April 9, 2007

Yankees 8, Twins 2

  • After spending much of the offseason criticizing the Twins' decision to fill the starting rotation with washed-up veterans rather than trust their young talent, many of you probably expect me to go off on a long rant about Sidney Ponson's eight-run outing last night. But I won't, because for the most part I actually think Ponson pitched reasonably well. He was good? Absolutely not. Was he as bad as the grotesque 12.71 ERA would suggest? Not even close.

    The top of the first inning tells the story of Ponson's night pretty well. Johnny Damon led off with a broken-bat looper over Justin Morneau's head that landed right on the chalk down the first-base line for a double. Derek Jeter followed with a perfectly placed infield single between Nick Punto at third base and Jason Bartlett at shortstop. Bobby Abreu drove Damon in from third base with a clean single to center field, putting the Yankees up 1-0.

    Ponson got Alex Rodriguez on a fly ball to right field for the first out, but then walked Jason Giambi to load the bases thanks in part to being squeezed by the home-plate umpire. Jorge Posada lofted a relatively deep fly ball into left field, which Jason Kubel promptly played into a two-run double by taking a Shannon Stewart-like route to the ball. Six batters into the game and only Abreu had produced a clean hit, yet it was already 3-0 Yankees and Ponson had to wriggle out of further damage.

    The same basic theme played out for the rest of the night, with a combination of bad breaks, shaky defense, and ultimately a pair of homers leading to Ponson's ugly line. It was a good example of the theory that pitchers don't have a ton of control over balls in play, because Ponson certainly produced enough fieldable balls to have escaped with significantly less damage being done. In fact, there wasn't a ton separating Ponson's eight-run start last night from Silva's one-run start Saturday.

    The defense made some plays on the balls in play Silva induced. With Ponson, everything found a hole, the defense let him down several times in big spots, the strike zone moved around on him, and he fell apart by serving up the two homers. I realize that the Ponson-Silva argument sounds relatively absurd, but with a little help from the defense I honestly think Ponson could have followed Silva's lead by turning in five or six decent innings.

  • Kubel looked completely lost on the "double" in the first inning, which is a concern given how little action he's seen in the outfield because of his ongoing knee problems. Last night was Kubel's debut defensively this season, he saw most of his time at designated hitter during spring training, and he was almost exclusively a DH and pinch-hitter for the final three months of 2006. My guess is that with Rondell White's calf injury sending him to the disabled list, we'll see a lot of Jason Tyner in left field.
  • Speaking of White's injury, it's amazing how quickly my concerns about the Twins' lack of position-player depth have become an issue. Tyner has already started back-to-back games in left field, with one of them coming against a left-handed pitcher, and Mike Redmond has already started back-to-back games at DH, with one of them coming against a right-handed pitcher. Those two things tell you an awful lot about either Ron Gardenhire's lineup-making ability or the Twins' depth, or perhaps both.

    Whether it's Corky Miller or Chris Heintz, carrying a non-hitter as a third catcher is almost always a waste of a roster spot. The one somewhat compelling reason that I've heard for the Twins doing so is the concern about Joe Mauer's leg injury. In theory, having Heintz around would make it easier for Gardenhire to either give Mauer a full day off or remove catching duties from the workload by playing him at DH.

    Instead, Mauer has started all six games behind the plate and Gardenhire decided that it's Redmond's bat that he needs in the lineup at DH. Redmond hit .341 overall last season, which is surely why Gardenhire thinks he's a capable DH, but his outstanding production against southpaws masked the fact that he batted just .275/.298/.330 against righties. He's a career .271/.330/.335 hitter against righties, which makes starting him at DH against Carl Pavano last night all kinds of confusing.

    Injuries to White and Jeff Cirillo haven't left Gardenhire with many lineup options, but part of that stems from the decision to keep Heintz on the roster in the first place. If you're going to carry a third catcher and you're going to start Redmond against right-handers despite his lack of production against them, shouldn't you at least be lessening Mauer's workload in the process? And if not, then what exactly is the point of carrying Heintz? So Redmond can be misused for his bat?

  • Between being 1-for-18 (.056) at the plate and making three errors at shortstop, Bartlett is off to a horrendous start. With Alexi Casilla called up to replace Cirillo on the roster (and Josh Rabe called up to replace White), it'll be interesting to see if Gardenhire is as willing to bench Bartlett for a rookie as he was for a veteran. My hope is that Bartlett is given a relatively long leash, because 18 at-bats is nothing to be worried about and he's hit a few well-stuck balls that have been turned into outs.

    Bartlett continues to show good range defensively, but it's concerning that he's looked so jittery and heavy-handed after getting to balls. Casilla gives the Twins a legitimate backup middle infielder, but using him as a bench player would be a waste of his service time and development. He certainly doesn't fill Cirillo's role as a part-time third baseman, platoon DH, and backup first baseman, so any playing time Casilla gets would seemingly come at Bartlett's expense.

  • Two burning questions: First, why is Torii Hunter trying to steal second base (and narrowly avoiding being thrown out) down five runs in the fifth inning? Second, why did FSN decide to leave the camera on Ponson when it was clear that he was intent on picking his nose after being pulled from the game in the sixth inning?

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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