Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesday Notes

When I saw "CF" next to Michael Cuddyer's name in the starting lineup, I got the feeling that last night's game was going to be a strange one. I didn't know the half of it.

Bobby Korecky, who was heroic on the mound, was forced to hit in extra innings. More surprisingly, he got a hit in his only at-bat . Alexi Casilla ripped a three-run homer. Delmon Young ripped a legitimate extra-base hit -- a liner to the gap for a triple. Carlos Gomez batted twice with a bum wrist, and ended up scoring the winning run.

I'm still trying to grasp everything that happened in the wild 12-inning 7-6 Twins victory. For now, here are a few random notes:

* I said in yesterday's post that "Michael Cuddyer is quietly having an awful season." It's becoming less quiet. Last night he went 0-for-6 and stranded nine baserunners. I've never been a big Cuddyer supporter, but even I never thought he'd be hitting .226/.281/.321 on May 20. With Jason Kubel heating up at the plate (7-for-14 with 2 BB and 1 K over his last six games), Ron Gardenhire should give some serious consideration to sitting Cuddyer against right-handed pitchers on occasion until he gets his head straight.

* The loss of Pat Neshek has left the Twins weak in the bullpen, a problem which was on display in Colorado this past weekend and at times last night. Jesse Crain and Juan Rincon have both had major control issues. Dennys Reyes has been solid in short outings this season, but he's been far from dominant (3 K in his last 9.1 IP). Brian Bass has been relatively effective, but he remains a long reliever who is out of his element in high-pressure situations. This leaves Joe Nathan and Matt Guerrier as the only reliable late-inning options, a problem that the Twins may soon attempt to remedy by reaching into the minors.

It seems the Twins may be grooming Danny Graves for such an experiment. The team signed the 34-year-old former major-league closer to a minor-league deal a few weeks ago, and he has since posted a 1.00 ERA while allowing only eight hits and no walks over nine innings in Class-AAA Rochester. On the exterior, Graves seems like a perfectly logical option, given that he's a veteran with plenty of experience in high-pressure late-game situations who has racked up 182 saves over the span of 11 major-league seasons. Yet, Graves is far from a dominator. He averaged only 4.78 strikeouts per nine innings (about one every two innings) during his big-league career, and in his nine innings in Rochester this year he has fanned just two batters. Graves also has not pitched in the major leagues since 2006. It's possible that he could step in and be a factor in the Twins bullpen, but don't let the recognizable name or gaudy save total fool you into believing he's something that he's not.

One minor-league reliever who does intrigue me is Tim Lahey, the 26-year-old right-hander who's been closing games for Rochester since Korecky's promotion. Lahey's 3.94 ERA isn't as impressive as that of Graves, but he has displayed an impressive ability to hit the zone and miss bats, with 22 strikeouts and just one walk over 16 innings. The Rays liked him enough to make him the No. 1 pick in last December's Rule 5 draft, and he was shuttled to the Cubs and Phillies before finally ending up back with the Twins. Clearly, teams are seeing something in Lahey that intrigues them.

Lahey is certainly old for a prospect and his minor-league track record is hardly overwhelming, but as a college product who didn't begin playing pro ball until he was 23, it's entirely possible that he could arise as a late bloomer.

* Francisco Liriano had his most encouraging start of the season for Rochester last Thursday, pitching eight efficient innings while allowing three runs and -- most importantly -- only one walk. A game story from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle described Liriano's outing as "eight always-in-control innings" and noted that his fastball was consistently hitting 90-91 mph after rarely topping the upper 80s in his earlier stint with the Twins. "I'm very close," Liriano told the D&C. "Everything is coming back together. I'm not too far away."

He'll have a chance to back up those words when he makes his next scheduled start against Syracuse today.

3 comments:

halfchest said...

Monday nights game was a perfect example of it being a tough go not having Neshek. With him we probably win that in 9 innings. It feels like our bullpen is beginning to resemble our starting pitching. Lots of quality pitchers but no cream on top, of course this isn't counting Nathan with the rest of the bullpen since he's not available for use before the 9th inning most of the time.

It'll be interesting to see if any of these guys rises up to the top. that's right, another cream reference.

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