Saturday, July 12, 2008

I Rest My Case

Twins 3, Tigers 2

On Thursday night, Francisco Liriano had his 3rd great start in a row: 7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, BB, 8 K. Over those three starts, he's gone 20 scoreless innings, allowing 10 H and 3 BB with 24 K. That got a lot of people talking about bringing him up after the break, and re-shuffling the rotation to accommodate him.

Some proposed moving Glen Perkins to the bullpen. I suppose he's been the least reliable of the young starters in a lot of respects: coming into Friday's game he had the highest ERA (4.31) and WHIP (1.48). He hasn't been able to put together as many zero or one-run outings as the rest of the group. But on the other hand, he just about always gives the team 6 IP and 3 or fewer ER. Not spectacular, but certainly quality.

To suggest that Perkins should lose his spot in the rotation while Livan Hernandez (5.44 ERA, 1.62 WHIP) retains his is absurd on its face. Livan also averages about 6 IP/start, but has allowed more than 3 ER oh so many more times than Perkins has. Livan was supposed to eat innings and help the young pitchers. Now that the young pitchers are all out-performing him, I think it's time to say "thanks" and move on.

Anyway, Perkins' outing tonight should dispel any thoughts of taking his rotation spot away. For the second time in 2 weeks, he shut down one of the most productive lineups in the AL, and one that has been particularly hard on LHP. 6.2 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 2 K, and just 84 pitches, so he could have continued into the 8th inning had the situation been a bit different. But with the go-ahead run on base and Carlos Guillen (5 for 10 lifetime vs. Perkins) at the plate, going to the 'pen there was the right thing to do. Guillen gave Jesse Crain's 1-2 pitch a ride, but Comerica Park is deep, and Carlos Gomez can go get it.

Perkins appears to be a slow starter, allowing a disproportionate number of base-runners in the early innings. But he seems to have already learned how to work with the stuff he has, and he's having consistent success. I think he's the 4th or 5th starter, but I'm totally satisfied with what he's bringing to the team right now. I mean, when he's pitching, I feel like the Twins are going to be in the game in the late innings, whether the offense is cooking or not.

The offense was not cooking last night, at least not in the way we're used to. For the second straight game, the Twins managed to find a way to win despite doing jack squat with RISP. Tonight, the runs came on a double from Nick Punto (special assist to RF Matt Joyce for his Jeter-esque jump throw back to the IF from the gap - might want to just set your feet next time, dude) and SF from Punto and Delmon Young. I'm glad Young has had a productive out in each game so far, because, otherwise, he looks like he's regressed to his April form (0-10, 2 K). Joe Mauer struck out twice in this game - once on a 3-2 pitch that he should have known was going to be called a strike - and overall looked tired despite sitting out most of the game yesterday.

Though the Twins mustered just 8 H, they managed to draw another 7 BB, giving themselves plenty of base-runners to move around and drive in with outs. By the way, through the first 10 games of this month, the Twins are leading the AL in OBP with a mark of around .400 - who would have guessed that would be possible back in April? Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, despite combining to go 1-10 with 4 K, also drew 5 BB.

And then there are the guys at the bottom of the lineup, who have been reaching base at a preposterous clip over the last few games. Nick Punto wound up 1-2 with a BB, SF, 2 RBI, and personally saw 27 of the 177 pitches (15%) thrown by the Tigers' pitchers. And Denard Span was finally retired when he lined to CF in his 2nd AB, but still finished 1-3 with a BB.

I want to call special attention to that BB, because I think it summarizes the Span vs. Gomez debate I've been having all season quite elegantly. With a runner on 2nd and 2 out in the 6th, Span was intentionally walked in order to get to Gomez. Jim Leyland is a smart guy - he knows that Span has figured out how to hit and Gomez hasn't. How fortunate he was that Gomez came up 5 times to Span's 4, that Gomez hits behind Span and Punto and can bail his pitcher out of the jams that those two create.

Gomez finished 0-5 with 3 K, and is 0 for his last 19 with 7 K. But I don't even care about that - small sample size and all. I'm concerned about the large sample size, the one that encompasses 87 games and 370 ABs, the one that shows Gomez to be a .257/.291/.357 hitter, 2nd in the league in strikeouts. That .648 OPS matches Punto's career mark. Leading off? Why? Why throw away that extra AB every day? This isn't a slump, this isn't a fluke - this is how good (or not good) a hitter he is right now. Has he learned anything? Has he gotten better as the season has gone along?

The Twins need to do what they've done with so many of their promising young pitchers over the years: send him back to Rochester to fine-tune his game. If he'd just learn not to swing at balls, as Span has done, he'd be a fantastic player. But it took Span quite a long time to get to that point, and it will probably take Gomez a long time, too. This shouldn't concern anybody - Gomez brings a lot defensively to CF, but Span brings about as much. The Twins will simply be a better team with Gomez out of the lineup once Cuddyer comes back. And it will be the best thing for Gomez' development to go back to the minors and work this stuff out.

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