Wetmore: 5 thoughts, lineup oddities, Plouffe's hustle, college arms
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Kurt Suzuki realized part way through Friday's game that something wasn't quite right with Phil Hughes. The Twins best starter was getting ahead with his fastball and using his cutter, but the Astros hit a pair of solo home runs, one in the third and one in the fourth.
"You can live with just the two solo homers through five [innings]," Hughes said.
But a triple, RBI single, and 2-run homer put the Twins in a 5-0 hole. They rallied late but lost, 5-4, in a rare start when Hughes wasn't sharp.
This column presents 5 thoughts from Friday's game.
As always, feel free to 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. The Twins lineup Friday was a head-scratcher. Danny Santana, the shortstop who has primarily played center field with the Twins, served as the designated hitter. Jason Kubel and Josh Willingham occupied the corner outfield spots, severely cutting down the range in the outfield.
If the Twins wanted to play Aaron Hicks and Santana in the same lineup and don't think Santana could play another position, they could put Hicks in right. At least that puts speed in two out of three outfield spots. Manager Ron Gardenhire said they gave consideration to Santana in center and Hicks in right, but went with the outfield of Josh Willingham-Hicks-Kubel instead.
It's very important to cover outfield ground, especially with a fly ball pitcher like Phil Hughes on the mound. Flanking Hicks with two players with limited range doesn't make a lot of sense. The Twins chose that route to get Kubel in the lineup. He struggled to field a Dexter Fowler ground ball in the right field corner that was ruled a triple.
2. Kubel really should not face left-handed pitchers, especially not one as good as Dallas Keuchel. That makes the move to get Kubel into the outfield even more puzzling. Gardenhire said with a smile on his face before the game that Kubel is 2-for-3 with a pair of home runs against Keuchel. That's true, but it's no way to make lineup decisions in the face of overwhelming evidence stacked against Kubel. I believe that Gardenhire knows that.
Kubel in his career against lefties: .234/.306/.372 in 1,007 plate appearances.
Kubel's overall batting line since April 11: .179/.284/.211 with 49 strikeouts and 17 walks. He has three extra-base hits, zero home runs and seven RBIs in that time.
Those numbers don't represent a threat at the plate. He isn't fast enough to be valuable on the bases and his glove takes away value.
3. Kubel's inclusion in Friday's lineup also blocked Josmil Pinto. He hasn't crushed lefties in his career, but he stands more of a chance than Kubel. I acknowledge Pinto has struggled recently, especially behind the plate. But it's his bat that should have Twins fans excited.
4. Trevor Plouffe hustled for a double in the fourth inning, his 22nd of the year. That ties his career-high. He hit a ball to the left-center field gap that might have rolled to the wall with a slower center fielder. But Dexter Fowler cut it off and fired in to second base, with a chance to retire Plouffe.
Plouffe, seeing that Fowler cut it off before the warning track, put his head down as he rounded first and dug for an extra gear. Perhaps he found it, because he slid in safely ahead of the tag.
He had a great chance for extra bases in the eighth inning, too, but Fowler made an absolute gem of a diving catch near the warning track in left-center. Setting a new career-high will have to wait at least one night. If he had reached and scored ahead of the Twins' lone run in the eighth, perhaps they would have tied the score and forced extra innings.
See how important outfield range can be?
5. The Twins completed rounds 3-10 of the MLB First-Year Player Draft on Friday. They loaded up on college relievers with big fastballs.