Hello from dreary Target Field as the Twins look to even their four-game series with the Indians after a tough 3-1 loss on Monday night. It’ll be right-hander Phil Hughes going for the Twins against righty Josh Tomlin for the Indians. More on that in a bit.
After a steady stream of rain all morning and into the early afternoon, it looks like any further precipitation will hold off to get this one in. It might be a little on the chilly side — 55-60 degrees throughout — but Weather.com puts about a 3-5 percent chance of precipitation during the game. Furthermore, the batting cage is set up for pregame batting practice, which suggests the Twins and their people don’t see any issues in the near term.
In terms of players out for early work, Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano and Eduardo Escobar are out taking grounders with Gene Glynn hitting them, and Byron Buxton is doing some tee work with hitting coach James Rowson. While this talent evaluator — please stifle your laughter — would stop short of calling Polanco great defensively so far this season, one could liken his performance to that of a good referee/umpire or third base coach.
The less you hear about it, the better. Polanco has been just fine defensively, and he’s doing a phenomenal job commanding the strike zone.
As for Buxton, he’s hitting off the tee under the watchful eyes of Rowson and manager Paul Molitor. What is he working on?
“We’re just working on me getting a feel on where I am in the batter’s box,” Buxton said. “Getting a little bit more comfortable in there. We were on the field hitting off the tee a little bit and making sure I’m doing the right things to attack the baseball.”
As far as specific things they were working on, Buxton offered a few items. “We worked on mostly middle-away and getting the ball deep,” he said. “Just trying to see the ball a little bit longer. I’ve been out front and a little jumpy early and I noticed. So I wanted to go out there today and put the ball back a bit and make me stay behind it.”
Buxton also said that his head placement has been a work in progress. “The key for me is to keep it from moving,” he said. “That allows me to see the ball better. If I’m moving it too much, then the ball is up and down and that’s why I swing over or under it sometimes. I just have to go in there, keep my head still and have fun.”
Buxton added that he’s battled his head moving a bit too much over the last week and a half or so. He said that his film study on pitches he’s missed — particularly on the outside but even those he’s missed down the middle — led to this discovery.
Molitor said that utility infielder Ehire Adrianza (oblique) played four innings and got three at-bats in a GCL game on Monday. The plan is for him to play all over the infield as he works his way back from the 10-day disabled list stint. He’s eligible to return at any time.
Here’s how the Twins line up today:
— Brandon Warne (@Brandon_Warne) April 18, 2017
Here’s how the Indians will counter:
4/18 @Indians lineup at MIN
— MLB Lineups (@mlblineups) April 18, 2017
Taking the mound for the third time this season for the Twins is Hughes, who has posted a 3.86 ERA with 6.2 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. In a lot of ways he’s having a vintage Hughes year, as he’s given up a few home runs and is allowing lots of fly balls, but in some other ways he’s not been typical at all. PITCHf/x has him throwing more changeups (27.6 percent) than any other pitch, as he’s been pitching backwards more than anything with 17.7 percent of his pitches being his “spike” curveball as well. With his fastball averaging a career-low 89.3 mph, Hughes is working on re-inventing himself in light of declining velocity as he continues to work himself back to health following offseason surgery. Check back on ZoneCoverage.com soon for a feature on Hughes and what he’s working on as he progresses through his age-31 season.
— MLB Quality of Pitch (@qopbaseball) April 18, 2017
Looking to bounce back from a very tough start last time out is Tomlin, who gave up five first-inning runs against the White Sox at home last time out and didn’t get out of the second. He ultimately gave up seven earned runs in 1.2 innings which swelled his season ERA up to 18.47. His first start wasn’t much better, as the Diamondbacks got him for six earned runs in 4.2 innings. The silver lining was that he struck out six batters that time. He fooled literally no one in the White Sox game, as he had just one swinging strike and no strikeouts in 42 pitches/14 batters faced.
Something’s got to give between Tomlin’s struggles and a Twins offense that has scored just 2.3 runs per game over their last four games. So far this season, Tomlin has mixed a four-seamer (15 percent), cutter (16.7 percent) and sinker (43.3 percent) as his fastballs with a curve (13.3 percent) and changeup (11.7 percent). And as one might expect, he’s gotten throttled, as opposing offenses have hit .455/.500/.727 against him.
Tyler Duffey’s hot start out of the bullpen has people taking notice, as he’s thrown nearly the equivalent of a complete game shutout as a reliever so far. Not only has Duffey thrown 8.2 scoreless innings, but he has just one walk with seven strikeouts and is doing so while keeping the ball on the ground. These things are all part of the recipe of what makes a pitcher as effective as he can be.
Duffey’s fastball is up a bit in terms of average velocity — 91.8 mph this year against 90.4 mph last year — though it’s possible some of that is due to the change in data providers for PITCHf/x. He’s also mixed in the changeup a little bit (7.8 percent), but has primarily stuck to his bread and butter offerings in the fastball and curve.
There is a bit of an added wrinkle though, it seems, as PITCHf/x (seen on Fangraphs.com) says Duffey is throwing almost exclusively two-seamers this year as opposed to a bit of both in his first two seasons. Still, there are challenges in front of Duffey as he transitions back to the pen — for how long, nobody knows or at least isn’t committing to — like he did back in his Rice days with J.T. Chargois.
“It’s a different view of the game and the whole atmosphere; it’s completely different out there. It’s something I enjoy,” Duffey said. “If it’s something I keep doing it, I’m going to love it.”
