Mackey's Twins Notes: GM Terry Ryan says '.500 isn't what we want'
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MINNEAPOLIS -- With back-to-back losses to the Chicago White Sox, the Minnesota Twins have once again fallen below .500 -- but just one game under. Certainly not the deep end of the pool the Twins have fallen into around this exact time the past two season.
And here's the thing -- even though it seems as if a 95-loss team is vastly overachieving by sitting at 18-19, that might not be the case.
Of the players currently on the 25-man roster, only Kevin Correia (3.35 ERA through eight starts) is performing well above and beyond his career norm. Joe Mauer is off to a hot start (.349/.431/.500 batting line), but certainly nothing that seems out of the ordinary. And a few of the relievers are off to good starts -- Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak and Ryan Pressly, in particular.
But for the most part, the Twins -- as individuals -- are doing anything but playing out-of-their-minds hot. Josh Willingham just re-emerged back above the Mendoza Line. Aaron Hicks just woke up on Tuesday. Justin Morneau is driving in runs, but he has only two home runs. Ryan Doumit has mostly struggled. Same for Brian Dozier and Chris Parmelee.
Is it a good sign the Twins have hovered around .500 with several players struggling?
General manager Terry Ryan gave an interesting answer over the weekend in an interview with 1500 ESPN.
"First of all, .500 isn't what we want," Ryan said. "That's dandy and that's better than what we've done, but that certainly would be underachieving if we were back on those teams that won 90-plus games. So .500 is great compared to what we did last year. ...
"Secondly, we have talked that we thought we have a pretty good lineup. We have struggled to score runs, so I suspect that as we go throught eh months of May and June here that -- once the weather warms up, which is looks like it (has) -- we'll start to hit and some of these guys will get back to their normal averages and productivity."
A .500 record might not be what the Twins want. But they should absolutely be satisfied with .500 if they can continue playing at this same pace. The future starts in 2014.
News, notes, thoughts & tidbits
• Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson spoke with someone in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization during the offseason and told them he thought Liriano would "prosper" in the National League because those hitters aren't yet used to Frankie's sweeping slider.
Sure enough, Liriano fanned nine in his first start for the Pirates on Saturday -- 5 1/3 innings, one run, six hits and two walks. Liriano missed the first month due to injuring his non-throwing arm over the winter. The Twins have watched him strike out nine over 5 1/3 numerous times -- or outings similar -- but the lack of consistency is what ultimately caused them to part ways.
• Prior to Tuesday, Mauer had swung at the first pitch of an at-bat only 10 times in 158 plate appearances. Apparently he decided to change strategies against the Chicago White Sox. Mauer swung at the first pitch four times in nine plate appearances over the last two games of the series. He fouled three off and singled on one. Entering those two games, Mauer's 6% first-pitch swing rate was the lowest in baseball.
• The highest first-pitch swing rate in baseball (53%) belongs to none other than Carlos Gomez, who is in the midst of a career season for the Milwaukee Brewers. Gomez, 27, leads all National League hitters with a .368 batting average. He also owns a .408 on-base percentage, .632 slugging percentage and has hit six home runs while driving in 18, scoring 22 and stealing eight bases. Gomez toiled in his first two years with the Brewers, showed signs of life last year by hitting 19 home runs, and now has apparently throttled down for the first time in his career.
So, why the breakout after all these years?
Well, for one, age and maturity make a difference.
But also, see what ESPN's Buster Olney had to write about Gomez last week:
For five years, Carlos Gomez says, he listened to others tell him what he needed to do to be successful. "They wanted me to hit line drives, hit the ball on the ground," he said Tuesday, over the phone. "They treat me like one of the fast guys."
Gomez's image of himself as a player was different from that. Oh, sure, he has big-time speed, but when Gomez played winter ball, he would swing very hard and try to drive the ball and felt he was a very different player, and a better player. He felt he knew why.
As he came back from a broken collarbone late in 2011, he met with manager Ron Roenicke and talked about the player he felt he could be. "I'm going to try something different," Gomez said to Roenicke. "I've been trying this for five years, and it doesn't work. I want to be me."
Of course, it'd be pretty tough to find anybody who watched Gomez's time with the Twins who would say, "boy, it sure looks like Gomez needs to swing harder."
• Jared Burton crossed an important checkpoint over the weekend -- pitching three consecutive days for the first time since Aug. 25-27, 2009. Shoulder problems limited Burton's production in 2010 and 2011, but the Twins have done a good job managing his load since the beginning of last year. The 31-year-old righty owns a 2.05 ERA with 74 strikeouts and only 22 walks in 79 innings with the Twins.
• Since rejoining the Rochester Red Wings' rotation two weeks ago, Samuel Deduno has been... well... pretty much the same as he always has been. In two starts, Deduno has walked eight and allowed nine hits in just 10 1/3 innings -- but he has fanned nine while allowing only one earned run. Same old, same old -- allowing a lot of base runners, but somehow pitching out of trouble. Among pitchers who hurled at least 70 innings last season, none had a higher walk rate than Samuel Deduno. There was hope his World Baseball Classic dominance had signaled a change in his errant command, but he'll need to show more if he wants to be re-added to the Twins' 40-man roster.
• Brian Dozier should officially be concerned about his job. With his slow start to the season, Dozier is now hitting just .230/.267/.323 in 466 career major league plate appearances. Meanwhile, Jamey Carroll singled twice and doubled in Dozier's place on Wednesday, raising his on-base percentage to .346 on the season. Eduardo Escobar is also knocking on the door, batting .298/.333/.474 on the season after hitting his second home run on Wednesday.
• Fifteen months ago, Joe Benson was ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects. Now, it's possible he's in danger of getting booted from the Twins' 40-man roster (my words, not the Twins'). Benson, 25, is hitting just .192/.245/.292 with 44 strikeouts and only six walks and one home run in 36 games. With a guy like 29-year-old Chris Colabello raking in Rochester -- .329/.387/.570 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs BEFORE hitting two more bombs and driving in five more on Wednesday night -- there's no reason for Benson, who is out of minor league options after this season, to feel comfortable.
• Byron Buxton saw his 29-game streak of reaching base to start the season get snapped earlier this week, as he went 0-for-8 in a doubleheader for Low-A Cedar Rapids. But he is still nearly unstoppable. Peter Gammons tweeted that he talked to a scout who said, "Byron Buxton is half Justin/BJ Upton, Half amazing." Gammons added the "Twins are on clock as baseball's next hot team."
• The Twins clearly have a new character in the clubhouse this season in Escobar, who recently changed his walk-up music to "You're The One That I Want" from the movie Grease. Because, of course.