Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Hunter hits big again

Torii Hunter once again pratically won a game for the Minnesota Twins. He didn't have an amazing catch, but he did everything else. Every rally was started by something Hunter did. In the fourth, he put the Twins on the board with a two-out 426 ft. blast to center field after a another bad first-inning by Brad Radke had left the Twins down by 4. Then, in the sixth, he came out swinging again, leading off with a double and ended up scoring the second run of the game and starting the rally that tied the score at 5. The next inning, he did it again, crushing a weak Matt Herges fastball to the left-field seats for another solo homer. What followed was aggressive hitting from everyone, as Jacque Jones and Matt LeCroy nearly knocked balls out and Michael Cuddyer did, with a two-run home-run to a similar spot. But Hunter's work wasn't done yet. After the Diamondbacks tied it up again with a three-run homer from pinch-hitter Tony Clark off of Juan Rincon, Hunter started the 9th with a single off of Arizona reliever Jose Valverde. The following events were not so pretty, but Hunter's hustle won the day in the end. As he tried to steal second, Valverde made a bad throw to second, going into the outfield. Hunter tried for more, but then tried to get back. He was clearly out, but Alex Cintron was not able to tag him, as he thought Hunter was still going for third. Following the error, Hunter was driven in by a Jones single, hustling in and making a nice slide at home for the Twins' 9th and winning run. Joe Nathan had a good ninth, showing improvement in his command and hitting 97 mph on the radar gun as he blew Luis Gonzalez away (who was 3 for 3 with 2 HRs off Nathan coming in) and had Troy Glaus flailing away before he popped out on a cutter to end the game.

So at the end of a crazy game, it was Hunter who pretty much won it for the Twins. That's impressive since Hunter had such a bad beginning of the season. He is now hitting .280 with 9 HRs and 36 RBIs, leading the team in HRs and RBIs now. If he can hit .270 with 25 or more HRs and close to 100 RBIs, I think that would be a good year for Hunter. But as he seeing the ball really good right now, the key for Hunter is to not let himself fall right back into his free-swinging problems and go right after whatever pitchers offer. The problem is so many of his hits come on first-pitches lately, and for that matter, mostly bad first-pitch fastballs. The homer off Estes was a bad breaking-ball, but Hunter still needs to adjust to the kind of good breaking pitches pitchers have long been able to get Hunter out with. The key for Hunter, though, has been his ability to play with pain. He has a seperation in his left shoulder, bone chips in his elbow, a broken toe, and other unnamed problems. Hunter continues to play, which shows good leadership. Hopefully, that can be an example for others (Morneau, even Mauer) to follow.

Other than Hunter, the Twins had an interesting game overall.

* Brad Radke continued to have major problems in the first inning. He now has a 11.77 ERA in the first inning and that's unacceptable. The problem is that its not a fluke, but a consistent problem for Radke. He just can't get out of the first. He needs to take advice from Anderson and use all his pitches in the first. The problem is that hitters know he's vulnerable in the first, so they come out swinging and against a guy like Radke, who doesn't have lots of velocity but tons of control and is going to be around the plate, that can be bad. So, he needs to mix in his change and curve alot more into his first-inning pitch selection to be successful.

* Glenn Williams, who was called up to replace the struggling Terry Tiffee and help out at first, had his first major league hit on the first pitch he saw in the majors, getting an infield off of Shawn Estes off of Estes' hand. (Which caused Estes to leave the game)

* Cuddyer went 1 for 3, but most importantly beyond his third homer this year was his two walks, as Cuddyer was a lot more patient. That's a good sign for Cuddyer, who can get into the same problems as Hunter. (Though it should be noted that Cuddyer's homer also was off of Herges, who looked just terrible tonight)

* Jones went 2 for 5 with the winning RBI, raising his average to .293. After a fall in May following a great April, Jones is now on a seven-game hitting streak (as is Hunter) and is heating up again at just the right time

* Nathan's 17th save ties him for the major-league lead with the Cardinals' Jason Isringhausen. Despite his recent struggles, Nathan should be a lock for the All-Star team, along with last year's Cy Young, Johan Santana