Monday, August 16, 2010

No Hitter Chance Wrongly Taken From Twins Pitcher Kevin Slowey

Kevin Slowey was pulled from last Sunday’s game against the Oakland A’s after pitching 7 innings of no-hit baseball. I know all the excuses for why he was pulled – he missed his last start due to elbow soreness; he was at 106 pitches at a time when 100 pitches is considered the limit for today’s pitchers; the Twins are in a pennant race and need him healthy. I also know he should never have been pulled.

Kevin Slowey had a chance at greatness snatched away from him. Slowey is a marginal, fly ball, pitcher who has been lucky enough to pitch in pitcher friendly home ballparks. Slowey has never made it through a whole season unjured. Slowey will not be a in the Twins post-season rotation. Had Slowey been hurt, Nick Blackburn would easily have replaced him. Soon prospects Kyle Gibosn and Dave Bromberg will be ready to replace Slowey permanently.

The last pitcher to be pulled after 7 innings of no-hit pitching was Atlanta Brave Damian Moss in 2002. His manager, Bobby Cox, said that he pulled Moss because Moss was over 100 pitches and he, Cox wanted to protect Moss’ arm. Cox said roughly the same thing Ron Gardenhire said about Slowey – “this young man has a bright future ahead of him, I won’t ruin it by letting him go 120-130 pitches.” Cox like Gardenhire was wrong. Moss had no bright future and after 2004, Moss was out of the majors having accomplished little or nothing.

Most major pitchers don’t last long in the big leagues. For every Greg Maddux who lasts 15-20 years there are hundreds of Damian Moss’s who seem to have bright futures only to disappear quickly and not be remembered.

Maybe Kevin Slowey gives up a hit in the eight or ninth inning, maybe he does not. Kevin Slowey deserved the right to try. Years from now Kevin Slowey will look back at August 15, 2010 and realize he had a chance at being immortalized. Instead he will be nothing more than a minor footnote rarely if ever mentioned.

I cannot tell you the number of times I have been in alumni autograph line at Twinsfest or the Twins Autograph party and some younger individual (and more people are getting younger than me all the time) asks me who the alumni player is. Most the time all I can answer was that the individual was a former Twin who played between such and such a year. The person almost always asks if that player ever doing anything great. My answer is usually no because most players were just average players, not Hall of Famers, MVP’s, CY Young winners, or people who achieved great feats.

On September 1999 another pitcher with a bright future threw 125 pitches in 9 inning game. His manager Tom Kelly did not pull him when he hit 100 pitches. Eric Milton’s career never panned out the way it was suppose to, but he did pitch a no-hitter for the Twins that day. Whenever he goes now Eric Milton can say when asked about his career – “I pitched a no-hitter in 1999” and people will likely respond – “Wow! That’s amazing! What was it like to be able to do something remembered for all-time?”

Kevin Slowey will never be able to answer that question. He had the chance to do something that will be remembered for all-time. It was snatched away from him in the name of protecting a bright future he likely does not have.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Twins Future is Now

It is indeed rare that a baseball team has 1 let alone 2 or 3 franchise players on their roster at the same time. When they do they need to take advantage of these players presence and bid for title.

 Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew was the Twins first franchise player. He was at this peak from 1961-1971. In 1964 another franchise type player Tony Olivia arrived and played at an All-Star from 64-71.

In 1965 shortstop Zolio Versalles had a MVP year and along with Killebrew, Olivia, and All-Star performers Jim “Mudcat” Grant, and Earl Battey the Twins went to the World Series. They lost.

In 1967 the Twins third franchise player Rod Carew joined Killebrew and Olivia and the Twins came within a game of going back to the World Series. In 1969 & 70 Killebrew, Carew, and Olivia lead the Twins to division titles. Pitcher Jim Perry won 20 games both seasons winning the CY Young in 1970. The Twins lost both American League Championship series 3 games to none.

After 71 Killebrew and Olivia career went downhill and the window of opportunity for a championship was gone.

In 1984 the Twins fourth franchise player Kirby Puckett arrived. Along with All-Star level players Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, and soon to be Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, Puckett seemed poised to lead the Twins into a window of opportunity to bid for that elusive World Series title.

However then Twins General Manager Andy MacPhail knew the Twins needed a strong bullpen closer if they were to compete for a title. He acquired Jeff Reardon who then went on to help Puckett and the Twins win the 1987 World Series.

In 1991 with Puckett still at the top of his game, MacPhail was able to sign free agents Jack Morris and Chili Davis to be the Twins #1 starting pitcher and DH. Again the Twins were able to win the World Series.

But the 1993 season started a string of 8 consecutive losing seasons, and Kirby Puckett’s time as a franchise player came to an unexpected end in 1995 due to injury.

I write this because in 2010 the Twins have 2 franchise players on their roster in Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Morneau is signed through 2013 which by then he will 32 and Mauer 30. The opportunity for the title is now. The next couple of years will see Mauer and Morneau at the top of their games. The Twins do not seem to have another Mauer or Morneau in waiting in the minors.

However, franchise players need help to win. That’s why baseball is called a “team” game. Like 1987 & 1991 the Twins have made moves that signal this organization thinks the future is now. Now is their chance to win it all. Trading for J.J. Hardy, signing free agents Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson, and retaining Carl Pavano were all signs the Twins thought 2010 could be their year.

Another sign is the Twins trading highly rated catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington for reliever Matt Capps last week. The move was not a usual Twins move. They don’t trade highly regarded prospects away. They believe in preparing for the future.

Of course the future for Ramos was not so certain. He is a catcher in an organization which employs the best catcher in baseball in Joe Mauer. Ramos has had a history of injury. He has also had a history of showing great defense and tremendous power. Ramos looks like he could be a star. He could also be a dud.

Capps has already shown who he is -a reliever with a 92-94 mph fastball and a good curve ball who’s closed games effectively for 2 of the worst teams (Pittsburgh & Washington) in baseball. One of the things that separate Ron Davis one of the worse closer in Twins history from Jeff Reardon one of the best closers in Twins history was not their pitching ability, it was ability to maintain their composure and confidence after a bad outings. Good closers need a good makeup to thrive. Reports say Capps has a good makeup. We shall see.

The Twins need Matt Capps to thrive. Their bullpen has been shaky of late. Jon Rauch has been an effective closer, but is needed in a setup role. Capps give the Twins bullpen depth not only for this year, but for next year when Rauch, Matt Guerrier, and Jesse Crain might leave because they are free agent after this season and Joe Nathan’s return from injury is questionable. Matt Capps will contribute, but will it be enough to help win the World Series?

Harmon Killebrew, and Tony Olivia never won a World Series. Rod Carew never got to one. Kirby Puckett has won 2 World Series and his legacy is enhanced because of it. What will Mauer & Morneau’s legacy be? The Twins look like they are trying to be make sure it a legacy of a World Series Championship team.