By Joe Christensen
There will be a pregame press briefing in Ron Gardenhire’s office tomorrow morning, and it’s usually an easygoing affair. Gardy often starts by saying, “OK … any fireballs?” That’s our cue to start firing questions. And I’m teeing mine up right here tonight: “Are the Twins ready to skip Ramon Ortiz?”
The Twins have an open date Thursday, and I saw some signs today that Ortiz could be skipped. First, here’s a segment from my Twins’ notebook:
Asked about the recent bullpen injuries, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan pointed to the starters and their inability to chew up innings.
“One of the problems you have is you’re getting into your bullpen way too early,” Ryan said. “If we’ve got problems we’ll fix them.”
Ryan didn’t name names, but in his past four starts, Ramon Ortiz has lasted 4, 6, 1 and 41/3 innings.
Gardenhire also gave an interesting answer when asked if the team would consider using Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey to patch their bullpen holes.
“They will not go to the bullpen,” Gardenhire said. “They’re close to being ready to pitch up here, and if we keep struggling in our rotation, we can make a move like that, move one of those guys.”
OK, if you read between the lines, you can tell Ortiz is on a short leash. So why not skip him this time through the rotation? Well, the Twins were concerned with how worn down Santana was last September. They were determined to use the open dates to give him extra rest whenever possible, even if that meant sticking with other struggling starters.
But Santana’s last two starts have been brilliant. Seven innings, four hits, two runs, 11 strikeouts at Cleveland last Thursday. Then, seven innings, four hits, one run, 13 strikeouts tonight. That’s 24 strikeouts and the second outing came with the usual four day’s rest.
In the words of Sir Johan himself tonight, he said, ““It feels like we are getting to a point of the season where we’re more consistent. This start came up quicker because of no days off, so you keep everything going. The more you’re out there, the more you’re going to be comfortable, and the more you’re going to realize where your mechanics are for all your pitches.”
Santana said he did not know when his next start would come. It all revolves around him. The Twins will probably check to see how he’s feeling in the morning. If he seems ready to take the ball again Sunday against Toronto, I’m guessing they’ll announce plans to push Ortiz’s start to next Tuesday against Chicago. That’s the next time a fifth starter is needed, but they’ll couch it, saying this gives Ortiz “more time to work on his mechanics in the bullpen.”
Yeah, well maybe. If Ortiz doesn’t get himself straightened out, I see him going to the bullpen or possibly going the way of Sidney Ponson. With another open date next Thursday, the rotation should be juggled so Santana can stay on regular rest again, starting June 1 against Oakland.
If this team wants to signal it’s serious about turning the corner, this is the natural move to make. So that’s my Wednesday morning fireball for Gardy.