Twins already face major issues behind the plate

Updated: April 7, 2009

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Joe Mauer will be watching to see whether other Twins can handle the catching duties while he's out.

HANDLING THE TWINS' CATCHING ISSUES

I think the Twins definitely have concerns this season, and the biggest concern right now is who will be healthy enough to handle the pitchers from the catcher position. Mike Redmond tweaked his groin in Monday's season opener, and the Twins are uncertain of his status.

Joe Mauer is out indefinitely, so the Twins could possibly have to turn to a minor league catcher to handle their starting rotation. Minnesota has always found a way to plug in a replacement, then watch that player make a great run. Last year, it was Denard Span in the outfield. We've seen the Twins do it in the infield, as well, with Nick Punto, who played all over before becoming the regular shortstop.

However, I've never seen the Twins have such uncertainty with their catching. Not only are the Twins without one of their top bats in Mauer but if Redmond is out for any time, they are without an experienced guy who can handle pitchers at the major league level.

Not having someone with experience -- big league experience -- back there would add significant challenges to a club that is lacking in power and has to "scratch and claw" for runs. That said, the Twins always find a way to stay competitive in the American League Central. If the injuries to Mauer and Redmond force the club to be without them for significant time, we will see how one of the top minor league systems in baseball handles coming up with a suitable replacement behind the plate.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 6 | April 5 | April 2 | April 1 | March 31

BEST OF THE BLOGS

Each day, ESPN.com's contributors offer a wide array of thoughts and analysis in their blogs. Buster Olney jots down his early thoughts from the opening of the baseball season:

Bliss could be described thusly: Opening Day, a television, and a whole bunch of games beginning at about 1:15 Eastern time and going on past midnight, a long day of first impressions.

1. Francisco Rodriguez doesn't throw as hard as he used to, and although he is still just 27 years old, he has already reached the stage of his career when his breaking ball sets up his fastball, rather than the other way around. Despite hand-numbing temperatures in the high 30s in Cincinnati on Monday, his first pitch was some kind of breaking ball at 75 mph, to Jay Bruce, and then he threw another breaking ball, and another.

And with the Reds' hitters looking for his breaking stuff, he mixed in just three fastballs among his 10 pitches -- one at 91 mph and two others at 93 mph -- though he might as well have been throwing 110 mph because of his ability to throw his breaking ball for strikes.

This makes him very, very unusual among closers. Mariano Rivera still relies on his cut fastball, which has ranged in velocity from 90 to 95 mph in his career. Billy Wagner's fastball was his primary weapon, often hitting 100 mph. Trevor Hoffman doesn't throw hard, but uses his fastball to set up his devastating changeup. Brad Lidge might be the most similar to K-Rod among current closers because of how devastating his slider is.

K-Rod is a master of the breaking ball who complements his benders with his fastball, and, like Rivera and Hoffman, he has enormous competitive arrogance -- a good thing -- that seeps out every time he pitches. He dispatched the Reds with a weak grounder, a pop-up and a strikeout, a great first day for the Mets' most important offseason acquisition.

The Mets' bullpen closed the door for Johan Santana, as Adam Rubin writes. K-Rod gave the Mets everything they wanted, writes Ken Davidoff.

2. It felt like Jake Peavy was taking on the Dodgers all by himself in the Padres' season opener, and when he didn't dominate, they didn't win. And it feels like it's only a matter of time before he winds up in a Cubs uniform. The possibility of a future trade hovered over the Padres' ace, as Tim Sullivan writes.

3. Felix Hernandez is beginning to take on the look of Josh Beckett, Roy Halladay or Johan Santana in terms of how he controls the game; it's beginning to feel like the hitters' best chances -- and perhaps only chances -- will occur when and if King Felix makes a mistake. He dominated the Twins on Monday, while pitching through an ankle tweak, as Steve Kelley writes.

Ken Griffey Jr. had a great moment, slamming a home run in his return to the Mariners, as Geoff Baker writes. The Mariners' manager got a postgame beer shower. For the rest of this entry from Buster Olney's blog, click here.


Jayson Stark offers another reminder that what happened last year no longer matters:

Last year never feels more like ancient history than it does on Opening Day. Just consider the stuff that already has happened this year that never happened all last season:

First off, CC Sabathia is a category in this blog all to himself. Sabathia allowed 13 baserunners on Opening Day -- and had zero strikeouts. Not only did he have no games like that last season, he hadn't had a 13-baserunner, zero-strikeout game in any of his previous 124 starts, dating back to the only other 13/0 game of his career -- on May 5, 2005, against the Twins.

