It was quiet.
Quieter than I’ve ever heard in my 200-plus games covering the Minnesota Twins dating back to my first game during the final homestand of the 2010 season.
I’ve been through some very quiet clubhouses. The 96-loss team in 2013 was especially quiet. The next year was similar, though the addition of Phil Hughes — who had a historic season command-wise — spiced things up a bit. In a good way, of course.
But that team lost 92 games and had a lot of nights where it seemed like the team was searching, almost clawing for answers.
I won’t say this team is at that point yet at 8-13, but you could hear a pin drop in the clubhouse after Friday night’s game — a demoralizing 15-9 loss to a Cincinnati Reds club that has already fired its manager and still came in with three fewer wins than the Twins.
Yes, even after seeing the Twins lose seven games in a row, the Reds were still so, so much worse off. But after throttling the Twins with 11 straight runs between innings 5-9, it’s worth wondering if a casual fan could step into both clubhouses and reasonably deduce which team is 6-20, and which is 8-13.
This team has expectations after going to the Wild Card game last year and winning 85 games, and right now, they aren’t meeting them.
Everybody knows it’s April. There’s still a lot of baseball left.
But things need to turn around soon.
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point on Friday night:
The Twins were all over Luis Castillo
After Hughes allowed a first-inning home run to give the Reds a 1-0 lead, the Twins started a conga line around the bases against Castillo — who was terrific as a rookie last year for Cincinnati.
The first four Twins reached — single, walk, single and a booming double — before Max Kepler drove home a run with a grounder to first and Eduardo Escobar fouled out to catcher Tucker Barnhart. Logan Morrison followed with his second home run as a Twin, capping an epic nine-pitch at-bat after three straight fouls with a bomb on a center-cut changeup. It was pretty impressive from Morrison, as each of the fouls came on 96 mph pitches before he homered on one that came in at 86.
Robbie Grossman followed with a single to left before Jason Castro grounded out to first to end the inning with the Twins up, 5-1.
Against his better judgment, Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman sent Castillo out for the second, but hooked him fairly quickly following a looping Brian Dozier double to left and a Joe Mauer walk.
By the looks of things, the Twins had no interest in his offspeed and breaking stuff early. Dozier’s single came on a fastball, and Mauer saw only fastballs in his walk. Miguel Sano singled on a fastball and Eddie Rosario’s double came on an 0-2 fastball that was right down Broadway.
In fact, only Morrison’s homer was on something other than a fastball. It doesn’t matter how hard a pitcher throws if he can’t locate his slider or his changeup, and that was the case for Castillo in this one.
Some of the slow starters are coming around for the Twins offense
Rosario was one of the shining examples here, as his double came on an 0-2 pitch that left many of us in the press box shaking our heads. Rosario had absolutely swung out of his shoes on first- and second-pitch changeups, then Castillo left a fastball middle-middle that the free-swinger uncoiled on for an RBI double. Even a better-executed fastball there doesn’t seem like a great idea, as Rosario’s game plan clearly wasn’t affected by what he should have seen in front of him — a la, the Twins spitting on Castillo’s offspeed/breaking stuff and making him throw fastballs.
In this case, the youngster did it for Rosario. That’s the sort of thing you want your cleanup hitter to notice on his own, though.
Meanwhile, Morrison was 2-for-5, and both balls were absolutely peppered. His single in the third inning off reliever Kevin Shackelford was the hardest-hit ball of the night (112.5 mph), and his homer (101.3 mph) wasn’t too bad, either.
Another guy who is rolling lately is Robbie Grossman, who has six hits over his last two games, pushing his season line from .108/.175/.162 to .222/.286/.378.
That’s no small feat.
The teams combined for 34 hits, so…
Yeah, there might have been some hard-hit balls, right? Try this on for size:
The short answer here is that this is absolutely bananas. We don’t care for single-game stat lines like this really, but the Reds literally hit .444 (20-for-45) in this game. That’s absurd.
Hughes was better than Castillo, but not markedly so
For the second start in a row, Hughes failed to pitch through the fourth inning. And for the second start in a row, it could have been worse, but he was bailed out by a force outside of his own. Last time out, Brad Miller rounded third base and came up gimpy when returning to the bag, allowing him to be tagged out for the third out of the first inning and ending a promising rally.
