When Indians starting right-hander Carl Pavano struck out Michael Cuddyer to open up the 2nd inning on Saturday night, it was the first right-handed batter Pavano had retired through a strike out all year. Pavano has struck out 16 in 18 innings but just the lone righty. Heading into Sunday's game, the Twins right fielder was batting a weak .224/.330/.369 while striking out in 22.4% of his total plate appearances. Pitch selection appears to be his biggest detriment as his out-of-zone swing percent of 29.2 now ranks as the 5th most prevalent outfielder in the American League in chase tendencies (minimum 70 plate appearances).
KFAN's Phil Mackey examines Scott Baker's release point which varies from his 2008 position. This is an excellent "cause" to the "effect" that I highlighted after his first start in which his pitches were elevated and his slider lacked bite, leading to very little chase (19.4 pct) and very high home run-to-fly ball ratios (48 pct). It stands to reason that this lower release spot could be responsible for inability to keep the ball down in the strike zone and simple bullpen adjustments could correct this however there exists the possibility that the altered arm slot manifest itself because of a nagging injury. Baker will get the start tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays at the Metrodome.
In the wake of the Twins' bullpen inconsistances (6.52 ERA, 47% Inherited Runners Scored) and injuries (Pat Neshek, Boof Bonser, Jesse Crain), Kelsie Smith offers insight from a Baseball Prospectus study that showed just four relievers have maintained levels of stability since 2004 (one being Joe Nathan). Indians general manager Mark Shapiro commented that the way to build a better bullpen is by "maintaining flexibility by not allowing yourself to get (saddled) with multiyear deals, having lots of alternatives and building the deepest farm system humanly possible with pitching so that you have the luxury and the ability to take some of your better arms and use them in the pen as well as starting." Aside from Joe Nathan, the only member of the bullpen with a multiyear contract is Jesse Crain. For all of the time missed in 2008 and this season, Crain is 7-6 with a 4.24 ERA in 85 innings, striking out 66 while walking 33 since signing his three-year deal in February of 2007 worth $3.75 million.
If anyone thought trying to play musical outfielders was not going to have any reprocussions, I submit Exhibit A: Carlos Gomez has been "noticably upset and depressed about his production" said Gardenhire. Gomez was batting .205/.244/.308 with an inhumane 0.18 BB/K ratio (tied with Delmon Young for lowest among outfielders with a minimum of 30 plate appearances) prior to Sunday's game and sat three straight games. When he does make contact, he maintains a 20% line drive rate indicating that he has experienced some bad luck giving him steadier playing time would go a long way towards improving his demeanor and batting average (not to mention the outfield defensive coverage). In addition to his playing time greatly reduced, Gomez also has his first child on the way.
Second baseman Alexi Casilla's woes continued against left-handed pitching. After striking out against Cleveland's Rafael Perez in the sixth inning of Saturday's game, Casilla's RHB line dropped to .059/.059/.059 against southpaws, dropping his season totals to .186/.226/.220 with one extra base hit. Depending on how much stock you place on Bill James's research, this could a bad omen for the Twins. According to James's 1986 Baseball Abstract, the correlation in terms of total team runs and the position in the batting order is the strongest in the second slot, the spot that Casilla called home in 410 plate appearances last year. Prior to his season-stalling injury in July, Casilla was batting .313/.351/.424 from May 13th until July 28th as the Twins played .567 ball. Upon his return to the lineup in late August, Casilla hit just .225/.302/.289 and the Twins held a .416 winning percentage.
The Twins have been targeting May 1st as the return date for catcher Joe Mauer but Twinsbaseball.com's Kelly Thesier suggests that Minnesotans may see him in the Metrodome even before that. Mauer told manager Ron Gardenhire that he is feeling strong in his rehab starts in Fort Myers and would like to rejoin the team sooner than expected. The Twins are naturally cautious with their star catcher and would like to have him catch nine innings before making any decisions to activate him. In his three games with the Ft Myers Miracle, Mauer is 4-for-11 (.364) with a double and a pair of RBIs.
Jim Mandelaro in Rochester informs us that the Twins' minor league free agent Justin Huber homered in his first at-bat with the Red Wings on Saturday. The Australian native had troubles gaining access to the country and started the season on the temporarily inactive list, trying to hash out visa problems in Toronto which is why his first at-bat in Rochester came on Saturday. According to Mandelaro, this feat was last performed by former prospect Terry Tiffee in 2004. The one-time elite prospect for the Kansas City Royals has mashed left-handed pitching, hitting .332/.402/.519 against them in his minor league career, and could assume the Randy Ruiz role of 2009 for the Twins if the need for a right-handed power bat becomes dire.
Josh Johnson has added to his list of prospects and is now profiling his top ten.
Dugout Splinters has things we can look for in the upcoming series against Tampa Bay.
Justin Murphy over at BaseballDigest.com submits a This Week in Twins History.