August 11, 2008

Twins Notes: Cuddyer, Casilla, Liriano, Everett, and Korecky

  • Initially scheduled to come off the disabled list today following the completion of a brief minor-league rehab assignment, Michael Cuddyer will instead be out for an additional 4-6 weeks after breaking his left foot in a Triple-A game Friday. Occupying first base with Garrett Jones at the plate, Cuddyer's jump to avoid a line drive heading in his direction proved unsuccessful as the ball hit "right smack dab in the middle of the foot" and broke the second metatarsal bone.

    Cuddyer hasn't ruled himself out for the remainder of the year, optimistically saying over the weekend that he's "expecting to be back" and wants to "contribute in some capacity" even if it means returning for just a handful of September games and a potential playoff run. Of course, when he landed on the DL with a finger injury in June the hope was that Cuddyer could come back within a few weeks, but instead he was on track to return six weeks later before Jones' line drive found him.

    His impending return had set up Ron Gardenhire for a decision, but now instead of having to squeeze Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, and Carlos Gomez into four lineup spots he'll continue to give the healthy foursome each everyday playing time. It would've been interesting to see who lost at-bats to Cuddyer, because while benching Gomez or even demoting him to Triple-A briefly may have been the obvious move there's a good chance that it wouldn't have been Gardenhire's move.

    Given his poor pre-injury offense and the huge defensive upgrade that came from replacing him with Span in right field, not getting Cuddyer back perhaps isn't as big a blow as it seems. Waiting for him likely kept the Twins from adding a right-handed bat via trade and his .283/.370/.443 career line versus left-handers definitely would've come in handy, but Randy Ruiz can do a solid job against southpaws anyway and despite his big contract Cuddyer just isn't that great an all-around player against righties.

  • While Cuddyer's return has been delayed and perhaps even canceled by another injury, it sounds like Alexi Casilla could be on the verge of returning despite initial fears that he was lost for the season. Casilla was examined by a hand specialist Thursday and the current hope is that he'll be cleared to resume baseball activities once the splint is removed from his injured right thumb later this week. Out since July 28, Nick Punto has gone 9-for-48 (.188) with 11 strikeouts replacing him at second base.
  • Like his first post-demotion start versus the Indians, Francisco Liriano was solid but unspectacular Saturday against the Royals. He more or less cruised through five innings before allowing two doubles and a walk in the sixth frame, finishing with 5.2 innings of three-run ball thanks to reliever Boof Bonser stranding a runner on second base. In two starts since returning from Rochester, he's allowed three runs on nine hits with a 10-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11.2 innings against two poor lineups.

    Interestingly, Joe Christensen notes that if Liriano remains on his current schedule 10 of his 11 starts will come against the AL's six worst offenses, with three matchups against Kansas City and two each versus Seattle, Oakland, and Cleveland. Christensen writes that he's "not sure if the Twins purposely planned it this way," but whatever the case it's probably a good thing for Liriano's short- and long-term success. He's definitely setup to thrive.

  • So much for all that stuff about extending Joe Nathan's usage. After talking a good game last week when it came to helping the struggling bullpen by using Nathan more often in spots that weren't strictly three-out, ninth-inning save situations, Gardenhire predictably let him rot in the bullpen yesterday while the Twins blew an eighth-inning lead on the road and eventually lost in the 12th inning. Twins pitchers faced 50 batters and threw 175 pitches, yet Nathan never took the mound.

    Rather than actually using the team's best, highest-paid pitcher in a crucial eighth-inning jam or in the extra innings of a tie game, Gardenhire let Craig Breslow lose the game in his third inning of work. If you're curious, Nathan last pitched on Friday, when he threw 14 pitches, and threw a grand total of 50 pitches during the first nine days of August. Once again, Gardenhire held him back for a save situation that depending on your point of view either never materialized or emerged full force in the eighth inning.

