Monday, May 18, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (05.18.09)

Even with the loss, the Joe Mauer-Brett Gardner play was sick.  Swine flu sick.  (Editor's note: it would feel much better if it happened in a Twins' win.)  According to the Star-Ledger's Colin Stephenson the Yankees center fielder Gardner, who Mauer tagged with a diving save attempting to score in the bottom of the ninth, believed Mauer was throwing to first on the play.  "I didn't really think he was going to hold on to the ball, to be honest with you,'' Gardner said. "I thought he was going to throw it to first, and if he had, I would have been able to get home a little easier than what ended up happening.''  Gardner added advice that teammate Nick Swisher shared with him, "[he] was telling me I should have hit the brakes, because he would have dove right past me."
Yankees manager and former catcher Joe Girardi was also in awe of the play telling reporters "This is a young man that is an incredible player. He could have went to probably any college and been a quarterback; you see what he does with the bat - two batting titles in the last three years, his defense is very good - he's an all-star player every day when he goes out on the field. And the athleticism he showed to get a very speedy runner is incredible.''  Girardi failed to add: "He'd look great in pinstripes next year."
The three consecutive walk-off wins against the Yankees wasn't the first time for the Twins in their history says New York Daily News's Jesse Spector.  The Twins first lost three straight walk-off games to the Yankees in August 1961.  Of course, circumstances were vastly different that year as the Twins entered that series 46-58, 21 games out of first place, while the Yankees were 67-37, holding off the Tigers by a game-and-a-half lead.  The Twins would finish that year 4-14 in games against the eventually World Series champion Yankees.    
Why did Mark Teixieria blow up at Carlos Gomez in the eighth inning on Saturday night following bang-bang play at first base?  "It was a situation twice in the same game, the guy is running in the infield grass going up the first-base line, trying to get in my way, the catcher's way and the second time there is a collision. No reason for it," Teixiera told reporters after the game. "Same guy. It happens one time. It might be a mistake but when you know the guy is purposely running on the grass . . . I've seen a lot of first basemen ruin seasons, ruin careers. I got lucky that I could get out of the way." Clearly this was an over-exaggeration of a player that had been frustrated and struggling as of late since signing his massive contract as Teixiera was hitting just .203 coming into the Twins series.   
There have been two instances in which intentional walk situations have burned the Twins this series.  On Friday in the bottom of the ninth with two runners on, the Twins opted to walk Robinson Cano, who was 11-for-57 (.193) in the month of May, to have Joe Nathan pitch to Melky Cabrera, who was 15-for-49 (.306) that month.  Cabrera, of course, would lace the single to left-center to score two runs.  One day later, the Twins had similar circumstances with Nick Blackburn in the eighth inning of Saturday's game.  With two outs and the tying run on third, Blackburn could have faced Teixiera - who was slugging .625 on the month in addition to him being 5-for-5 against Blackburn - or Alex Rodriguez - who was slugging just .385 on the month and had hit 3-for-9 against Blackburn.  The Twins would allow Teixiera to hit and he would knock in the tying run to push the game into extra innings (at which point A-Rod would hit his walk-off). 
Joe Christensen reports that the Twins have been looking within the system to repair the bullpen which is now in dire need of attention.  The relief staff has failed in critical situations and have been taxed to the point of exhaustion.  Coming into Sunday's game against the Yankees, the Twins had allowed 47% of inherited runners to score, the second highest in the league (average being 38%), while manager Ron Gardenhire has used his pitchers on consecutive days a league-leading 25 times.  Candidates include Rochester's Sean Henn and Bobby Keppel while speculation surrounds Luis Ayala as the potential odd-man out if someone is brought up soon. 
The 28-year-old Sean Henn is an attractive internal left-handed option.  In 24 innings spread out across 15 appearances Henn has struck out 32 while walking 10 - limiting opponents to a .187 batting average against.  The 6-foot-4 Henn - who Christensen writes is touching 95-mph on the radar gun - has been lights-out when facing left-handed batters.  In 36 match-ups against lefties, Henn has struck out 15 while walking just one and getting groundballs on more than 60% of balls in play.  He does not exercise the same invincibility against right-handed opponents as his control has been a bit shakier.  If the Twins curb his right-handed exposure at the major league level, Henn stands a chance of being a very good LOOGY for the ballclub.     
ESPN's Peter Gammons indicates that Huston Street, Russ Springer, Jose Valverde, John Grabow and Danys Baez might be available now that their respective teams have fallen quickly out of contention.  The Twins had offseason aspirations of Russ Springer who eventually selected the Oakland Athletics over the Twins because of their west coast setting and larger financial offering.  The 40-year-old Springer is having a good season for the A's, throwing 16 innings and striking out 18 with an ERA of 2.25. 
What about Anthony Slama and Rob Delany in New Britain?  Christensen says that the Twins feel that the pair are not quite ready to move up to the bigs but The Hartford Courant's John Altavilla provides the Rock Cats manager Tom Neito's take on the late inning duo.
Tom Powers visits a topic that has been of concern for the Twins in recent days: the pitch count.  Powers suggests that the Twins' 100-pitch count for a starter is a detriment to the bullpen, leading to injuries in the relief staff.  Philosophically, this is a much large debate to fit into a handful of words but Powers' argument is fairly weak.  Though I agree that the arbitrary 100-pitch count should have increased flexibility, it has been proven that not monitoring pitch counts have led to various arm injuries over the years.  Even still, the Twins are no more or less sticklers than the rest of the league; consider that the Twins have gone over 100 pitches but under 119 in 15 of 37 starts.  As I alluded to previously, Gardenhire has used pitchers on back-to-back days 25 times.  Durability aside, this is not a starting pitcher issue, it is a game management issue.  What hurts his relievers the most is that Gardenhire's confidence is isolated to just three members when the game is close.  
Reliever Pat Neshek, who is out indefinitely for the duration of the 2009 season, speaks to the Star Tribune regarding his transition to veganism and also gives a brief insight to Ron Gardenhire's sense of humor in the clubhouse.  Neshek said "Like Gardy [manager Ron Gardenhire], he'll make fun of me and stick a hot dog in my face and say, "You want to eat this?" A lot of guys are curious."  In the immortal words of Arrested Development's Michael Bluth: There's got to be a better way to say that.  
The Twins are pitching in an additional $13 million to add several more features at Target Field including
more bathrooms and a heat supplied main concourse for those obviously cold April and October games along with roof top seating.  According to the Associated Press, the roof top seats will accommodate approximately 150 to 300 fans and be within the confines of the stadium (similar to Fenway Park's Green Monster seats) and reside above the team's administrative offices in left field.  Twins President Dave St. Peter says that with final designs available shortly, but notes the team is even considering adding a fire pit - a quintessential component of Minnesotan summers - to the experience. 
The City Page's Judd Spicer writes that Joe Mauer 's 672 career hits rest with very good company among fellow baseballers' first 572 games.
Mankato Free Press's Ed Thoma has upgraded his baseball blog to begin allowing comments.  His first post in the new format is riddled with rules for commenting.  Score!  Despite writing in one of the far-flung outposts of Minnesota, Thoma has produced one of the state's most insightful commentary outside of the Twin Cities metro area.