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By Gordy Jones
I never dreamed that the Twins would have such a dismal start to the 2012 season. I really believed that the squad which headed north after training camp had the ability to play above-.500 ball.
I knew that Francisco Liriano was a head case, and many times I have written that he needs a sports psychologist. He has the raw talent to get tough batters out, but as soon as he gives up a hit or a fielder makes an error, he beats up on himself until he can’t throw a strike. He loses confidence in his good pitches, and then throws either wild or a meatball right down the middle of the plate – offering even a slumping batter a chance for a long ball. That’s if he doesn’t get beaned.
His slider might bounce 20 feet in front of the plate. He seems to sail through an inning or two, and then he freaks out. Rick Anderson is a great coach, but not a psychologist. They spend enough dough on doctors – why not a team shrink?
Many people want Rick’s head, but I don’t know anyone who could’ve made our situation any better. No matter who would have been coaching, Scott Baker would still be out for Tommy John surgery and “Frankie” would still be retiring about the first six batters he faces, then have his meltdown. Rick’s close friend and boss, Ron Gardenhire, would quit if “Andy” were to be fired.
Some fans want Gardy’s job, too. That would not solve any problems. What the Twins need is for Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano to get back on course. They need some livelier bats, and they need a healthy Justin Morneau.
They could also use another pitcher or two. There is a rumor circulating, generated from radio talk shows, that Denard Span could be trade bait for pitching once the market opens up. Struggling big leaguers should fear being demoted, too. It happened to Danny Valencia when he couldn’t get a hit. He was sent to Rochester, and for a second time, Liriano was sent to the pen. There will be more wake-up calls soon.
On the bright side: Joe Mauer has been healthy and continues to play hard after being plagued by illness and injuries in the 2011 season.
Defense has been sharp this year, too. Jamey Carroll has been a welcome addition to the middle infield. Early at training camp, I remember hearing young players talking amongst themselves, questioning why the Twins would sign such an “old guy.” Now they know.
Ryan Doumit adds depth to the Twins’ catching, outfield, first base and strength to the offense. Josh Willingham started strong, cooled off, but will be a steady contributor to the team. And now we get to see some future hopeful stars as they are called up from the minors, such as Brian Dozier and Scott Diamond. I watched them both at training camp, and they both seem very capable at their jobs. I saw Dozier make some dandy plays in the infield and Diamond have some good innings pitching. I also saw Diamond throw a few rough innings, but he is young, that will happen, and it can’t be much worse than what we’ve seen.
Another bright spot: Jason Marquis’s daughter is making a good comeback from being in serious condition after being struck by a car on her bicycle. Something like that is bigger than baseball. I asked Jason how his daughter was doing, and he said, “She is good! The recovery process has been better than expected.”
He anticipated she’d be back in school by the time you read this. Her recovery led to a special night for him. Jason grew up in New York as a Yankee fan, and he got to open his season there, getting a victory with his recovering little girl in the stands, watching.
“That was huge,” he said.”My family and friends were there. It’s always nice going home and pitching in front of those who have supported you. I had 50 or 60 people there, they had my back; they’ve had my back for years. It wasn’t really about beating the Yankees; it was about pitching in that stadium, where I went as a kid for so long.”
The late Harmon Killebrew’s wife, Nita Killebrew, was in town recently to present a check for $350,000 to the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota before a Twins game. The money was raised through events put on by the Killebrew Foundation, especially the Killebrew-Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament.
She wanted me to remind everyone that this year’s events will be a dinner on June 27 and golf on June 28. She then looked at me with a bittersweet smile and said, “We’re having the golf outing the day before Harmon’s birthday.”
For more information, go to www.harmonkillebrewfoundation.org.