Week in Review: Back in the Swing
Image courtesy of Kelvin Kuo, USA Today
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/7 through Sun, 5/13
Record Last Week: 4-2 (Overall: 17-19)
Run Differential Last Week: +11 (Overall: -17)
Standing: 2nd Place in AL Central (1.5 GB)
Well, Fernando Romero finally allowed his first run as a Twin. But it came in the fifth inning of another sterling performance, in which he went toe-to-toe with fellow rookie Shohei Ohtani (whom Logan Morrison dubbed "probably the best player in the world"), and remains the only one that Romero has surrendered in 16 2/3 innings since his promotion.
The 23-year-old made two starts over the past week and continued to show signs of becoming a rotation mainstay, with his formidable arsenal racking up 15 more strikeouts in 11 frames. Over three starts, Romero has yielded only 11 hits – eight of them singles.
He has issued three walks in each turn and hasn't been terribly efficient, but that's really the only quibble one can muster with regards to Romero's spectacular arrival in the big leagues.
This kid is the real deal.
Also: Stay hot, Eddie Rosario! After a big series in St. Louis (4-for-10 with two doubles), Rosario went hitless on Thursday for just the second time in two weeks. He followed with two home runs on Friday, the second of which sparked a big ninth-inning comeback.
With an elite .559 slugging percentage through 36 games, Rosario's sneaky power has been on display once again here in 2018. Heading into the season, it seemed as though sustaining his offensive dominance would be reliant on continuing his positive K/BB trends, but instead Eddie's been in vintage swing-at-everything mode. He hasn't drawn a walk in May but is batting .385 with an .846 slugging percentage. The man is simply locked in, and finding something he can drive in almost every at-bat.
Eventually he'll cool off and stop obliterating every pitch he fancies. At that point we'll find out if Rosario can re-incorporate some of the disciplinary improvements we saw in the latter portion of 2017. Swinging at more than 40% of pitches outside the zone just won't cut it long-term. But for now, I'm gonna enjoy the hell out of the ride.
Meanwhile, it's nice to see Minnesota's bullpen settling in after a brutal stretch as the team slumped in April.
True, Zack Duke gave up the walk-off hit on Sunday while pitching in a third straight game, but he generally seems to be past his early struggles. Sunday's appearance marked the first in which he's been charged with an earned run since April 7th. He has also allowed only two walks in his past 10 trips to the mound.
Trevor Hildenberger has righted the ship after raising some concerns in April. His lone blemish of the week was a bomb off the bat of Ohtani – hey, it happens – but the right-hander was otherwise nearly flawless in four appearances. He issued two walks on Saturday night, but both were intentional – a tactical gambit by Paul Molitor in extra innings that worked out.
Addison Reed worked three scoreless innings in Anaheim. Ryan Pressly added six more strikeouts in his four appearances; he now sports a 1.61 ERA and 32.6% K-rate this year. Fernando Rodney converted both his save chances against the Angels and hasn't allowed a run in seven appearances since the ninth-inning meltdown in New York. Even 28-year-old journeyman Matt Magill is cruising (four scoreless innings last week) and looks legitimately intriguing.
The Minnesota bullpen is currently firing on all cylinders. That's a relief.
Through his first four starts, Jose Berrios could not have been pitching any better. His control was impeccable. His pitches flashed incredible life. Hitters were consistently either whiffing or making meager contact. Three of his starts were epic gems, the other a somewhat unlucky clunker.
Since then, the right-hander has been nothing short of disastrous, and the mess unfortunately spilled over into this week against the Angels. Berrios fell to 3-4 on Thursday with another gravely disappointing performance, coughing up five runs on seven hits over 5 1/3 innings.
It marked the fourth consecutive start in which Berrios allowed 4+ ER. Last year he never did so more than twice in a row (and only seven times total). Berrios also struck out only two hitters on Thursday – the third straight outing in which he failed to register even three Ks. Last year he struck out fewer than three hitters only three times total in 25 starts with the Twins.
The velocity and spin rates haven't really dropped off, which is mildly encouraging, but at this point it's clear that either something is physically wrong with Berrios, or his mechanics and/or mental approach are out of whack. Hopefully it's the latter, and pitching coach Garvin Alston can help the righty find himself again.
This is purely speculative, but worth noting: On April 18th, Berrios threw his heart out over seven innings against Cleveland in Puerto Rico, a game with tremendous personal significance to him. He hasn't been the same since.
On the same night of Berrios' latest dud, Byron Buxton made his long-awaited return to the field. While the team's eagerness to get Buck back in the fold was understandable, activating him with no rehab stint after a month-long layoff was a dubious decision, and one that has looked ill-advised early on.
Buxton's plate approach was not particularly good before the lengthy absence, and has been completely broken since his return. He went 1-for-11 with five strikeouts during his three games in Anaheim, and while his RBI double in the third inning on Saturday was big, it wasn't exactly a great piece of hitting.
I can't get overly worked up about Buxton's lagging bat, since we've seen him figure things out deeper into the season on multiple occasions (and he still does things like this), but the dream of a full-fledged MVP-caliber campaign is disappearing. I'd settle for another all-around dominant second half, but it's tough to see this coming to fruition before his fractured toe – clearly sapping away some of his speed – completely heals.
Will that happen as he continues to play through the injury?
