After posting a career-best ERA in 2005 and putting up phenomenal numbers in Spring Training, the 27-year-old Kyle Lohse appeared poised to come out and have a terrific season in '06. If his first start yesterday afternoon is any indication, that's not going to be happening. Lohse was hit hard early and often and took the loss as the Indians pounded the Twins 11-6.
Pretty much everything about Lohse's outing was terrible. He had trouble finding the strike zone, throwing only 58 of his 99 pitches for strikes. He fell behind in the count against 15 of the 27 batters he faced. He gave up 8 runs, all earned, and allowed 11 hits over just 4 and 2/3 innings. He walked three and struck out three. The low point came in the 5th inning. After trailing 4-1 at the end of the fourth, Joe Mauer had brought the Twins back within one with a 2-run double in the top half of the inning. In the bottom of the fifth, Lohse loaded the bases with two outs. He met with Rick Anderson and the infielders to discuss how they would approach the next batter, Casey Blake. Apparently it wasn't a very successful talk, as Lohse proceeded start the at-bat by throwing the worst pitch imaginable to Blake, a hanging breaking pitch right over the middle of the plate that was easily deposited into the left field seats for a grand slam.
I'm sure Ron Gardenhire will claim that Lohse's struggles were due to him over-exerting himself because of the excitement of his first start. To me, it just seemed like he was being extremely tentative with the potent Cleveland lineup, afraid to throw the ball in the strike zone. I can't say I blame him, but if the Twins' pitchers can't find a way to pitch to these guys and get outs it's going to be a long season, because -- aside from having to play the Indians several times -- the White Sox and Tigers both have lineups that are looking pretty intimidating at this point.
If there's a bright spot to be found in this game, it is the resiliency of the Twins' hitters. Despite the fact that Lohse put them in a hole early, the offense kept chipping away at the Indians' lead. Unfortunately, Cleveland just kept building on that lead and eventually just put it to far out of reach. Justin Morneau broke out of his early slump with a big game, hitting 2 home runs and driving in 3 runs. Meanwhile, Rondell White continued to slump, going 0-for-4. He has one hit this season, and it was a weak dribbler down the third base line for an infield hit. I remain high on White and I'm not too worried, but he needs to start producing from the cleanup spot.
Surprisingly, the Twins' pitching early this season has left a lot more to be desired than the hitting. It's hard to imagine the inexperienced Scott Baker having a ton of success against Cleveland's lineup in today's game, but here's hoping he can piece together a solid start and the offense can score some runs against Jason Johnson, a guy the Twins have had success against in the past.
-On another note, Michael Cuddyer entered the game to replace Lew Ford, who started the game and apparently tweaked his hamstring. I have no idea why it was Cuddyer who replaced Ford and not Jason Kubel, since Indians' starter Paul Byrd is pretty hittable for lefties (as evidenced by Mauer and Morneau), but Cruddy continued his usual April ineptitude by going 0-for-2. He is now hitless in 7 at-bats this season.