April 12, 2006

Twins 6, Athletics 5

Some notes as I try to get used to back-to-back one-run wins and an offense that looked major-league caliber two nights in a row ...

  • I (hypothetically) bet pretty heavily on the Twins last night, not because I was confident in Carlos Silva pitching well, but because I was confident in Esteban Loaiza pitching poorly. I watched his first start of the year last week and wrote the following about Loaiza's outing in my Rotoworld column the next day:

    Esteban Loaiza looked absolutely horrible in his start against the Mariners Thursday night, giving up five runs in 4.2 innings while showing off decreased velocity and a complete lack of command. ... This quote from Loaiza following the game pretty much summed up his performance: "The cutter did not work, the changeup was up, the sinker was so-so, the four-seamer was down the middle." But hey, other than that ...

    As expected Loaiza looked horrible again last night, relying on an assortment of off-speed stuff that couldn't make up for a so-so fastball. Considering what took place last season, it was nice to see the Twins actually take advantage of a pitcher who was throwing junk up to the plate.

  • Silva did his best Brad Radke impression, recovering from a bad second inning to finish with a decent outing and the win. It was a little worrisome to see Silva get 10 of his 21 outs in the air, considering he's a strike-throwing machine who relies on inducing tons of grounders. That's a combination that can work, but guys who rarely strike anyone out and let batters put the ball in the air are called "minor leaguers."

    It was just one game and Silva did get plenty of ground-ball outs in his first start, but it's something to keep an eye on. One of the fly-ball outs was a Dan Johnson blast to the warning track in center field, and Silva served up two homers to Nick Swisher. Silva is already walking a pretty thin line with his lack of strikeouts, so introducing a few more fly balls into the mix could be dangerous.

  • Fans and the mainstream media love to talk up the importance of the Twins "doing the little things," but over the past two nights we've seen the huge impact a couple of old-fashioned three-run homers can have. Justin Morneau's power this season has been extremely impressive, and the walk he coaxed against lefty Brad Halsey in the fifth inning last night was very encouraging to see.

    Morneau came into the game with zero walks on the year and has looked brutal against left-handed pitching, but he laid off close pitches and fouled others off to the opposite field, all after falling behind 0-2. He's never going to walk a ton, but being able to draw 50-60 free passes a year will be important as long as his batting average stays low. Last year Morneau drew only 36 non-intentional walks in 543 plate appearances.

  • The new alternate home jerseys with the cutoff sleeves are disturbing to look at, if only because they make the Twins look exactly like the Indians.
  • In this space yesterday I mentioned how surprised I was to see how often Luis Castillo fails to run hard on a ground ball, and last night he added jogging to first base on an infield pop up to his resume. I'm not going to be too tough on Castillo -- I know he's a little worried about leg problems and so far at least it hasn't cost him any hits -- but it's not the greatest thing to see this early in the year.

    I also commented that Castillo didn't look interested in stealing bases during the first seven games of the season, so it was nice to see him successfully steal second base to get into scoring position with Joe Mauer at the plate and two outs in the eighth inning. Mauer struck out, but the spot was a good one to run in (although there's a chance it was actually a busted hit-and-run, since Castillo looked to the plate on the way to second base).

  • Along with Castillo's first stolen base of the season, Shannon Stewart swiped his second base of the year. Like Castillo, Stewart is just a shell of his former self on the bases, but he seems a lot more interested in running this season than in the past. In his first three years with the Twins Stewart stole just 16 bases while being caught 12 times, which is horrible in general and pathetic for a guy who once stole 51 bases in a season.

    Of course, he celebrated going 2-for-2 to begin this year by being picked off in the eighth inning, killing a potential rally when Castillo followed with a single. Stewart hasn't been successful on the bases since 2002, so I'd be in favor of him basically just staying put at this point. With two high-average hitters batting directly behind him, Stewart doesn't really need to risk being thrown out very often.

  • Juan Castro has looked good defensively, but the praise announcers Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven give him is getting ridiculous. Every marginally difficult play Castro makes is a "great one" and even routine plays are met with an exaggerated response from Bremer. On Tuesday he took a circular route to field a ball that was to his right, and made a strong throw to nail the runner at first base. It was a nice play made overly difficult, bug Bremer made it sound like it was the greatest play of all time.

    In the seventh inning last night Castro fielded a tough chopper and made an off-balance throw that Morneau had to scoop out of the dirt at first base. Bremer screamed out, "Oh my, what a play!" and Blyleven went into his already-familiar speech about Castro "waiting all his life for a chance to play every day." Jason Bartlett is capable of making those same plays assuming he ever gets to leave Rochester, New York, but the reaction would be considerably different.

  • Tony Batista followed up his three-run homer Tuesday night with three hits last night, including an RBI double in the second inning. Yesterday I wrote: "Batista's good days are memorable, whereas his bad days just sort of blend in." It turns out that actually applies within the same game, as Batista followed up his RBI double with a misguided stolen-base attempt that predictably failed, and later grounded into a double play.

    Stuff like that eats away at his value along with his lack of walks and statue-like range defensively, yet will almost surely be forgotten when fans look back on the key hits he came up with while swinging at everything all season. On the other hand, he's now hitting .292/.346/.667 on the year, which is more than enough for me to shut up for a few days.

  • Joe Nathan was handed a one-run lead in the ninth inning for the second night in a row, and for the second night in the row he had little problem slamming the door. Imagine being Jay Payton, who led off the ninth inning. He watched Nathan pump 96 MPH fastballs by everyone the night before, only to have him start you off with a 79 MPH curveball on the outside corner. Game over.

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