Friday, June 29, 2007

Splitsville (Plus LOTS of Notes)

Through three innings, yesterday's game had the makings of a blowout loss for the Twins. They trailed the Blue Jays 5-2, Carlos Silva had already given up five hits and a walk, and Toronto starter A.J. Burnett was cruising with six strikeouts. From that point on however, it was all Twins. Torii Hunter led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run, the first of six unanswered runs the Twins would score over the final five innings as Silva faced just one batter over the minimum from the fourth through the seventh before giving way to the bullpen, which slammed the door with two perfect innings in an 8-5 Twins victory.

Silva's overall line (7 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) was not good, but it was very encouraging to see him settle in and shut down the Blue Jays after a rough start, and it was even more encouraging to see the Twins provide him with some run support for a second consecutive outing. The Twins have been shut out four times this season with Silva on the mound, and they've scored three or fewer runs behind him on four other occasions. In his last two starts, they've scored a total of 19 runs.

In his first game back in the lineup after missing several games with a bruised lung, Justin Morneau went 0-for-3 with a walk and an RBI groundout. Hunter ripped a two-run home run in the fifth inning to put the Twins ahead. It was his second home run of the game and his 17th of the year. Jason Bartlett had a great day at the plate, reaching base three times and hitting his second home run of the year while also stealing a pair of bases. He is now 15-for-15 on the year on stolen base attempts.

And now, a Friday smorgasbord of other notes on the Twins and their minor-league affiliates:

* The Twins recalled Matt Garza from Triple-A yesterday, sending down third-string catcher Chris Heintz to make room on the roster. Garza will start one of the games of the Twins' double-header against the White Sox a week from today, and he'll pitch out of the bullpen up until that point.

Garza has had an up-and-down year in Rochester. He's posted a 3.62 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, numbers that are solid but not spectacular. He has struck out 95 batters in 92 innings, but he has frequently struggled with his control, issuing 31 walks over that span after handing out just 32 free passes in 135 2/3 minor league innings last year. Hopefully he can work with Rick Anderson to refine his command at the major-league level, as a lack of control was one of his biggest problems once he reached the big leagues last year.

It's unclear what will happen with Garza after he pitches next Friday. Silva and Bonser have posted solid numbers overall, and Baker is coming off a fantastic outing on Tuesday night that he'll be looking to build on. Kevin Slowey has really struggled to keep the ball in the park, so I suppose that if Garza comes up and pitches well it could be Slowey who heads back to Rochester.

* Joe Nathan picked up his 15th save yesterday with a 1-2-3 ninth inning that included a pair of strikeouts. While his overall numbers are good, Nathan just hasn't been his usual lights-out self this year. He's converted 15 of his 17 save opportunities with a 2.36 ERA, but it's disappointing to see him allowing a .267 opposing batting average after keeping that number below .200 in each of the past five seasons. In 34 1/3 innings this year, Nathan has allowed nine earned runs and 35 hits while striking out 39. In 68 1/3 innings last year, he allowed 12 earned runs and 38 hits while striking out 95.

* Joe Mauer went 0-for-4 in last night's game and 3-for-18 in the four-game series against the Blue Jays. After batting .452 last June, Mauer has batted just .237 this June and has watched his average drop from .353 to .303.

* While Garza was the one to get the call-up, there's another starter pitching for the Twins' Triple-A affiliate who is raising some eyebrows. Nick Blackburn entered last night's game without having allowed an earned run in his last 34 1/3 innings. After tossing seven scoreless frames against the Durham Bulls in a 12-0 Red Wings victory last night, Blackburn has run that streak to 41 1/3 innings. He now holds a 1.57 ERA.

Blackburn is definitely a prospect worth getting to know at this point. He started the season in Double-A, where he went 3-1 with a 3.08 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 38 innings. Being that the right-handed Blackburn is 25 and has a big frame at 6'4", 230 lbs, the Twins wanted to see what he could do at the next level so they promoted him to Rochester. After coming out of the gates with a 4.99 ERA over his first three starts in Triple-A, Blackburn has put together an absolutely incredible run. Over his last five starts, he is 5-0 with a 0.00 ERA, having allowed just 28 hits and one walk over 39 innings to go along with 21 strikeouts. The stretch includes two complete game shutouts.

Suddenly, Blackburn finds himself very much in the mix for a spot in the big-league rotation should Slowey or Garza (or Baker or Bonser for that matter) falter.

* The Nationals acquired Levale Speigner from the Twins through the Rule V draft during the offseason. After seeing him post mostly horrible numbers over first few months of the season (his painful victory over Johan Santana and the Twins aside), the Nationals decided that they'd like to send him to the minors. In order to do so, they had to offer Speigner back to the Twins. The Twins accepted, but then sent Speigner back to the Nats just a few days ago in a deal that brought minor-league outfielder Darnell McDonald to the Twins organization.

