Terry Ryan hinted that changes might be on the way just a couple of days ago when he said that he was trying to find the right mix. A week ago today he was quoted in the Pioneer Press:
"You go through these things over the course of a year, but I don't want to downplay it, either; I'd certainly like to correct it sooner rather than later. We'll address issues as we see fit. We'll look at it, evaluate it, and if something needs to be done, we'll do it. ... I need to look at this and break things down and look at alternatives before we decide if we're going to make any changes."
Clearly, Ryan and company came to the same conclusions as we have: changes were due.
We'll get into specifics after the jump, but here's a brief run down:
Francisco Liriano: Moved to the bullpen
P.J. Walters: Recalled from triple-A to take Liriano's start
Danny Valencia: Optioned to triple-A
Darin Mastroianni: Recalled from triple-A
Matt Maloney: Designated for Assignment
After last night's game, making three moves was a sign from the front office that terrible play will not continue to be rewarded by playing time with the big league club. One starting pitcher was demoted, while a reliever and a position player lost their jobs. This isn't just about purging underperforming players, it's a culture change.
Liriano, Walters, and Maloney
Matt Maloney's biggest issue was that he was just too hittable. Batters weren't fooled by anything, and whether the plate appearance resulted in an out or a base runner there was always a common theme: the battles were always brief. Hitters facing the lefty saw just 2.8 pitches per plate appearance, and their eagerness to put a swing on a ball was rewarded.
With Liriano taking his spot, ideally the bullpen just became a whole lot better. Hopefully facing just a few hitters in each appearance will help him focus, and being able to let himself fly should net him some confidence because, as we know, the stuff is there. He'll also have opportunities to work three or four times a week, which gives him less time to think. If he gets his mechanics right, the rest will take care of itself. Including his confidence in his own abilities.
P.J. Walters is one of the two remaining starters in Rochester who had pitched well enough to merit consideration for a callup. He'd struck out 25 in 33.1 innings, allowing 33 hits and walking six for a 2.70 ERA. His splits are quite large (.192 opponent average for right-handed hitters, .339 versus left-handed hitters), but because Cole DeVries pitched yesterday it was unlikely he'd be ready for a weekend debut with the Twins.
Valencia and Mastroianni
Danny took the biggest blow in this series of maneuvers. Maloney couldn't be moved to triple-A without first being designated for assignment and Liriano is still with the team, albeit in a different capacity; Valencia was sent a message. In spite of Gardenhire's quotes about having him get a few hits and rebuild some confidence, Valencia was looking more overmatched than Joe Benson when Benson was called up last September.
Valencia's strikeout rates were far too high, he wasn't walking, most of his balls in play were on the ground, and when he got them into the air there just wasn't the power we've become accustomed to seeing. He was swinging and missing on nearly 12% of his cuts, and he was chasing 40% of all pitches out of the zone (Alfonso Soriano territory). He'd chase early (26%, league average 17%), he'd chase with two strikes (47%, league average 36%), and he'd go crazy on non-competitive pitches (34%, league average 18%). He may as well have been sleepwalking.
The arrival of Mastroianni carries with it the question of how his place on the roster will affect any number of other players. Mastro (Maestro? What should we call him?) is largely an outfielder but just recently has been playing second base, so it will be interesting to see how Gardy utilizes his skills considering he wasted no time in calling him exciting. He's stolen 14 bases in 16 attempts between Rochester and New Britain, and combined is batting .283/.341/.345.
Obviously Mastroianni's callup leaves Ben Revere in triple-A, where he will continue to play everyday. In terms of the Twins, it's likely that Erik Komatsu's playing time might be cut into a little bit. Valencia's absence means that third base and second base will be split between Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll, Trevor Plouffe and, probably in some form, Mastroianni. Brian Dozier will continue to see most of the innings at shortstop.
This isn't about finding a combination of players that will win. It's about finding a combination of players who are ready to compete, who are capable of bringing something new to the team, and above all are accountable for their performance. Going back to last season we've mentioned on this site the lack of accountability, how players sometimes appear to be going through the motions.
Hopefully this the start of something new. Changes needed to be made, and the organization made them. It's the beginning of the strong changes many of us here would have liked to have seen made last winter, and was certainly the kind of change I alluded to in my off-season blueprint:
"I know it's ambitious, and that I have seriously messed with the roster, and that so many moves are very easy to do on paper but would need to be handled very differently in real life...because it's impossible to just assume all of these moves and all of these types of moves will work out.
But this is exactly the kind of off-season I think the Twins need if they plan on being a truly competetive team not just in 2012 but beyond."
Kudos to the Twins for recognizing that they needed to start making big changes.