4/30: Twins Face Uphill Climb Against Jordan Zimmermann

I spotted Miguel Sano and Tyler Duffey deep in discussions in the clubhouse today, with both going over mock swings. I suspected maybe it was a lighthearted reference to Duffey hitting for the first time in recent memory — he’s admitted as much — against the Nationals over last weekend.

Sano was quick to say that wasn’t the case afterward; he was instructing his teammate how to handle Miguel Cabrera, who hit his fourth home run of the season Friday night against Phil Hughes in the fifth inning of an eventual 9-2 loss. That was Cabrera’s 412th career home run; it was the 36th he’s hit against the Twins — he’s only victimized Cleveland (40) more — and the sixth he’s hit against Hughes. No pitcher has given up more home runs to Cabrera than Hughes, and he’s hit .409/.447/.932 against him in just under 50 career plate appearances.His career line in 146 games against the local nine is .316/.394/.582.

So basically, in almost a full season of games, Cabrera has hit like that, with 36 home runs, 128 RBIs and 38 doubles. Pretty typical, really.

Sano laughed and admitted when pressed that in all honesty there’s not much that can be done to attack Cabrera, who has incredible plate coverage and virtually no holes in his swing. Still, it seems interesting that the young slugger is so willing to teach and instruct. It’s clear he views himself as a leader on this team, or at least one whose leadership is on the upswing.

Here’s how the Twins line up today:

image1 (1)

Duffey goes for the second time of the season today, and is coming off leaving his start against the Nationals over the weekend with a big bruise on his upper arm. He’s apparently no worse for the wear and ready to give the Twins whatever he can against the Tigers and Jordan Zimmermann, who has allowed just one earned run all year.

Duffey’s raw ERA at Rochester through three starts was strong, but he did battle command issues through 15.2 innings, issuing seven walks. He also only lasted past the fifth inning once in three starts at Triple-A — his final start against Pawtucket — as pitch count tripped him up in his second start and a two hour delay forced him from his first, an eventual 3-0 win over Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Brooks Baseball had Duffey’s four-seam fastball at 91.1 mph in his first start against the Nationals, which is pretty much in line with where he sat last year. Duffey threw a lot of curveballs against the Nationals — nearly as many as he did fastballs — but only got one swinging strike off it. In fact, he only got five swinging strikes total in that start in 74 pitches, well below the generally accepted rate of 10 percent that is about the league average for AL starters. It’s just one game however, so don’t read too much into it yet.

Zimmermann has been “out of this world” good for the Tigers through four starts, as he’s won each with just one earned run so far (0.35 ERA). True to form, he hasn’t been overpowering, perhaps even to a fault (5.5 K/9), but it’s impossible to deny how effective he has been. Opposing batters are hitting just .224/.276/.255 against him, with just three extra-base hits — all doubles.

 

A natural tendency to look for when a pitcher’s batting average and slugging percentage allowed are so similar is to check groundball rate; grounders rarely go for extra-base hits and thus would depress a hitter’s slugging percentage. That angle checks out with Zimmermann’s career-best 50 percent groundball rate. That’s the sort of thing that stabilizes after about 70 batters faced; Zimmermann is over 100, so his newfound status as a groundball guy could be here to stay. At the very least, it should help him stem the tide until the strikeouts return. Zimmermann’s slider is his only pitch getting any swings and misses so far this season (11.1 percent), but hitters are driving everything but his four-seamer into the ground; his other three pitches all have groundball rates in excess of 50 percent.  

Notes and quotes

Molitor on Zimmermann: “He’s got a track record; he knows how to pitch. He’s one of those guys who uses all his pitches, so you can’t really sit on anything in any particular count. I think he’s using his slider a little bit more than he has in the past. You just don’t see balls in the middle of the zone. You kind of a have to be a good recognizer of pitches, and try not to cheat too much because you never know what you’re going to get. Then you try to use the whole field and spray the ball around a bit.”

Molitor on Jorge Polanco: “Right now he’s just in a support role. You’re always looking for opportunity to keep everyone involved the best you can, but with the off day and Trevor Plouffe coming back on Tuesday, I’m not sure when I might get him in there.”

Molitor on team’s reliance on youth: “It’s a nice crop of young players that we have. The unpredictability of inexperienced players sometimes makes it challenging. We’ve placed a lot of expectations on this group of young players coming in, asking them to contribute. But it takes a while to find out what you have. Whether it’s on the mound with some of the young guys that we’re going to throw here the next couple of days, as well as our position players, you just have to be patient and continue to try to teach, and hopefully watch them flourish.”  

* The Twins are hitting markedly better this year in April (.241/.312/.382) than they did last year in the month (.243/.301/.342).

* Joe Mauer’s 23-game on-base streak to start the season is the third-longest in Twins history, trailing Kent Hrbek in 1982 (33 games) and Jacque Jones in 2005 (27 games). Chuck Knoblauch (1997) and current hitting coach Tom Brunansky (1985) also started seasons with 23-game on-base streaks.

* Today is Ryan O’Rourke’s 28th birthday, which he shares with former Twins infielder Jeff Reboulet and manager Ray Miller.

* Sano has reached base safely in each of his last 18 games.

* The Twins are seventh in the AL in steals (seven), but have been caught five times for just a 58.3 percent success rate. The generally accepted “break even” point is around 70-75 percent based on league offensive numbers. Either way, the Twins are well beneath that.

* Only the Rays (eight) have grounded into fewer double plays than the Twins this year (nine) in the AL.

* The Twins offense is third in raw strikeouts in the AL (210), and fifth in strikeout percentage (23.6 percent). The Twins are ninth in walks per strikeout as an offense (0.37).

* The Twins and Tigers are tied with a 10 percent swinging strike rate as an offense. Seven AL clubs are swinging and missing more frequently.

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