I began a weight-loss program on January 11, 2006 and ended up shedding 90 pounds in one year, which was a tremendous feeling. Unfortunately, over the past six months or so I've gradually packed some of that weight back on, although I'm nowhere near my "peak" weight. With that said, after noticing recently that my clothes have gotten snug and watching myself on the NBCSports.com videos that were shot last week, it's clear that getting back on the weight-loss program is a good idea.
A big part of what motivated me to drop the original 90 pounds was frequently updating my status here via the Fat-O-Meter on the left-hand sidebar, because tracking my progress publicly forced me to stick with the program. On some level losing a huge amount of weight only to gain a chunk of it back might be an even worse feeling than being fat to begin with, so I'm hoping that reinstating the Fat-O-Meter will get me back on track.
Past experience has proven to me that I need to go "cold turkey" in order for a diet to work and I'm going out to dinner Monday night to celebrate my grandfather's birthday, so the second weight-loss effort will officially begin with a clean slate Tuesday. I'm aware that many of you have zero interest in my weight, so there won't be many in-depth status updates. However, a shocking number of you were legitimately interested in my progress the first time around, so I'll be updating the Fat-O-Meter daily.
Along with the Fat-O-Meter starting up again, I'll have an announcement next week about my joining a local media outlet. One hint: I'm not replacing Sid Hartman at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
If the thought of Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Keeley Hazell starring in a video version of those "choose your own adventure" books sounds like it has the potential to be the single best thing in the history of the world, you'll want to click here. And if not, we can't be friends any longer.
Asked recently about the oft-stated conventional wisdom that "clubhouse chemistry" is very important to a team's success, Tigers manager Jim Leyland had an amusing response:
All that is so far overrated. The worst word ever used is "chemistry." That's something you take in school. That's a class you take.
When a 65-year-old, chain-smoking baseball lifer and a 25-year-old, laptop-toting baseball blogger can agree on something, anything is possible.
Speaking of clubhouse chemistry, ESPN.com had some funny video of Michael Cuddyer performing a magic trick on Denard Span:
My favorite part is the schoolgirl-like giggling that's followed by a disgusted Span throwing the card at Cuddyer as Kevin Slowey looks on.
On a related note, remember Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan's odd infatuation with poultry? Not only has his poultry fetish returned, Shecky is re-using his poultry material. Back in May, after quipping that something was "as fashionable these days as cell phones the size of Cornish hens," Souhan wrote that Geoff Jenkins had "holes in his swing the size of Butterball turkeys." Amazingly, earlier this month he describedBoof Bonser as having lost "the equivalent of two Butterball turkeys."
Guess what? I've got a fever! And the only prescription ... is more Butterball!
I'm not sure how Jessica Biel expects to make a run at the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com title if she keeps going out in public looking like this.
As if "Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com" and "LEN3" weren't enough, LaVelle E. Neal III provided a fantastic new nickname for himself (and fellow Star Tribune writer Joe Christensen) over at his blog:
Joe C. is, once again, on Alligator Alley and headed to today's Twins-Orioles matchup in Fort Lauderdale. Mrs. Joe C. is with him, so, for the first time all spring, I'll have the Strib compound to myself.
I'm not saying that I'm sloppy, but there's a little bit of a Felix Unger-Oscar Madison dynamic to our living approaches. But that's O.K. Joe has made it easy for me to keep things tidy. For example, he's placed post-it notes on the wall above two garbage cans. One reads, 'trash,' and the other, 'recycling.' Joe, I don't know what my life would be like without you ...
"The Felix and Oscar of Twins reporters" definitely needs to stick. Also, after reading that I can't help but picture the scene at the Star Tribune "compound" as being eerily similar to Rob & Big on MTV, except with slightly fewer skateboards and Patrick Reusseplaying the role of Drama.
You'll find no bigger Adam Carolla fan than me, although having to sit through the execrable Dancing With the Starsjust to watch him has been a low point in my fandom. The good news is that he'll likely be booted off the show within weeks and has already provided at least one amusing moment.
