Tag Archives: Minnesota Twins

Pimping in Twin Cities Sparks Iffy Tiff

Donaldson riled

They showed us what not to do in Minnesota on Wednesday. Then they showed us again … and again.

Oakland’s Josh Donaldson led off the anti-exhibition in the 10th inning by admiring his deep fly ball, which landed just outside the left-field foul pole.

He compounded matters by striking out on the next pitch, a 2-2 slider from Minnesota left-hander Glen Perkins, for the third out of the inning. At the end of his exaggerated follow-through, Donaldson flipped his bat end over end toward the visitors’ dugout, and prepared to take the field. (Watch it here.)

Perhaps Perkins would have tolerated the flip without the foul-ball pimping. Perhaps he would have let the pimping slide without the flip. As it was, he took the time to inform Donaldson exactly how he felt about both ends of the equation, yelling toward the plate as he descended the mound. Donaldson came right back with words of his own, and the benches quickly cleared. No punches were thrown.

“The dude struck me out, pretty good pitch, I flipped my bat and I hear him barking at me,” said Donaldson in an MLB.com report. “I look up and he says something, points his finger. … I don’t feel like I disrespected him at all. I’m out there trying to win a game for our team and he’s trying to win a game for his team. I don’t know what it was all about. I’ve never even spoken to the guy.”

By referencing his own bat flip, it’s pretty clear that Donaldson knows exactly what it was all about. In case there was any question, Perkins put it quickly to rest.

Asked by reporters after the game if Donaldson had admired his foul ball, the pitcher was succinct. “He did—I think everyone saw that,” he said. “He hit it a long way. But I’m strict, too. I’m not big on that.”

It’s unlikely that this will merit further visitation from either of the aggrieved parties, but in case it does, the teams wrap up the series this afternoon.

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Today’s Lesson in Minor League Etiquette: Don’t Pimp if You Play for the Twins

Miguel Sano

Miguel Sano

Regardless of how you feel about baseball’s unwritten rules—and there are many who decry the eye-for-an-eye mentality of retaliatory HBPs—it is difficult to quibble with the sentiment at their core: enforcement of respect on a baseball diamond. Respect for one’s opponents. Respect for one’s teammates. Respect for the game.

In this regard, the Twins are proving to be an exemplary organization.

Big league ballclubs tolerate flashy displays by their players all the time, because picking one’s battles becomes an increasingly relevant pursuit when it comes to emotionally fragile superstars who are locked into multiyear deals. This leaves it up to the opposition to settle the score. Hence, the aforementioned retaliatory HBPs.

The period before these players reach multimillionaire status, however, presents a fertile time during which to instill appropriate work habits. Which the Twins appear to be doing.

On Tuesday, for example, Miguel Sano, playing for the team’s Double-A club in New Britain, hit a long home run, then watched it, then settled into a glacial home run trot that saw him take 29 seconds to round the bases. He did it against a Portland pitcher, Bobby Lanigan, who had until only recently been his teammate.

It was not the first time that Sano, the third-ranked overall prospect in the minor leagues according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, has encountered such trouble. In April, he hit a grand slam while playing for Single-A Fort Meyers, then overtly flipped his bat. Later in the game, the opposing pitcher threw a fastball at his head in response. Sano reacted to that message with more of the same, homering during the at-bat, then pumping his fist and shouting toward his team’s dugout.

It seems that the Twins have seen enough. Sano was pulled from the game following his display against Portland, and has not seen the field since.

“Just a normal player-development decision,” said Twins farm director Brad Steil in the Pioneer Press. “We have discipline for all sorts of things that we do. This is one of them. He’s not going to play for a few games.”

Critics can decry the concept of retaliatory pitches ad nauseum, but if every organization approached things as proactively as the Twins have handled this situation, there would be far less call for them in the first place.

Update (7/28): After four games, he’s back.

(H/T Hardball Talk.)

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Head-Hunting Season in Texas Earns Immediate Consequences

Juuuuust a bit inside.

The real question after Thursday’s head-hunting and Friday’s suspension in Texas is why?

Not why Twins lefty Scott Diamond was ejected, then suspended for six games. That much was obvious: He threw at Josh Hamilton’s head. (Watch it here.)

No, the lingering uncertainty in the wake of it all concerns Roy Oswalt’s motivation for precipitating the affair with a third-inning fastball into Joe Mauer’s back. There were two outs. It was a 3-0 count. There was a runner on second. There was little question about the intent behind it.

