Dugout Splinters

Taken from this weekend's edition of GameDay.

One Starting Rotation:  Shaken, Stirred

Kyle Lohse is gone; traded.  Scott Baker and Boof Bonser had chances and were generally ineffective.  David Gassner and J.D. Durbin have sustained injuries.  Carlos Silva was under-shooting expectations enough to be temporarily pulled from the rotation.  Matt Guerrier suffered an injury, and even though he's back and is still considered a long reliever, is in no position to go five innings.  Mike Smith couldn't gain the confidence of the organization in his one appearance.

Then, the plague hit southpaw phenom Francisco Liriano.

With a rotation suffering an epidemic ranging from injuries for the unfortunate to ineffectiveness for the merely unlucky, there aren't many options remaining.  Johan Santana is holding down the front of the rotation.  Brad Radke, who turned in his biggest performance of the season on Tuesday against the Tigers, remains.  Carlos Silva has begun to steer his season out of a raging sea toward calmer waters, improving as of late.  Everything else is up for grabs.

Thus begins the Matt Garza era in Minnesota.  A first-round draft pick in just 2005, he comes to the Twins on a rocket.  In April, he was in Fort Myers, Minnesota's A-ball affiliate.  In May, he was promoted to AA New Britain.  Two months later, on July 14, he was with Rochester at AAA.  Now, roughly four months after he began the season in the lower echelons of the farm system, he has reached the top.  Here is how he's done so far in 2006.

Level            W  L   ERA  GS    IP  WHIP    K/9
Fort Myers (A)   5  1  1.42   8  44.1  0.86  10.76
New Britain (AA) 6  2  2.51  10  57.1  0.94  10.67
Rochester (AAA)  3  1  1.85   5  34.0  0.79   8.74
Totals          14  4  1.99  23 135.2  0.88  10.22

At any level, Garza was allowing less than one base runner per inning.  Even at Rochester, he struck out nearly a batter per inning.  Jumping two levels in one season is a big leap, by any measure.  Jumping three levels, two of which are AAA and the majors, is a move reserved for the elite.

You can see that he was promoted for good reason by glancing at those numbers above, but there was reservation about the final jump.  Reports from the organization stated that Garza was relying too much on his fastball.  The worry was that, while a great fastball can get you by most minor league teams, it won't get you by at the top level.  Additionally, the problem wasn't that Garza didn't have more pitches, it was that he just wasn't throwing them as often as the Twins wanted him to.  As late as last week, the Twins insisted they wouldn't be calling him up until he proved he could rely on the rest of his arsenal.  Well...things change in a week.

With a starting rotation in shambles, whether you agree with the decision or not, Garza's needed to help fill out a rotation on the verge of imploding.  His confidence with pitches other than his fastball will become a primary focus.  To succeed he'll need to take advantage of the array of pitches at his disposal.  He may be rushed, but the Twins' postseason hopes may lie (quite literally) in the hands of the 22-year old first-round draft pick.  In a rotation with nothing more to give, unless Baker can regain his April form or Bonser can be more effective, Matt Garza is plainly the last good option left.

Help From Unexpected Places

The success of the Twins since June 8 has been based as much upon over-achievers as it has been based on young studs having breakout seasons.  Certainly, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau deserve all the credit they get, but an offense is run through more than the middle of the order.  Jason Tyner, whose career line is .267/.306/.307 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage), is hitting .316/.362/.327.  Nick Punto's career line is .262/.335/.352, but is posting .313/.403/.418 in his first chance as an everyday player.  Jason Bartlett was a .296/.370/.412 hitter in the minor leagues, but now finds himself hitting the snot out of the ball at .364/.432/.479.

What makes this so appealing to Twins fans (or at least, this Twins fan), is that this success has come in the face of so many defeats and disappointments.  Tony Batista was a failed experiment.  Rondell White hasn't turned out the way anyone wanted him to.  Juan Castro sucked up fifty games, admittedly while the rest of the team sucked it up as well.  On top of this, assistance by career minor-leaguers and backups like Josh Rabe and Mike Redmond has been invaluable.  For the way the first couple months of the season was going, you'd never expect that a turnaround would be aided by offensive contributions of these players.

Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, Luis Castillo, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel all deserve the accolades they've been given for their efforts in the righting of the Twins' ship.  Just don't forget about the role players, the backups and the replacements who have complemented the core and completed the offensive picture.  Without them, the Twins wouldn't be at (or near) the top of the Wild Card standings.  Give a big cheer for Tyner, Bartlett, Punto, Redmond and Rabe when they step to the dish.  They've earned it.

On The Hill

Thursday:  Carlos Silva (8-9, 6.37 ERA)

*    2005:  9-8, 188.1 IP, 71 K, 3.44 ERA

*    2006:  118.2 IP, 1.59 WHIP, 3.72 K/9

*    Silva has two consecutive quality starts under his belt (and three in his last five), which gives reason to hope that his sinker has regained its movement.  If it doesn't sink, look for him to be missing spots and for his fastball to be ineffective.

*    Over his last five starts, his ERA is 4.40.  While it isn't great, it constitutes a drastic improvement in run prevention from earlier portions of the season.

Friday:  Matt Garza (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

*    2005 (between rookie and low-A affiliates):  4-4, 3.59 ERA, 75.2 IP, 89 K, 67 H

*    Garza's call to the Twins is as much out of necessity as it is out of performance.  Look to the right to see more on his impressive 2006.

*    Garza carries a mid-90's fastball, a change and a couple of breaking balls.

*    Being called to The Show within two seasons of being drafted doesn't happen very often.  Not even Joe Mauer did it.

Saturday:  Boof Bonser (2-3, 5.67 ERA)

*    2005 (AAA):  11-9, 160.1 IP, 168 K, 3.99 ERA

*    2006:  39.2 IP, 32 K, 46 H, 10 HR

*    If the Twins had known that Liriano was going down, he probably wouldn't have been sent back to Rochester.

*    He NEEDS a good start.

Sunday: Brad Radke (11-8, 4.65 ERA)

*    2005:  9-12, 200.2 IP, 117 K, 4.04 ERA

*    2006:  143.1 IP, 73 K, 179 H, 28 BB

*    Since May 29, Radke is 7-2 with a 2.87 ERA.

*    Saying he felt "better" during his last start, the arm should still be an issue with the veteran right-hander.  Pitch counts may be monitored closely.  Early on, watch how often and how far the catcher's glove has to move after Radke throws.  This could be an indication as to how he feels.

*    The key to Radke's success is location and changing speed on his pitches.  He has an arsenal of at least five pitches that run the gamut in velocity between 91 and 76 mph.  Changing it up is a must.

EDITORS NOTE:  In the edition of GameDay, Scott Baker is scheduled as Saturday's starter.  With no news by the time copy was due, Baker was my best guess.  Oh well...the notes after the numbers are the same anyway.

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