Considering how many times the Twins bullpen has fallen apart against the Tigers this season, it was nice to see the unit remain mostly intact last night as the Twins got back in the win column with a 6-4 win over the Tigers. There was reason for concern, as Ron Gardenhire's options were limited in the game -- Matt Guerrier had thrown 30 pitches in the previous night's ballgame, and the manager prefers not to use Jesse Crain (who'd also pitched in that game) on consecutive nights. This left the Twins without access to their two best right-handed relievers and meant that Brian Bass was sent out to throw 1 2/3 relatively high-leverage innings. That's a potential recipe disaster, but kudos to Bass and the rest of the Twins relievers for keeping the Tiger bats in check and holding on to this victory.
The win could have been by a much more comfortable margin, but the Twins made a TON of outs on the basepaths. Aside from the five double plays they hit into, they also had Nick Punto run into an out at home plate when he tried to score from second on a ball that skipped away from third baseman Carlos Guillen. I couldn't tell whether the decision to try and score was Punto's or third base coach Scott Ullger's, but it ended up proving a misguided one when Punto was thrown out by several feet at the plate. Combined with Carlos Gomez hesitating to go home from third on a ground ball to first base in the first inning, which led to his getting thrown out at home, this is not the type of fundamental baseball you'll want to teach your kids.
The litany of lost runners on the basepaths somewhat masks the fact that the Twins had a pretty good night against left-handed starter Nate Robertson, which is not insignificant. With Michael Cuddyer already on the disabled list, Ron Gardenhire elected to bench two of his other prominent middle-of-the-lineup bats in Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel against the southpaw. That Gardenhire saw fit to play Denard Span in favor of Kubel in right field is curious, seeing as how Kubel has been the team's best hitter over the past month by a wide margin, and Span was hitting even worse against lefties in the minors this year than Kubel has in the majors. Apparently Kubel's struggles in 13 career plate appearances against Robertson were enough to convince Gardenhire that Span -- who's never seen Robertson -- was a better option. And the decision worked out just fine, as Span went 1-for-2 in the game with a double off the Tigers starter.
In total, the speedy trio of Span, Carlos Gomez and Alexi Casilla reached base in 10 of their 14 plate appearances, which proved crucial in the absence of the aforementioned big bats. I feel another "piranha" craze coming on in some form (Dick Bremer last night called them "rabbits"), which does not excite me. Alas, I guess I can deal with it if these three continue to set the table for Mauer, Morneau and Co.
I'll part today with a couple minor-league notes...
* As I pulled my hair out while watching the Twins bullpen give away another game to the Tigers on Monday night and then bit my fingernails while watching Bass pitch to one of the league's most dangerous lineups with a three-run lead last night, it occurred to me that the Twins could use some bullpen help. Which makes it all the more baffling that Anthony Slama is still sitting in Ft. Myers.
For whatever reason, Slama was not promoted to Class-AA New Britain along with his teammates Danny Valencia, Robert Delaney, Jeff Manship and Brian Dinkelman a few weeks ago. This in spite of the fact that Slama is 24 (far older than the average prospect in Single-A ball) and has been -- and continues to be -- just about as dominant as a reliever can possibly be at that level. Slama currently holds a 0.42 ERA and 73-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 42 2/3 innings. In his last 10 appearances, 31 of the 45 outs Slama has recorded have come by way of strikeout. I realize that promoting prospects can be tricky business, but Slama is stagnating at the Single-A level, and as one of the only pitchers in the system who appears to have a legitimate chance of legitimately aiding the big-league bullpen in the somewhat near future, the Twins absolutely must find a way to move Slama up so he can face a more suitable level of competition.
* Deolis Guerra, the prized young right-hander acquired in the Johan Santana trade, tossed a three-hit shutout for the Miracle last night. In spite of his 8-4 record, Guerra has been fairly disappointing this year. He's a 19-year-old playing in Advanced A ball, so it's impossible to pass judgment on him at this point, but the fact that he's seemingly made no progress from last season is disconcerting. In fact, Guerra has taken some visible steps backward. Even after tossing the shutout last night, Guerra holds a 4.32 ERA in 16 outings, with a 4.99 K/9 rate and a 4.21 BB/9 rate. Last year, as an 18-year-old at the same level, he posted a 4.01 ERA along with 6.62 K/9 and 2.51 BB/9.
These numbers are far from condemning. I can't stress enough that Guerra is very young for this level of competition, and his coaches have apparently been fidgeting with mechanics which is bound to have a negative effect on performance. Still, for all his upside, Guerra has failed to put up dazzling numbers anywhere as a professional player, and I have a hard time viewing him as the top-notch pitching prospect that many others see him as. We can only hope that last night's gem represents a significant step in the right direction.