In this one, Reds right fielder Scott Schebler came up with two outs in the third inning and runners on first and second with the Twins up 5-3. Schebler took a ball, then a strike and then fouled one off before chasing a fastball well up and out of the zone for strike three. Now the Reds came back and clearly did what was needed to tie the game, take the lead and so on, but this was another spot where serendipity won out for Hughes.
Those things won’t keep happening. Hughes sat 88-90 mph with his fastball — as high as 92.2 at one point — and has just five swinging strikes in 61 pitches. He’s going to have to innovate to stay ahead of hitters and put them away, and that was a challenge when he was 92-93 mph with his fastball.
With or without Hughes, it felt like the Twins were going to cruise to victory early on
Even with Hughes struggling, it felt like the Twins had adequate depth behind him with both Tyler Duffey and the newly-acquired David Hale available as longer guys. It wasn’t to be, however, as Duffey was absolutely obliterated, allowing four hits and five runs (four earned) in the span of just 13 pitches. None of the backup was much better, as the Twins mixed bad luck, bad pitching and a snowball fight or two for a game that was nothing short of a cataclysmic collapse.
That seems like loaded language for just one of 162 games, but it really, really was an ugly effort for a team that was “pissed off” with how things went in the Bronx, and to a lesser extent, the Trop before that
Hughes got hit hard, but it almost felt like it got the Reds offense into a collective groove
As noted before, it didn’t matter if Hughes was throwing 88 or Ryan Pressly was threatening to hit 98 — the Reds just crushed the ball around the yard. Of the 23 balls hit 99 mph or harder, 14 were hit by the Reds. Technically, Taylor Rogers was the only Twins pitcher who was unscored upon.
That isn’t necessarily a good thing; he tossed one-third of an inning and allowed three of the four batters he faced to reach. At this point, the bullpen just needs a total reset.
Scooter Gennett had one of the weirdest plays you’ll ever see from a second baseman — or um, anyone
Kepler stroked a double past Votto into the right-field corner in the bottom of the fourth, and Mauer cruised into third. The throw came back in from Schebler, and it was a confusing scene that ultimately led to Mauer scurrying home, just barely beating the relay throw from Gennett to give the Twins an 8-4 lead.
In the confusion, this is what was missed:
So….yeah. I have no idea what that was. Here’s a look from a different angle:
….as a result, I’m not accepting any and all conspiracy theories for what he was really doing there.
Joey Votto was unbelievable
Votto reached base all six times he came to bat in the game — homer, double, single, walk, walk, hit by pitch — and is now hitting a solid, very Votto-like .280/.393/.430. Not only did that tie a career-high for times reaching safely for Votto — the other came against the Phillies on May 18, 2013 — but it extended his on-base streak to 12 games.
On a team that doesn’t have much going for it, Votto is still going to be worth the price of admission.
Hale’s Twins tenure was short
The Twins let Hale soak it up in this one, tossing three innings with four earned runs, two strikeouts and four walks. He threw 57 pitches (35 strikes), and was designated for assignment after the game. This is far from his first DFA — see the pregame story — though if he clears, he’ll have a decision to make.
The Twins would probably prefer to keep him in the organization, but the 30-year-old righty might have other ideas. Then again, they pursued him heavily this offseason, and if he clears waivers — even at his low salary — it might mean he won’t have any better opportunities than waiting around for the next one with the Twins. Stay tuned.
- The Twins will make a roster move to add a pitcher prior to Saturday’s game. With the Hale DFA, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a pitcher on the 40-man roster. John Curtiss has been pitching really, really well with Rochester (17 strikeouts in his first 9.1 innings), but he threw 30 pitches over 2.1 innings in Syracuse on Friday night (five strikeouts). Lefty Mason Melotakis, who has thrown 9.2 innings over five appearances, might make some sense. He’s allowed just four earned runs (3.72 ERA) with a 9-2 K/BB ratio and a WHIP of 1.14. Melotakis last worked on Wednesday, throwing three innings (40 pitches).
- Saturday’s pitching matchup is Jake Odorizzi (4.50 ERA, 5.95 FIP in 26 IP) vs. Sal Romano (4.78 ERA, 5.80 FIP in 26.1 IP) with first pitch scheduled for 1:10 p.m.
- Dozier extended his hitting streak at Target Field to 14 games with a first-inning single, per the game notes.