Twin killing: Offense, injuries

Frigid bats, poor health bringing them down early

April 24, 2011|By Phil Rogers

Only once in franchise history have the Twins had as much trouble scoring runs starting the season as they have this year. That was in 1909, and that group of Washington Senators lumbered through a 42-110 season, averaging 2.5 runs per game.

That team opened the season with 18 games in which it scored five or fewer runs before busting out with a 6-2 victory in the 19th game. The 2011 Twins entered Saturday at 7-12, still looking to score more than five runs for the first time.

"I'd be lying to you if I said the dugout has been as peppy as it's always been. It's not," Michael Cuddyer told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "And that's our fault. We have to change that, and the only guys who can change that are the guys on the bench."

Injuries to Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka exposed the fragile nature of a team that clearly feels the pain for Justin Morneau, who hasn't come close to putting his concussion issues behind him. He took a .208 average through 53 at-bats, with no home runs, into this weekend's series against the Indians. Shortstop Alexi Casilla (.140, 1 RBI) has failed to handle the responsibility he inherited when J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson left.

Oh, and for good measure, manager Ron Gardenhire had to pull the plug on team leader Joe Nathan as closer.

"You can only say 'It's early' so many times," Cuddyer said.

Touchy subject: How long until Mauer has to move from catcher to the outfield? It sure doesn't appear his body can handle the strain of catching, and he is in the first month of his eight-year contract.

Mauer would rather talk about anything else, it seems.

"I'm a catcher," he told ESPN's Jayson Stark this spring. "And that's what I want to do."

The Twins correctly point to Carlton Fisk's recovery from a destroyed knee early in his career as reason to suggest it's way too early to address Mauer's move to the outfield. But none of his teams ever invested anywhere nearly as much in Fisk as the Twins have in Mauer. And they made that investment because of his three batting titles, not his three Gold Gloves.

It's common sense to want him in the lineup as much as possible, but his knees have reached the point of being a recurring problem. Mauer has caught 728 games since making his big-league debut in 2004; the White Sox's A.J. Pierzynski went into the weekend having caught 913 in the same time span.

Pierzynski thinks moving Mauer would be a mistake.

"The thing is, sometimes it's luck, and freak things happen to you," Pierzynski said. "I know they've been talking about moving Joe for years. But he's much more valuable as a catcher than any other position because he's pretty darn good back there."

Enough's enough: Usually you know the names. But when Steve Soboroff, a Dodgers vice chairman, lashed out at Bud Selig and Major League Baseball for stepping in to take control of the Dodgers, a lot of us were stumped. Turns out he has been involved with the Dodgers since Tuesday.

Really. Tuesday.

The only ones feeling sorry for Frank and Jamie McCourt are family members and friends. McCourt ran one of baseball's great franchises into the ground — well, actually he finished a job that began when the O'Malleys sold the team to Rupert Murdoch — and both he and MLB should be ashamed that it happened. He's exactly the sort of owner the screening process is supposed to eliminate.

These are difficult times for Selig. MLB finds itself with much weaker ownership across the board than it had a decade ago. There's at least one easy solution in Los Angeles — let White Sox special assistant Dennis Gilbert, a man with a huge heart and strong L.A. roots, take charge of a group that would return the Dodgers to local ownership. And what about Mark Cuban? Just how is it that McCourt became an insider while the Mavericks' brilliant, visionary owner has been kept outside the gates?

Like he never left: Some wondered how Grady Sizemore would play when he returned from an 11-month rehab after microfracture surgery on his left knee. He wasted no time answering those question, hitting a home run last Sunday in his second at-bat back and finishing his first five games batting .421 with four extra-base hits and a 1.213 OPS.

"It's a tremendous lift for our team to have him back," closer Chris Perez said. "That's not an easy rehab. You almost have to learn how to walk again. We saw how hard he worked in spring training, and now he's another weapon we have in our lineup."

Manager Manny Acta is batting Sizemore leadoff — a move made because he respects what Carlos Santana has done for the middle of the order. Michael Brantley, hitting .313 entering the weekend, moved from center to left field, where Acta had opened the season with a platoon of Austin Kearns and Travis Buck.

"I've always dreamed, ever since I took this job, of seeing him at the top of his game,'' Acta said. "We're excited. Grady is excited. We're adding a very good player, a franchise player for this team the last six or seven years."

The last word: "My wife said, 'Buddy, cut it out, nobody believes you, starting with me.'" — Bud Selig, insisting he really will retire when his contract expires at the end of 2012.

progers@tribune.com

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