Saturday, March 14, 2009

Losing Streak

Some thoughts on the last three games:

Pirates 6, Twins 4

Scott Baker was apparently having a lot of trouble locating his breaking stuff, and the Pirates' Bradenton stadium is apparently very friendly to hitters, but 4 HR? Next outing, work on throwing the fastball inside.

I realize he's done a lot of work since he last played to get in shape and prove he's still got it, but 3 HR by Craig Monroe? All off RHP? Nobody learned how to get him out last year? Pirates fans should be prepared for disappointment - Monroe had a pretty good spring for the Twins last year, but it didn't carry over into the regular season.

Reds 1, Twins 0

Francisco Liriano is having a very encouraging spring so far. I don't know how close he is to his pre-surgery form, but he certainly looks good enough to win a lot of games.

One of the things I was hoping to see Denard Span improve on in his second season was a reduction in strikeouts. He took a lot of called 3rd strikes last year, so learning to spoil some of those close pitches seems like an adjustment within his control. But I didn't see any of that in these games, though the strike zone was apparently overly generous in the early goings. I hope we can start seeing some successful ABs out of Span very soon.

Joe Crede is a fantastic glove at 3rd. Still waiting for the bat, though.

Marlins 9, Twins 5

Like most of the Twins starters, Kevin Slowey looks terrific. I'm really excited to see what they can do this year.

Carlos Gomez needed to do a lot to convince me that he's ready to be a productive MLB hitter. And so far, he's doing it. The best sign is his improved discipline. He led off the game with a walk on a 3-2 pitch, then created a run when his speed (going first to third on a groundout) drew a bad throw from Dallas MacPherson. How many times last year did he come up in the middle of a rally and fail to put the ball in play? Today he batted with the bases loaded and no out and hit an RBI groundout. And on his triple, he battled at 1-2 for a few pitches, took a breaking ball off the plate, then drove an outside pitch to the opposite field. If he can keep having those kinds of PAs, he's going to be a big contributor on both sides of the ball.

The first round of cuts is coming up, and if I had a vote, Jose Mijares would be the first name on the list. His putrid outing today, on top of all the walks he's issued previously, plus his terrible conditioning, shows that he's not ready to be a big-league regular. Perhaps he felt that his sterling September, combined with the Twins' disinterest in re-signing Dennys Reyes, meant that he was going to be handed a spot on the roster and that he could start living the good life. His unceremonious demotion would serve as an example to the rest of the Twins' prospects that nothing is given.

This gives me one last (hopefully) opportunity to harp on the short-sightedness of letting Reyes walk. Today's outing notwithstanding, R.A. Dickey has performed rather well this spring, as has Jason Jones. Philip Humber will get an extended look on Monday. With Joe Mauer's nagging back making it ever more likely that the Twins will need to take an extra catcher north, and the rotation showing that they're capable of pitching efficiently and eating some innings, a 6-man bullpen looks plausible. Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Craig Breslow and Luis Ayala will certainly take up 5 of those spots, with Dickey, Jones or Humber as the long reliever. That means there will be one lefty in the 'pen, which means that Breslow will almost certainly be used just as Reyes was - as a one-hitter matchup guy. He can do that, but he could have done more. I feel better about Breslow starting the 7th inning with a lead than I do Guerrier or Ayala. Rather than duplicate Guerrier by signing Ayala, the Twins could have brought back Reyes for essentially the same salary and given Gardy more flexibility, while demonstrating to young Mijares that he still had work to do to make the team. If he had pitched lights-out this spring, great! Take 3 lefties and have a balanced bullpen. Instead, the Twins will likely underuse one of their better relief assets, thereby giving more innings to weaker pitchers.

One of the reasons the Twins had been winning so many games this spring was the solid, and sometimes spectacular, play of their defense. That all went to pieces today, beginning in Mijares' brutal 7th inning. As badly as he was pitching, his outfielders didn't do him any favors, as Michael Cuddyer and Dustin Martin both let catchable balls get over their heads for 2-run doubles. In the 8th, R.A. Dickey was victimized by a missed cutoff and an unfielded bunt. And Brian Duensing suffered the capper in the 9th, as Gardy's boy threw away a DP, leading to 3 unearned runs.

I'm sure tomorrow will be better.

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