April 19, 2008

Twins shutout by Lee, Indians

The Twins were completely outplayed by the Indians last night, pitcher Cliff Lee in particular. The crafty left-hander threw 8 shutout innings, allowing just 2 hits and a walk while fanning 8 batters. Lee had a horrid 2007 campaign in which he went 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA in 16 starts. His struggles even earned him a ticket down to Triple-A, and this season he is now 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings. Lee was relieved by Rafael Perez who gave up an infield single to Punto, but that was it. The Twins were shutout 4-0 on just 3 hits.

The Twins were just brutal on offense. The Twins could only scavenge 3 hits, all singles against Perez and Lee. Matt Tolbert, Joe Mauer and Nick Punto were the only players to get hits, while Delmon Young was the only batter to draw a walk. Young's walk resulted in an at bat in which he did not take his bat off of his shoulders, that won't happen very often.

Jason Kubel, Tolbert, Brendan Harris and Carlos Gomez all struck out twice, while Mauer and Craig Monroe fanned just once. Monroe hit a couple balls hard, but just not hard enough. The Twins don't seem to be having very good luck with former Tigers outfielders (Rondell White comes to mind), but it's a little too early to completely start writing him off.

Francisco Liriano had a great first inning as he got both Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez to strike out to both start and end the inning. It was immediately evident that he still has control problems, and that was definitely what hurt the Twins, pitching wise. Liriano allowed 3 runs on 4 hits, but walked 5 batters in his 5 innings of work. He threw 88 pitches, and only 53% (47) of them crossed the plate as a strike. In 9 2/3 innings with the Twins, Liriano has now allowed 10 walks and has truck out 7 batters while sporting a 6.52 ERA. The reasoning for his bad control is the fact that he is not allowing his arm to catch up with his body well enough, so his balls remain up (out of the zone) and towards the left side of the plate. His velocity was in the 93 mph range for his fastball, his changeup sat around 84 mph, and his slider was up around 87.

This outing was much better than his last outing, however not by much. The Twins likely will want Liriano to remain up here, at least for the foreseeable future, but when Slowey comes back it will be interesting to see what the club decides to do. I understand that the Twins want Liriano to continue to work with Rick Anderson, however Liriano seems to be more of a liability right now than a contributor.

The Twins got another strong effort by their bullpen for the 3rd staight game. Now since the 2-game blunder in Detroit, the bullpen has pitched 12 innings, allowing just 1 run (a 0.75 ERA) on 7 hits while striking out 12. Both Juan Rincon and Jesse Crain threw 2 innings apiece and both struck out two batters. Rincon gave up a home run to Casey Blake which was the only hit allowed by the two. Jesse Crain had his first four outs on 9 hits before finishing off the last two hitters on 10 pitches. The team must be encouraged with the bullpen's recent performance after the bullpen allowed 10 runs (9 earned) in 3 1/3 innings against a revamped Tigers lineup.

Today, the Twins play the Indians in an afternoon matinée at the Metrodome. Rookie Nick Blackburn looks to improve from his last outing while Jake Westbrook is trying to remain great.

Game Ball
Jesse Crain - Relief Pitcher
Line: 2 innings pitched, 0 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts, 19 pitches