Nightly Notes: Game #55
1.) First, I haven't yet mentioned today's roster move and feel that I should comment on it ever so briefly. The Twins today activated everybody's favorite scapegoat Nick Punto from the 15-Day DL. The move had been anticipated (perhaps "feared" would be a better word) for the better part of a week, since Punto was originally eligible to be activated. To make room for Punto on the active roster, the Twins designated Howie Clark for assignment, removing him both from the active roster and the 40-man roster. That means the Twins have 39 players on the 40-man roster, giving them increased flexibility should it be necessary to add someone in the coming weeks.
While this idea will be foreign to many of you, I'm actually glad that Punto is back. For one thing, he's a significantly more versatile player than is Clark, with the ability to play pretty much wherever he's needed. He's also faster and significantly better defensively. Based on last year's offensive results, you may question his ability with the bat -- but this year, Punto is doing reasonably well at the plate, and I think his ceiling is higher than Clark's is. In other words, there is no downside to replacing Clark with Punto on the roster (unless you're afraid that Gardy will overuse Punto, which is a mistake he wouldn't make with Clark -- I don't actually have an answer for this, and it's the one legitimate concern about Punto's return that I can see).
As for Clark, he had always seemed to me to be the logical choice to be moved. Essentially, the choice was between Clark or Matt Macri, and a variety of people (from bloggers to Strib columnists) were suggesting that Macri was the likely choice to go down since he could be optioned away easily (as opposed to being designated for assignment, which was the only option for removing Clark from the active roster), and because Macri could benefit from playing every day in Rochester. These are perfectly legitimate arguments, but I still thought it likely that Clark would be leaving the team for two reasons: (1) he hadn't played since May 24; and (2) it makes sense to get a bit of a look at Macri at the big league level. Certainly, the decision could easily have been made to send down Macri instead of Clark, but Clark always seemed like a better choice to me. The question now is whether or not anyone will bother to claim Clark off waivers. If not, he'll end up back in Rochester, with a chance to have his contract purchased again later in the year if needed. If so, he'll be gone -- something which I had wanted to see since he signed by the organization.
2.) Everybody who has been following the team at all closely knew that this was almost certainly Boof Bonser's last start for what could be quite some time. His only hope (and it was always a very slim hope) was to have great start tonight, which would then maybe force the Twins to reconsider. Tonight was not that night -- Bonser was alright (just 2 earned runs, albeit 5 runs total; 5 hits and 3 walks in 5+ innings; over 100 pitches in those 5+ innings), but not nearly good enough to accomplish what he was hoping to accomplish. In other words, same old Boof. Barring a setback with Baker (who gave up a lot of hits tonight in Ft. Myers but got through 5 innings in decent shape), Bonser will soon be in the bullpen.
3.) For much of this season, the bullpen has been tremendously disappointing, turning quickly from an anticipated strength to one of the team's most glaring weaknesses (with the noticeable exception of Joe Nathan). Tonight, however, the bullpen seemed to be on the way to delivering a strong performance that was likely to generate a win for the team. Jesse Crain did allow a run on 2 hits in an inning of work (putting his season ERA over 4.00), but Craig Breslow, Matt Guerrier, Joe Nathan, and Dennys Reyes combined to go 4 scoreless innings allowing just a hit and a walk between them. Of course, Juan Rincon then came in and laid an egg, which we've all come to expect. I'll have more to say on that in the next note, but I'll stick with the positive and say that if the bullpen gets back on track, and the team keeps knocking the ball around a bit, this team will legitimately be contending for a playoff spot at the end of the year. I'm surprised to hear myself saying that, and it wouldn't be true if the division wasn't so mediocre, but it nonetheless seems to be the case.
4.) Speaking of Craig Breslow, congratulations to him on an extremely successful Twins debut. Breslow, who as was pointed out both in the Strib and on TV was essentially left to rot in the Indians bullpen for most of May, must have been relieved to actually get into an important game. He demonstrated pretty clearly that has the physical and mental makeup to get big outs in important games, and that was great to see. I know that many people (including Dick & Bert) are discussing Breslow's place on the team as, essentially, a "tryout" that could end when Scott Baker comes back, but I continue to think (as I mentioned yesterday) that either Brian Bass or Juan Rincon will be leaving instead. I still think that Brian Bass is the most likely candidate, but Rincon was once again ineffective tonight in losing the game, and I would be neither surprised nor saddened if he were the guy dismissed by the team to make room for Baker. One thing seems clear -- Breslow's debut performance, while only one appearance, gave a pretty good indication of why he should get more than 5 or 6 days with the team and why he makes the bullpen better than it is with either Rincon or Bass.
5.) It seems Michael Cuddyer will now have a chance to shave off his beard, following his game-tying homerun tonight. It's far more important to the Twins that Cuddyer gets his homer swing back than that Mauer does, simply because of the kind of hitters they are. Still, I'm starting to root for a Mauer dinger because he looks a bit ridiculous with his beard-0'horrors. Nice to see Cuddyer getting a few multi-hit games in. Hopefully his swing is on its way back -- although that weak 11th inning K left me with the same horrid taste in my mouth as some of his other recent flailings.
6.) Mike Lamb continues to rake, raising his batting average to .256 (impressive considering how horribly he was hitting for most of the year), and Delmon Young went 3-for-5. Once again, if players like Lamb and Young simply start to perform even close to how they were expected to perform, the offense will be in pretty good shape. This, to me, is another reason to be very optimistic about things to come.