This was Sabathia's 255th start in the big leagues. As The New York Times' Tyler Kepner tells us, never once, in Sabathia's previous 254 starts for the Indians or Brewers, had he thrown two wild pitches in an inning. He then ripped off two WPs in his first inning as a Yankee.

Then there's Cliff Lee. He made 31 starts last season and never gave up seven runs in any of them. So of course, he allowed seven in his first start this season -- more than he gave up in his first seven starts combined in 2008.

Not coincidentally, the Indians lost on Opening Day, 9-1. They never lost any game Lee started last season by more than five runs -- and never lost a nine-inning game he started by more than two runs.

That sweet-swinging Cesar Izturis didn't hit a home run in his home park in any game he played for his past two teams, the Cardinals and Pirates. But naturally, he went deep in his first game at Camden Yards as an Oriole.

For the rest of this entry from Jayson Stark's blog, click here.


Rob Neyer, in his new blog "SweetSpot," laments Royals reliever Kyle Farnsworth's efforts in Kansas City's season opener against the White Sox:

Last year, Kyle Farnsworth gave up 15 home runs in 60 innings. In his career, Farnsworth has allowed a .441 slugging percentage to left-handed hitters.

Jim Thome is a left-handed hitter with 541 career home runs.

Over the past three seasons, Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field has been the most homer-prone ballpark in the American League, both generally and for left-handed hitters specifically.

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and two White Sox on base, the Royals held a 2-1 lead. Thome was coming up. If there's a single pitcher in the majors who shouldn't be facing Thome in that situation, it just might be Farnsworth.

Yet, face him he did. Threw Thome a fastball down the middle, he did. Gave up a long, three-run, (eventually) game-losing home run, he also did.

And Royals manager Trey Hillman? He sat on his hands and watched it happen. That's what he did.

For the rest of this entry from Rob Neyer's blog, click here.


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BBTN ON THE AIR: WEDNESDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analyst: John Kruk, Steve Phillips, Eduardo Perez
1:30 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analyst: John Kruk, Steve Phillips, Eduardo Perez

BBTN MINUTE: WHY ARE THE PHILLIES STRUGGLING?

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Insider Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
Soriano
ChC
2HouHawkinsTop 8: 0-2, 1 Outs. None on.
Sanchez
Pit
1StLLohseTop 6: 2-1, 0 Outs. 1 on.
Molina
StL
1PitVealBot 5: 2-0, 0 Outs. None on.
Inge
Det
2TorRyanTop 9: 0-0, 1 Outs. None on.
Kearns
Was
1FlaNunezTop 8: 1-2, 2 Outs. 1 on.

The complete list of Tuesday's homers

TUESDAY'S WEB GEMS

BASEBALL TONIGHT MAILBAG

Inside EdgeHave a question for one of our analysts? Ever wonder what it's like behind the scenes at "Baseball Tonight"? Curious about a player or a team or an executive?

Well, ask away here, at the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse mailbag. Each week, our experts will answer your questions.

TUESDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Ubaldo Jimenez• Doesn't happen all that often, but a Colorado pitcher takes honors. Ubaldo Jimenez was dominant Tuesday, pitching seven shutout innings in a 3-0 win over the Diamondbacks. Jimenez scattered four hits and struck out eight in his 107-pitch outing.
WORST
Carlos Pena• Talk about awful ways to start a year. Carlos Pena opened the season by going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the Rays' 5-3 loss against the Red Sox. Sure, Boston started ace Josh Beckett … and it was the first game … but still.

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at two rough nights from a pair of AL Central relievers. The Royals' Kyle Farnsworth served up a three-run, eighth-inning homer to Jim Thome in a 4-2 loss. Brandon Lyon did the same as the Tigers coughed one away against the Blue Jays.

Relief issues
Farnsworth Lyon
2008 IP per HR 4.0 8.5
BA against .299 .301
SLG against .547 .458

HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT: BECKETT DOMINANT

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Reigning NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum had a rough start to his 2009 season. It took Lincecum 78 pitches to get through three innings Tuesday against the Brewers, making the Giants' bullpen work extra in Game 1. Lincecum didn't throw strikes early or often, which lengthened at-bats and made it a short night on the mound.

Tim Lincecum
2008 2009
1st-pitch strike pct. 58 35
Strike pct. of fastballs 65 52
Pct. of PA that go to 3 balls 21 47
1st batter of inning out pct. 67 0

-- ESPN Stats and Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF WEDNESDAY'S GAMES

Tristan H. Cockcroft examines the 15 games on Wednesday's slate.

Fantasy Cockcroft ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Wednesday. Daily Notes

ESPN INSIDER

Insider Ever come up with a scenario in which the Pirates or Astros made the World Series? Well, BP Daily did, too. Check it out. BP Daily

For more, check out ESPN Insider.