April 2009


Thoughts coming off the road trip, scheduling notes

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Twins went 2-3 on their trip to Boston and Cleveland. Some things that struck me:

THE FENWAY FACTOR

I was ready to go hard with the Fenway-is-in-their-head angle, but the list of Red Sox assaults on the Twins’ pitching staff there isn’t as lengthy as I first thought.

From 2005-07, the Twins gave up 46 runs in 10 games at the Pawk not faw from da Hawbawh. Not good, but not awful. What’s been awful is have been the 42 runs they’ve given up over the past five games at Fenway.

The Twins won three-game series in Fenway in 03, 04 and 06 and split a four-gamer there in 07.

The only concern is that members of the current rotation have had rough nights there over the past two years. If it happens again next year, it might be time to worry. But if some of the rockets the Twins hit during Francisco Liriano’s outing on Wednesday fall in, the Twins would have made that one interesting.

I thought Liriano pitched OK until he walked the leadoff hitter in the fourth – right after the Twins scored twice to get within 5-2. Boston scored two runs in like 18 seconds, and the game was over. Liriano has to hold Boston right there and see if the offense gets a few to fall in.

MORALES CAN HIT

That was the book on Jose Morales in the minors and it sure looks that way now. Some of you have clamored for Morales to remain with the club when Joe Mauer is activated this week.

Unless Mike Redmond lands on the disabled list, it’s going to take an unforeseen development for Morales to stick around.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has said that Mauer will catch and catch only when he returns. It would be hard for the Twins to carry three catchers because it would limit their flexibility on the bench. It would be hard to DH Morales and move Jason Kubel to right because there’s no way Michael Cuddyer is coming out of right for more than an occasional day off. And Morales was converted from second base to catcher because his play at second wasn’t very strong, so it’s not wise to look at him as an infield backup.

The Twins could surprise me and figure out a way to make it happen, but I don’t see it.

Defensively, he has some things to improve on. He threw out his first runner of the year on Sunday and the ball bounces off of him more than what we’re used to seeing when Mauer is behind the plate. My view is that he’ll probably be the backup next year, so two-to-three days of Morales a week isn’t a bad thing.  Trust me, I’ve seen him work with Terry Steinbach during spring training for a few years now, and he’s improved! So maybe he’ll eventually tighten up his game behind the plate. He apparently calls pretty good games behind the plate, so that’s not a problem.

SLOWEY ON SATURDAY

Kevin Slowey pitched well on Saturday – but he did benefit from some generous strike zone judgement from the umpire.

That’s not really a complaint. Pitchers benefit from those things all the time – think about all the times it’s happened to Twins hitters! Give Slowey credit for taking advantage of it.

THE TRIBE

I changed my opinion about Cleveland winning the AL Central right before Opening Day. And their pitching during the weekend confirmed by beliefs.

Carl Pavano is not going to work as the No. 3 starter. Jake Westbrook could help at midseason, but what state will he be in coming off of Tommy John surgery? Cleveland could be too far back in the AL Central by then. Even with their bullpen issues, the Twins can win this division. The White Sox might be the bigger threat.

SCHEDULING NOTES

We have been unable to run the weekly minor league notebook because of continuing space problems. In fact, the minor league report was moved to this blog last Wednesday.

But I was in the office last week when my sports editor walked over and asked, “what if we ran the minor league notes on Saturday?”

I’m was all for that. So, hopefully this Saturday, the weekly minor league report will appear in the print edition, again. I’m also thinking about a short minor league report to run on this blog each Wednesday.

While we are discussing minor leagues, here’s the boxscore from Joe Mauer’s game on Sunday.

Unless Paul Allen has come up with a way to interrupt his, “Up With Percy Harvin,” three-hour special tomorrow, the Looney La Velle baseball segment on KFAN will take place at 11 am Tuesday.

Let’s Go Farming – the Twins’ weekly minor league report

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

DELANEY AND SLAMA: BACK…WITH A TWIST

Righthanders Rob Delaney and Anthony Slama shared closing duties at Class A Fort Myers last season – and it was quite a one-two punch.

Delaney was promoted to New Britain in June. Slama took over as closer at Fort Myers and finished 4-1 with a 1.01 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 71 innings. He also was named Twins minor league pitcher of the year.

The two have been reunited at New Britain – but it’s Slama who has opened the season as the Rock Cats’ closer while Delaney sets him up.