Speculation has the runner, Ben Revere, flashing signs, which could understandably perturb Oswalt. Revere had also been on second when Mauer doubled in the first, which may have set some precedent. If nothing else, Mauer has been noted for his proclivity for this kind of activity.

It’s also possible that Oswalt was settling some unknown grudge, or that, with a base open and a 3-0 count, he was simply releasing a bit of pent-up aggression, happy to face the relatively punchless Ryan Doumit hitting next.

That last option is the least likely of the bunch, but still more plausible than Oswalt’s ultimate explanation, offered up after the game:

For some reason, I can’t keep the ball true on the left side. He’s been beating me away, away, away. I was trying to get him out in and just dropped my elbow. I don’t know the reason why the ball is coming back on the left side of the plate. I can keep it true on the right side. The left side I can’t really keep it true and I dropped my elbow and it kind of sailed on me.

A response from Diamond was expected. He probably would have gotten away with a warning had he been better about his execution. Instead of aiming for Hamilton’s hip, he sent a pitch up around the head, forcing the left-handed hitter to duck. Plate ump Wally Bell didn’t hesitate with his ejection.

“Any time in an umpire’s judgment that they go in the head area, we have to take care of business,” Bell said in a statement. “I felt at the time that he had to be ejected for it.”

Ron Gardenhire, who was also tossed, vigorously disagreed with the lack of warning, but it’s difficult to fault an umpire for tamping down immediately on what could be a very dangerous practice—let alone subsequent retaliatory shots. The league backed Bell up on Friday with its suspension.

Hamilton avoided confrontation by claiming later that he didn’t feel Diamond was throwing at him. Gardenhire said that he hopes it doesn’t carry over.

For a series of actions that made increasingly less sense, it seems a fine way to put an end to all of it. Then again two Rangers were hit in the second inning Friday by Minnesota’s Samuel Deduno in the span of four batters. They were part of six straight baserunners allowed that pushed a 1-0 Texas lead to 5-0, so it could have just been a case of wildness. Then again, Deduno walked only one batter over five innings.

Two more games this weekend. Keep your eyes peeled.

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Filed under Appropriate Retaliation, Retaliation, Scott Diamond

Moderation is a Virtue, Right? Or: Did Bruce Chen Really Throw to First 10 Straight Times?

Yesterday, Bruce Chen threw to first 10 consecutive times in an effort to keep Minnesota’s Denard Span close to the bag. (Watch them all here.) Span never ended up taking off, and Yahoo’s Kevin Kaduk wondered whether there might be an unwritten rule to cover situations like this.

The short answer: Not that I know of. Winning is paramount, and if it makes sense to a pitcher to go nutty in his efforts to keep a runner from stealing, he’s entitled to it. Had it happened in the middle of a blowout, of course—as opposed to the first inning of a scoreless game, as was the case for Chen—then the pitcher would have to field angry questions from his own dugout, as well as that of the opposition.

Because we’re on the topic, here are some unwritten rule incidents involving pickoff throws, which have nothing to do with the frequency of attempts.

  • Former Giants manager Roger Craig would occasionally order an abundance of pickoff attempts to give guys on his bench additional opportunities to decode the other team’s signs. “I had pitchers shake off pickoff moves,” said catcher Bob Brenly, in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. “I had to give [pitchers] the ‘thumb’ sign—Roger called it—to get them to throw the ball over there.”
  • In a 1997 game, the Mets called for extra pickoff attempts when Roger Clemens, then with the Blue Jays, was on second. Their strategy: wear him out on the basepath. Clemens didn’t take long to figure it out, and warned shortstop Rey Ordonez that the next throw to second would put a target on a New York hitter in the ensuing inning.
  • While pickoffs are generally verboten late in blowout games, Dave Righetti felt justified in picking off Brett Butler in the ninth inning of a game in which the Dodgers led the Giants, 12-1. It was the final day of the 1993 season, and although San Francisco had won 103 games, they needed one more win to tie Atlanta atop the NL West. By the ninth inning, it was clear they weren’t going to get it. So when Butler led off the frame with a single, then took an enormous lead, Righetti was particularly sensitive, reading it as an indicator that the runner was about to take off. “A guy has no business running at that point in a game like that, and it ticked me off that he was even thinking about it,” said Righetti. “Well, his lead was so big that I picked him off—but if he had tried to steal second, I would have gone out there and we would have brawled.”  

