June 12, 2008

Liriano may return sooner, rather than later. (Update) Rincon released

Update 3:00 PM: The Twins have in fact released Juan Rincon. His locker was cleaned out and was seen leaving the stadium in Cleveland. It looks like his sore neck didn't trick the Twins into keeping him around any longer. The Twins haven't officially made the move, but Brian Buscher will be called up to take his place.

Also, Erroll Simonitsch has also been relesed by the Twins. I brought it up last week that I thought Simonitsch's days in the organization looked to be numbered, and it was a move that looks to be a prelude for the wave of promotions that should be coming by early next week.

Francisco Liriano turned in one of his best performances of the season on Tuesday night, and now has 3 straight quality starts in a row, and 6 in his last 7 games. He has been walking fewer and fewer batters, although his control still is not where they want it to be, which is him throwing strikes around 70% of the time. But really, for how much progress he's made after missing an entire season, I think him throwing 60% strikes is a very good thing. Especially when he is a power pitcher. Still, the Twins will want him to continue pitching well before he ultimately is promoted.

Over his last 6 games, he's only walked only 9 batters (when he walked 14 in his first 4 games), and 4 of the walks came in the same game. In that same stretch of games, he's struck out 32 batters which is a fantastic 3.6 K/BB ratio. That from a pitcher without missing a season is great, let alone a pitcher who underwent one of the biggest surgeries that a pitcher could go through and come back throwing like that. His velocity still isn't where it was rumored to be in the Dominican Republic when he touched 95 mph on the radar, but he's showing that he can get it done with an 88-92 mph fastball instead of his old 96-98 mph heater. His velocity should get back to where it was eventually, but it's great to see him have great numbers without the velocity as it's showing that he has to actually pitch the ball instead of just merely throw it past the hitter.

The one thing that has been fairly alarming is that Liriano is his ground ball-fly out ratio. Prior to his injury, one of the things that made Liriano so special was because he had tremendous strikeout numbers, but when he did not strike out the hitters, he generally got them to ground out. That has not been the case yet, as he has a 64-53 ground out-fly out ratio. Still, I expect those numbers to get better with more time.

Now, I don't believe we'll see the "old" Liriano from back in 2006 when he made the American League All-Star team anytime this season, but I believe we'll see flashes of the '06 version. It's not known when the Twins plan on promoting him. But with the way the Twins' roster is set up, the only way I see Liriano making the rotation (right now) is if one of Kevin Slowey or Glen Perkins' struggles continue to the point that they need to make a move. Ron Gardenhire has made it clear that Liriano will not pitch from the bullpen when he is promoted.

I would like to see the team trade Boof Bonser to a team for a mid-level prospect. It clears room on both the 25-man roster and the 40-man roster and it gives the Twins an easy option for promoting Liriano. Although, that would give the team 3 left-handed relievers (since I don't see the team placing Slowey in the bullpen), so the most probable move that the Twins make is to just demote Perkins (or Slowey) to Triple-A as both still have options.

Liriano probably needs to have two more great starts before the Twins make a move, but he definitely is close and Twins fans everywhere should feel great about seeing Liriano have such great success this soon after his return.

The Twins have signed Tyler Ladendorf (2nd round), Bobby Lannigan (3rd round), Evan Bigley (10th round), Michael Harrington (13th round), Steven Blevins (21st round), and Alex Curry (25th round).

The Twins expect to make at least one roster move prior to Friday's interleague game and that move would be at the expense of one of the Twins current relief pitchers. And there are three candidates that are expected to take the boot; Brian Bass, Boof Bonser and Juan Rincon.

Bonser & Bass both are being used as long relievers, and Bass has proven himself to be more valuable to this team thus far than Bonser has. However out of the two, Bass is most likely to be unclaimed via waivers at this time, as Bonser does have the making to be a solid starting pitcher whereas Bass will likely stay in the bullpen throughout his career (ala Matt Guerrier).

