Monday, August 24, 2009

OtB Twins Notes: 08.24.09

Following the Twins’ 5-4 victory over the Royals, La Velle E Neal revealed that the team decided to send right-hander Anthony Swarzak back to Rochester after Swarzak experienced a soul-crushing month of August going 0-4 with a 14.85 ERA.  Like most young pitchers, Swarzak will have to relearn the value of getting that all-important first strike.  Following a first-pitch strike, opponents held an OPS of .635 but crushed him (1.120 OPS) if he fell behind 1-0.  After getting ahead of hitters regularly in June (59.1 first-pitch strike) and July (56.0 FPS), Swarzak’s ability to attack the strike zone vanished in August (48.7 FPS) which led to 8 home runs in the month and a .900 slugging percentage. 

Prior to demoting Swarzak, the Twins tapped 25-year-old Armando Gabino from Rochester and scheduled him to start Tuesday against Baltimore.  The Twins landed Gabino from the Indians organization in 2004 during the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft and spot-started while primarily working as a reliever.  In his 36 appearances in AAA (five starts) this year Gabino worked 83 innings allowing 64 hits and a 54-to-20 K-to-BB ratio.  Maintaining a very impressive WHIP (1.01) -- a product of both his control (2.30 BB/9) and defense (.239 BABIP) – which does not appear to be a statistic that will travel with him to Minnesota considering his flyball tendencies and unsustainable home runs per flyball numbers (21% LD rate/41% FB rate with a 5.6% HR/FB).  His addition ensures that Swarzak will not have to receive another beating however, there are two more deserving starters in Kevin Mulvey and Yohan Pino currently at Rochester.  

Closer Joe Nathan was unavailable for Saturday night’s game against the Royals because he had thrown a season-high 53 pitches in his two-inning blown save turned win.  "There's been times when he's saved like three, four games in a row and I'm like, 'No way,' but it didn't come up when we needed to use him," [manager Ron] Gardenhire said. "I'd say, 'No way he's going to be pitching,' and he would say, 'Yeah, I'm pitching."  The 53-pitch night was the most pitches thrown in an outing since 2000 (and the most as a Twin dating back to the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees).  The 34-year-old is having a great season, yet is far less efficient then he was in his younger days. Among those with at least 40 innings pitched, Nathan is the leader in strikeout rate (11.5 K/9), ERA+ (249) and WHIP (0.842) but at 4.25 pitches-per-hitter Nathan is 5th in that category among relievers and his highest total since 2004. 

Without Nathan’s services in the ninth inning, Ron Gardenhire turned to Matt Guerrier to secure the 8-6 lead on Saturday.  After allowing the Royals to pull within one on Yuniesky Betancourt’s run scoring fielder’s choice.  Guerrier got Josh Anderson to bounce to Alexi Casilla for the final out, recording the first non-Nathan save in almost a year and the 14th save without Nathan since he arrived in Minnesota in 2004. 

Joe Crede was scratched with a sore lower back from Sunday’s game.  His absence from the Twins’ lineup means the third baseman has missed 30 percent of the total games played and a strong indication that he will fall well short of the 525 plate appearances necessary to obtain his full $7 million contract.  After starting the year hitting .240/.303/.504 with 9 home runs and 22 RBIs in 35 games through May 28th, Crede has declined significantly hitting .221/.286/.367 with 6 home runs and 26 RBIs in 53 games.  Irreplaceable defense notwithstanding, Crede’s substandard offensive performance since May raises the concern that his health is now hindering his production on days in which he is in the lineup.      

Francisco Liriano may be out for longer than anticipated reports Rustin Dodd on  Liriano told the media on Saturday that his arm "It’s been like that for probably like a month. My stuff, it was getting worse. I didn’t want to keep pitching like that. My arm was dead.”  His fastball’s average velocities in those five starts were 91.0, 92.2, 92.2, 88.4 and then 89.5.  More telling was the fact that his fastball was drifting further up in the zone, throwing 35 percent of his fastballs up on August 12th and 17th (his season average was around 20 percent). There could be a number of things wrong (shoulder, lats, etc) that leads to the elevation, but I would wager that this fatigue is not associated with his Tommy John-operated elbow based upon the decrease in velocity.  Liriano will be looked at by doctors when the team gets back to Minnesota this week and could rejoin the Twins as a reliever if deemed healthy. 

Dodd also noted that Boof Bonser’s rehabilitation from his torn labrum and rotator cuff surgery is going so well that Bonser may be available in the bullpen come September.  Another veteran relief arm would appease Ron Gardenhire who said thatCan't screw around. There are some spots out there. We can't end up with your whole Triple-A staff in the bullpen, (they're) kids. We're another late-inning guy away most of the time. You saw that again last night."  Questions regarding his potential effectiveness aside, the Twins are in desperate need of a reliever to absorb the load from Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares.  In the month of August alone opponents are 34-for-107 (.318 BA) with 14 extra base hits off of Bobby Keppel, Jesse Crain and Philip Humber. 

Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman appears to be one of the few East Coast-based writers who will go on record saying Joe Mauer is the 2009 MVP with his other-worldly performance this season.  While this fact should be obvious to beat writers across the country, just to reiterate in the event any stop by here today: Mauer is leading the AL in Batting Average, On-Base and Slugging Percentage – and by a wide-margin too.  The next closest candidate to Mauer’s .638 slugging is the Angels’ Kendry Morales at .572.  Naturally, Silverman cannot pass up the chance to lust over of Mauer’s presence in Massachusetts in 2012, wondering aloudNever mind whether the Twins can afford that pricetag or not. The question is whether the Sox can afford to get in yet another bidding war with the Yankees, whose contract with Posada expires after the 2011 season. Do they have a choice?”  

Twins' minor league director Jim Rantz was in New Britain recently inspecting the organization AA talent and beamed about the team’s pitching stock, most notably Deolis Guerra and his change-up.   Said Rantz, “If [Guerra] can locate the fastball and throw strikes, that changeup is deadly. That’s a weapon. And is slider is not too bad either. He’s got good tilt. He’s got 83, 84 miles per hour. He’s gotten better.  This is only a 20-year-old kid and he’s already got about four years under his belt. I’m pleased with the advancement that he has made and how he’s come along.”  As I examined last week, Guerra’s polished mechanics in 2009 have contributed to his success and has given the Twins a potential number three starter in the coming years.