Fight pre-emption via Code violation. Seems like as good a reason as any.

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How to Make Friends and Influence People (or Not): Umpire Edition

Things got testy for Denard Span Tuesday.

We know already that there are different ways to deal with umpires—some effective, some not so much. We know already that superstars have more leeway in this regard than the average player. And if we didn’t know already that you may as well go ahead and vent once you have nothing left to lose in a game—say, if you’ve just been rung up on three pitches out of the strike zone as your team’s final out in the ninth inning—we learned about it on Monday.

We’ve learned a lot about umpire relations since Monday, in fact. Three examples (at least), in three different situations, with three different kinds of player. Whether these examples set any sort of precedent when it comes to understanding player-umpire relations is less clear than the fact that they were all wildly entertaining, and gave some insight into the psyches of those involved, players and umpires alike.

Start with Monday’s game in San Francisco, in which Roy Halladay walked Aubrey Huff in the fifth inning on an 88 mph cutter with two outs and a runner on first. Trouble was, Halladay didn’t agree that the pitch was a ball. (To his credit, neither pitch-tracking service Brooks Baseball; thanks to Hardball Talk for the link.)  From the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Gelb:

Halladay snatched the throw from Carlos Ruiz and didn’t flinch. His eyes were focused on (Marty) Foster, the home-plate umpire . . . Foster noticed the death stare. He said something to Halladay, who barked back. Then Halladay pointed to make his anger totally clear. It was a brief exchange, one Halladay later claimed was not directed at Foster. But that was the pitcher’s way of being diplomatic.

The result: Five pitches later, Halladay threw another cutter to Brandon Belt, this one well off the plate. It was called a strike, Belt’s third of the at-bat. Inning over.

“His demands had been heard,” wrote Gelb. Halladay had “conquered the umpire.”

Across the country, more balls were being called strikes, including three of Fernando Rodney’s five pitches to Cody Ross, Boston’s final batter in the final frame of a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay.  (See them in another chart from Brooks Baseball, also via Hardball Talk.)

Ross, suffice it to say, was less than pleased, going off later in the Boston Herald about the ignominy of what had just occurred, calling the judgement of plate ump Larry Vanover “unacceptable.”

“If I’m going up there and striking out every at-bat, I’m going to get benched,” he said. “But it’s not that way with (umpires). They can go out there and make bad calls all day, and they’re not going to be held accountable for it.”

Confronting an umpire apparently made a difference for Halladay. The same might be said for Ross (who did it through the press), but not in a way that held any appeal for the player. It could be coincidence, but the following day, three Rangers pitchers struck out a total of 11 Boston hitters—a team high since opening day, when they struck out 13 White Sox—as Texas cruised, 18-3.

On Tuesday in New York, Minnesota’s Denard Span was tossed by plate ump Greg Gibson for arguing balls and strikes. Actually, he was tossed for the fact that he did so in an obvious fashion, swiveling his head backward as he stood in his batting stance to face the ump during the course of the conversation. (See it all here.)

It’s well-known that such a move is widely taken as disrespectful by umpires, and few are willing to tolerate much, if any, of it. This became clear when Span was caught by on-field microphones saying, “I didn’t disrespect you,” shortly before he was tossed.

Said Span in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “It went from Level 1 to “Level 10 in like two seconds.”

“You don’t want to turn on an umpire, to show him up,” said longtime catcher Ron Hassey, discussing the general concept, not Span specifically. “If you’re going to talk, talk straight out. He knows what’s going on. He can hear you.”

Ultimately, what do all these interactions tell us? Unfortunately, not a heck of a lot. Every ump is different, as are players’ relationships with them. Halladay’s ability to stare down an umpire certainly had no bearing on Span’s inability to try to talk sense to one.

None of the three players, of course, had anything on former Yankees pitcher Ryne Duren, long noted for his combination of blazing fastball and lack of control. Jim Bouton recounted in his book, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Personally, the time that Duren walked three straight hitters on 12 neck-high fastballs. Wrote Bouton:

Finally he walked across a run and he stormed up to the home-plate umpire. “Goddammit, where the hell are those pitches?”

“Right up here, Ryne,” the umpire said, pointing to his neck.

“Well, goddammit,” Duren said, “I’ve got to have that pitch.”