After some gentle nudging by the NBC Sports public-relations department, I've finally decided to set aside my phobia and agreed to do some phone-in radio interviews, including a segment on St. Louis legendRon Jacober's show this weekend. I'm hoping that the call-ins are either exceptionally good or complete disasters, because anything in between would probably just mean that I'll have to keep doing them while remaining incredibly nervous.
UPDATE: For better or worse, the bookings keep rolling in. I'm also going to be on "The Ticket" in Miami tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. central time, talking with Craig Mish.
Last week I traveled to the NBCSports.com offices in Connecticut to shoot a bunch of videos, including position-by-position season previews that are now available for mass consumption. The shows are heavily geared toward fantasy baseball, but for those of you who aren't into that many of the positional breakdowns also include some Twins-related talk. Plus, it's probably worth watching the videos just to see the ongoing "man crush" segment go from innocuously fun to uncomfortably homo erotic.
Home-wrecker Gregg Rosenthal swoops in to steal Jason Kubel from me in the outfield preview, the third-base video includes a discussion of whether or not my mom would approve of me choosing Ryan Braun, and the starting-pitcher breakdown ends with me explaining that I'm on the rebound after losing Johan Santana and have my eye on Francisco Liriano. And if you don't find the man-crush theme particularly amusing, take solace in the fact that the lovely Tiffany Simons co-hosts each video.
The shows are each only a few minutes long, we cover a lot of topics, and in addition to all the baseball talk you can look at Tiffany or wonder exactly how many pounds I've gained back since my Fat-O-Meter days (more on this tomorrow, sadly). The videos were my in-studio debut--with bright lights, ear pieces, and producers on a fancy set--so you can judge for yourself how things went for me in the unfamiliar position of being in front of the camera. Enjoy ...
Francisco Lirianohad a rough outing yesterday afternoon against the Marlins and now has an 8.10 ERA in three spring starts. He's struggled with control, has shown decreased velocity, hasn't missed many bats, and has been very hittable, allowing 16 base-runners while recording just 20 outs. The hope has obviously always been that Liriano would pick up right where he left off in 2006 after missing all of last season following Tommy John surgery, but the fact that he hasn't isn't overly concerning.
It's a long road back and there will be plenty of rough patches along the way even if things ultimately go smoothly, but the most important aspect of his recovery thus far is that he's yet to complain of arm soreness. The Twins have indicated that Liriano won't be sent back to Triple-A regardless of how he fares this spring, but he threw just 59 pitches yesterday and is running out of time to show that he's capable of beginning the season in the rotation.
If Triple-A has indeed been ruled out as an option, then Liriano could follow the path that he took in 2006 when he worked as a long reliever for the season's first six weeks. It'll be difficult to build up arm strength working out of the bullpen, but the low-leverage situations would allow Liriano to regain his form without much pressure. Beyond that, keeping him in the bullpen for a while is an easy way to limit Liriano's workload, which is something that the Twins no doubt planned to do anyway.
The early post-surgery results certainly don't qualify as encouraging, but with Liriano now 17 months removed from surgery simply staying healthy takes precedence over actual performance. "We just want to see him throw the ball and continue working," Ron Gardenhiresaid. "You hope to start seeing more crispness on his breaking balls and a little better command. He spins off a few balls still. But it's just about him pitching."
Along with the uncertainty regarding Liriano's season-opening role the Twins also seem undecided about what to do with Glen Perkins. He posted a 3.55 ERA and 353-to-124 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 334 minor-league innings spent strictly as a starter, but all 23 of his appearances with the Twins have come out of the bullpen. He's done well as a reliever, with a 2.88 ERA and 26-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34.1 innings, and it sounds like Gardenhire is tempted to use him in that role again.
Perkins indicated Sunday that he thinks the Twins are leaning toward putting him in the bullpen and said, "That's fine with me if that's what they want to do." If Liriano and Perkins are both absent from the season-opening rotation, that leaves Livan Hernandez, Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Philip Humber fighting over five spots, although that could change if Baker's back injury requires a stint on the disabled list.
