In the second inning of a scoreless game last night, Tsuyoshi Nishioka came to the plate with no outs and runners on second and third. There are a lot of ways to push a run across in this situation, but Nishioka -- characteristically -- failed to come through.
On a 2-1 pitch, he hit a grounder directly to the drawn-in first baseman, allowing the Rangers to easily cut Delmon Young down at home plate. In spite of Roy Smalley's mysterious praise on the FSN telecast, this was one of the worst things Nishioka could have done.
In the top of the ninth, he came to the plate in a similar situation and managed to bounce a weak grounder past the pitcher's mound, plating the tying run and even landing Nishioka on first base thanks to a bobble by Elvis Andrus.
Better results, but same ugly approach. On the night, Nishioka went 1-for-5 (his only "hit" was a grounder straight at the third baseman that should have been scored an error) and can consider himself lucky to reach twice as he didn't hit the ball out of the infield.
It's been a season filled with bad offensive outcomes for the Japanese import, who is hitting .220/.276/.248 through 42 games. He's looked so utterly overmatched in this league that fans are increasingly beginning to wonder just how long his leash will be.
It's still too early to give up completely on Nishioka, and one can point to a significant leg injury suffered just six games into his MLB career as a possible explanation for his struggles, but there aren't really any promising signs to be drawn from his performance.
He was bad before the injury, he's been bad since the injury, and frankly he's only getting worse. In his past 12 games, he's collected seven singles in 41 at-bats (.171) with 10 strikeouts and zero walks.
The lack of other appealing options in the organization and the fact that games may soon lose relevance could be deemed reasons for letting Nishioka play through his struggles, but a demotion to Triple-A might be beneficial for both team and player.
At this point it's not at all clear that Nishioka is the shortstop of the future, so the Twins should take this opportunity to get a look at some other players at the position. It's hard to imagine the team being worse off by letting Trevor Plouffe try to play through his throwing yips, but if they're truly uncomfortable with his arm there they could let Alexi Casilla slide over to short and try Plouffe at second.
With the trade deadline approaching, there's been some debate about whether the Twins should be focusing on their present or their future. But whichever of the two they're focusing on, getting an extended glimpse at Plouffe in the middle infield -- where his offense is a whole lot more intriguing than at right field or first base -- should take precedence over continuing to trot the dreadfully overwhelmed Nishioka out day after day solely because of his contract.