April 6, 2011

Twins Notes: Hallelujah, payrolls, handshakes, stats, and mountains

Joe Nathan's velocity wasn't much better last night, as he continued to work at 89-91 miles per hour with his fastball, but compared to his first post-surgery outing Sunday his command was vastly improved and he relied far less on off-speed stuff. Oh, and throwing a fastball past Derek Jeter to end a game is always fun.

• At some point the starting pitchers will have to avoid digging a big hole right away, but Brian Duensing recovered well from a rough first two innings. He allowed four runs in seven innings overall, but that's actually a pretty solid effort considering the Yankees averaged 4.6 runs per seven innings at home last season.

• I'm curious to see if Ron Gardenhire will make a habit out of turning to Matt Capps for more than one inning now that he's not holding him back for ninth-inning leads. Early in his career Capps was very durable, logging 160 innings in 161 appearances during his first two seasons, but once he became a full-time closer in 2008 his usage lessened considerably.

• Old friend Luis Ayala got the Yankees out of a jam in the 10th inning, which is remarkable for a guy who was washed up when the Twins signed him in 2009. Ayala followed up a 5.71 ERA in 2008 with a 5.63 ERA in 2009 and then didn't pitch in the majors at all last season, yet there he was getting high-leverage work for baseball's only $200 million team. I'm just glad I didn't have to make good on this promise. Are the North Stars still good?

• Speaking of payrolls, USA Today crunched the numbers and found that the Twins rank ninth in Opening Day payroll at $112.7 million. That's second in the AL Central behind the White Sox at $127.8 million and the Tigers aren't far behind at $105.7 million, making it the only division with three $100 million teams. Of course, with the Indians at $49.2 million and the Royals at an MLB-low $36.1 million it's also the only division with two teams under $50 million.

Justin Morneau has had plenty of hard-hit balls through five games, but an even better sign for his comeback from last year's concussion might be that he can remember all these different choreographed, teammate-dependent handshakes:

My favorite is making it rain with Danny Valencia, which should be the title of a show on FSN.

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote that the Twins are more involved with statistical analysis than their reputation suggests and based on his quotes vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff certainly sounds very open to sabermetrics, but as of last year the front office's highest-profile decision-makers had only a rudimentary understanding of most new-school numbers and Christensen says they "have yet to hire a full-time statistical expert."

According to Bill Lankhof of the Toronto Sun the Rockies "were all set to pick" Denard Span with the ninth overall selection in the 2002 draft, but instead took Canadian lefty Jeff Francis. I have no clue who the Twins may have nabbed at No. 20 had Span not been there, but some of the players picked in the next 10 spots were Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Francoeur, Joe Blanton, and Matt Cain. They did well to get Span, obviously, although it didn't always look that way.

• I was encouraged by Gardenhire benching Michael Cuddyer against a right-hander Monday, but we'll see if that was an acknowledgment that Jim Thome and Jason Kubel are far superior options versus righties or merely a convenient day off for Cuddyer.

Seth Stohs has a breakdown of the Twins' minor-league rosters at Rochester, New Britain, Fort Myers, and Beloit, so you can see where all their top prospects are headed.

Kevin Slowey and R.A. Dickey are going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro together in January.

Rhett Bollinger, who replaced Kelly Thesier as the MLB.com Twins beat reporter last month, now has his own blog in addition to being on Twitter.

• My favorite part of the StarTribune.com re-design? LaVelle E. Neal III's popped collar look.