Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April Showers

Red Sox 10, Twins 1
This was vintage Scott Baker. 2006 vintage. Not a good year.

I'll cut him a break on the first inning hits - they weren't so much well hit as well placed. The rest were richly deserved, as Baker consistently missed badly with his fastball, walking the backup catcher in front of a bomb from SS Nick Green, then hanging pitch after pitch in the 3rd, resulting in only 2 runs thanks to Michael Cuddyer's diving catch of Jason Bay's liner before Mike Lowell's HR. Baker looks totally uncomfortable on the mound - he walked off the field dejectedly after every inning. But I guess this was a little better than his first start - he allowed 1 fewer HR and got 2 more outs. Baby steps.

The Twins have never done much against Tim Wakefield, and he was tough again today, inducing a ton of popups. The offense was able to get a few guys into scoring position, but they couldn't string any hits together.

I was struck by how the quirky dimensions of Fenway Park played well for the Sox today. Had this game been played at the Metrodome, Denard Span's 7th-inning double would have been a HR, Kevin Youkilis' first-inning HR would have been a double (if not a foul ball), and David Ortiz' 7th-inning double would have been an out.

We got another look at waiver-wire pickup Juan Morillo in a mop-up situation, and the results were ugly. After the afore-mentioned double to Ortiz, he walked 3 straight batters, forcing in a run, and left without retiring a batter. His fastball was consistently in the high 90s, for all the good it did him. R.A. Dickey came on and surrendered an RBI single, a SF, and a bloop ground-rule double. Mercifully, the umps called for the tarp and the game ended before the inning could get any worse.

Red Sox 7, Twins 3
Of the two games, this was the matchup I liked. Brad Penny came into the game with an ERA of 11.00, and Francisco Liriano was coming off of a QS vs. the Blue Jays.

It was obvious that Liriano had electric stuff. He struck out 4 of the first 6 hitters, allowing only a BB to JD Drew. His first pitch to Jason Varitek was a slider that hit him in the back foot. After Liriano had made a string of All-Star players look silly, Jeff Bailey, just recalled from AAA, was able to time an outside fastball and lift it just over the monster in LF for a 3-run HR. Are you kidding me? The other 3 H Liriano allowed were all doubles. The one hit by Dustin Pedroia that set up the 3rd inning rally was a ridiculous piece of hitting as he went down and got a shin high pitch off the inside part of the plate and somehow kept it fair down the LF line.

Liriano was his own worst enemy in this game. As great as his stuff was, he couldn't control it, resulting in 4 BB and a HBP. 4 of those 5 hitters wound up scoring. Liriano will be very tough to score against once he tightens up his control.

It should be noted that the bullpen did a terrific job tonight. Matt Guerrier, Luis Ayala and the newly recalled Jose Mijares combined to allow 1 H in 4 scoreless innings with 3 K. Mijares threw nothing but strikes.

On the offensive side of things, the box score doesn't come close to telling the story. Penny's stuff was awful - he couldn't get his curveball over and there was no movement on his fastball. From the first batter, the Twins smacked line drives all over the field. Had this game been played in a different park, or in different weather conditions, they might have hit 5 HR: Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Cuddyer and Delmon Young (twice) hit drives to the warning track or beyond in deepest CF. In the top of the 4th, Morneau led off with a laser HR into the seats beyond the bullpen. Two pitches later, Kubel hit a nearly identical drive just a few feet to the left that missed the stands for a ground-rule double. After Brian Buscher reached on an error, Delmon Young hit the deepest ball of all, which CF Jacoby Ellsbury was able to haul in with a leaping catch at the wall about 420 feet from home plate. In addition to the 6 H they collected, the Twins hit 7 other balls off Penny well enough to get hits. There were 4 IF liners in the game, 2 of which were in Pedroia's glove so quickly that the men on 1st were helpless to avoid being doubled off. Not our night.

Mauer's Rehab or The Rake's Progress
Joe Mauer caught 6 innings of an extended spring training game today, going 3-4 with a double and a SF and throwing out an attempted base stealer. The other day I suggested that the Twins should think about accelerating their timetable if Mauer went 8-16 with 4 BB and had shown he could catch at least 6 innings by the end of play on Thursday. He's 6-11 with 3 BB so far. Think he can go 2-5 tomorrow? Me too. Doesn't look like he needs another week to get his timing down.

Let's think this through. Mauer will likely DH on Thursday, setting himself up for 7 innings of catching Friday, DH duty Saturday, 8 innings Sunday, DH Monday, 9 innings Tuesday and as many innings as he can handle Wednesday before next Thursday's off day. Why can't he follow that schedule with the Twins? This weekend's series is in Cleveland, which means that Mauer could meet his 7-inning catching quota and still hit in the top of the 8th before being replaced by a lesser player. On Sunday, that gets him every inning but the 9th, and his usage would be normal for the Tampa series at the Metrodome.

What if he aggravates the injury? Well, what if he aggravates it in Fort Myers? Is there something that could happen to him in Cleveland that couldn't happen to him in Florida? Take the gamble. If he gets hurt again, say he would've been hurt anyway and put him back on the DL. If he doesn't get hurt, the Twins get to play 5 or 6 extra games with Mauer in the lineup. Through tonight's game, Mike Redmond and Jose Morales are hitting .231/.298/.288 and still haven't thrown out a base stealer. Mauer could almost top that OBP without taking the bat off his shoulder. This is a tight division race - every game counts. Don't waste a week of Mauer's production on the Florida State League.

Minor League Notes
Another good night for Rob Delaney and Anthony Slama, who combined to strike out 5 in the final 3.1 innings of New Britain's win tonight. Delaney now has 10.2 IP under his belt and has allowed only 9 H, 0 BB and 15 K. Slama has thrown 6.2 IP, allowing 4 H and 2 BB with 12 K. If they keep this up, they need to be in Rochester by June.

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