I'm glad my turn in the Nick & Nick posting order came on last night's game rather than Tuesday's opener, because it puts me in a much better mood as I write this. The Twins struggled against Roy Halladay Tuesday, scoring just two earned runs and losing 6-3. Last night, the offense came out firing against starter Josh Towers and a couple of Blue Jays relievers and the Twins picked up their first victory of the season, a 13-4 pummeling of Toronto.
When the Jays made a variety of moves to bolster their offense during the offseason, a lot of people wondered what type of effect it would have on their defense. They traded away Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson and slick-fielding third baseman Corey Koskie and replaced them with inexperienced Aaron Hill and butcher Troy Glaus. The effect was evident last night. The Blue Jays gave away several runs through their sloppy play, with a variety of errors, wild pitches, and boneheaded decisions in the field. But, in fairness, the Twins hitters came out and just pounded the ball after a relatively slow start.
Brad Radke gave up three runs in the first inning, on home runs by Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay. This would normally be the space for a rant about Radke's continual inability to get out of the first inning without massive damage, a trend that has apparently carried over into the 2006 season, but I'll lay off. It's frustrating, but hey, it's frustrating for him too and I know he's tried just about everything he possibly can to shake that nagging flaw in his game. Hopefully he can fix it. Following his rough first inning, he pitched five more decent -- not great -- innings and picked up the win.
The Twins' offense tonight displayed precisely the reasons I think it will be much improved over last year. The 1-2-3 hitters in the lineup (Shannon Stewart, Luis Castillo, Joe Mauer) reached base a total of nine times and Castillo and Mauer stole a bag apiece. The middle of the lineup (Rondell White, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau) combined for 8 RBI. Six of those were from Hunter, who had a monster night. He went 4-for-5 with a grand slam.
One observation. Josh Towers seems to have a tendency of grooving a fastball right down the middle on the first pitch in an effort to get ahead in the count. I was noticing this early in the game, and wishing the Twins would jump on some first pitches. In the first three innings, the Twins took a strike looking on the first pitch five times, and they struggled offensively as they constantly fell behind in the count. In the fourth inning, they became more aggressive at the plate. Hunter came up with runners on first and third and swung at the first pitch, singling in a run. In the next at-bat, Morneau jumped on the first pitch and swatted an RBI single to center. Don't get me wrong, working the count and wearing out the pitcher are important, but I think that hitters like Hunter and Morneau -- who aren't exactly known for their discerning eye at the plate -- need to make a point of being more aggressive and taking a swing at the first good pitch they see.
There were several other nice things in last night's game. Francisco Liriano made his season debut, pitching two excellent innings of relief. He struck out three, and worked out of a jam with runners on second and third in the 8th inning. Luis Rodriguez pinch-hit for Tony Batista late in the game, and hit an opposite-field home run. I'd love to see Elrod play well and push Batista for playing time at third. Batista went 0-for-3, striking out twice (once in a key RBI situation).
Castillo was much more impressive last night than in his sluggish Twins debut Tuesday. He made an excellent play in the field, ranging far to his right and retiring Eric Hinske with a strong off-balance throw. He also displayed much-needed aggresiveness on the basepaths, going from first to third on a Mauer single (then scoring on a White sac fly in the next at-bat). He had two hits and a walk in the game, and eventually scored all three times he reached base.
All in all, it was a very good win for the Twins, giving them a chance to win the series and go into their weekend set in Cleveland with a little momentum. Tonight's matchup: Carlos Silva vs. Gustavo Chacin.