April 27, 2004

Disaster Averted

I was "watching" the Twins play the Blue Jays last night on MLB.com's Gameday play-by-play tracker. Johan Santana got the start for the Twins and it looked like it was going to be a disastrous start for the struggling lefty.

Santana gave up hits to three of the first four batters he faced and he was down 2-0 immediately. Then in the second inning, Santana hit the first batter he faced and gave up a single to the second guy. Two batters later, Cristian Guzman made an error that allowed a run to score, and then Santana walked Chris Gomez. At this point, I was thinking the worst possible thoughts.

Santana has not pitched well this year and, as I've discussed before, he has been the same type of pitcher that he's been over the past two years. He hasn't been able to put hitters away with two strikes and he hasn't been nearly as fly ball dominant as he has been in the past. And now he's giving up singles and doubles to the Blue Jays and it was 3-0 with runners on base in the second inning.

Santana got a double play to get out of the second without any more problems, but he got back into trouble in the fourth inning. Kevin Cash led off the inning with a single, Orlando Hudson followed with another one, and then Reed Johnson drove Cash in from second with yet another single. Once again, Santana got a double play to avoid a total meltdown, but plenty of damage had already been done.

Through four innings, the Twins were down 4-0 and Santana's line looked like a total mess:

IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO

4 7 4 3 1 2

Yuck. Now, Santana was not being hit particularly hard (six of the seven hits were singles) and his defense had let him down a couple of times, but still...not pretty.

Then, just when I was about ready to officially panic, he came back and did this:

IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO

3 1 0 0 1 6

That is a Johan Santana that I've grown to love over the last two years, the guy we haven't seen yet this whole year. He struck out six of the 11 batters he faced after the fourth inning, and all six of them were swinging strikeouts.

It's funny how quickly things can change. After four innings, I was worried that perhaps Santana wasn't recovered from his off-season elbow surgery, or worse, that he was hurt again. I was worried that all this talk about Santana not being able to get a feel for his changeup was going to be a long-term problem. I was worried that the pitcher I have been hyping and getting excited about for two years now was just not right.

And then, in the next three innings, he was so dominant that I almost forget all about my worries. As bad as the first four innings were, Santana ended up with a start that was by far his best of the season (which isn't say all that much, admittedly):

IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT

7 8 4 3 2 8 0 108

It's not a great game by any means, but it's a step up from what we've seen from Santana so far this year and it's a whole lot better than how it looked after four innings.

Check out the difference between how Santana pitched in his first two starts of the season and how he's done in his last three starts:

              IP     SO     SO9     GB     FB     G/F

First 2 9.0 4 4.0 20 5 4.0
Next 3 19.1 20 9.3 23 22 1.0

That's not to say Santana is back to where he was last year. He's still giving up too many homers (aside from last night) and far too many singles, but the strikeouts are back and he's not the ground ball machine he was early in the year.

Just like Santana, the Twins as a whole were horrible for the first four innings last night and then were great after that. Juan Rincon relieved Santana after seven innings and threw two shutout innings to combine with Santana for five straight scoreless frames.

While Santana and Rincon were keeping the Blue Jays off the scoreboard, the Twins were putting up some big numbers. They scored one in the fifth inning, two in the eighth and then put up a four-spot in the bottom of the ninth, winning the game on a Jacque Jones three-run homer.

Aside from Santana's in-game turnaround and a great comeback by the Twins offense, there was another piece of good news. Ron Gardenhire batted Luis Rivas at the bottom of the lineup for the second straight game, after batting the useless second baseman in the #2 spot until this week.

On Monday I ranted about Rivas' suckiness and basically said that I was at the end of my rope when it came to watching (or not watching, I guess) him stink up the place. Well, Gardy isn't quite at that point, but it appears he's getting close. First Nick Punto and Michael Cuddyer started to take some playing time away from him and now Rivas has been demoted to the #9 spot.

Personally, I would have Rivas batting leadoff...in Triple-A. Still, I'll take what I can get at this point. Rivas is batting .190 right now, so hopefully he can finally make Gardenhire see the light at some point.

Incidentally, with Rivas out of the #2 spot, the top of the Twins' lineup is exactly how I would have it:

1) Shannon Stewart, R

2) Doug Mientkiewicz, L

3) Corey Koskie, L

Good things come to those who wait, I guess.

New article at The Hardball Times: Old Man Franco

Today's picks:

Florida (Beckett) -160 over Colorado (Jennings)

Philadelphia (Myers) +135 over St. Louis (Marquis)

Atlanta (Ortiz) -120 over San Francisco (Tomko)

Total to date: $200

W/L record: 25-28 (2-4 yesterday for -220, with one rainout.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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