Gardenhire briefly batted Joe Mauer second in the lineup last season, but gave up on the plan after about two weeks. I've long suggested that the No. 2 spot is ideal for Mauer (or any good hitter with an excellent on-base percentage), so it's nice to hear that Gardenhire is again considering the move. One of the problems with Gardenhire's belief that light-hitting speedsters should occupy the top couple spots in the lineup is that the team's best hitters are often pushed down further than they should be.
There's no reason for someone like Nick Punto to come to the plate more often than Mauer or Michael Cuddyer, and while his RBI totals don't necessarily show it batting Justin Morneau fifth lessened his potential impact. Given the Twins' lack of strong on-base threats an ideal lineup might actually feature Mauer leading off and Morneau hitting third, but between conventional wisdom and Gardenhire there's zero chance of that happening.
Alexi Casilla was predictably sent to minor-league camp in large part because of what Gardenhire called "sloppy" play at second base. "He's just got to get a few things straightened out," Gardenhire said. "That's learning to get outs when you're supposed to get outs, and get away from all the flashy stuff and get back to the basics of baseball, catching the ball and getting somebody out and using your feet and making good throws. He gets too flashy, thinks that he can do a lot of different things."
Interestingly, Gardenhire also noted that Casilla might be better off at shortstop--where he's played extensively in the minors--because the position allows him to make better use of his outstanding arm strength, which is something that I've discussed in this space before. "I've already mentioned that to the people upstairs, he could be our shortstop of the future," Gardenhire said. "He can play shortstop. He's got great range and a great arm, a cannon."
There's always a chance that the team will fall in love with Adam Everett's defense and turn him into something beyond a one-year solution, but with only Trevor Plouffewaiting in the immediate wings Casilla would definitely have a chance to make a run at the shortstop job if he can rediscover the form that he showed both offensively and defensively in 2006. If instead he hits like he did last season, batting .269/.345/.344 at Triple-A and .222/.256/.259 in the majors, it may be a moot point.
Patrick Reusse's recent column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the long odds that the Twins face this season included an interesting note: Over the past two years odds-makers made the Twins favorites in 64 of 67 games started by Santana. In a different column, Reusse chose to launch another of his odd attacks against bloggers by suggesting that we're somehow behind the annoying talk of Mauer possibly moving to third base.
You won't find anyone more opposed to the notion of moving Mauer out from behind the plate than me, so clearly Reusse isn't much of an AG.com fan. What makes his latest anti-blogger screed especially amusing is that Reusse's fellow Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan has done more to play up the Mauer-to-third base angle than anyone, writing multiplearticles in favor of the move. Of course, guys like Reusse and Souhan must stick together, and true or not us bloggers make a convenient target.
Throughout the offseason I've suggested several times that the Twins should sign Kenny Lofton or Corey Patterson as an inexpensive place-holder in center field to give Carlos Gomez additional time to develop before being handed an everyday job in the majors. That stance is unusual for me, because over the years I've typically been heavily in favor of playing talented youngsters over mediocre veterans, but Gomez's situation is much different than how the Twins handled someone like Jason Bartlett.
For one thing, Bartlett was already 24 years old when he got to Triple-A for the first time and didn't get his first chance in the majors until he was 25, whereas Gomez turned 22 in December. When Bartlett finally grabbed hold of the shortstop job for good, he was 26 years old and had spent parts of three straight seasons at Triple-A, hitting .323/.384/.458 in 186 games overall. Gomez has a grand total of 36 games at Triple-A under his belt and posted a less impressive .286/.363/.414 hitting line there.
Bartlett repeatedly showed that he was ready for the majors by hitting .300 with solid plate discipline and good strike-zone control in three different seasons at Triple-A, and was clearly better than Juan Castro, Nick Punto, and the team's other veteran options. There's little doubt that Gomez is a very good prospect, but there's plenty of doubt about whether or not he'd be any better than Lofton or Patterson right now, as a 22-year-old, and there's little reason to risk his development or service time to find out.
