Twins 4, Rays 3
Some notes on an odd, up-and-down game that fittingly ended with a walk-off fielder's choice
I'm not sure whether rust had anything to do with Joe Nathan blowing a save by serving up a homer to Ben Zobrist on his very first pitch or finding the strike zone on just 11 of his 23 pitches in what was a very shaky outing, but I do know that he'd gone three days without working and had thrown a grand total of one inning during the past eight days. Nathan has appeared in just seven of the first 21 games while throwing a total of 120 pitches and is on pace for 54 innings.
Nathan's blown save kept Francisco Liriano from his first win and he's still stuck with a 0-4 record, but he looked pretty good for the most part. Liriano walked just two of the 27 batters he faced, induced nine ground-ball outs, and kept the ball in the ballpark, but also managed only three strikeouts. He has 20 strikeouts in 28.1 innings overall, which works out to 6.4 per nine innings. Even ignoring his insane 2006 strikeout rate, Liriano had 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings after returning from Triple-A last year.
Jose Morales started over Mike Redmond for the sixth time in eight games, going 2-for-4 with a nice play at the plate defensively and the game-winning run. He's now 18-for-43 (.419) as a major leaguer, yet may be headed back to Rochester in about 48 hours.
Jose Mijares appears to have taken over primary setup duties already. He walked Carl Crawford on five pitches leading off the eighth inning, but then bounced back to strike out Evan Longoria (swinging), Carlos Pena (swinging), and Willy Aybar (looking) to preserve a 3-2 lead. The walk was Mijares' first in 13.1 major-league innings, which is pretty remarkable for a guy who averaged over five walks per nine innings in the minors.
Alexi Casilla went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts last night before being yanked for pinch-hitter Brendan Harris with two runners on base in the ninth inning and has now hit just .215/.282/.265 in 54 games since returning from a thumb injury last August. I'm fine with giving Casilla some more time to get on track rather than turning second base over to Harris, but at this point there's just no way that he should be batting in the No. 2 spot when he does play.
Justin Morneau's first-inning bomb and two non-hits with the bases loaded accounted for the Twins' scoring as they went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position to continue the month-long trend that no doubt has a lot of people confused after their near-historic mark in those spots last season.
Monday in this space I suggested that starting Jason Kubel in left field to open up designated hitter for Joe Mauer would make sense against tough right-handers even if Ron Gardenhire has said that he's against the idea, so it was interesting to see Kubel playing the outfield to clear a spot in the lineup for Brian Buscher last night. Carlos Gomez being away from the team made it a unique situation, but if benching Delmon Young for Buscher makes sense it'll certainly work to get Mauer extra at-bats too.
Amusingly, Young came off the bench to pinch-run for Kubel and ended the eighth inning by getting thrown out trying to steal third base with the Twins up 3-2.
Mauer wrapped up his minor-league rehab assignment at high Single-A last night, going 1-for-2 with a double and gunning down the only steal attempted against him. Mauer went 6-for-15 (.400) with two doubles and two walks in five games at Fort Myers and is expected to come off the disabled list Friday.
Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.