I don’t know if it is going to stay that way or they might go the other way the next time,’’ said Jim Rantz, the Twins director of minor leagues. “Both of them have done well. I think it’s the fact that Slama finished so strong last year that they are going to continue with him as that guy.’’

Slama on Wednesday earned his second save for New Britain and has pitched 6/23 scoreless innings so far. Delaney has a 1.69 ERA in seven games.

Both are similar pitchers who throw around 90 miles an hour, although Rantz said Slama throws a little harder than Delaney.

Both throw good sliders. Delaney is a battler and excellent competitor. Slama is working on changing speeds against left-handed hitters. Both could get promoted to Class AAA Rochester during the season – which makes a major league debut sometime this year a possibility.

WHERE  IS AARON HICKS?

Beloit broke camp in Fort Myers, Fla, without outfielder Aaron Hicks, the 14th overall pick in last year’s draft who has the club buzzing about his five-tool ability.

The Twins did the same thing last year with 2007 first-rounder Ben Revere, who needed to work on arm strength and accuracy. Revere was sent to Beloit to replace an injured player, batted .379 with 10 triples and 44 steals and ended up the Twins minor league player of the year.

Hicks, who hit .318 with four homers and 27 RBI for the Gulf Coast League rookie team appears to be more polished than Revere, so what gives?

“He had to work on some things, some fundamentals and defensive things,’’ Rantz said. “Yes, he has a strong arm and can run but he’s getting regular at-bats and can work on fundamentals.’’

The Twins’ outfields at Beloit and Fort Myers have players the club needs to evaluate before they move Hicks in front of them. Angel Morales, Evan Bigley and Michael Harrington hit 15, 14 and nine home runs, respectively at short-season Elizabethton, Tenn. and need to play. Ozzie Lewis is back after missing a chunk of the season with a wrist injury.

Fort Myers’ outfield has top prospects Revere and Joe Benson, plus Christopher Parmelee splitting time in the outfield and first base. It appears that it will take promotions, demotions or injuries for Hicks to get to Beloit – or he might have to wait until June and start the year Elizabethton.

Revere, by the way, is batting .333 with a homer 10 RBI and five steals through 11 games at Fort Myers.

THE GOOD AND THE BAD

Jim Shellenback, the pitching coach at Elizabethton who filled in as bullpen coach while Rick Stelmaszek recovered from fatigue, confirmed that the organization is really high on righthander Carlos Gutierrez, the Twins’ other first-round pick last year.

And Gutierrez, who throws an excellent sinker, has given up just one earned run over his first 11 innings at Fort Myers.

Shellenback was asked about righthander Shooter Hunt, who was taken with the 31st pick of the draft – four picks after Gutierrez.

“He won’t throw it over,’’ Shellenback said.

Hunt’s struggles continued on Tuesday at Beloit, as he gave up five earned runs on three hits and six walks over 22/3 innings. Hunt is 0-1. 9.31 through three games. Of the 55 batters he’s faced, 28 have reached base.

“There is something to that,’’ Rantz said of Shellenback’s statement. “I don’t know if it’s insecurity but, eventually, he has to throw it over.’’

ETC.

Australian outfielder Justin Huber has worked out his visa problems – he had to go to Toronto to get things straightened out – and will join Class AAA Rochester on Friday. “He’s got some sock and that’s what we need on that club,’’ Rantz said.

First baseman Henry Sanchez, who was drafted in 2005 and is 23 years old but is just getting to Fort Myers because of injuries, is now slowed by a left quadriceps strain at Fort Myers.

Righthander Loek Van Mil, who is at extended spring training working his way back from a sore elbow, has been slowed by a biceps strain.

Twins place Jesse Crain on the 15-day disabled list. Mauer update.

Monday, April 20th, 2009

The Twins have just announced that righthander Jesse Crain has been placed on the 15-day disabled list because of right shoulder inflammation.

The Twins have called up lefthander Jose Mijares to replace him on the roster.

Crain, when healthy, is their only pitcher whose fastball matches up well against with power hitters late in games. I doubt the Twins are ready to trust newcomer Juan Morillo in late-inning situations. This is not good for the Twins.

In seven appearances this season, Crain is 1-0, 7.50 (6.0 ip, 5 er), allowing three hits with five walks and seven strikeouts. He had a 1.59 ERA until his outing on Friday against the Angels. His last pitch of the game was clocked at 95 miles an hour.

Check back here for more details as they come.

