Besides more losing, there’s only one thing an 8-22 team can expect: changes.
That’s what arrived in Minnesota on Wednesday, where the Twins sent Danny Valencia to Triple-A Rochester and banished Francisco Liriano to the bullpen.
Neither move could be considered particularly surprising. Set to become a free agent at season’s end, the Twins were surely hoping to pump up Liriano’s trade value, but pitchers with a 9.45 ERA and 2.10 WHIP simply don’t stay in the rotation.
Now the question for Liriano isn’t if he can reclaim his rotation spot, but save his career. That may sound reactionary, but the reality is this: Liriano is 28 years old with a lengthy injury history. Since Opening Day 2011, he’s the owner of a 5.90 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and 133/94 K/BB ratio in 161 innings. A fastball that used to top out at 94-95 now struggles to hit 92.
Liriano has increasingly seemed to have no idea where the ball is going, and there’s no telling if being called on to throw a few innings every few days will do anything to make it better.
Of course, it’s possible that Liriano will find himself reinvigorated by smaller workloads and decreased expectations, perhaps even regaining some lost miles per hour along with his confidence.
But if he doesn’t turn things around in the bullpen — and quickly — it will be fair to wonder if the magic his left arm once possessed has been lost forever.
As for Valencia, a decent minor-league hitter has simply proven to be a below-average major-league one. Allergic to walks (two in 99 plate appearances) and displaying even less power than usual this season (one home run), he’ll be given plenty of time for reflection on the farm. A combination of Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll and Trevor Plouffe will man third in his absence.
Wrench In the Best Laid Plans?
Cardinals fans call Allen Craig “The Wrench,” but it’s likely many fantasy owners are calling him “The Dream.”
Eligible at second base, first base and the outfield in a large majority of leagues, Craig has flat out raked since making his 2012 debut last Tuesday, going 9-for-27 with three home runs, three doubles and an eye-popping 11 RBI. Yes, that’s as many RBI as Albert Pujols has collected in 31 games.
The problem, of course, is that as of Friday, Craig will become a bench player. That’s when Lance Berkman (calf) is scheduled to come off the disabled list. So will “The Wrench” be worth keeping around in mixed leagues? The odds are heavily in favor of “yes.”
Although the Cardinals lineup is indisputably the National League’s best, it’s also one of its oldest and most injury prone. Craig could find himself thrust into a starting job at any moment.
But even if all of Craig’s elderly teammates miraculously stay healthy, he should still be in line for plenty of playing time.
Despite what his 2011 numbers would suggest, Berkman is no longer a force against left-handed pitching. Craig could be slotted in at first base against southpaws once or twice per week. Meanwhile, manager Mike Matheny will almost certainly use Craig’s presence as an excuse to give Carlos Beltran and his creaky knees more frequent days off as spring turns into summer. There’s another weekly start.
On the other corner of the outfield, Matt Holliday — who missed 38 games in 2011 — is a candidate to be rested once every seven or eight days despite his salary, production and pre-2011 history of durability.
Throw in the occasional shifting of Beltran to center field to spell Jon Jay and get Craig a start in right, and you have a “Wrench” slated for 3-4 starts per week. It’s not ideal, but if Craig’s young career rates hold, it will be enough to make it worth fantasy owners’ while.
Death, Taxes and...
What Erik Bedard had done in his two most recent starts: strike out 20 batters in 10 innings. What Erik Bedard had done in each of his first two home starts of the season: go seven innings.
Unfortunately, what Bedard had been doing came into conflict with what he’s never done on Wednesday: stay healthy. Pittsburgh’s de-facto ace could make it through only one inning of his home start against the Nationals before heading to the clubhouse with back spasms.
Back issues are certainly preferable to a shoulder or elbow ailment for a pitcher, but with Bedard, there’s no such thing as a simple injury. There’s yet to be any indication Bedard is DL bound, but that should always be the expectation with a pitcher who has made just 60 starts since 2007.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst and expect something that wouldn’t even seem possible for anyone other than Erik Bedard.
Game Notes: David Robertson melted down in a blown save. Of course, the runs he allowed were his first runs of the season. As long as manager Joe Girardi isn’t an alarmist, Robertson should remain in the driver’s seat for Mariano Rivera’s job. … After going 25 games without a home run to begin the season, Andrew McCutchen went deep for the second straight day. … Cliff Lee (oblique) was quality in his return from the disabled list, holding the Mets to two runs on five hits in six innings. Expect the struggling Phillies to quickly stretch out their co-ace. … Ike Davis homered, doubled and drove in three runs. The multi-hit night was his first in eight games, the homer his first in 18 games and the multi extra-base hit effort his first...of the season. Pray for mojo. … Aroldis Chapman made it 15 2/3 innings, zero runs (not to mention 27 strikeouts). … Kenley Jansen looked great in a non-save situation. J.J. Putz didn’t. … For the first time since he arrived in Beer City, the Brewers lost a game Zack Greinke started at home. Of course, he fanned 11 in eight scoreless innings. … Tim Lincecum struggled yet again. He’s now recorded just 15 outs in three of his past four starts.
National League Short Hops: Both Troy Tulowitzki (groin) and Yadier Molina (hand) are targeting Friday returns to the lineup. … Cory Luebke will get a second opinion on his pitching elbow Thursday. It will likely confirm he needs Tommy John surgery. … Luebke’s teammate Joe Wieland will be placed on the disabled list with “tightness” in his pitching elbow. An MRI revealed no structural damage, however, meaning his absence could be brief. … Joel Hanrahan will be placed on the bereavement list Friday, and could miss the Bucs’ entire weekend series with the Astros. Pittsburgh is expected to go with a ninth-inning committee in its closer’s absence.
American League Short Hops: Chris Sale will undergo an MRI on his left elbow this morning. The White Sox have hinted he could return to the rotation if he gets a clean bill of health. … Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine revealed Will Middlebrooks is not currently expected to play in the outfield. Don’t be surprised if that changes sometime in the next month. … Francisco Cordero’s short, disastrous stint as the Blue Jays closer has come to an end. Casey Janssen will now fill-in during Sergio Santos’ (shoulder) absence. … Jonathan Sanchez (fake injury) was sent to the disabled list. … Knee soreness may force Jason Hammel to miss a start. … Yoenis Cespedes has been diagnosed with a strained muscle in the “back of his left hand.” He appears to be truly day-to-day.