State of the Twins, week 5: Delmon improving, pitchers eating innings
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It's impossible to win 'em all, as demonstrated by a four-game series split against the lowly Baltimore Orioles.
With the Tigers (17-14) losing 7-4 at Cleveland (11-18) on Sunday, the Twins now have a 3 1/2 game lead in the American League Central.
Speaking of the Tigers, with a 5-4 win over Detroit on Wednesday, the Twins not only completed their first sweep of the year, they also moved 10 games over .500 at the earliest point in any season since 2001.
Here's where things stand after five weeks:
* LF Delmon Young: Although he still hits too many groundballs and still swings at more pitches than almost any hitter in baseball, Young has shown improvement both offensively and defensively through the first five weeks of the season. Over the past 14 days heading into Sunday, Young was hitting .364/.447/.545 with a home run, three doubles, and most surprisingly, five walks. Young walked only 12 times in 2009, but he's drawn eight already this season. Combine Young's respectable offensive numbers (.267/.323/.442, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 8 BB, only 10 Ks) with his obvious improvement covering ground in left field, and the Twins might have something here.
* 2B Orlando Hudson: Nursing a sore shoulder on Sunday, Hudson was given the day off by manager Ron Gardenhire, but it was a well-earned day of rest. Hudson has been a catalyst at the top of this potent Twins lineup all season. Since April 25, Hudson has hit .333/.400/.426, with 12 runs scored, and he has reached base via hit or walk 23 times. For the season, Hudson's 24 runs scored tie him for sixth in the league.
* Twins' starting pitchers: During a week in which the Twins were forced to keep three catchers on the 25-man roster at the expense of a short-handed bullpen, the starting pitchers picked up the slack and combined to pitch 57 2/3 out of a possible 70 innings since Sunday, May 2.
* RHP Nick Blackburn: Blackburn has dealt with soreness behind his pitching elbow and a family medical emergency this season, which partially explains his slow start, but since returning to the team last Tuesday Blackburn has been magnificent -- 16 innings, three earned runs, 15 hits, three walks, two strikeouts.
* C Wilson Ramos: Well, it was fun while it lasted... Ramos ripped seven hits in his first two games last weekend, but has since gone 1-for-18 with zero walks. With Joe Mauer likely ready to return to the crouch on Tuesday, Ramos will almost certainly be handed a plane ticket back to Rochester. But he made a favorable impression on the pitching staff and with the manager, so his cold streak isn't a complete downer.
* OF Jason Kubel: A reporter asked Gardenhire over the weekend if he's concerned yet about Kubel, who is still hitting only .209/.333/.308 with two home runs. Gardenhire said he wasn't worried, but Jim Thome had 24 plate appearances to Kubel's 16 last week -- deservedly so, because Thome has five home runs, four doubles, and 15 walks so far this season. Still, Kubel is established enough that he should pull out of this funk soon.
HOW THEY STAND
1. Twins (21-11)
2. Detroit (17-14)
3. Chicago (13-19)
4. Cleveland (11-18)
5. Kansas City (11-20)
* C Joe Mauer: After missing the entire week with a bruised heel, Mauer made a Kirk Gibson-like return on Saturday night against Baltimore. OK, that's a bit of a stretch, but Mauer followed up his pinch hit appearance (a bases loaded strikeout, but whatever) by DHing in Sunday's matinee. The plan is for Mauer to catch on Tuesday against the White Sox.
* SS J.J. Hardy: Hardy has no swelling his wrist, but the pain still lingers. Hardy will come in on Monday for more treatment, and if he is unable to play by Tuesday, Gardenhire said the Twins will likely consider making a roster move to bring up an extra infielder.
* RHP Pat Neshek: Neshek remains sidelined with inflammation in the upper palm of his pitching hand. He will likely receive a cortisone shot next sometime this week, and he could resume throwing shortly after. When Neshek returns to pitching later this month, manager Ron Gardenhire said the team will send him on either a rehab assignment or a minor league stint.
* LHP Jose Mijares: Mijares allowed three earned runs and four hits in a rehab assignment Friday at Class-AAA Rochester. Then he allowed two earned runs on two hits and a walk in 2/3 innings on Sunday. Earlier this weekend, Gardenhire said there's "a chance" Mijares could rejoin the big league squad later this week if all goes well. But allowing crooked numbers to minor league hitters probably doesn't fall under the category of "all is well."
* C Jose Morales: Morales (wrist) suffered a setback at extended spring training when he hurt his hip sliding. Morales has been shut down temporarily, and the team will continue to ease him back into action.
* RHP Clay Condrey: Condrey (elbow) was spotted throwing long toss in the outfield earlier this weekend. There is no timetable for his return.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Monday: Off day
Tuesday: vs. White Sox, 7:10 p.m. RHP Kevin Slowey (4-2, 3.93) vs. RHP Freddy Garcia (1-2, 5.28).
Wednesday: vs. White Sox, 12:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (3-3, 3.43) vs. LHP John Danks (3-1, 1.98).
Thursday: Off day
Friday: @ Yankees, 6:05 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (4-1, 2.36) vs. RHP A.J. Burnett (4-0, 1.99).
Saturday: @ Yankees, 12:05 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (4-2, 4.57) vs. LHP Andy Pettitte (4-0, 2.08).
Sunday: @ Yankees, 12:05 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn vs. TBD
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