With Good Pitching, We Coulda Been a Contender! 28 Jun 12

With Good Pitching, We Coulda Been a Contender
story and photos by gordy jones

The Twins were counting on Carl Pavano to be a strong starting pitcher in 2012. But he has been injured most of this season, and that has really hurt the Twins.

It seems like in the blink of an eye, we have come from opening day to our approach of the All-Star break. It feels like only yesterday when we thought the Twins had a staff of starters who could make us forget a disastrous 2011 season. But our ace, Scott Baker, never even made it out of the gate. Scott had surgery before the season started, preventing him from pitching this year, and taking him out of play until at least 2013, when he may not even be a Twin anymore.

I remember saying not to worry about Carl Pavano; I thought he was a steady veteran who would pull through. But Pavano had his last win on May 4, and then he began having arm problems. He struggled through May, and in the beginning of June manager Ron Gardenhire addressed the issue on his weekly radio show: “We’ve tried pretty much everything we can as far as giving him extra time, giving him extra days. Obviously there’s just not enough strength there. It’s not about pain or anything like that. … He gets to 50 pitches, 60 pitches and you see a drop-off.” The next day Carl had a MRI and was then put on the disabled list. There he remains, and he is just beginning to throw again.

Nick Blackburn has had his problems, too. He has had injuries since spring, and has been on the DL a couple of times. He even had a rehab stint in Triple A, where he struggled. His ailments have been mostly arm issues, but he recently hurt his thigh. Hopefully, Nick will be back healthy and strong for the second half of the season, and give the Twins a chance to win a few additional games.

Jason Marquis should have quit after his win in New York. He was released a few weeks after.

The weirdest flop of the year was Jason Marquis. After an average spring, Jason had to rush home to attend to his daughter, who was hit by a car while bicycling. She was in serious condition. After her miraculous recovery, Jason began throwing, and was ready for his Twins debut while the team was in his home of New York. It was like a storybook: in front of friends, family, and most importantly his little girl, Jason pitched against the Yankees in the historic area where he watched baseball as a kid. And, with the game dedicated to his daughter, he got the win! He should have retired then, on a happy note. Instead we had to watch him pitch some painful games until Jason pitched so poorly, he earned his release.

When Joe Mauer is catching, he is the leader on the field!

The final “original” 2012 starter I need to mention is Francisco Liriano. As of late, he has seemed to find himself. I have always said he has the talent; he’s just a little short in confidence. I even suggested the Twins hire a shrink to help him regain command of his pitches. But one thing that has helped “Frankie” is pitching to Drew Butera rather than Joe Mauer. Joe is a great catcher, and most pitchers love throwing to him. He is a good target, knows the game, takes command, and is the general of the field. But I think Joe and Frankie have had a few communication problems. Joe has told me in the past, one of the biggest mistakes he’s ever made was not listening to his mom when she suggested he take Spanish in high school. Drew is not fluent, but I think a bit more advanced than Joe. And sometimes in baseball you just need a change. Joe probably feels better, too. He used to get banged and bruised up blocking Liriano’s short sliders with his body.

Another thing Liriano’s recent success has been attributed to: bubble gum. I don’t have this firsthand; it is only hearsay. But I’ve heard talk that chewing gum while pitching has helped Frankie focus.

Liriano has begun to pitch up to his capability.

The Twins have had to start relievers and minor leaguers, but in doing so they found a Diamond in the rough. Scott Diamond has adapted to pitching in the majors quite successfully, and at times, brilliantly. The Twins bullpen has been strong, except for closer Matt Capps, who has been injured. The Twins have had successful candidates filling in, as Gardy is always good at piecing the team together when he has to, which is quite frequently.

The Twins outfield is strong, with the speed of Denard Span and Ben Revere. What they lack in arm strength, they make up for in the territory they can cover. Our infield is tight. Jamey Carroll has been a great addition, and Trevor Plouffe has been awesome at third. And Trevor is pounding the ball, hitting home runs as I predicted. Willingham not only hits a lot of homers, but clutch RBI singles and doubles, too. Joe Mauer isn’t going for the home run, but rather strategically placed singles and doubles, and has been hitting in the .320’s. The same with Ben Revere, who has been leading the team in average.

I’m glad we at least have had some entertaining baseball to watch, because for a while I was bored and frustrated with the Twins. The Twins have polished up their defense, they have some guys who are hitting, and might have two steady starters in Liriano and Diamond. Now complete the starting pitching package, and we can have some fun.