Unfortunately, Slowey did not earn a win in spite of his outstanding effort, as another poor relief outing from Juan Rincon put the Rangers in front just one inning after Slowey had left with a 2-1 lead. The Twins later ended up winning when Kinsler (who had entered as a sub) dropped a Jason Bartlett fly ball and allowed Lew Ford to score and seal a 5-4 victory for the Twins.
Now, to change course a bit. According to La Velle E. Neal III, Ron Gardenhire announced yesterday that Nick Punto is currently slated to be the Twins' starting second baseman at the outset of the 2008 season. Here's what the Twins' manager had to say:
“ We already know what we’ve got with Nick,'’ Gardy said. “We know we’ve got a player. And (Alexi Casilla) has all the tools in the world. Nothing’s a given. You have to go out and play. But if we were to start right now I would say Nick would have a head up on him, believe me there. I know what he can do, catch the ball and make all the plays. So he’s got a lead going into spring training, as far as I’m concerned.
“I hope he comes out and has a good spring. I like him in my lineup, somewhere. He makes things exciting. But he’s got to play. Got to come back and rebound, we all know that.'’
Considering my constant ranting lately about Casilla being held out of the lineup, you might think that I'd be furious about this development. But, to be honest, I'm not.
Casilla has been absolutely terrible this year, and there's no masking that fact. He didn't have a particularly good year in Rochester, where he hit just .269/.354/.345, and he's looked completely overmatched in the majors, hitting just .241/.274/.282. In 184 plate appearances with the Twins this year, Casilla has struck out 25 times while managing just eight walks, and in the meantime he has committed countless mistakes in the field and on the basepaths.
At 23, Casilla is young and still boasts plenty of upside, which is why I continue to believe that he should be playing almost every day for the remainder of the season in these meaningless September games. However, once we move on to the beginning of the 2008 season and the games matter again, the manager needs to put the best players on the field, and at this point in time, Punto looks like a better overall option at second base than Casilla. That could very well change between now and next April, and if it does, I hope that Gardy will adjust his plans accordingly.
Punto's 2007 season has been historically bad from an offensive standpoint, and it seems odd that he would be rewarded for such a feat with a starting job next season. Yet, if it comes down to him and Casilla, right now Punto has to be considered the better player solely on the merits of his defensive ability.
Many would no doubt argue that a guy who hits the way Punto has this season is a liability at any position -- that's true. But is it really fair to expect him to keep hitting this way? Punto has hit rock bottom this year, and I certainly expect him to get his numbers back up toward respectability next season. Does that mean I think he's an ideal starter? By no means, and I'd love it if Casilla could step up and establish himself as this team's starting second baseman of the future. Unfortunately, he hasn't done that, and nothing that he's done this season has really indicated to me that he's going to be ready to take over at the beginning of the 2008 season.