Posted By: Jason Iacovino
The Twins are a team that generally refrains from knee-jerk reactions to losing. The best example I can think of in recent years was that infamous sit down manager Ron Gardenhire had with Justin Morneau after a mid-week series in early June 2006, where the manager felt his young first baseman was getting a little too comfortable with losing in front of his buddies in Seattle.
The Twins were 25-31 after losing the first two to the Mariners at Safeco Field on June 6-7, 2006. Gardenhire was concerned that Morneau was having a bit too much fun with his buddies from the Pacific Northwest and supposedly he let him know it in a colorful way. Coincidence or not, the Twins finished out that month on an epic tear, going 18-2 before outrunning the Detroit Tigers in a wild AL Central race that featured two teams that were absolutely on fire all summer long.
The Gardenhire playoff teams of the 2000s seem like a long, long time ago. I'm sure Gardy has made several other closed-door challenges to his players since that Morneau Moment, and clearly not all have followed with the same results.
Coming off back-to-back 95-plus loss seasons followed by a significant payroll cut, not much was expected of the Twins here in 2013. After trading away fan favorites Denard Span and Ben Revere, you had to get creative to find a reason to follow this team comprised of past their prime veterans (Morneau, Ryan Doumit, and Jamey Carroll) and struggling newcomers (Chris Parmelee, Brian Dozier, and Pedro Florimon).
Of course Joe Mauer will always sell tickets, but this year the Twins were hoping to make a splash and atone for the loss of Span and Revere by promoting exciting young prospect Aaron Hicks from Double-A New Britian all the way up to leadoff hitter and starting centerfielder in Minnesota.
It's a jump that Hicks has proven he wasn't ready for, even after Gardenhire tried to take some pressure off the youngster by moving him to 8th in the order. Hicks has 34 starts at center and 139 plate appearances so far this year--more than enough to establish a fair critique on how he is handling the transition. Hicks made headlines last Monday when he had an eye-opening performance in which he hit 2 homeruns and took another away with a great catch all in the span of about 45 minutes. Hicks had a similar showing in a spring training game last March, when he hit 3 homers in one game.
Take those two flashes of brilliance away and you're left with reality: Hicks is batting .139 with an astoundingly low .237 on-base percentage. He's struckout nearly 2.5 times as much as he's walked. The two small silver linings on his resume are his fielding (0 errors, 6 outfield assists), and that he has managed to compile 15 RBIs (Only 3 shy of Josh Willingham).
So if Terry Ryan was in attendance for all 9 of the Twins games on their recent homestand, where they saw their record go from a game above .500 to 4 games below while they went from 2.5 games out of first to 6 games back, he might be tempted to make some changes. And if that's the case, might I suggest he start with Hicks.
Hicks is expected to be a mainstay in the Twins outfield for years to come. That catch he made last Monday, which robbed Chicago's Adam Dunn of a game-tying homerun in the sixth inning, is the kind of play that makes all of us believe that Hicks belongs in that vast Target Field outfield. I'm hoping it is a match worthy of Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter comparisons, but it's clear the time is not now.
Of course, the real issue for Ryan to fix is the one he tried to mend with a series of offseason moves: starting pitching. He was looking fairly smart early on this season when newcomers Vance Worley and Kevin Corriea were consistently giving the Twins a chance to win. Heck, even Scott Diamond was on fire when he re-joined the club following injury. But lately, these starters have all reminded us how long last season was...both figuratively and literally.
These games are taking forever and part of the problem is Gardenhire has needed to use 5-6 pitchers or more per game. The bullpen--which was 2nd best in the majors in April--is now suffering as a result. Meanwhile, young star Kyle Gibson, who has been slow to recover and stretch himself out following rehab from Tommy John surgery, pitched a complete game 3-hitter for Rochester on Sunday, striking out 8 while walking 2 batters. Gibson needed just 93 pitches to complete the shutout and his season ERA now stands at 3.25.
The other notable on the Red Wings' roster is first baseman Chris Colabello, who is hitting .361 with 11 HRs in just 169 at bats. Colabello isn't on the Twins' 40-man roster, so it would be more difficult for Ryan to pull the trigger on him if he wanted to send a guy like Parmelee back to Triple-A. Colabello isn't exactly a young pup, either. At 29 years old, he is a career minor leaguer, who was in Double-A New Britain last season. Still, he's quickly making a case to get his shot in the Big Leauges.
Meanwhile, the Twins are quickly making their case to be ignored for the remainder of the summer, before prime baseball viewing season begins at Target Field. That's not good. The Twins start a 9-game road trip today which includes 4 games against Detroit this weekend, before making a stop in Milwaukee for 2 games and returning home to face the Brewers on May 30. If they take their struggles from the last 9 games on the road with them, Ryan will have no choice but to pull the trigger on some new blood.
If I'm Ryan, at the very least I'm making plane one-way plane reservations for Hicks, Parmelee, and starting pitcher Pedro Hernandez, and I might call the airport and put Mike Pelfrey and Worley on standby.
Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50 p.m. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.