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Liriano’s No-Hitter Rife with Unwritten Rules

As you may have heard, Franciso Liriano threw a no-hitter this week. And of course, the Code was involved—because the Code is always involved in no-hitters.

Like many of his no-hit-pitching brethren, the Twins left-hander insisted that he wasn’t even aware that he hadn’t allowed a hit until late in the game. It was only when he became a dugout pariah in the eighth inning, he said, his teammates avoiding him at any cost, that he grokked what was going on.

“When everybody was walking away from me and nobody was talking to me, I was like ‘What’s going on?’ ” he said in USA Today.

(When told that Liriano said he didn’t realize he had a no-hit bid until the eighth inning, Twins catcher Drew Butera said, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “He’s lying. I think they all realize it.”)

* * *

Elsewhere on the field, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire stuck to the unwritten rule mandating ultimate respect for a feat like Liriano’s. Despite the fact the right-hander’s pitch count was at 116 with one out to go, and despite the fact Liriano hadn’t thrown more than 97 pitches in a game this season, and despite the fact that he had never thrown a complete game in more than 200 professional starts, and most of all despite the fact that the winning run was at the plate in a 1-0 game and Liriano was clearly tiring, Gardenhire left him in.

“I wasn’t walking out there to the mound, I’ll tell you that,” he said in the Star Tribune. “He looked like he was doing fine. It was cool night. It was his ballgame the whole way.”

Asked if he was prepared to stick with Liriano all the way, Gardenhire said: “How far is all the way? He can only load the bases and then probably something’s gotta happen.”

Gardenhire didn’t show nearly that much restraint last season, when he pulled Kevin Slowey from a game in which he had similarly given up no hits. The difference: Slowey was battling an elbow so sore that he had missed his previous start, and after seven innings had already thrown more than Garendhire was comfortable seeing. Eight days later, Rangers manager Ron Washington did something similar with Rich Harden.

Also last year, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he was ready to pull C.C. Sabathia from his early-season start even before he gave up his first hit of the game, in the eighth inning.

The standard-keeper for yanking pitchers from the midst of perfection is Preston Gomez, who did it twice, with two different teams. If nothing else, the guy was clearly a man of conviction.

* * *

One more Code-based moment occurred during Liriano’s gem, when umpire Paul Emmel ruled that Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau tagged Chicago’s Gordon Beckham as the White Sox second baseman raced by him in an effort to beat out a double-play grounder.

Had Morneau tagged him? Of course not. Did he sell it as if he had? Of course he did. That’s what ballplayers do. If the game is willing to tolerate the great lengths to which players will go to gain an advantage—bat corking and ball scuffing and sign stealing and etc.—it’d be a tall order to expect a player to give up a free out granted him by an unsuspecting umpire.

It’s why diving outfielders act as if they’ve caught balls that they know they trapped, why hitters facing three-ball counts will sometimes lean toward first after the next pitch, trying to influence ball four even if they felt it was a strike.

It’s all part of baseball. Now enjoy that no-hitter.

- Jason

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Filed under Francisco Liriano, Gamesmanship, No-Hitter Etiquette, Ron Gardenhire

It’s Been a Bad Week for Takeout Slides, at Least as far as Middle Infielders are Concerned

How much is too much, and when is enough when it comes to takeout slides? These questions were asked multiple times and with no firm answer in Houston and New York last week.

Start with Bill Hall. Was flying into Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez on a play at second base, as the Astros second baeman did Friday, too much? It was certainly aggressive. Ramirez, firmly planted behind and to the left of second base as he attempted to turn a double-play, provided a stationary target as Hall went out of his way to take him out. (Watch it here.)

That, however, is what players are taught to do—interrupt the fielder at any cost, so long as it’s clean. And Hall’s slide was clean, if a touch late. He went in feet first and spikes down, with one clear purpose: prevent the double-play. That he went out of his way—but not too far out of his way—to do it falls well within the definition of getting the job done.

“Clean play? Dirty play? That’s hard to tell unless it’s very obvious,” said Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez in the Palm Beach Post. “He came hard but he was in range. He was touching the base. That’s the way he plays and that’s the way it should be—play hard.”

Hall ended up going shin-to-shin with Ramirez, knocking them both down for several minutes. Hall returned to the game; Ramirez sat out until Tuesday.