“I think it’s just allowing me to attack more aggressively,” Duffey said of his experience as a reliever to date. “Before as a starter, you have to work with things and set pitches up a bit more frequently. Now I can go in and throw my best stuff and not have to think about it. I think that’s helped me a lot.”
Duffey also said that he’s moved spots on the rubber as he’s made the change to the bullpen. “Against righties, I pitch from the third-base side and against lefties I’m on the first-base side,” he said. “That’s something Bert (Blyleven) talked to me about last year briefly. I think it was in Atlanta, and at that point in time I was just trying to get people out. I wasn’t worried about changing things up. I tried it in my last bullpen in spring training and it felt good. I didn’t have to make any mechanical changes, so now it’s seemed to work so far. On righties, I think it gives me a little better angle, especially on the inside fastball because I’m low three-quarters (delivery). Especially with the sinkers, and then my breaking ball is coming from at them as opposed to them seeing it a bit better.”
Duffey said he was always on the first base side — dating back to college — because he was “getting killed by lefties” which led to the move in the first place.
One of the primary challenges for a starter-turned-reliever is pacing themselves in getting ready to come into the game. As opposed to pitching every fifth day or so, a pitcher can be called at any time. This is even more true with a pitcher like Duffey, who may eventually find himself in a high-leverage role, but for now is somewhere in between, with a chance to work longer duty should a starter falter or get hurt as well as later in the game, like Monday night.
“I think it just helped knowing what I used to be able to do as far as getting loose,” Duffey said, hearkening back to his days out of the ‘pen at Rice. “I’ve started to get the feel again for that. Playing catch before the game, things of that nature just to stay where you’re just ready enough that you can get hot quick. That’s the fine line you have to flirt with, because you have to be ready to go the next day if you don’t go into the game.”
Former Twins right-handed reliever Blaine Boyer signed a minor-league deal with the Boston Red Sox and will head to Triple-A Pawtucket, according to Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. Boyer posted a 2.49 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 65 innings with the Twins in 2015, and was with the Milwaukee Brewers last season, tossing 66 innings with a 3.95 ERA (3.96 FIP).
Former Twins starter Mike Pelfrey has really struggled in his first two starts with Triple-A Charlotte in the White Sox system. Through six innings, Pelfrey has allowed five earned runs (7.50 ERA) with a pair of home runs allowed and a 2.17 WHIP.
Through two appearances at Triple-A Gwinnett, former Twins lefty Andrew Albers has allowed just one earned run (1.42 ERA) with nine strikeouts and four walks. Of possible interest to wrestling fans is that the radio voice for the Gwinnett club is Tony Schiavone, who did broadcasts for Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling programming for parts of three decades in the 80s, 90s and 00s.
Through 10 games at Triple-A Columbus (Cleveland), Chris Colabello is hitting a modest .262/.326/.405 with one home run and three doubles. Colabello has played four games at first base and six at DH, though his path to the big leagues is significantly stunted as he’s behind Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion in the Indians system. Colabello turned 33 last October.
Notes and Quotes
- The Twins are the only team in baseball who have not been caught stealing yet (7-for-7).
- The Twins still rank No. 1 in team offensive walk rate (12.3 percent), with only five teams — including the Indians (10.1 percent) above 10 percent.
- The Twins are one of four MLB teams who have not hit a sacrifice fly yet this season.
- The Twins are fourth in MLB in fly ball percentage (39.6 percent). The new-age school of hitting philosophy states that this is a good thing.
- It’s obviously very early, but Joe Mauer is hitting the ball in the air more frequently (39.5 percent) than he has at any point in his career. His previous career-high mark was his shortened rookie season (34.4 percent) and his career rate is 25.2 percent).
- Despite pitching to a 1.95 ERA (eight earned runs in 37 innings) the Twins are just 1-3 on this homestand. Blame the offense, as they’ve averaged just 2.3 runs per game and are just 6-for-30 with runners in scoring position. They’ll need to get to Tomlin early, as a strong bullpen looms behind him.
- The starting pitchers have a 1.37 ERA on the homestand, while relievers have a 3.38 mark.
- Wednesday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN with Jon Sciambi on the call. It’s the first time the Twins have been on national television since June 22, 2015 — a 13-2 win over the White Sox.
- Molitor on how the team has performed stealing bases: “I don’t think we’ve run a ton. Brian Dozier has been our most aggressive guy, while other guys have chipped in. We’re trying to pick the right spots. We emphasize some of the concepts that surround trying to be successful in that regard as far as first of all doing your homework and knowing the guy’s tendencies, and then being observant as far as seeing if he has any patterns on pitches and offspeed pitches and things that we can pick up on. I’m probably a bit more selective now in terms of when I’m letting guys run, as opposed to some of the freedom that some of these guys have enjoyed, and trying to pick the right spots when they’ve got a good chance.”
- Molitor added that he and Glynn are the two guys that are most involved with baserunning instruction on the MLB staff.
- Duffey on if he’s done any work with analytics: “I did a bit at the end of last year. I actually asked Jack (Goin) about some stuff and he brought me back some information about my breaking ball and my sinker and how to use them more effectively. I’ve tried to implement some of that. Obviously I’m going to throw to my strengths now, but in the moment, if I want to get a guy out who has fouled some stuff off, I can go to some stuff like that. I think Jason (Castro) and (Chris) Gimenez both are pretty on the stats side of things as well. They look at a lot of things on hitters and call pitches that maybe I wouldn’t regularly throw. But, I’m also very trusting in the catchers. Castro asked me what we’d do if I shook him off, and most of the time I’m not going to shake him off because he knows these guys better than I do.”