On Saturday, Trevor May made his first official regular-season appearance since September of 2016, a rehab start with Ft. Myers against Toronto's Single-A affiliate. He understandably had some challenges with control, throwing only 30 of 58 pitches for strikes and issuing three walks over three innings. However, he also struck out five and allowed only a single, reportedly touching 93 with his fastball.
May was beaming the next morning:
With his arm appearing to be in very good shape, May is now on a clear path back toward the major-league roster. Many have wondered what'll happen when Ervin Santana returns to the fold, but he's not slated to make his first rehab start until May 26th so May figures to force a decision much sooner. He is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on May 28th, and is now on track to be very close, if not ready to roll, by that date.
What will the Twins do with him? May has an option, so sending him to Triple-A (or leaving him there, assuming his rehab stint takes him to Rochester) would be in play. It might be the most likely course of action. But he was flashing some of the best stuff on the staff before going down last spring, and his season debut on Saturday was very encouraging.
Chances are they'll want him back on the MLB roster soon after he's ready. Will it be as a starter or reliever?
DOWN ON THE FARM
Plenty of people expected Royce Lewis to receive a bump to High-A around the minor-league All Star break, which arrives shortly after he turns 19 in June. But the young wonder is forcing the issue.
Lewis' bat has gone into hyperdrive here in May, where he's batting .395 for the Kernels. So I guess it's not too surprising that Jeff Johnson, a Cedar Rapids based sportswriter who's plugged into the team, tweeted over the weekend that he hears rumblings of a promotion being imminent for the No. 1 Twins prospect:
That'll bring Lewis one step closer to the majors, but he's still got a ways to go.
In Rochester, MLB-ready starting pitching depth is solidifying. Stephen Gonsalves got knocked around in his third turn at Triple-A but that doesn't take the luster off his supremely impressive first two starts with the Red Wings. Meanwhile, Zack Littell has been brilliant in two starts since joining Rochester, allowing one run on four hits over 12 innings with 14 strikeouts. Aaron Slegers is also excelling with a 2.41 ERA and 1.02 WHIP; he tossed seven innings of one-run ball in his latest turn on Tuesday.
The Twins are brimming with pitching reinforcements, at a time where they suddenly have little need. Of course, we all know that won't last forever.
Speaking of Rochester reinforcements, Alan Busenitz is making a hell of a case for a recall. Since his demotion in late April, Busenitz has allowed no runs and only six hits (all singles) over 7 1/3 innings. He has struck out 13 and walked two. Domination.
The thing is, right now nobody in the Minnesota bullpen is a candidate for removal. It's a little strange to see a Twins pitching staff functioning so well that plainly deserving players are being kept out, but certainly speaks well to the direction Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have this thing moving.
On a down note, we learned this week that 19-year-old shortstop Wander Javier, Twins Daily's No. 6 prospect, would require season-ending surgery for a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. It's a tough setback for a tremendous athlete who appeared poised for a big year. The good news, I guess, is that the Twins have some middle-infield depth in their system with Lewis and Nick Gordon, who is batting .346 at Chattanooga.
Javier should be fully recovered by next spring, at which point he'll still only be 20 years old. Twins Daily member Heezy1323, an orthopaedic surgeon who regularly shares illuminating medical insights here on the site, wrote up an excellent article detailing the specifics of Javier's injury and surgery.
The Mariners return for a day to make up a washed-out game from early April, and then the Twins get to try and replicate last week's whupping of the Cards in their home park. The coming weekend should be a fun one, with the Milwaukee Brewers – and, undoubtedly, hundreds of Wisconsinites – heading to Target Field for a border battle showdown.
MONDAY, 5/14: MARINERS @ TWINS – LHP Wade LeBlanc v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
TUESDAY, 5/15: CARDINALS @ TWINS – RHP Jack Flaherty v. RHP Jose Berrios
WEDNESDAY, 5/16: CARDINALS @ TWINS – RHP Miles Mikolas v. RHP Lance Lynn
FRIDAY, 5/18: BREWERS @ TWINS – RHP Chase Anderson v. RHP Kyle Gibson
SATURDAY, 5/19: BREWERS @ TWINS – LHP Brent Suter v. RHP Fernando Romero
SUNDAY, 5/20: BREWERS @ TWINS – RHP Junior Guerra v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 31 | MIN 6, STL 0: Fernand0 R0mer0!!!!
- Game 32 | MIN 7, STL 1: Five Alive
- Game 33 | LAA 7, MIN 4: What’s Up With Berrios?
- Game 34 | MIN 5, LAA 4: Rally Rosie
- Game 35 | MIN 5, LAA 3: Twins Outlast Angels in Gutsy Victory
- Game 36 | LAA 2, MIN 1: Ohtani Excellent as Angels Walk Off Twins
- Sunday's anticipated matchup between Romero and Ohtani lived up to its billing, with the two rookies dueling admirably. Prior to the game, Cody Christie took a look at some similarities in the recipes these 23-year-olds have utilized to stymy MLB hitters.
- Speaking of recipes, Ted Schwerzler pointed out that Brian Dozier has been relying on a new one in the early going this season.
- Kevin Luckow, who will be providing some St. Paul Saints coverage on TD this summer, published a review of For the Love of the Game, a new documentary telling the independent minor-league team's story. Good read.
- Acknowledging the obvious – that the AL Central is going to be a two-team race – I posed a question for discussion: How good is Cleveland, really?
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