April 7, 2009

Deja Vu?

On Opening Day in April 6, 1982 the Minnesota Twins played their first game in the Hubert H. Humphery Metrodome. On Opening Day 2009 (also coincidentally took place on April 6th), the Minnesota played their final home Opener in the Metrodome. Both games took place against the Seattle Mariners and both yielded the same result, a Twins loss.

Despite giving up four runs in seven innings, Twins starter Francisco Liriano actually pitched pretty good. Three of the runs were results from the two home runs that he gave up.

In the fifth inning, Ken Griffey Jr. got a hanging slider out over the middle of the plate that he crushed over the baggy in right field.

Then in the 6th inning, Endy Chavez was on first when former Indian Franklin Gutierrez got a hold of a fastball at his knees that he hit over the wall in center field.

Liriano knew pitch thrown to Griffey Jr. - who (now) has 612 home runs - was a mistake and the future Hall of Famer made him pay. The pitch thrown to Gutierrez wasn't really a mistake, despite it being down the middle of the plate, but Gutierrez was looking fastball the entire way and really took a good swing at it. Carlos Gomez had a chance of robbing Gutierrez of his home run, but the ball sailed just by his glove over the wall.

On the night, Liriano still pitched good. Out of his 93 pitches thrown, 66% (61) of his pitches were thrown for strikes, which is encouraging after dealing with some control problems in Spring Training. Obviously it's a small sample size, but the fact that he didn't walk any batters is also encouraging. Liriano also got back to doing what he does best which is inducing ground balls. He induced twice as many ground balls (12) opposed to fly outs (6).

With exception to Luis Ayala who set the Mariners down without any harm done in the 8th inning, the rest of the bullpen was atrocious. Jesse Crain, Craig Breslow and Matt Guerrier combined to give up two runs on two walks and a hit in their combined one inning of work. The three combined to throw 27 pitches in which only 13 crossed the plate as strikes. Manager Ron Gardenhire preached about his relievers needing to throw strikes, and (again with exception to Ayala who threw 9 of his 11 pitches for strikes), he didn't get it.

The only thing that might have been worse for the Twins this game was the offense. Despite recording six hits and drawing three walks, the Twins scored just one time while stranding 14 men on base. The team had men in scoring position multiple times but couldn't drive in anymore runs.

Michael Cuddyer started in right field and drove in the only run of the game. As great as that is, he also struck out three times and allowed Mariners starter Felix Hernandez to make him look absolutely lost at the plate. Justin Morneau and Alexi Casilla (along with Cuddyer) all left three on base apiece.

Denard Span started in left field and was at lead-off. He was actually one of the bright spots in the lineup, drawing two walks. Nick Punto also drew a walk and recorded a hit as well. Mike Redmond also contributed with a double to right center after getting beat up by a bat but while running the bases, he injured his right groin. The Twins don't know the extent of the injury yet, but it doesn't bode well for a team already missing its All-Star catcher. Jose Morales later pinched hit for Redmond.

Cuddyer, Span and Gomez got the starts in the outfield last night while Delmon Young sat on the bench which means Gardenhire stuck to his word. A few months back, when asked what his Opening Day outfield would be, Gardenhire responded:
"Those three guys (Span, Gomez & Cuddyer) need to play every day. Delmon is in the mix. He's a helluva player, a helluva talent. But to me,those three guys should be our outfield and then you go from there."
Young sat on the bench despite being one of the best offensive players in camp this Spring. Span on the other hand struggled all throughout camp and got the start both in left field and at lead-off. Gardenhire defended his decision by saying:
“You’ve got a nasty pitcher out on the mound [Felix Hernandez]. Span’s going to be my leadoff hitter against this guy tonight. Delmon will probably be back out there against a lefty [Erik Bedard on Tuesday]. And it’s not a left-right thing. I’m going to mix and match as best I can. I want Span leading off against this guy. We have to make him work and take some pitches, and he does that.”
With those words, it makes it sound as if it is Young and Span who will be splitting time (at least initially), which I surely hope is not the case. Despite Gardenhire's decision to start Span working out well, I still hope that playing time is evenly distributed to all of the outfielders, again at least initially. The Twins need to see what their working with and if we're platooning two of the four guys, what would you expect the result to be?

Tonight, the Twins face left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard which will definitely result in some changes in the lineup. Like Gardenhire said, "it's not a left-right thing" but most people predict Young will be in while one of Jason Kubel or Span sit.

I'm not making my vote as to who I want to see out there, I just want each player to get a fairly even number of at bats. Unfortunately, Gardenhire does play favorites and will undoubtedly give Cuddyer more than his fair share, deserving or not. I'm not drawing these accusations from this game, I'm just pointing out what I believe is going to happen. Even though he claims that everyone will rotate, I still have my doubts. The fact that Young sat this game while Span, Gomez and Cuddyer all played didn't factor into this prediction at all. We knew Gardenhire likes Span's bat and defense, Gomez's defense and Cuddyer's leadership all of that before the game even started. We'll just have to see if he'll give Young enough chances this year to learn to like something about him too. I hope he sticks to his words again and does divvy up the playing time evenly.

Game Ball - #1

April 6, 2009 vs. Seattle Mariners
Francisco Liriano - Starting Pitcher
Line: 7 innings pitched, 4 hits, 4 runs, 0 walks, 3 K