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The Twins' Cuddyer Conundrum: What's Gardy thinking?

The Twins would likely be better off starting a superior defender at second base while benching Cuddyer against righties.
REUTERS/Andy King
The Twins would likely be better off starting a superior defender at second base while benching Cuddyer against righties.

Michael Cuddyer has hit just .160 in six starts at second base since Tsuyoshi Nishioka went down with a fractured fibula, but Ron Gardenhire announced that Cuddyer will be the primary second baseman until Nishioka returns from the disabled list next month. Gardenhire explained the decision by saying that using Cuddyer at second base allows him to get both Jason Kubel and Jim Thome into the lineup together, but that sounds far more valuable than it actually is.

Against right-handed pitchers having Kubel and Thome in the lineup together is great, but that could just as easily be accomplished by simply benching Cuddyer versus righties, off whom he has a measly .379 slugging percentage since the beginning of 2010. And against left-handed pitchers Kubel and Thome both struggle anyway, so using Cuddyer at second base to get their left-handed bats into the lineup accomplishes little except weakening the defense.

Cuddyer isn't potent versus righties, and neither Kubel nor Thome are potent versus lefties, so Gardenhire making the move to get all three bats into the lineup suggests that he doesn't fully grasp the importance of platoon splits or is vastly overrating the player Cuddyer has become at age 32. Or maybe both. Either way, the Twins would likely be better off starting a superior defender at second base while benching Cuddyer for righties and Kubel or Thome for lefties.

• General manager Bill Smith announced Tuesday that Joe Mauer will not be ready to come off the disabled list when eligible Thursday, which is no surprise. Smith told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Mauer is over the viral infection that caused him to lose 15 pounds and further complicated his bilateral leg weakness, but there's no official timetable for his return and a minor-league rehab assignment will be required before rejoining the Twins.

Drew Butera has started eight of 11 games in Mauer's absence, with Steve Holm drawing the other three assignments. Butera continues to do a fantastic job controlling the running game, but the endless praise for his pitch-calling has continued despite Twins pitchers posting a 5.18 ERA with him behind the plate, and he's hitting .147 to bring his career line to .188/.225/.278 in 190 plate appearances. Brandon Wood is MLB's only active hitter with a lower career OPS.

• Smith also told Christensen that Nishioka "is on schedule, if not ahead of schedule," with his recovery that was initially expected to take 4 to 6 weeks from an April 7 injury, so that seemingly means he could be ready to come off the disabled list within a couple weeks. Gardenhire has obviously become increasingly comfortable with Cuddyer at second base, so I'm curious to see what happens if Alexi Casilla is still struggling by the time Nishioka is ready to return.

• Speaking of Casilla, despite being a little-known role player, two prominent national writers recently had notes about him in their columns that featured scouts giving unflattering reports. One scout told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com that Casilla "is too out of control for me" and "he's more of a backup.'' Another scout told Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com that "you see his lack of instincts when he plays every day." Tough to argue with either assessment, unfortunately.

• I'm highly skeptical of Glen Perkins' early success, given his 5.87 ERA in the majors and 5.49 ERA in the minors over the previous two seasons, but the combination of getting healthy and moving to the bullpen full time appear to have increased his velocity. He's averaged 92.4 miles per hour on his fastball, compared with a career mark of 90.5. Perkins was never well-suited for a situational left-hander role, but being better versus righties can be a positive as a setup man.

• It sounds like Kevin Slowey is on the verge of being ready to return from his shoulder injury, but because of the rainouts, the Twins will likely need a spot starter Sunday against the Royals, and between the injury and beginning the year in the bullpen, Slowey's arm isn't stretched out for more than 50 to 60 pitches. Among pitchers already on the 25-man roster recent call-up Eric Hacker is the most obvious candidate to start. He has a 4.36 ERA in 311 innings at Triple-A.

Top prospect Kyle Gibson is actually in line to start Sunday at Triple-A, but calling him up to face the Royals that day is unlikely, to say the least. Gibson has certainly pitched well enough to warrant the call-up, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his first start last week and striking out eight batters in six innings of one-run ball Tuesday, but the Twins can delay his future free agency for an entire season by keeping him in the minors until at least June.

Justin Morneau missed six games with the same flu bug that got Mauer, and Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com reports that he also needed a cortisone shot in his neck before finally returning to the lineup. Morneau is closer to breaking out than his bad numbers suggest, but his getting on track was tough enough without a week-long flu and neck issues. Delmon Young has also missed five straight games (and counting) with a rib injury, leading to some ugly lineups.

• Swapping the much-maligned Scott Ullger for Steve Liddle as third base coach hasn't led to fewer head-scratching outs at the plate. In terms of MLB-wide criticism, third base coaches may trail only umpires, as both jobs involve successes going largely unnoticed and failures being obvious. With that said, it sure seems like the Twins have had a particularly awful run with Al Newman, followed by Ullger and now Liddle. Some friendly advice: Don't test Shin-Soo Choo.

• Tommy John elbow surgery is much more common for pitchers, as the Twins have learned the hard way recently, but LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that outfield prospect Angel Morales and shortstop prospect Estarlin De Los Santos both have ligament injuries that may require the well-known surgery. Position players generally recovery far more quickly, but the Twins have had enough trouble rehabbing pitchers to make me nervous.

Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus took a much different approach than I did last week in examining the "pitch to contact" advice the Twins gave to Francisco Liriano, but still came to essentially the same conclusion: "Rather than making him more of a pitcher, it would probably just make him a more ordinary pitcher."

Sergio Santos was a former first-round pick turned minor-league journeyman who spent half of 2008 playing shortstop at Triple-A for the Twins. Now he's the White Sox's closer.

• Something to keep in mind as the Twins climb to .500: If you assume the Indians and Royals aren't going to actually win the AL Central, then the Twins are just two games out of first place.

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Comments (1)

Aaron, your Cuddyer/Kubel/Thome exam lacks an answer to a key question....playing all 3 doesn't make sense...COMPARED TO WHAT?