July 18, 2006
Twins 8, Devil Rays 1
If not for Ron Gardenhire's (entirely logical) decision to pinch-hit Terry Tiffee for Justin Morneau in the eighth inning of last night's blowout win over the Devil Rays, Francisco Liriano would have tossed the first complete-game shutout of his career. Instead, Liriano had to settle for this line:
IP H R ER BB SO HR PIT
8.2 3 1 0 0 7 0 111
Tiffee's inability to catch a low Jason Bartlett throw in the ninth inning led to an unearned run scoring and Liriano being yanked in favor of Kyle Lohse with one out left, but that doesn't take away from the overall performance. Liriano is now 11-2 with a 1.94 ERA as a 22-year-old rookie, including 10-2 with a ridiculous 1.58 ERA in a dozen starts since joining the rotation in mid-May.
Liriano was his typical dominant self last night, throwing strikes and missing bats, but he gave up more fly balls than normal. In fact, 13 of Liriano's 19 non-strikeout outs came through the air, which is unusual for a guy whose 2.28-to-1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio ranked third among AL starters heading into the game. Of course, most of the fly balls were more like pop ups, so it didn't much matter.
It was particularly nice to see Liriano come up with an impressive outing after having his worst start of the year last time out against the Indians. He shook off having his six-game winning streak snapped while serving up three homers to Cleveland, and looked as overpowering as ever. Last night was the sixth time in 12 starts that Liriano has failed to surrender a single earned run.
It's tough to focus on anything except Liriano after a performance like that, but here are some other notes from the game ...
Punto avoiding the disabled list is a nice change of pace given how much injuries have depleted the roster already this month and he's a big part of the new-look lineup. Losing Hunter takes away one of the team's few legitimate power threats, but with Luis Castillo and Punto at the top of the lineup and Tyner and Bartlett at the bottom of the order, the Twins have the ability to go first-to-third on singles all night.
I'm generally of the opinion that speed is overrated in terms of actual impact on wins and losses, but when the speed comes in the form of guys who actually get on base it's plenty valuable. I'd prefer a lineup full of guys like Morneau, but short of that it's nice to see hitters putting together good at-bats, scrapping to get on base any way they can, and then putting pressure on the defense once they reach.
Still, White runs the bases like a drunk little leaguer far too often given that he's not actually on base all that much. What makes it especially odd is that he's still plenty athletic and has above-average speed at 34 years old. It seems to be either a complete lack of instincts or some kind of mental block, or maybe a combination of both.
With that said, White went 2-for-3 with a walk last night and is 5-for-10 with a homer since returning from Triple-A, so it's a little easier to stomach some baserunning blunders now than when he was making four outs per game at the plate. Plus, he tracked down a fly ball in the left-center field gap last night that Shannon Stewart would have needed a bus and multiple transfers to get to.
No. 25 came off Scott Kazmir, which gives Morneau nine homers in 114 at-bats against left-handed pitchers. Not only is that impressive for any left-handed hitter, it's amazing considering Morneau came into this year with just seven homers in 255 career at-bats against southpaws. As I said yesterday, it's time to move him into the cleanup spot and let him stay there for the rest of the decade.