Once upon a time Patterson was considered an elite prospect and got his first everyday job in the big leagues as a 22-year-old, but has since proven to be nothing special by hitting .258/.298/.414 in eight seasons. Patterson's story provides an example of how rushing a toolsy 22-year-old center fielder can go wrong, but even his modest career hitting line is similar to the type of offensive production that can reasonably be expected from Gomez this season.
Rather than use up Gomez's team-controlled service time when he's likely to struggle as a 22-year-old, why not delay his free agency by letting Patterson keep the position warm with similar production offensively, defensively, and on the bases? Of course, it's too late now. While Lofton remains unsigned, Patterson agreed to a minor-league contract with Cincinnati last week, where he'll get a chance to keep the position warm for an even younger center-field prospect in 21-year-old Jay Bruce.
It's understandable that fans and people within the Twins organization want to see what Gomez can do in the majors right now, because he was the centerpiece of the Johan Santana trade, flashes tools that are major-league caliber, and looks likely to be the long-term replacement for Torii Hunter. With that said, my guess is that the Twins would have been better off this season with Lofton or Patterson in center field and would be better off long term by giving Gomez a bit more time to develop at Triple-A.
Another reason to give Gomez some additional time at Triple-A is that developing plate discipline as a 22-year-old with the Twins may prove difficult. Gomez didn't walk much in the minors, drew just six non-intentional walks in 139 plate appearances with the Mets, and has coaxed just two free passes in 42 trips to the plate this spring. Asked about the Gomez's poor plate discipline and the possibility of his posting a sub par on-base percentage from the leadoff spot, Ron Gardenhireresponded:
Sometimes with a young hitter, it is better to give him 500 or 550 at-bats and not worry about that on-base percentage and just let them play.
That can often be a good approach to take with young hitters, but it's interesting to note that it's not an approach that Gardenhire has typically taken in the past. When it came to guys like Bartlett in 2005 and 2006 or Jason Kubel last season, Gardenhire certainly wasn't willing to actually "give him 500 or 550 at-bats and ... just let him play." Apparently loving speedy players and not caring about plate discipline trumps an overall aversion to trusting young talent.
Gardenhire surely dreams of the damage that Gomez can do on the bases, but doesn't seem focused on teaching him how to get on base via walks. Combine that with the coaching staff reportedly trying to calm Gomez's high-effort swing, and the wheels are in motion to make him fit the Twins' preferred mold of a speedy, slap-hitting hacker. Thankfully the team isn't stifling Delmon Young's power yet, but Gardenhire also seems fine with the horrendous plate discipline that he showed as a rookie:
All the on-base percentage [stats] and all those things, he's dangerous when he lets that thing fly and gets fastballs. We're going to want him to swing this year more than taking a lot of pitches and watching them go by. And I think he'll be more than willing to let them fly.
Gardenhire's "swing away" attitude represents the long-standing, organization-wide approach to hitter development and helps explain why the Twins have ranked among the league's bottom half in walks every season since 1988. The team has now drawn a below-average number of walks for going on two decades, which unfortunately makes it tough to imagine Young or Gomez learning to be especially patient at the plate while in Minnesota.
Randy Ruizhas been the surprise of Twins camp by hitting .455/.500/.818 with two homers and two doubles in 24 plate appearances. A 30-year-old veteran of nine seasons and over 3,600 trips to the plate in the minors, Ruiz has yet to get even a sniff of the big leagues despite a .300/.370/.522 career hitting line. In fact, he's managed just 88 career plate appearances at Triple-A despite spending three seasons smacking around Double-A pitching to the tune of .310/.377/.569.
Ruiz is never going to be a star, his glove is likely very shaky given his size and reports that he's spent much of his time in camp working to improve his defense at first base with the help of Tom Kelly, and even with a hot start this spring he's unlikely to crack the Opening Day roster. With that said, he's an example of the types of players who're often available for essentially nothing. In other words, Ruiz is a living, breathing example of the "replacement-level player" that's often referred to in this space.
