Twins 3, Rays 5
There were a few less than thrilling parts of the box score as the Twins saw their 6-game winning streak snapped this afternoon. Box score, smox shmore. In case you didn't get to follow the game today, here's what really happened:
Francisco Liriano: 4 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
No, Liriano did not have his best stuff today, although he wasn't off by much. His fastball typically missed Joe Mauer's target by only a couple of inches. Unfortunately, the direction in which it missed was usually up and toward the middle of the plate. Still, had the Rays been in the mood to take a couple of pitches, he would have been ahead every time. But since their game plan seemed to be to attack the fastball early in the count, this didn't work out so well for Liriano.
Those who still senselessly clamor for Liriano to become the closer should know that the 1st was his worst inning, as 5 of the 6 hitters he faced put the ball in play - hard. JJ Hardy picked off a Jason Bartlett one-hop liner deep in the hole at SS, quickly planted and delivered a strike to Justin Morneau at 1B. Without that play, it would have been a really ugly inning. Carl Crawford and Ben Zobrist each lined the 2nd strikes they saw for singles. Carlos Pena struck out on 3 pitches because 1) he's left-handed, 2) he strikes out a lot, and 3) Liriano threw him excellent sliders for swinging strikes 2 and 3. When Liriano got ahead of the right-handed BJ Upton 0-1, I was hoping they'd continue that pattern, since the slider looked like it was as sharp as ever. But Mauer called for a fastball in, and it caught just enough of the plate for Upton to line it into LF for a 1-0 lead. Pat Burrell lined out to CF to end the inning.
Of the 14 hitters Liriano faced the rest of the day, only 8 put the ball in play, but 4 got hits. There were 2 doubles on which I credit the hitters for taking the fastball the opposite way (Liriano didn't appear to miss his spot on either). The other 2 hits drove in runs. The 4-pitch BB to Zobrist in the 3rd should have been erased on an inning-ending pickoff, but Hardy was late covering 2nd and Morneau's throw went behind him. (The box score gives Zobrist a SB off Liriano/Mauer. Lies! Liriano picked him off and Mauer didn't even touch the ball). The next pitch was Liriano's last real mistake of the game, a fastball in the middle of the plate that Upton drove to the gap in left center for an RBI 2B. For me, that run is borderline unearned. As for the 4th inning, with a runner on 2nd, Liriano got a bleeder up the middle that neither Hardy nor Orlando Hudson were able to come up with (though each got leather on it). Liriano got the next 2 hitters on a shallow fly out and a grounder to 2B.
So, despite not being very sharp, Liriano had 6 K against only 1 BB in 4 IP, giving him a 22/2 K/BB ratio in 14 IP for the spring. I thought he adjusted to his stuff pretty well, was better in the later innings and, with a little bit better work from his defense, might have given up fewer runs.
Brian Duensing pitched the other 4 innings, allowing 2 unearned runs on 2 H with 0 BB and 2 K. He was easily the best he's been this spring. Far from placing him in Liriano's league as far the 5th starter competition, I think this outing reinforces that Duensing could be pretty good in the roll he actually filled in this game: long-relief. Now I think it's up to Clay Condrey to show everybody that he can put up a few zeroes, too.
The error that resulted in those unearned runs seems to have been charged to Morneau. That's just wrong. The 7th inning began when James Bereford, Beloit's 2009 SS, having just been inserted in place of Hardy, fielded a routine grounder. I'm not aware of him playing in any other big-league spring training games, so he was probably a little keyed up. It looked like he was trying to slow himself down, because his arm decelerated as he threw to first, and the ball bounced in front of Morneau, who couldn't pick it. That should be an E6 every time.
Other items of note:
Denard Span was caught stealing for the 1st time. He was running on a 3-2 pitch to Hudson, a sensible thing to do with nobody out and a guy who hits a lot of grounders at the plate. It was such an obvious thing to do that I expected LHP David Price to make a token throw over to 1B, and I bet Span did, too. He went home instead, and Span didn't get much of a jump. Hudson swung threw the pitch, and Span was caught at 2B. Span gets charged with the CS, but it shouldn't count as a knock against his base-stealing ability.
Jason Kubel collected 2 H off Price, including an opposite-field HR. Kubel used to be a guy you had to platoon, but the way he's been swinging against lefties this spring, I'm not sure that's the case anymore.
Delmon Young was swinging early in the count, but he was looking for off-speed pitches. He singled on a first-pitch curveball in his 2nd AB. He fell behind 0-2 in the 7th, but battled until he went down and got a slider, driving it over the wall in LF for his first spring HR. Through 39 spring PA, Young is hitting .250/.308/.500 with an 8/3 K/BB ratio. He has more work to do, but he's certainly earning the opportunity to be in the regular lineup in April.
Mauer played the entire game behind the plate, the Twins used only 2 pitchers, and the Rays used just 3. We're getting closer to real baseball!