Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Thoughts From the Opener

Boy, tough to find anything not to like about last night's game. The Twins won 3-2, got a number of strong performances, and played good fundamental baseball. They left a ton of runs on the bases by going just 3-for-15 in scoring opportunities, but fortunately three was enough on this night thanks to some great pitching.

It's always a struggle to organize one's thoughts after taking in the first meaningful baseball game in several months, so here are a smattering of random thoughts about last night's game:

* The story of the game, of course, was Carlos Gomez. The new center fielder led the game off with hard-hit double down the third base line, and finished 2-for-3 with a walk and two stolen bases. Aside from showing his tremendous speed on the base-paths, he also flashed it in the outfield where he nearly overran a couple fly balls that initially looked like they might drop in for hits.

I had a feeling that Gomez's Opening Day performance would either be really good or really awful, and promised myself not to make much of it either way. Certainly, Gomez will have plenty more nights like last night where he just dominates a game with his athleticism, but there is little doubt that he will also have nights where he frustrates us with the questionable decision-making and lacking fundamentals that come along with being a 22-year-old in his first full major-league season.

Still, Gomez's performance illustrated exactly why I have always felt he was the best candidate to come north as the starting center fielder. While the flaws in his game will no doubt show themselves over the coming months, Gomez is physically mature and an extremely exciting weapon to have in the lineup. I look forward to seeing what he brings tonight.

* Of course, the other big performer last night was starting pitcher Livan Hernandez. Like many, I was skeptical when Ron Gardenhire announced that Hernandez would be the team's Opening Day starter, but the veteran delivered seven innings of two-run ball against a fairly potent Angels lineup. Hernandez was far from dominant, rarely topping 85 miles per hour on the radar gun and recording just one strikeout, but he allowed just seven hits and no walks.

Keeping in mind that Ramon Ortiz had a 2.57 ERA at the end of April last year, I will say that Hernandez's outing was impressive and encouraging. He pitched to contact and kept the ball low in the zone all night long, which is exactly what he'll have to do in order to succeed considering his lack of quality pitches. I'm sure there will be nights where he fails to keep the ball down and gets ugly results, but if he can continue to do the things he did last night with some regularity, he may end up being a more useful player than many of us imagined.

* Staying on the topic of Hernandez, have you ever seen a pitcher look as bored and lethargic as he does on the mound? It looked to me like the guy was rushing through the game so he could get to the clubhouse and take a nap. Pretty humorous, I thought.

* Some other new Twins had themselves some solid Minnesota debuts. Brendan Harris went 2-for-4 (although one of his hits a was a double that was a gift from the roof). Mike Lamb went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a walk. Delmon Young went 2-for-4 with a stolen base, and lived up to his reputation by swinging at just about every pitch he saw.

* In his first game with the Angels, Torii Hunter went 0-for-4 and struck out against Joe Nathan in the ninth inning. Being that I'm not one of Hunter's biggest fans these days, I was pretty satisfied with that outcome.

* Unfortunately, not all was well in last night's game. In his infinite wisdom, Gardenhire elected to start Craig Monroe in the DH spot over Jason Kubel. I know many are probably sick of hearing me stick up for Kubel, but this is the kind of unspeakably illogical management from Gardy that makes my blood boil. If there's one thing we've learned about Monroe over the course of his career (and especially the past three years), it's that he CAN NOT HIT RIGHT-HANDED PITCHING. He is a .249/.296/.425 career hitter against righties, including .194/.247/.308 last year. There is simply no reason that a healthy Kubel should ever be benched in favor of Monroe against a right-handed pitcher. Doing it against a guy like Jered Weaver, who is particularly tough on right-handed hitters, is especially ill-advised; and doing it on Opening Night doesn't exactly send a positive message that Gardenhire views Kubel as his regular DH.

Predictably, Monroe went 0-for-3. The guy can serve a useful purpose on this team, and I don't really have a problem with him in general, but I'm quickly going to start to hate him if Gardy continues to misuse him. Kubel better be in the lineup tonight against Jon Garland or I'm going to blow a gasket. [/end rant]

8 comments:

Jeff said...

"Staying on the topic of Hernandez, have you ever seen a pitcher look as bored and lethargic as he does on the mound?"

Ha. I definitely noticed that too. I think that's why he's always solid in big games.

To me, he showed why Gardy gave him the ball on opening day. He's not going to be our ace, but he can handle the pressure of being our "number one' pitcher.

lookatthosetwins said...

I agree Jeff, I could tell right away why he's always been a big game pitcher. Ramon Ortiz, on the other hand, always looked very stressed out out there, and would blow up at the first sign of trouble. Livan might not pitch this well all year, but I don't think that he'll go into a tailspin and get sent to the bullpen.

On the subject of Monroe, did you hear Gardy's reasoning on the subject? Something about him putting good swings on the ball lately, but at least he did say tomorrow may be (Better Be!) a different story.

Beau said...

Dick Bremer also said that Gardy "wanted a good lefty option off the bench" and if he started Kubel, then he wouldn't have been able to use him as a pinch-hitter later.

Yup. Sound logic.

Jeff said...

Ugh...as much as I love Gardy, there is no excuse for starting Monroe. None at all.

everyone needs a ride! said...

On the topic of Gomez: this guy will be the spark from the lighter when we need to light it up. His speed is phenominal. I was at the game and was very pleased with the way he played other than he and Young need to practice communicating out there. One thing I found interesting was that with 49,000 people in the stadium, our newly aquired players in the lineup were not cheered much. Must be like a no name syndrome.

neckrolls said...

The fans don't have a relationship with the new players yet. I'm sure they'll learn to appreciate the new guys as the season goes on.

The word I was going to use for Livan's demeanor was "stoic" - but I guess bored works, too.

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