No, really, it was. It’s not easy to take a bunch of positives form a 7-1 loss, especially when it might be the only game this series in which our team is favored.
Was our team favored? I tried to look it up using my laptop via the Metrodome’s wifi connection, but the gambling site I picked was blocked. It makes complete sense that it would be, and I wondered if that wouldn’t happen. Just an FYI for you incurable gamblers out there. The Metrodome wifi connection will not be facilitating your mortal sin.
But there was at least one encouraging sign and that was Scott Baker. If you watched the first inning, you might think this was the same Scott Baker that lobbed home run derby pitches in his first two starts. I did. I was watching with the GameDay brothers and we were joking about moving to the left field bleachers so we could get some souvenir balls.
But it turns out that upon further examination that first inning was NOT like his previous outings. As documented here last week, those home run balls were almost all fastballs that were up and/or inside the strike zone. this time, all three of the hard hit balls in the first inning were offspeed pitches. Longoria doubled on a 3-2 slider that was left high. Pena tripled on a changeup that was right down the middle. And Burrel’s hard hit single was a cutter high and in the middle of the zone.
So that has an easy solution, right?
Cut to one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, The Razor’s Edge. Bill Murray is a disillusioned young American living in 1920s Paris and is visited by his rich American former fiancée in the winter. She’s looking at the poverty of his apartment with a rather sour look on her face, so he asks “Would you like a chilled glass of Chablis?”
She smirks. “Yeah, right.”
He reaches out the window on the ledge, produces a bottle of white wine, perfectly chilled, and begins to pour.
She laughs, pleased. “And just what do you do in the summer?”
“Drink red,” he replies matter-of-factly.
The easy solution is to quit screwing around with the offspeed pitches. In the second inning, the first 13 pitches he throws are fastballs. All told he throws only one slider the whole inning, and by the end of the inning MLB.com is showing the fastballs are reaching 94 mph. He also sat down the Rays in order, and struck out the last two guys.
Now, both the selection and the success might have had more to do with him facing the bottom of the order than a change in philosophy or mechanics. But let the record show that last night Baker didn’t give up any hard hit balls on fastballs that were in the hitters quadrant of the strike zone.
That’s better. No, really.
I’m a big proponent of not rushing Joe Mauer back, but boy, it woulda been nice to have him back tonight. Let me count the ways….
1. That first inning triple to Pena that was on a changeup? That was the the second consecutive changeup. It was also right down the middle, which the catcher has nothing to do with, but it did make me raise my eyebrows and wonder if there might be something to all the recent blathering about pitch selection.
2. Both Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel had tough nights because both were in a position several times to score some runs. The box score says 4 LOB each, and I have to think that at least half of those were in scoring position. No offense to either, because you have to love their power, but in several cases a single would’ve brought home some runs, and I’d rather have Mauer up in that position.
3. The fifth inning where Baker gave up two runs was a catching travesty. Baker was charged with a wild pitch on an inside fastball that Jose Morales failed to catch because the batter bluffed a bunt. Then Morales was charged with a passed ball - on a pitchout. Both runs ended up being earned anyway, but that inning might have gone a lot smoother and ended a lot earlier if Joe was behind the dish.
I don’t know if Joe would’ve been the difference tonight. But I am so looking forward to his return.
- Believe it or not, Delmon Young really does look better in left field this year. In particular, he looks a lot more comfortable on balls that slice to his right (toward the foul line). He made a tough play tonight at full speed, and just missed another. He’s not Jacque Jones out there, but he’s also not, um, (desperately searching for a name of a futile left fielder other than the obvious and giving up) well, Delmon Young.
- We hit the trifecta in watching interesting relievers tonight. First, RA Dickey looked very good for 1.2 innings until he gave up a monster shot to Carlos Pena. By the way, that was preceded by yet another passed ball – on what almost looked like a “fastball”, not a knuckler.
Then, in the ninth inning, we got to see Nuke Morillo. There was a little more excitement in the press box when he came in, and I don’t think it was solely because we feared for our lives. He officially got credit for 8 strikes on 12 pitches, and every one was a fastball. They’re good enough that he doesn’t need to be too fine with them – he can almost just rock and throw them anywhere in the zone. Almost. He gave up a home run to Jason Bartlett on a 98 mph fastball on the inside edge.
Finally, there was Joe Nelson, who I begged the Twins to sign in the offseason. You can see why they didn’t. He’s an inside-out pitcher, and it’s hard to believe that a guy whose primary pitch seems to be a 74 mph changeup can be effective in the league. He sure was tonight. Coming into the seventh inning, with runners on 1st and second and no outs, he retired Span, Casilla and Morneau without either runner advancing as much as one base.