So our regular season starts tonight again (aren't you glad I'm telling you this, you might have missed it). We have a three game series against the Twins. I sent some questions to Jesse from Twinkie Town (I'm sure Jesse didn't name it, don't blame him) and he was kind enough to send responses.
Could we get a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers we'll see from the Twins this weekend?
The Jays should see Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn this weekend, and in that order.
Pavano is a good pitcher. It's hard to know what else to say about him. He likes to live down and away and had success with that strategy last year--he's not powerful enough to get away with anything up in the zone. He mixes up his pitches well, only going to the fastball last season about 57% of the time and mixing in his changeup and slider consistently. He'll always have confidence, but if his command is sharp and he's able to nip the corners he'll be tough to hit.
Liriano can get away with a few more mistakes because he's so electric. He'll come after batters with that viscious slider if he's ahead or has two strikes, and although he throws a changeup to off-set the fastball-slider combo he'll rarely throw it to left-handed hitters. His biggest weakness is a sudden loss of command, although his stuff allows him to still get away with it from time to time.
Blackburn isn't the most popular choice among Twins fans, and I think most people would have preferred to see Slowey in the rotation. But Blackburn is certainly capable of pitching well. He'll throw a lot of fastballs, including a frequent sinker that he'll try to induce ground balls off of. He's durable and is one of those frustrating pitchers who are easy to peg as "hittable" until he has one of those games where batters just can't make good contact. But contact they will make, and if hitters catch onto him you could score some runs.
How is Justin Morneau? Will he be playing everyday?
All I can say is that he'll be starting tonight. I imagine Gardy will be very careful with him and will force him to take days off more frequently early in the season. He's also still in the middle of his adjustment-to-live-Major-League-pitching period, so it's not like he's 100% anyway. Everyday is a step forward, and he hasn't had any setbacks since committing to the field again, and we all hope it stays that way. I'm sure you'll see him twice this series, whether that's Friday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday.
How has Joe Nathan looked this spring? Will he be the closer right from the start of the season or will they work him in slowly?
Nathan's looked okay. He's had a couple of implosions on the mound in terms of allowing runs, but again a lot of that is adjustment to Major League hitters and just getting his arm back into game shape. His velocity is where it usually is at this point in the year so there aren't any concerns there, and he's been pain free which is always a plus. Reports have stated that he and Matt Capps will share closer duties, although I think a lot of that will have to do with how Nathan feels, how many pitches he threw the night before if they need a guy on back-to-back days, and of course how effective he is when he's out there.
Could we trade divisions? Please?
No. [Redacted] Yankees.
Why didn't the Twins keep JJ Hardy? Can Alexi Casilla put up the some sort of numbers as Hardy did?
Sore spot. There's so much to this one, honestly. When I spoke to Assistant GM Rob Antony a few weeks ago he said the decision was made to allocate those dollars elsewhere, which I understand because the Twins did have a few difficult roster decisions to make this winter, although I'd rather have kept Hardy and non-tendered Capps, and used his $7 million on a couple of more reliable bullpen arms. The market was there this season, and there were plenty of bargain contracts to be had for proven relief arms. If the Twins had told me in October that they wanted their payroll to be around $110 million, let's just say I would have made a few different choices.
Casilla can do certain things that Hardy did, as long as he doesn't completely blow his opportunity. He can get on base as often as J.J., he's capable of stealing more bases and being a better base runner in general, and his contact skills are fairly comparable. But the power isn't there, both at the plate and in his arm, and Hardy isn't known to have the mental lapses that have plagued Casilla in the field over the course of his career.
Going with Hardy would have been a risk, definitely, in terms of dollars spent per games available, etc. But trading his production for Casilla's is just a different kind of risk, and one I guess the Twins were more comfortable with when considering their options. Casilla's athletic, fast, toolsy in the field, which are things that Gardy really wanted in his lineup this year...so I think all Twins fans are just crossing their fingers that the "Unknown Factor" of the middle infield pays off.
What do you expect to see from Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka?
We expect a learning curve from him, too, but he'll be batting second right away so I think that puts some pressure on him to perform well. Realistically, I expect solid to solid-plus defense, a triple slash of around .280/.335/.405 in 120 to 130 games, and maybe 20 steals. He'll be a Rookie of the Year candidate, and I'm hoping for 2.5 to 3.5 Wins Above Replacement.
You lost of number of arms from your bullpen: Jon Rauch (thank you very much), Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes and Matt Guerier. How does your bullpen shape up this year? Is it a concern?
It's a concern, yeah. The Twins, over the last 10 years, have made a habit of patching together solid bullpens from unknowns and cast-offs, and so we hope they can do it again. Nathan is one of the best when he's himself, of course, but Capps isn't a bad backup to have and Jose Mijares is more than capable of being effective from the southpaw side of late inning situations. I actually think Kevin Slowey will be a superb relief pitcher. Beyond that they'll have to find their balance. Lefties Dusty Hughes and Glen Perkins, and swingman right-hander Jeff Manship fill out the options, and none of them have plus stuff on more than one pitch.
The biggest thing will be for Gardy to find his new heirarchy. Once he knows what his pitchers roles will be, he'll manage the bullpen well. And there are a couple of talented arms in Rochester that could help when, inevitably, one of the current guys gets hurt, changes roles or gets pulled for sucking.
Hey, really think about that trading division thing...
No. I feel for you guys, I really do...but no.