Rincon is the most likely to get the boot, despite having a career 3.69 ERA, he has struggled for the second straight season and he seemingly continues to get progressively worse. Right now, he's sitting with a 6.11 ERA and has shown terrible control. Seth Stohs points out that he's complaining of a "sore neck," which could potentially just make the move easy for the Twins as they could put him on the DL, but I wonder why they would just delay the inevitable. This would be Rincon's second time since November that he's escaped from leaving Minnesota. If you recall, he failed his physical during the Twins-Rays trade in which resulted in the Twins sending the Rays a top Minor League relief pitcher Eddie Morlan (incidentally, Morlan has been on the DL since April with a sore shoulder). I say, just cut Rincon now and with his "injury" he is more likely to clear waivers which would mean that he could try and work on his problems in Rochester.

The Twins haven't said for sure, but indications are that the team plans to call up Brian Buscher from Rochester. Buscher has been hobbled with patellar tendinitis and was limited to DH duties until recently. He has had a good season in Rochester and his bat may prove to be good enough to keep for a while as Mike Lamb has struggled recently.

It looks like the Twins will wait until after the Florida State League All-Star Game this Saturday. All the players have earned a spot in the game, and they deserve a chance to play in it. I've been an advocate to move players faster (particularly the college players), but I do agree with waiting until after Saturday. Especially since they've waited this long anyways.

The Twins beat Paul Byrd and the Indians last night to snap a 6-game losing streak. The win was great for several reasons. The bats woke up after being nearly dead, they snapped the streak, they moved up on both Cleveland and Chicago, and Nick Blackburn made a great start after his last start which was disastrous. Still, he and the Twins edged out an 8-5 win against the Tribe.

Blackburn threw a great game. He got through 6 innings on just 94 pitches, but the Twins decided against putting him back on the mound in the 7th
inning despite striking out the final two batters he faced in the 6th and that proved to be very costly for the Twins. Boof Bonser entered the game and got two men on scoring position before Dennys Reyes entered the game and gave up a 3-run home run to Grady Sizemore before Jesse Crain came in to set the next 4 Indians down with 3 K's and a fly ball. Joe Nathan then came in for the first time since last Wednesday and set the Indians down in the 9th to pick up his 14th save of the season.

Despite having a career 10-3 record with a 3.50 ERA against Minnesota, the Twins hitters hit Paul Byrd hard with 6 runs in 3 innings before he left the game. Jason Kubel had himself a great game, going 3-4 with a two-run home run his 8th of the season. He drove in 2 runs and now has 5 RBI's in his last 3 games. Justin Morneau also had a great game. The Twins' first baseman went 2-5 with two RBI doubles. He had 3 RBI's on the day and has now driven in 47 RBI's on the season. Michael Cuddyer also added an RBI double which set up Kubel's home run.

Carlos Gomez and Alexi Casilla both extended their hitting streaks to 11 and 12 games and both stole a base. Casilla went 1-3 with an RBI single. He also showcased fantastic defense again, and was apart of both of the double plays that the team turned. Gomez went 2-5 and his stolen base was his first since May 25th. Since then he was 0-5.

The Twins will face Aaron Laffey tonight. Laffey is 3-3 with a 2.98 ERA this season through 8 starts. But the 23-year-old left-hander is 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA in two stars against the Twins in his career. But with his success at home this season and the Twins inability to hit off of left-handers, I don't like the "Good Guys'" chances tonight. Especially with Livan ".344 OBA" Hernandez on the mound for the Twins. This game could be ugly (and yes I'm crossing my fingers, hoping that I get a big plate of crow to eat).

Tuesday's Game Ball
Scott Baker - Starting Pitcher
Line: 7 IP, 8 Hits, 1 Run, 1 Walk, 1 Strikeout

Wednesday's Game Ball
Justin Morneau - First Base
2-5, 2 doubles, 3 RBI