I could have used yesterday's article title, "Unbelievable," for today's. It fit perfectly. In what was a competitive, hard-fought game yesterday afternoon, Ron Gardenhire gave the game away with his continued incompetence in managing his pitchers.
For some reason I can't fathom at the moment, Jesse Crain was allowed to pitch three innings. There are many reasons this seems confusing and idiotic. For one, it was a tie game when Gardenhire brought him in. Crain isn't exactly what you would call a "long reliever." If he wants to leave a guy in there for three innings, his name better be Fransisco Liriano or, if need be, Matt Guerrier. Those guys have the stamina to do it and Crain doesn't. Beyond that, if he has pitched two scoreless innings and its the eigth, why aren't you bringing in Juan Rincon or even Joe Nathan to pitch and keep the score even?? As soon as Crain allows a baserunner in the eighth, you need to get him out of there. At least Rincon can induce the double play. What happens? Crain, who has been incredibly hittable this year with a .359 OBA and a 7.56 ERA, serves up two runs and in steps the Angels bullpen, which is not ready to blow a lead in two straight games.
This is, of course, nothing new. Gardenhire has been praised for his use of bullpens in the past, but this year, he has looked completely lost. In the Yankees series, he brought in Crain to protect a Twins lead (it was clear then that Crain looks lost and easier to hit than Jose Lima) and that lead was promptly given up. Of course, they came back to win that game. He also put the first game out of reach the same way. So why does Gardenhire persist on bringing him in in key situations? Why can't he see how obvious it is that Crain is not going to be successful on the mound right now? Why continue to bring him in to protect and inevitably blow leads?
Further, why does he feel the need to adhere to some strict order? When the game is on the line, you bring in your best pitchers. Period. If Crain doing this poorly, his only use now is in mop-up duty. That means Rincon, Liriano, or -- most importantly -- Nathan. Yes, it's not the ninth and he isn't trying for a save, but so what? Being a good manager means being unconventional sometimes and trying different things. It needs to be asked why Nathan, who outside of Liriano has the most dominant stuff on the team, has pitched only four innings this year despite how great he looks. If you bring in Nathan for two innings right there, you give yourself a great chance to keep the game tied and eventually win. It's not as if the Twins weren't getting chances against the Angels or that they didn''t have other good options left in the bullpen.
Needless to say, I was very frustrated by the management in yesterday's loss. But other bad things happened. The Twins offense stranded a total of 23 runners, with Torii Hunter leaving seven and Lew Ford and Michael Cuddyer leaving four. Hunter was awful, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts while grounding into a double play and, as you can see, costing the Twins plenty of opportunities to score. He killed plenty of rallies, as Tony Batista went 3-for-4 in front of him with two RBIs and a walk.
The other positive performance, by Luis Castillo who went 3-for-4 and scored two runs, was soured when Castillo suffered a leg injury in the seventh after beating out an infield hit. Hopefully it's not serious and just related to the nagging quad injuries he has dealt with. If it is serious, the Twins have a bad predicament on their hands, as Castillo was hitting .404 and has been extremely valuable at the top of the order.
Otherwise, Twins fans are probably happy to see Rondell White have his first multi-hit game of the year, going 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs in the seventh spot with a 2-out clutch hit to top it off. It's just too bad that the offense had too many holes yesterday and that the manager can't seem to figure out the basics of bullpen management.