    Nathan was all set for his usual three-out, ninth-inning save when two hits off Matt Guerrier, a Dennys Reyes wild pitch, and Adam Everett's two-out throwing error let the lead slip away in the eighth. "I just threw it away," Everett said. "You can slice it and dice it and word it anyway you want, but it cost us the game. You know we got Nathan coming in right there ... so I'll take that one for the team. It stinks, but that's the way it is." Despite a two-month DL stint, Everett's shoulder pretty clearly still isn't right.

  • Claimed off waivers by the Rockies last week after being designated for assignment by the Twins, Livan Hernandez made his Coors Field debut yesterday and got rocked by the Padres for nine runs before exiting to "a chorus of boos" in the third inning. Hernandez naturally blamed the ugly outing on the fact that he "didn't pitch for 12 days" while changing leagues and Rockies manager Clint Hurdle agreed, adding that his "ineffectiveness was a combination of rust and location."

    Of course, Hernandez had a 6.87 ERA since mid-May and failed to make it out of the fifth inning four times in his last 10 starts with the Twins. As the typically criticism-free Associated Press game recap pointed out: "Hernandez had allowed a major league-high 199 hits and .341 opponent batting average before he was waived. A move to Coors Field, coupled with nearly two weeks off, wasn't the antidote to those problems." Shockingly, there really isn't an antidote for "being a horrible pitcher."

  • Dumping Hernandez on the Rockies and getting a $1.7 million rebate was nice, but sadly the Twins weren't able to find a taker for Craig Monroe's contract. Monroe was released after clearing waivers, so the Twins ended up paying $3.82 million for him to bat .202/.274/.405 in 179 plate appearances spent primarily at designated hitter. In other words: "Monroe is ill-suited to be an everyday player and vastly overpaid as a reserve, and there are better, cheaper players available to fill either role." Oh well.
  • LaVelle E. Neal III reports that Pat Neshek has an outside shot of pitching again this season despite being out since mid-May with a partially torn elbow ligament. According to LEN3, Neshek has begun playing catch and could be cleared to throw off a mound by the end of the month if he avoids a setback. Getting a healthy Neshek back for the stretch run would obviously be huge, but it's unlikely that he'll pick up right where he left off and waiting until next spring may be best for his long-term outlook.
  • Despite obvious stylistic similarities, LEN3 notes that Kevin Slowey has been the anti-Brad Radke in at least one area: "Slowey hasn't allowed a first-inning run in 18 straight starts, which breaks Camilo Pascual's club record in 1963." While certainly impressive, that also means Slowey has a 4.88 ERA after the first inning. During his career, Radke allowed opponents to bat .285 and slug .508 in the first inning, compared to hitting .273 with a .434 slugging percentage in all other innings.
  • Failing to claim Chad Bradford off waivers last week was a mistake given the bullpen's struggles, but the Twins have another chance to add a veteran reliever after the Rays cut Al Reyes to make room for him on the roster. Reyes is closer to LaTroy Hawkins than Bradford in terms of effectiveness, but has a 4.75 ERA and 89-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 83.1 innings since last year. Of course, he also has a history of arm problems and taser issues, so the Twins passing on him will be understandable.
  • LEN3 received an e-mail from me last week asking him to look into why the Twins haven't recalled Bobby Korecky from Triple-A yet and wrote about the topic yesterday:

    Righthander Bobby Korecky has been solid as the closer, entering Friday 5-4 with a 3.34 ERA and 19 saves. He was called up to the Twins briefly in May and pitched 10 1/3 innings--earning a victory over Texas on May 19. The Twins want him to work on his changeup, which he will need in the majors, but it's hard for him to work on the pitch in closing situations.

    In other words, the bullpen is struggling and Korecky has a 3.29 ERA with a 63-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 63 innings at Triple-A, but he's still there because the Twins want a 29-year-old in his seventh pro season "to work on his changeup." Apparently Brian Bass has mastered his changeup despite using it on just 4.9 percent of his pitches while amassing a 5.01 ERA. Remember when Jason Bartlett got stuck at Rochester supposedly "working on his infield leadership"? Same thing.

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

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