Monday, April 20, 2009

Can we play the blame game?

The timing of Juan Morillo's acquisition could not have come at a more appropriate time.  With the news that set-up man Jesse Crain will enter the 15-day DL with an inflammed shoulder and if you thought the Twins were in need of bolstering prior to Crain's injury, post-Crain's DL stint the bullpen is waffer thin.  This past offseason the Twins had a couple opportunities to nab hard-throwing set-up men, notably David Aardsma and Juan Cruz.  Instead of trading a non-prospect like the Mariners did for Aardsma's employment or surrendering a draft pick and two year contract for Cruz, the Twins patiently waiting until the first couple weeks of the season passed then they claimed Morillo from the Colorado Rockies*.  Little did he know how immediate his impact on this bullpen needed to be. 
(*The Rockies have reached new levels of talent mismanagement within their organization.  Prior to losing Morillo to the Twins, the Rockies lost AAA first baseman Joe Koshansky to the Texas Rangers.  Last season Koshansky batted .300/.380/.600 with 31 home runs and 121 RBIs at Colorado Springs but had been block steadily by the aging Todd Helton.  Like Morillo, the Rockies tried to sneak him through the waivers but were thwarted by Texas.  Neither player may actually amount to a hill of beans but the sheer fact that there was a commodity within their system that could have been swapped for lower level prospects to replenish the developmental leagues but instead they are lost for nothing.)
The severity of Crain's injury is still an unknown.  Recovering from surgically repaired shoulders has a far greater likelihood of failure than those who are subjected to Tommy John surgery.  Frequently, those pitchers who do come back often re-tear their labrums since even when healthy a pitcher's shoulder experiences various levels of pain and swelling.  Admittedly, Crain's could be a simple case of inflammation where rest and anti-flammatory drugs will help get him back into the bullpen (but at which point Ron Gardenhire should let up on the throttle). 
Is this a clear case of poor monitoring of someone who was obviously a strong candidate to re-injure his shoulder?  In a four day span, Gardenhire used Crain three times, allowing him to pitch 3 1/3 innings as he threw 69 pitches (this does not include warmup pitches which probably put the workload into the 100+ pitch count).  On April 16th, Crain's average fastball velocity was at 94.2 miles per hour and he needed 11 pitches to get through three batters.  One day later, Crain needed 30 pitches to get just one out.  His fastball's velocity dropped to 92.7 on average and was on the disabled list by Monday afternoon.  Clearly this is a taxing workload for the healthiest of arms let alone someone who had gone through labrum repair. 
It is hard to outright blame the coaching staff as they were playing the cards they were dealt and it was apparent to even your most casual fan that Crain was the best option between the starting pitcher and Joe Nathan.  Why didn't the front office address this need in the offseason?  The company line has been that the Twins need a stable of outfielders in the event of injury.  How about the bullpen?  The team loses Pat Neshek and Boof Bonser and the front office does not flinch.  The opportunity to stabilize a crumbling relief staff was missed in the winter. 
Still, Morillo's addition and Jose Mijares's recall from Rochester in lieu of Crain's injury presents a chance for the Twins to recover from what could have been disastrous.  Keep in mind that there are plenty of other arms that could get cycled into the 'pen at AAA Rochester including Anthony Swarzak, who has a two-pitch repertoire that would play well in short inning work, and below that at AA New Britain is Anthony Slama who has nine strikeouts in five innings of work in 2009.  Yes, Swarzak and Slama are a good internal pair to have in the event of another arm emergency (along with a handful of others) but the Twins needed to solidify things in February rather than making on-the-fly adjustments in April.            

No comments: