Saturday, March 19, 2005

Meet the B-Team

The Twins lost 4-1 to the Reds this afternoon, the only Minnesota run coming from a Terry Tiffee solo shot jerked to LF off Reds' Non-Roster Invitee Jeriome Robertson, but concern ye not. The Twins really had a B-lineup out there: nobody in the starting lineup is likely to be an A-string regular, except for Lew Ford who was playing out of place in CF instead of Torii Hunter. Really nice of you to think of your TV audience, Gardy. I realize that some of the guys played a night game yesterday, this was a morning road trip to Sarasota, and there are certain things the coaches want to address besides showing off for the home folks. On the other hand, you have five chances in the preseason to promote the team back home by showing fans what they can look forward to seeing this year. Five chances to let people warm up to the team. Five chances to create a little more buzz going into the season. Five chances to sell some more tickets. When people tune in and see this lineup:

Punto, SS
Ryan, LF
Ford, CF
LeCroy, C
Munson, 1B
Tiffee, 3B
Restovich, RF
Ojeda, 2B
Mays, P

...could you blame them if some wondered whether we might see Ron Coomer today? It's a lineup that might cause flashbacks to the late '90s rather than inspire anyone to dream of how far Mauer & Morneau might lead the defending division champs this year. Five times before the real season begins, the fans tune in hoping for just a little taste of what's to come. Not necessarily a full 9 innings by the regulars. Half the game by most of the starters would have been fine today. Just a little something to get the juices flowing. Work with us, Gardy. Five times. Is it too much to ask?

For those who did tune in, and stuck around even after the B-lineup was announced, it should have been encouraging to see the way Joe Mays performed this afternoon. Recovering from Tommy John surgery on his elbow, after missing all of last year, I was hopeful but skeptical about what he might do in his first season back. It seems that most pitchers returning from TJ surgery need a season to work back into shape. I'd feel satisfied if Mays were to be just a decent #5 pitcher this season--a .500 record, a 4.90 ERA. We'll see. At this point, though, he is looking like the Joe Mays we knew in 2001 before he hurt his arm. He's mixing in all his pitches, working in and away; nobody really hit the ball hard off him, that I can recall. He even had a few strikeouts in his 5 shutout innings, while allowing 4 hits and a walk (to the Reds pitcher! tsk, tsk). If he carries this over into the season, he could be a huge addition to the rotation coming on after Santana and Radke.

In relief, Gardy let the Rule 5 kid, Ryan Rowland-Smith, pitch the 6th and 7th innings. He looked sharp in the 6th, shattering a bat handle to get the first out then striking out two more with off-speed pitches. His adrenaline pumped the fastball up to 91-92 a couple-few times, but mainly his heat came at 88-90 that inning. "We have a saying: anybody can pitch one inning," Terry Ryan told Dick & Bert, and so Gardy did bring him back for another inning to test what he might do with a 2-inning middle relief assignment. Well, he left up an inside pitch for Joe Randa to yank over the LF wall; but he did recover nicely to get through the inning without allowing any more hits, although his velocity slipped a bit in that second frame. I still believe that he probably isn't ready to stick with the Twins for the season; but based on the limited looks I've had this spring, I think he has the tools and makeup to be a good pitcher in the majors within a few years, with a few quality pitches in his arsenal. I'll hate to see the Twins lose him. Ah, who knows, maybe it won't have to happen.

Longshot candidate to make the roster, Matt Guerrier, did himself no favors in the 8th inning by coughing up 3 runs--one unearned when sub LF Scott Whitrock (from Quad Cities last year) aired out a homeward throw all the way into the Reds dugout, after another run had already scored on Edwin Encarnacion's hit. Guerrier gave up 3 hits and a walk, striking out one. Grant Balfour is set to begin the season on the DL, and right now Terry Mulholland is nursing an elbow that needed a cortisone shot last week. Maybe there will be an opening for the Rule 5 kid to travel north with the club, after all.

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