A 28-year-old career minor-leaguer who is currently spending his sixth season in Triple-A, McDonald is far from a hot prospect. Yet he is a good addition for a Twins organization that is very thin on outfield depth in the minor leagues. He immediately took over the No. 3 spot in the Rochester lineup. After going 2-for-8 with a pair of doubles in his first couple games with the Red Wings, McDonald went 3-for-5 with a double, a home run and five RBI in last night's game.

* First-round draft pick Ben Revere has gotten his professional career off to a strong start, batting .360 with five RBI and two stolen bases over his first six games in the Gulf Coast League.

* I received this note via e-mail yesterday and thought I would pass it on to our readers:
Nick,

Thought this might be of interest to your Nick & Nick's Twins blog readers: Lutheran Social Service of MN is partnering with the Minnesota Twins to raise funds for our homeless youth services, and one of the ways we're raising dollars is by auctioning the opportunity to throw out the Ceremonial First Pitch before the July 13 Twins-A's game, which happens to be "LSS Night at the Twins." The auction is now on EBay, and will continue through July 7. Fans can also buy tickets for this game through LSS, and part of the proceeds goes to homeless youth services - http://www.lssmn.org/twins for more info.

Here is a link to the first-pitch auction.

Or they can do a search on EBay for "Ceremonial First Pitch."

Thanks,
Jay Kelly
* Yesterday's victory was a much-needed one for the Twins, as they are about to embark on an extremely difficult nine-game road trip. Tonight, they begin a three-game series in Detroit against the first-place Tigers. The Twins will have a very tough time scoring runs this weekend, as they take on three young studs in Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller and Jeremy Bonderman. After Detroit, the Twins head straight to New York for a three-game set against the Yankees, and then finish their pre-All-Star schedule in Chicago with three games against the White Sox. The Yankees and White Sox may not be playing their best ball this season, but it would be foolhardy to think that either series will be easy.

* As a final reminder, many Twins fans and bloggers will be meeting at Park Tavern in St. Louis Park tomorrow to watch the Twins/Tigers game at 2:55 p.m.

Whew. Have a good weekend!

5 comments:

beth said...

It was good to see Silva make the turn-around after the poor start (that I missed because of a meeting at work).

Our assessment of Garza is completely in line. He's wildly inconsistent--checking the box scores in Rochester, I never knew what I was going to see.

After researching stats last night (I'm a nerd; I've learned to live with it), this struck me as odd:
"It's unclear what will happen with Garza after he pitches next Friday. Silva and Bonser have posted solid numbers overall, and Baker is coming off a fantastic outing on Tuesday night that he'll be looking to build on. Kevin Slowey has really struggled to keep the ball in the park, so I suppose that if Garza comes up and pitches well it could be Slowey who heads back to Rochester."

In the month of June, Slowey had the best ERA of the three named. Bonser actually had the worst ERA. Bonser's overall ERA was helped by a stellar May, something that Baker and Slowey didn't really have an opportunity to produce.

Nick N. said...

In the month of June, Slowey had the best ERA of the three named. Bonser actually had the worst ERA. Bonser's overall ERA was helped by a stellar May, something that Baker and Slowey didn't really have an opportunity to produce.

ERA is obviously an important statistic to look at when judging a pitcher, but when you're evaluating the performance of a young hurler I think it's also important to take into account his peripherals.

Slowey has posted a 4.94 ERA over 5 starts. Not horrible, but not good. Over 27 1/3 innings, he's given up 36 H, 9 HR, and has collected only 15 K. Those are ugly numbers -- signs that he is struggling to adjust to this level.

Baker's overall numbers aren't very good, but he's shown extremely encouraging signs over his last couple starts. That outing on Tuesday was simply masterful. There is reason to think he's pulling things together.

As for Bonser, he had a rough month, but by no means am I a believer that he should be moved out of the rotation at this point. His overall numbers are still fine (4.65 ERA, 85 K in 91 IP). He's giving up less HR and striking out more batters than he did last year; he really just needs to continually work on getting the ball in the zone early in the count and getting ahead of opposing batters. He has extremely good stuff and all four of his pitches induce missed swings more than the average major-league pitcher (see the stats on that here).

I'm not necessarily saying I want Slowey sent down, just that he would be the most likely candidate if Garza experiences success within the next week.

Baseball_Lipgloss said...

Thanks for the heads-up on Nick Blackburn. It will be interesting to see how this roadtrip rides out.
Jen

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