Wetmore: 5 thoughts after Twins offense silenced for first time
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The Royals shut out the Twins on Friday to exact a degree of revenge after Minnesota had swept the Royals at Target Field last week. Ricky Nolasco was not nearly as sharp as in his previous start and the Twins' offense failed to push across a run for the first time this season.
Oh, and Jason Bartlett decided to retire earlier in the day.
Here are 5 thoughts from Friday's game.
Feel free ask any questions or make any observations in the comments. If you have a unique baseball observation during a game, feel free to share it with me on Twitter (@DerekWetmore).
1. Chris Colabello has made some mechanical changes to his swing. I've seen them discussed before and his swing is noticeably quieter this season compared to 2013. Fox Sports North showed a side-by-side comparison of the two seasons and pointed out three changes. Really it's two changes and the third is a byproduct.
First, Colabello keeps his front (left) foot closer to the ground during his load and stride, rather than taking a big leg kick. I would imagine that makes it easier to keep timing consistent, and makes his swing lower maintenance.
Second, he no longer loops his hands in a big circle during the loading phase of his swing. That element, combined with the leg kick, made his swing very long, even his he threw his hands in a direct bath to the plane of the ball. That makes it harder to time pitches, but can provide extra power when a batter makes contact. It seems he's traded some of that power generation for an ability to better time pitches.
The third change FSN pointed out, which is a byproduct of the other changes, is that his head now is more still throughout his swing. When the rest of his body is quiet during the coil and unleash phases of his swing, he has a more stable base and can keep his head (and more importantly his eyes) relatively still.
These changes are believable and may have made Colabello a better, more consistent hitter. But we're a long ways away from anointing him a proven commodity as a DH and part-time outfielder. His track record suggests he can hit. His first three weeks are promising. That's as far as we can reasonably go while lauding Colabello's early-season surge.
2. The Twins entered Friday leading the Majors in on-base percentage, in part they led the league by a wide margin in walks. Minnesota walked 82 times before drawing one free pass against the Royals. That was 14 more than second-place Oakland, or 21 percent more bases on balls.
3. Josmil Pinto seems to have a smart approach at the plate. He's a good hitter and he seems to let the situation dictate his approach. As the DH on Friday, Pinto was the only Twins hitter to reach base more than once, when he went 2-for-3 with a walk.
To demonstrate his approach, I'll pull a few examples. Pinto walked to start the Twins' zany eighth-inning rally Thursday and then watched the Blue Jays bullpen walk just about every batter that came to the plate. In his second plate appearance of that inning, he had a 3-1 count and was taking a pitch. Meaning he was willing to go to a full count if the pitcher could throw a strike. The pitcher did and Pinto eventually drew a walk, his second of the franchise-record eight-walk inning.
Earlier in the season - and I don't have the specific plate appearance in front of me - Pinto had a 3-1 count with two runners on base. He guessed he would get a fastball and took a mighty hack when he got one. He missed the pitch and eventually drew a walk, but his approach was sound. He was guessing at a pitch to increase his chance of driving the ball and driving in a run or runs, while accepting the tradeoff of going to a full count if he was fooled (got something other than a fastball) or if he missed because of a bigger swing. In that situation, it seemed like the right approach.
Friday, Pinto led off the second inning and found himself in another 3-1 count, this time against lefty Jason Vargas. Pinto was ready to fire his hips but held his swing and watched ball four sail by to draw a walk. My guess is he was looking for a fastball in a very specific area. Not getting exactly that pitch, he let it go and trotted down to first base. That patience and controlled aggression will serve him well if continues it.
4. The Twins will have an interesting slate of opposing pitchers this weekend in Kansas City. Lefty junkballer Jason Vargas started and one Friday. They'll get another lefty junkballer Saturday in Bruce Chen. Then, in the series finale Sunday they get dynamite right-hander Yordano Ventura, who has the second-fastest average fastball velocity this season at 95.9 mph, according to FanGraphs.
5. Bullpen roles seem to be fluid on all but the best handful of MLB relief corps. That's the case with the Twins, based on my read of the situation. Jared Burton, considered the setup man last season, has fallen on tough times. He gave up three earned runs April 9 to the A's and four innings (on a grand slam) April 15 to the Blue Jays. Those were consecutive appearances for Burton, who pitched the seventh inning of a 5-run game Friday in Kansas City. I would expect Ron Gardenhire probably will deploy Burton in lower leverage spots now unless he regains his form. I wouldn't bet on Burton finishing the year as the setup man in the Twins' bullpen.
Anthony Swarzak, meanwhile, has been 'promoted' from long reliever to more of a one-inning guy and has been used in higher leverage spots this season. He pitched the final inning of Kyle Gibson's gem Thursday and retired the side in order with two strikeouts. That was the fourth consecutive appearance in which Swarzak didn't allow a run. That's only a 5-inning stretch, so don't give it much weight, but he's only permitted one hit in that span.