He has a lengthy track record of success in the minors and looks capable of filling a specific niche in the majors as a right-handed platoon bat, but unfortunately for Ruiz he picked the wrong year to make the Twins. He'd have come in handy during the past few years, including last season when the Twins regularly gave starts at designated hitter to Jason Tyner, Garrett Jones, Luis Rodriguez, Josh Rabe, and Matthew LeCroy, and but Jason Kubel and Craig Monroe figure to split DH duties this year.
I'd argue that signing a scrap-heap bat like Ruiz for $350,000 makes more sense than handing $3.8 million to Monroe, but that ship sailed months ago. Ruiz faces an uphill battle to claim the final spot on the 25-man roster and is probably headed to Rochester. Strictly in terms of hitting ability the only real difference between Monroe and Ruiz is that the Tigers gave Monroe a chance in 2003 after he put up a string of impressive seasons in the minors. Ruiz has yet to get that chance and probably won't.
In what should surprise absolutely no one, the Twins are "leaning toward" Livan Hernandez as their Opening Day starter. Hernandez's performance has declined in four straight seasons--including a 4.93 ERA last year and a 4.83 ERA in 2006--and he has a 9.69 ERA this spring after allowing six runs on nine hits Sunday against a Toronto lineup that featured zero regulars, but there was never much doubt that he'd get the nod because he's 33 years old and the Twins are paying him at least $5 million.
A young pitcher who performed as poorly as Hernandez has this spring would be in serious danger of a trip to Rochester after being criticized publicly by Gardenhire, but the veteran is treated with kid gloves in both respects. "He knows how to pitch," Gardenhire said. "He's in midseason form right now. He's getting his work in. He's doing his thing." All of which is perhaps technically true, because over the past couple seasons Hernandez's "thing" has been not pitching very well and he's certainly "doing" that.
Santana started the Twins' opener in both 2006 and 2007, and before that it was Brad Radke as the Opening Day starter in 1996, 1997, and each season from 1999-2005. Over the past dozen years the only Twins pitcher other than Santana or Radke to start on Opening Day is Bob Tewksbury, who lost the 1998 opener to Roger Clemens and the Blue Jays. That was the first of 92 losses for the Twins and the 37-year-old Tewksbury went 7-13 with a 4.79 ERA in what was his 13th and final season.
Replaying the scene in Twins camp last spring, Sidney Ponson is now getting the Rangers' hopes up after signing a minor-league contract with Texas earlier this month:
Newly signed right-hander Sidney Ponson made an impressive debut. He got five of his six outs on ground balls and finished his afternoon by striking out Alfonso Soriano. According the radar gun at Surprise Stadium, Ponson's velocity ranged between 92 and 94 mph. His velocity has been down in recent years.
"When I was younger, I used to try to strike everybody out, but not anymore," Ponson said. "I don't care about the velocity. I was just happy to throw strikes and get people out. I'm not going to strike a lot of people out anymore."
The above quote comes from Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Now compare it to the following excerpt from a Joe Christensenarticle that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune last April:
Last season, he had outings ... in which his fastball barely hit 91 mph. He no longer could throw his curveball or changeup, so he was reduced to throwing sinkers and sliders--a four-pitch pitcher reduced to two. "It was my arm," Ponson said. "I'm not going to lie about it. I'm hard-headed and stuff like that. I didn't want to do surgery ... and finally, I surrendered."
Ponson had surgery to remove bone chips in October. Already this spring, he's felt the difference. "I feel great now," he said. "I feel like I'm 19 again. ... I won't be throwing 98 [mph] again, but if I can bring it back to 93-94, I'll be happy."
To save time and energy, perhaps the Morning News should just reprint all of Christensen's optimistic prose about Ponson from last year, complete with the "I must admit, I pulled for Ponson" farewell note when he's released after predictably going 2-5 with a 6.93 ERA.