Kevin Slowey is, increasingly, finding himself in a position where strong performances will not only make him a contender for the 2012 rotation, but they'll make him one of the very few easy decisions for the Twins to make. Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing aren't in the pole position, and Francisco Liriano is always going to garner interest from somebody. Right now, I'd consider Slowey Minnesota's third starter for next season behind Scott Baker and Carl Pavano.
Today, Slowey put forward another really good day. Bobby Abreu put an early dent on the board with a first inning solo shot, and it very well could have been the only run he allowed all afternoon if Trevor Plouffe hadn't forgotten how many outs there were in the third inning. But we'll get back to that in a minute.
Kevin was incredibly efficient today, which isn't something you can always say about him. He hit opposition batters with first pitch strikes on 24 of his 28 opportunities (86%), and averaged just 3.4 pitches per plate appearance. And he kept the pressure up, not nitpicking at hitters as two of the first three pitches in a plate appearance went for strikes 82% of the time. Only once, in the seventh, did he allow the leadoff man to reach base.
Back to the third inning, Hank Conger and Erick Aybar had singled with one away. Howie Kendrick was the fourth batter of the inning, and on the first pitch (just the ninth of the inning, to show illustrate how quickly Slowey was inducing at-bat results) grounded sharply to short. As Conger broke for home, Tsuyoshi Nishioka fed the ball to Plouffe...who casually ran across second base for the force and then turned to head to the visiting dugout. At which point he realized he was the only player to do so.
Plouffe may not have gotten Kendrick at first anyway, but he should have taken a shot at it. And he only could have taken a shot at it if he knew how many outs there were. It's his first big mistake in a while that I can remember, which is good, but if he's going to continue to get the playing time we know he deserves he's going to have to stay out of Gardy's doghouse. We all know one way to get into his doghouse, especially this season, is to blow one of the fundamentals of the game.
In the top of the fourth the Twins got on the board, when Joe Mauer turned on a Joel Pineiro "fastball" and dropped it into the right field seats. Mauer's second homer of the year closed the gap to 2-1, but it was the only support Slowey would get.
I can't tell you how great it was to see Mauer turn on an inside pitch and pull it over the wall. His power has been sapped this season because of his legs and general condition, so to see that result, even if it was off Pineiro (who he absolutely owns), was great.
Alex Burnett was charged with a pair of runs in the eighth, although Jim Hoey was the pitcher who allowed the second runner to score, and the Twins didn't have much opportunity to rally following Mauer's fourth inning blast. The team only had four opportunities with runners in scoring position all afternoon, and naturally they were 0-for-4 in those chances.
And so the Twins drop another series, keeping in a tie for the number four overall draft pick with the Mariners, who also can't remember what it's like to win.
- Ben Revere is fast. That bunt single was awesome.
- I really want to like Burnett. I do. He looked really good at New Britain in '09. He hasn't been as good while running in and out of Rochester and Minnesota. I believe he has the ability to be a decent reliever, but he has to find a way to put away hitters. Fewer swinging strikes this season, and each of his four pitches are too easy for Major Leaguers to get good wood onto.
- I'm not even sure what to say about Hoey. He'd strike me out 10 out of 10 times, but he doesn't look like a Major League pitcher. FanGraphs has charted him as throwing five pitches at some point in his career, and none of them come out as positive value.
- Mauer's day, apart from the homer, also included a pair of walks. He's batting .368 in his last ten games, with six RBI, three walks and a pair of strikeouts. I'd still rather shut him down.
Kevin Slowey, Joe Mauer, Ben Revere
Alex Burnett, Jim Hoey, Trevor Plouffe, and the rest of the offense