* Over the weekend, the Twins placed Adam Everett on the disabled list due to a bum right shoulder and called up Brian Buscher to fill his spot on the roster. I'm happy with this move, not only because I am a personal fan of Buscher and the sponsor of his B-R.com page, but also because he was hitting extremely well in Rochester and his presence provides the Twins with the quality bench bat they've been missing so far this season thanks to the struggles of Craig Monroe.
I'm not under the illusion that Buscher is going to start siphoning regular starts from Mike Lamb at third base -- nor do I think he should; the Twins are wise to remain patient with Lamb, who is bound to start hitting eventually. But Buscher has a solid bat and can serve a valuable role on this team. Making his 2008 debut with the Twins yesterday, Buscher went 1-for-4 with a well-struck double to center.
* Nick Blackburn earned his first major-league win on Saturday night, pitching 7 2/3 shutout innings in an eventual 3-0 victory for the Twins. It's difficult not to get excited about the rookie right-hander at this point. While his impressive strikeout rate early on is starting to look like a fluke (he's fanned one batter over 13 1/3 innings in his last two starts), he's continued to throw strikes and get ground balls. The low K-rate will make it difficult for him to sustain anything close to his current 2.49 ERA, but I'm pretty optimistic that he can be a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy for the Twins, which nobody likely would have thought at this time last year.
* The key to the success of Blackburn on Saturday night and Scott Baker yesterday (7 IP, 1 ER) was quite simple: throwing the ball in the zone. Of the 102 pitches Blackburn threw in his start, 69 were strikes and 33 were balls. Baker had a nearly identical ratio at 69-to-31 yesterday. Both pitchers threw more than twice as many strikes as balls, as the two combined for one walk in 14 2/3 innings. Meanwhile, Francisco Liriano had a nearly-even 47-to-41 strike-to-ball ratio on Friday night, when he surrendered four runs (three earned) over five innings in a losing effort.
After issuing five walks during his first start of the season in Kansas City, Liriano complained that the cold weather had a negative effect on his command. Then, while the team was in Detroit last week, pitching coach Rick Anderson indicated that he'd had a breakthrough in a bullpen session with Liriano:
Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said Francisco Liriano threw very well in the bullpen while the club was in Detroit and is looking forward to today's outing, which will be Liriano's second start since being called up from the minors.
Anderson said a slight mechanical adjustment helped Liriano throw his slider much better, and his other pitches immediately improved.
"He was a totally different guy because the location of all his other pitches was great,'' Anderson said.
In spite of the controlled weather conditions of the Metrodome and the apparent adjustments to Liriano's mechanics, the lefty did not look like a "totally different guy" Friday night than he did in his first start, issuing five more walks against the Indians while consistently missing with his fastball.
The Twins have looked better defensively than I'd expected so far, with Delmon Young adjusting well to left field and Carlos Gomez showing spectacular range in center. Still, there's no way to defend walks, so if Liriano can't show improved control by the time Kevin Slowey finishes his minor-league rehab stint, I suspect we'll see him head back down to Rochester.
* Rafael Perez, the Indians' resident left-handed bullpen specialist, has proven to be absolutely devastating when facing left-handed hitters over the course of his young career. Last season, he held lefties to a .149/.209/.241 hitting line, and entering yesterday's game he had not allowed a hit to a left-handed batter this season.
Meanwhile, Jason Kubel has looked completely lost against southpaws this season; he entered yesterday's contest having struck out eight times in 15 plate appearances against them. As such, I was a little nervous when Kubel stepped to the plate against Perez in the eighth inning of yesterday's game with Nick Punto on second representing the go-ahead run. For the first (and probably last) time ever, I actually found myself thinking that it might be wise to pinch-hit Monroe for Kubel. Much to my surprise, Kubel worked a walk (just his third of the season) to extend the inning, although Morneau ended it in the next at-bat by striking out.
Two innings later, Kubel once again came to the plate against Perez, this time with two outs and the winning run on first base in the form of Brendan Harris. My expectations were low, but Kubel once again surprised by driving a hard single to center field to move Harris into scoring position. In the next at-bat, Morneau singled to right field to score Harris and end the game.
This is precisely the reason many have been so adamant in urging Ron Gardenhire to stick with Kubel, even through the rough patches.
* There's no way around it: Delmon Young has been supremely disappointing up to this point. After going 0-for-10 over the weekend, Young is now batting .236/.267/.292 on the season, and he has half as many extra-base hits as the Twins' struggling young leadoff hitter. At no point this season has Young looked like a middle-of-the-lineup slugger. Fortunately, no one doubts his talent.