Thursday, September 14, 2006

Franchise Faded

Yesterday's game represented a little bad and some awful news. I went to the game myself, thinking that I would catch Francisco Liriano's great comeback and see the start of something special again. Instead, I was treated two brief innings of excellent work before Liriano left the game abruptly just a few pitches into the third. Right away, I knew that the news could not be anything good.

The news following the game was very bad: Liriano is done for the year and the words "Tommy John" were thrown around. As most of you are aware, Tommy John is ligament-replacement surgery and usually takes over a year to recover from, at least. Many pitchers who have it never return and some are never as effective as they were before it (Ryan Dempster, Joe Mays are some relevant examples).

It isn't a death sentence by any means, but Liriano may not be around next year at all. It's hard to tell. But what the Twins organization should know by now is that Liriano cannot continue to pitch the way he has and be injury-free. His mechanics are rough and the snapping of his elbow upon unleashing his great slider is the kind of action on a forearm that ruins elbows.

If he is going to come back and be a successful pitcher, he'll have to change his delivery motion and likely either rid himself of his slider or find a different way to throw it. It is, of course, quite difficult to know whether or not the Twins are thinking of this, but they should be. It's good that they have shut him down for the year now, but they may have wanted to be more cautious before.

When there is elbow pain in a pitcher's throwing arm, you have to consider the pitcher. A power pitcher like Liriano who throws a lot of breaking balls needs to be treated a certain way. Without his slider, he may not be as confident, so the plan of simply asking him to throw less sliders and throw more fastballs and changeups sounds a lot easier then it is in action.

A Chicago White Sox player, it seems, predicted this himself. Matt Thornton, who went through the same thing as a minor leaguer in 2002 and had Tommy John surgery, had this to say in the Pioneer Press:

''You hate to see it happen, but I could tell that it probably would just because of what I went through myself,'' Thornton said. ''I could tell by his motion, by the stress he puts on his elbow, that it was a recipe for disaster.

''You can rest and throw on the side all you want, but you will never truly test it until you get out there and throw at game speed.''

Thornton had no idea what Liriano's injury was or how serious it was, but he wasn't optimistic.

''Once the muscle starts wearing down, the stress goes on the ligament, and that can only hold it for so long,'' Thornton said. ''I hope it's not the case, but if it is, we'll next see him in 2008 and he'll be throwing 105 because I came back with an extra 5 miles per hour on my fastball.''

Needless to say, this news sends a depressing wave through the organization and fanbase, but I am in no way surprised. When he first injured himself, I suggested that the Twins be cautious and consider revamping his delivery to take pressure of the young pitcher's left elbow. Now, with Liriano likely more hurt than he was before, they may have to do that anyway.

As for the game itself, it was a definitely a pitcher's duel, even without Liriano. His replacement, Matt Garza, did a fine job relieving him, giving up only one run in his 5 2/3 innings of work, allowing eight hits while striking out four and walking one. He wasn't terribly dominant, but he was effective and had much better control of his pitches, utilizing his slider and his changeup a lot more.

However, due to Danny Haren, a Twins sweep was not to be. The young Oakland right-hander, whom the A's got in the Mark Mulder deal two years back (doesn't that trade look great now?), simply dominated the Twins offense. In eight innings of work, he gave up only three hits, while striking out seven and walking one. Haren had a few wild pitches, but overall, he showed great control and constantly had the Twins hitters fooled on his breaking pitches.

Of course, I can't just let the Twins offense go. Ron Gardenhire's management wasn't particularly great yesterday, especially his lineup construction. Joe Mauer, for instance, is hitting .446/.537/.661 as a DH and .363/.454/.561 against righties, yet for whatever reason was held out of the lineup with Jason Tyner back in as DH. Ignoring the fact that Tyner is quite possibly the worst choice for a DH ever (a singles hitter with absolutely no power who fields well), Gardy's penchant for sitting Mauer basically every series during the day game is just plain annoying at this point.

Sitting on the the league's best hitters instead of DHing him as much possible is simply dumb. There is no excuse for it and without him, we had this lineup out against Haren today:

1. Castillo 2B
2. Punto 3B
3. Redmond C
4. Cuddyer RF
5. Morneau 1B
6. Hunter CF
7. Rabe LF
8. Tyner DH
9. Bartlett SS

Collectively, everyone but Redmond, Cuddyer, and Morneau went 0-for-20. When facing a good pitcher, a good team, and being in the middle of a pennant race, it occurs to me that you may want to have every advantage possible on your side. That means utilizing Phil Nevin in pinch-hitting spots whenever possible and DHing Mauer when he's not catching, resting him at most once a week.

Today, the Twins start a series against the Cleveland Indians with Boof Bonser on the hill. Sadly, at this point, Boof is basically the Twins second-best pitcher. Let's hope he continues his late magic.

We'll have to hope that the Twins can continue to play as well without Liriano over the final few weeks of the season as they have since he first went down on August 7. There's no reason to think they can't, but still the thought of watching Liriano pitch this year was extremely exciting and the major concerns that have now come up regarding his future are truly depressing.

Here's hoping you're ready to go for Spring Training 2007, Frisco.

6 comments:

Dan said...

The injuries are hard to control and foresee. Liriano wantes to compete badly. I feel for him, but its apart of sports. Such is life I guess.

Now the lineup, I cannot believe that. I was thinking Gardy before yesterday might just go ahead of Leyland(in my mind) for top manager, but not when Tyner DH's, Nevin continues to sit, and Rabe plays left field. He could have had any combination of Mauer' bat, Kubels bat, Nevins bat, or White's bat in the lineup from DH or left field, or even played Tyner at LF. Rabe is like the 6th or now 7th outfielder on the team, why is he even seeing the field. That is inexusable. It still could have been a 1-0 ballgame as Haren threw great yesterday, but you can't leave it all on Cuddyer and Morneau to get it done.

Thats my rant, but I'm excited about this series. It will tell alot about how the Twins can bounce back. A win tonight is huge since the other teams are idle, they can gain a half game back.

Here's to the Twins leaving it all out on the field in spite of bad managing.

Nick M. said...

I agree completely Dan. I was so frustrated when I got to the Dome. I couldn't believe he would throw that kind of a lineup against one of the better pitchers in the AL. I mean, it is different if we are talking about Rodrigo Lopez, but Haren is 10th in the AL in ERA, sixth in Ks, and fifth in WHIP.

Granted, Leyland threw Neifi Perez in the lineup against Neifi Perez, which is fairly hard to defend, but Tyner and Rabe over Mauer DHing? Just insanity. I sometimes wonder if Gardy even cares about winning.

Nick M. said...

Also, Seth at Sethspeaks makes a great point. I have to wonder why the Twins had Liriano throwing some many sliders? Why would they go against their planning, knowing full-well the strain that pitch puts on his elbow.

WV and/or RK said...

When you hear about Liriano throwing 45% sliders at times earlier this year, you wonder if he will have to totally rethink his approach to pitching when he comes back next year or the year after to avoid similar results. Luckily, it looks like he will be back sooner rather than later.

Lucky for us the Boofarino is picking up some of the slack and we pick up half a game on both fronts tonight.

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