Four Thoughts From Port Charlotte
The Twins made the short trip up to Port Charlotte Thursday night to take on the Rays. Scott Diamond, making his case for the fifth spot in the rotation, faced the same team that effectively knocked Vance Worley out of the running two nights earlier.
The Twins fell 5-4, their third loss in three tries since I arrived in Florida on Monday. There were a few interesting tidbits to be gleaned from the contest so let's dive in.
* Diamond looked quite good through the first four innings. He was attacking the lower part of the zone and inducing tons of ground balls -- exactly what the Twins are looking for from him.
Then, in the fifth, he lost his command, walking three batters to load the bases before Ron Gardenhire removed him with one out. Brian Duensing entered in relief and allowed all three runs to score, inflating Diamond's spring ERA to 5.79.
Was stamina the issue? That would be troubling. Between Diamond, Worley, Samuel Deduno and Kyle Gibson, only Gibson has completed five innings in a spring start. We're 10 days away from the season opener.
* Tropicana Field, the Rays' regular-season home, is widely viewed as one of the worst stadiums in the majors, but I found no reason to complain about their spring training venue. Charlotte Sports Park is a small but charming facility, offering intimate views from all around the field.
Following the walkway beyond the outfield walls, you can look over the railing on one side for a close view of the bullpens, and on the other side to find a nice scenic pond.
The park also hosts the organization's High-A affiliate and is less than an hour and a half away from Tampa. Pretty cool setup for Rays fans.
* The Twins offense looked stagnant again on Thursday, failing to score for the first seven innings before finally breaking out with a few RBI singles against Jake Odorizzi in the eighth and ninth. It was the third straight day we've seen the Minnesota lineup struggle to put anything together.
Gardenhire seems exasperated. Although the ride to Port Charlotte isn't a long one (certainly compared to Jupiter) it's rare to see a manager take so many projected regulars on a bus trip.
He's playing around with his lineup and in this game he tried out Kurt Suzuki in the No. 2 spot. That's an uninspired choice (Suzuki has a .282 OBP over the last two years) but it's not like Gardy has a lot of options at this point.
* One bright spot in the game offensively was Aaron Hicks, who went 4-for-4. In his first at-bat he cranked a liner over Desmond Jennings' head in center and would have had a double if he hadn't slipped rounding first. In his next at-bat he got his double, sending a one-hopper over the wall down the left field line.
Both knocks came from the right side, where his swing has always looked quite a bit better. He did add two more singles from the left side.
Hicks is now hitting .375 this spring, so based on performance he's blowing away Alex Presley (.161). Of course, Hicks also hit .370 last spring.
One approach that Gardenhire might consider in center, early on, is a timeshare of sorts. Give Hicks all the starts against lefties while getting Presley into the lineup frequently versus righties, against whom he's much stronger. As the season progresses, and Hicks (hopefully) hits and gains confidence, transition him more and more into a full-time role.