August 22, 2007

Twins Notes: Guts, Bats, Comebacks, and Quotes

  • One of the few non-serious remarks that I made during my radio debut earlier this month was comparing my physique to Boof Bonser's. The discussion centered around Bonser's inability to get past the middle innings of starts without seemingly falling apart, so I suggested that perhaps his prominent "beer gut" was playing a role in the struggles. The comment was half-serious and half-joke (or at least half-attempted-joke), but apparently the Twins have been thinking the same thing:

    With Boof Bonser riding a 12-start winless streak, the Twins will keep him in the starting rotation, but they want him to lose weight. Bonser, 24, is listed on the roster at 6-4 and 260 pounds. Manager Ron Gardenhire said Bonser has worked hard to maintain that weight all season, but now the team wants to see how he will do by shedding about 10 to 15 pounds.

    Gardenhire said he has spoken to strength and conditioning coach Perry Castellano about a diet program Bonser can begin soon and carry into the offseason. "It's not like his weight really fluctuates up and down; it stays the same," Gardenhire said. "He comes in and does all of his work, but if we got him down to a better weight, we'll see. We'll talk to him about it and see if that will help."

    Bonser has allowed a .271 batting average on pitches 1-50, compared to a .360 batting average on pitches 51-75, which certainly makes it seem as though weight-related stamina problems are a major issue. However, his opponent's batting average drops to .227 on pitches 76-100, which suggests that perhaps a lack of stamina isn't entirely to blame for his struggles. Whatever the case, my advice is to hop on an elliptical machine. Oh, and if Bonser is 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, I'm the Easter Bunny.

  • Patrick Reusse's column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune earlier this week punched some holes in the oft-cited talk about the Twins being a so-called "small-market team" that's extremely limited by a small payroll. Reusse notes that the Twins' payroll ranks third in the AL Central and 18th among all 30 MLB teams, which goes a long way towards addressing the cries of owner Carl Pohlad's budgetary constraints hampering Terry Ryan's ability to build a decent offense. Here's a quote from Ryan:

    I was given [financial] parameters to add a player. I wasn't able to get a deal because of what other teams wanted for the players we were interested in. It wasn't because of financial restraints.

    Whenever I criticize Ryan for not adding a hitter, I get e-mails and comments saying stuff like, "Ryan did the right thing, because trading Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey for a rental bat would have been stupid." The assumption seems to be that Ryan's only choice was to either break the bank for a superstar or do absolutely nothing. In that scenario, I agree that standing pat was the correct move. Unfortunately, he had plenty of other options.

    Trading for someone like Mark Teixeira would have been far too costly in terms of both money and prospects, but the offense features enough gaping holes that simply acquiring a couple middling bats last month would have made a huge difference. Other teams have proven that it costs little to acquire hitters like Jeff DaVanon, Jose Cruz Jr., Brady Clark, Shea Hillenbrand, Russell Branyan, Mark Sweeney, Rob Mackowiak, Craig Monroe, Bobby Kielty, Wily Mo Pena, and Marlon Anderson.

    The list goes on and on, because finding mediocre hitters just isn't all that difficult. None of those guys are going to single-handedly push a team into the playoffs and they're not even guaranteed to hit well down the stretch, but it wouldn't have taken much for Ryan to acquire someone who's an improvement over filling the lineup with Nick Punto, Jason Tyner, Darnell McDonald, Rondell White, Garrett Jones, Lew Ford, and Luis Rodriguez. The team needed help and Ryan refused to get it.

  • Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston opined that the Indians are "impersonating a big-league team" offensively and criticized general manager Mark Shapiro for putting together a lineup that he called "completely bewildered." Cleveland ranks next-to-last among MLB teams in second-half scoring, so there's certainly room to criticize. However, despite all their struggles at the plate the Indians have scored 26 percent more runs per game than the Twins since the All-Star break.
  • The Star Tribune has been home to literally dozens of health updates on the perpetually injured White, but the newspaper provided rare details on Francisco Liriano's status over the weekend:

    Terry Ryan said lefthander Francisco Liriano, who had elbow ligament replacement surgery on Nov. 6, has had no setbacks while working out in Fort Myers, Fla. While Ryan couldn't be specific as to when Liriano will be able to get on a mound, he said Liriano remains on track to be ready by spring training. Ryan said in February that Liriano might be able to pitch in winter ball, but Ryan was more cautious Friday.

    Every other day, Liriano throws 10 times from 40 feet and 60 feet, five times from 90 feet and 15 times from 120 feet before tapering back down. That's in addition to daily workouts. Ryan said he's pleased with Liriano's fitness and work ethic. "I don't have one issue with that man," Ryan said.

    The Twins have said from the outset that Liriano will not pitch this season, so it makes sense for the local media to avoid frequent updates on his status. On the other hand, a bi-weekly note about how he's doing wouldn't hurt and the number of e-mails I've received asking whether his recovery is on track suggests that the coverage has been lacking. Incidentally, for all the attention paid to White's recovery and all the glowing quotes about his potential impact, he's 8-for-56 (.143) since returning.

  • Johan Santana's historic 17-strikeout masterpiece Sunday afternoon produced a whole bunch of good quotes from the Rangers, including manager Ron Washington saying: "The only thing you can do is sit on the changeup, and if he throws you three straight fastballs, you're screwed." Here's a little more from Washington, who previously witnessed a pair of Santana's best performances while on the A's coaching staff:

    You can have all the plans you want, but if he puts his pitches and has his changeup working the way he had it today, your plan is out the door. The way he threw today, he might have got 17 strikeouts against whoever, it might have been the 1927 Yankees.

    Michael Young, who struck out three times against Santana after coming into the game batting .305, had this to say:

    That was as good as I've seen his changeup and that's saying something. You don't know when to sit on it. He's the best pitcher in the game for a reason. In the past, I've had good at-bats against him, but once he gets a full head of steam, it's hard to break up his rhythm. We started talking about different game plans in the dugout, but we couldn't get consistent with any of them.

    Sammy Sosa had the Rangers' only hits off Santana, but called him "unbelievable" and "awesome," adding that he's "never seen him like that before." Kevin Millwood, who matched up against Santana and took the loss despite allowing just one run, said: "I didn't like it, but he went out and he dominated. That's just all you can say. You run up against that, you just tip your hat." Santana will try for an encore tomorrow night against the Orioles, whom he beat on Opening Day.

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

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