A day prior, Nick Swisher of the New York Yankees took out Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka in a similar play, with far graver consequences. Swisher’s slide—like Hall’s, off the base and intended to break up the double-play—broke the second baseman’s fibula, just six games into his big league career. (Watch it here.)

The reason both infielders were hurt is that neither of them jumped. Ramirez fielded the throw in an awkward place coming from the shortstop position and had to adjust; Nishioka might simply never have learned any difference.

Twins broadcaster Dan Gladden, who spent a year playing in Japan (winning the Japan Series with the Yomiuri Giants in 1994), was quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune talking about the dearth of such tactics in that country.

“When I got over there I told them, ‘I don’t slide to the bag. We are taught to break up double plays,’ ” he said. “The coach told me, ‘We expect the Americans to play that way.’ “

Swisher went so far as to visit Nishioka in the X-ray room at Yankee Stadium to offer a personal apology for the inadvertent injury. Nishioka told him there was no apology necessary. And that was it. No retaliatory strikes the following day. No bad blood resulting from a hard, clean play.

The same can not be said for the Marlins. Ramirez was injured far less severely than Nishioka, but despite the fact that he publicly exonerated Hall—“My opinion is he was trying to break up a double play,” he said in the Post. “He told [Marlins infielder Greg] Dobbs that he was sorry but … he was trying to do his job.”—his teammates clearly had a score to settle.

Saturday’s game was too consistently close to consider a retaliatory strike, but on Sunday, with a 6-1 lead in the seventh inning, Edward Mujica drilled Hall in the hip. The intent was clear; Mujica has hit only three guys over the course of his six-year career and walks almost nobody. His control is exquisite. He was quickly ejected.

Ramirez being the face of his franchise certainly had something to do with it. The fact that he has a history of calling out Marlins pitchers for lack of retaliatory response may also have factored in. (Then again, Mujica was with San Diego during that particular tirade, and may have been entirely ignorant of it.)

Had Hall been out of line with his slide, with a barrel roll or some other questionable tactic—in other words, had he deserved the response—it might have ended there. As it was, Houston reliever Anuery Rodriguez stood up for his guy by plunking Gaby Sanchez in the ninth. This one was easy to see coming; Rodriguez is a rookie with a double-digit ERA. His performance on the field is not winning much respect from his teammates, so he felt the need to earn it in a different capacity. He, too, was ejected. (Watch both ejections here.)

The Marlins and Astros meet once more this season, in July. There’s no reason for renewed hostilities at that point—but then again there rarely is. Stay tuned.

- Jason

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Filed under Bill Hall, Nick Swisher, Slide properly, Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Pulling Slowey Nothing to Get Worked Up Over

It was a big deal Sunday, in a novelty kind of way, when Ron Gardenhire pulled Kevin Slowey from his start, despite the fact that his pitcher had not given up a hit to the A’s.

By almost all counts, it was the correct thing to do. It was Slowey’s first start since being skipped in the rotation due to elbow soreness, and he was on a short leash from the outset. He had thrown 106 pitches when he was pulled.

Some decry the concept of pitch counts in the modern game, but Slowey’s removal was not without precedent.

In 1997, Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cordova was lifted after 121 pitches and nine innings of no-hit ball against the Astros; reliever Ricardo Rincon worked one hitless frame and the Pirates won it in the 10th.

In the first combined no-hitter in National League history, Atlanta’s Kent Mercker was pulled after six innings in a 1991 game. It was just his second start of the year, after 44 relief appearances, most of which lasted just a single inning and none of which stretched beyond two. (Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena combined to shut down the Padres over the final three frames.)

Pitchers have been pulled from no-hitters because it’s early in the season (Anaheim’s Mark Langston was allowed only seven innings and 98 pitches against the Mariners in his first start of the 1991 campaign, which was reasonable after he got in only 16 innings of spring training work due to a lockout) and late (A’s pitcher Vida Blue threw five frames of no-hit ball against the Angels on the final day of the 1975 season before being removed to stay fresh for the playoffs.)

Then there was San Diego’s Clay Kirby, who was pulled from his 1970 no-hitter by manager Preston Gomez for a pinch hitter, because the Padres were losing and needed an offensive boost.

Gardenhire is in good company. If anyone still doubts his strategy, the bottom line is this: Slowey is still healthy enough to give it another go in his next start, and that counts more than anything.

- Jason

- Jason

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Filed under Kevin Slowey, No-Hitter Etiquette, Ron Gardenhire