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

  39. Butera is the “Twins best player” because the stat they use, WAR, isn’t calculated yet, and he’s first alphabetically among the hitters (who are apparently listed before the pitchers). :-)

    Comment by Twinstalker — April 4, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

  40. FWIW, I agree with TMW. If the shoe were on the other foot and Reusse or Souhan put out an article with the first line of “If nothing else all those Twins-fed, end-of-spring articles touting Morneau as being back 100%, seem sort of silly.”, Gleeman would (rightly) rip the crap out of it.

    If you’re going to pat yourself on the back for being a skeptic of the Twins propaganda, at least wait until the end of April.

    Comment by AaronGNP — April 4, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  41. Cuddy on the bench against the righthander with both Thome and Kubel in the lineup. Has Gardy seen the light?

    Comment by Twindy — April 4, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

  42. I hope so. If the line-up is successful, maybe he’ll rely on it. It’ll be nice if they can get into the bullpen quick and Cuddy can pinch-hit on a lefty.

    Comment by Zach Morris — April 4, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

  43. Surprising that the Blue Jays took 2 out of 3 from the Twins. I definitely see the Twins improving after this series and to get on track with their winning ways.

    Comment by Jon L. — April 4, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

  44. Man, there is no one at the Yankees game. What is with the people of NY?

    Comment by mike wants wins — April 4, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

  45. Jon L.: it’s not all that surprising that a team as good as the Jays took two of three in Toronto. The fact that both losses were ridiculous beatdowns, however…that was ugly.

    mike: I assume it’s the same as last year; those ultra-expensive seats are bought out by corporations and given as freebies to employees, who may or may not care about baseball. It looks so awful on TV…

    Comment by spookymilk — April 4, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

  46. I live in New York, I’m not surprised no one was there. I don’t know what it is, though. Too many casual fans that only go on the weekends for a social event instead of caring about the actual baseball, I think. Either way, tickets for this whole series can be had for $5 on StubHub, so it’s not ticket prices (although they are expensive straight from the Yankees ticket office).

    Comment by Kopy — April 4, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

  47. Sorry for the double post, but I checked for kicks, and the rest of the series is down to $2. You know it’s bad when people are undercutting their prices against each other by pennies so their tickets get bought. i.e. $4 vs. $3.99 vs. $3.95, etc.

    Comment by Kopy — April 4, 2011 @ 11:34 pm

  48. Two dollars to get a ticket to a baseball game, in a city with how many millions of people? That’s pretty sad.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — April 5, 2011 @ 11:21 am

  49. I know this is a little late, but I might as well post it.

    Drew Butera is better at blocking balls in the dirt than Joe Mauer.

    Drew Butera, by himself, saved that last game in Toronto, by knocking down about 6 or 7 Joe Nathan pitches in the dirt. Yet all people do is complain that Gardenhire didn’t pinch hit Mauer for him in the 8th. How about we praise Butera for making great play after great play in the bottom of the 9th to help out Nathan?

    Comment by Allen — April 5, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  50. Butera is short.

    Comment by brian — April 5, 2011 @ 11:27 pm

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