Update: Pitching coach Rick Anderson said Crain was examined and has slight inflammation in the shoulder, nothing serious. They hope that 10 more days off is all he needs.

Meanwhile, Mijares has thrown 6.1 scoreless innings at Class AAA Rochester, giving up two hits and a walk while striking out four. Word is that his velocity is up to 93 mph. Mijares can get left-handed and right-handed hitters out when going good.

Anderson said whoever is rested will get a chance to pitch the eighth inning, so everyone should be on their toes in the bullpen. Anderson did add that Juan Morillo is more of a project and probably won’t get the call in the eighth inning.
 

Joe Mauer: The Twins’ All-Star catcher went 1 for 3 today with two walks and two runs scored. He also caught a few pitchers over five innings, including Ben Hendrickson.

Mauer never had to slider but ran from first to third and first to home and reported that everything went well. He’ll DH tomorrow.

There will be a full Mauer report in the paper tomorrow that you should enjoy reading. Here’s one nugget from that story: The Twins used 103 different lineups last year, 26th in baseball. As of Monday, they are the only team to have had 14 different lineups in 14 games. Mauer’s absence is part of the reason (the outfield shuffle is another part).

Twins go for a sweep and a 4-3 week

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Michael Cuddyer gets a day off as Denard Span starts in right field. That’s 14 games, 14 different lineups.

 Jason Kubel can’t believe how the last two games have done for him. “A few days ago, I was batting .120,” he said while chuckling. Kubel’s helmet and batting gloves are on their way to Cooperstown, N.Y.

The starting rotation will stay on line through the two off days this week, meaning that no one will be skipped.

Joe Mauer will play tomorrow in an intrasquad game at Fort Myers, then play in extended spring training games. He’ll join Class A Fort Myers by the end of the week. The Twins hope that he can get 50 at-bats before they decide if its time to activate him.

If you had May 1 in the Joe Mauer returns to action pool, I think you are looking pretty good.

Angels (4-7)

1. Chone Figgins, 3B
2. Howie Kendrick, 2B
3. Robb Quinlan, RF
4. Bobby Abreu, DH
5. Torii Hunter, CF
6. Kendry Morales, 1B
7. Juan Rivera, LF
8. Jeff Mathis, C
9. Erick Aybar, SS

Pitching Shane Loux

Twins (6-7)

1. Denard Span, RF
2. Alexi Casilla, 2B
3. Justin Morneau, 1B
4. Jason Kubel, DH
5. Delmon Young, LF
6. Brendan Harris, 3B
7. Jose Morales, C
8. Nick Punto, SS
9. Carlos Gomez, CF

Pitching: Glen Perkins

Twins-Angels: Vlad is out. Morillo is on his way.

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Angels masher Vladimir Guerrero has been diagnosed with a torn pectoral muscle and will miss at least a month. Tought blow for the Angels.

New Twins pitcher Juan Morillo (pronounced Mor-EEE-o ( is expected to arrive in town tonight. It’s unclear when he will pitch in a game. He hasn’t been in a game since the end of spring training and probably needs at least a bullpen session to knock the cobwebs off.

Alexi Casilla and Carlos Gomez both know Morillo. “Nasty,” Casilla said. Casilla said Morillo has thrown harder than 96 and has a slider around 90. I will reserve judgement on that until I see him throw in Dome conditions.

The Twins have 10 days to either trade Philip Humber or try to get him through waivers to send him to the minors. The Twins don’t want to release him.

Brian Buscher is in the lineup tonight because he swung the bat well yesterday. Delmon Young and Alexi Casilla chased a lot of pitches yesterday, so Jason Kubel and Brendan Harris are in.

The Angels took a while to settle on a lineup. When they did, we were down on the field – which explains the delay.

Special note from Twins PR: Relievers have thrown 34 innnings, the third-most in the majors. Their 597 pitches thrown are the fifth-most.

Angels (4-5)

1. Chone Figgins, 3B
2. Howie Kendrick, 2B
3. Macier Izturis, DH
4. Bobby Abreu, RF
5. Torii Hunter, CF
6. Kendry Morales, 1B
7. Mike Napoli, C
8. Juan Rivera, LF
9. Erick Aybar, SS

Pitching: Dustin Moseley

Twins (4-7)

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Brendan Harris, 2B
3. Justin Morneau, 1B
4. Jason Kubel, LF
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Brian Buscher, DH
7. Joe Crede, 3B
8. Mike Redmond, C
9. Nick Punto, SS

Pitching: Nick Blackburn