Friday, June 6, 2008

Location, Location, Location

Orioles 5, Twins 3
Twins 7, Orioles 5
Orioles 3, Twins 2

Once again, a Thursday afternoon loss leads to an ultimately disappointing home stand. After hanging with the Yankees for four games, the Twins couldn't cash in against the slumping O's. I thought Baltimore played an all-around good series - they got solid starting pitching, dependable work from the bullpen, made a lot of plays in the field, and were pesky at the plate. They did a great job of hitting mistake pitches. And my goodness, there were a lot of mistakes from the Twins' pitchers.

The Orioles hit 6 HR in the series, accounting for 7 of their 13 runs, including the game-winner on Thursday. I was pretty amazed by the dinger Mora hit off Kevin Slowey in the 6th inning on Tuesday night - he turned very quickly on a low-and-in fastball down 0-2 in the count. All the other HR hit by the O's were off pitches belt-high over the plate. Even an unimpressive BA team like the O's can hit those.

Slowey and Scott Baker had similar starts: each easily got ahead of most hitters, but then struggled to put them away. Slowey in particular gave up several 2-strike hits, and Baker seemed to need 6+ pitches in each AB, reaching a pitch count of 99 through just 5 IP. I was frustrated by the HR Baker allowed - he'd thrown 8 pitches already to Markakis, 7 of them fastballs. With first base open and a right-handed batter coming up, I felt that was a time to be careful with the 3-2 pitch, maybe locate a breaking ball just off the plate and see if he'd chase, or try an off-speed pitch. Nope, belt-high fastball over the plate. Ding!

This brings up an interesting side-effect to the wonderful lack of walks from the young starters Slowey, Baker and Blackburn: they're so determined not to walk people that they offer too good a pitch when they're ahead in the count. Radadmes Lis was getting 4-6 inches off the plate from Tuesday night's umpire - Slowey could hit that spot, why not try to stretch the strike zone? This may also be a problem with still relatively young catcher Joe Mauer. If he sets up outside and they hit the glove, maybe they get the call. If he sets up on the corner and they hit the glove, maybe the hitter hits it hard!

This makes two straight starts in which Glen Perkins was utterly unable to command his stuff. Pitch after pitch right in the sweet spot. I hope it's only a slump. Good work from Boof Bonser out of the bullpen - keep that up!

The 13-man rotation resulted in some creative managing from Gardy late in Thursday's game: Kevin Slowey was used as a pinch-runner for C Mike Redmond, Kubel pinch-hit for DH Craig Monroe, and Mauer pinch-hit for LF Delmon Young. That meant Mauer had to catch, Kubel had to go to left, and Slowey became the DH. I thought Gardy would use Brendan Harris instead of Mike Lamb to start the 9th against LHP closer George Sherrill, but Harris was needed to pinch-hit for Slowey if it got to him (he was on deck when Casilla made the final out). With Punto back to the DL and Morneau dragging with a bum knee, I don't think the Twins can sustain a 3-man bench for very long. They have to decide to drop someone from the bullpen. Either Rincon or Bass would be the likely choices.

Carlos Gomez had a hit in each game, but overall was 3-14 with 3 K in the series. For the homestand, he was 6-34 (.176) with 9 Ks. If he doesn't start having better ABs soon, I'm going to start harping for Span again.

The Twins drafted a toolsy HS outfielder and 2 college pitchers in the first round on Thursday. One pitcher was a stretch, the other fell into their lap. Pretty typical draft, I'd say.

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