Twins Notes: Reliever Rauch gets first Twins save under his belt

If there was no such thing as a “save,” the Twins probably would have left Matt Guerrier in to pitch the ninth inning last night after he breezed through a 1-2-3 eighth inning on just 11 pitches, but instead they brought in new closer Jon Rauch. And guess what. Just like most quality relievers would do about 90 percent of the time in that spot, he was able to protect a two-run lead for one inning against the bottom of the lineup. So far, so good.

There was a last-minute change to the projected Opening Day roster, as Clay Condrey was placed on the disabled list with a strained right elbow and the Twins called up Alex Burnett to take his spot in the bullpen. Burnett thrived after moving to the bullpen in the minors last year and ranks No. 21 on my list of the Twins’ top prospects, but the move was surprising because he’s just 22 years old and has zero experience at Triple-A.

By choosing Burnett, the Twins again showed how little faith they have in Anthony Slama‘s amazing minor-league numbers being for real. He’s four years older than Burnett and had a 2.67 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 81 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He’s not on the 40-man roster, but the Twins could have made a spot by putting Joe Nathan on the 60-day disabled list and if a minor-league reliever is getting a shot, it should be Slama.

Last night, Ron Gardenhire had his first shot to get Brendan Harris into the lineup versus a left-hander, but my hope that he’d sit Nick Punto for a clearly superior option offensively proved to be wishful thinking. Gardenhire cited their career stats against Joe Saunders and wanting the better glove behind Nick Blackburn, but they had a meaningless 15 combined at-bats off him and despite his rep, Blackburn’s ground-ball rate is barely above average.

According to USA Today, the Twins have the 10th-highest Opening Day payroll this year after ranking 24th, 25th, 18th, 19th, and 20th during the previous five seasons. I’d expect them to eventually settle into the 12 to 18 range, but for now being a “big-payroll team” is fun. Of course, even with the Twins at a team-record $97.5 million the Yankees are out-spending them by a cool $110 million and a total of five teams have an edge of at least $40 million.

Last week, I wrote about the Twins finally getting somewhat involved in statistical analysis, and a few days later, an Associated Press article about new-school stats quoted Gardenhire:

Sabermetrics has picked us to finish like fourth or fifth three years in a row. So you figure their numbers out. Numbers are good bases to go off things and try to figure things out, but for every number you throw out there that’s not supposed to work, the human element’s always coming.

Bad pitch, guy gets a hit. But he’s not supposed to, still rips a pitch in the gap. Those are all great things and, over the course of time probably prove out pretty good. But I like the human element and I like the heart way better than I like their numbers. And that’s what I’ll always stay with.

I’m not even entirely clear about what Gardenhire is specifically talking about there, but I do know that “sabermetrics has picked us to finish like fourth or fifth three years in a row … so you figure their numbers out” is just false and a strawman argument. Baseball Prospectus, for instance, has projected the Twins to finish first or second in five of the past six seasons, which is more often than the Twins have actually finished first or second.

Just a month after signing him to a minor-league contract, the Twins have released Charlton Jimerson, which is no surprise. At the time of the deal, I wrote that he “would be laughably overmatched in the majors” as a even a fourth outfielder, and the Twins quickly replaced him with a better fit for that potential role in 29-year-old Dodgers castoff Jason Repko, who’ll join Jacque Jones in the Triple-A outfield while competing for the same potential call-up.

Jones is obviously the sentimental pick and had an impressive spring, but as a right-handed hitter, Repko might be a better fit in an outfield/designated hitter mix with lefty bats Denard Span, Jason Kubel, and Jim Thome. He hasn’t played regularly in the majors since 2006 but fared decently against lefties back then and has hit .291/.355/.470 overall in 230 games at Triple-A. Plus, unlike Jones, he’s actually played center field regularly in recent years.

Much like Jimerson, the Twins also released 29-year-old left-hander Mark McLemore after inking him to a minor-league deal last month. Seth Stohs notes that in addition to Jimerson and McLemore, the Twins released a bunch of other minor-leaguers like Jason Jones, Rene Leveret, Jonathan Waltenbury, Jeff Lanning, and Blair Erickson. As a 2006 sixth-rounder who ranked 31st on my list of Twins prospects last year, Waltenbury is the biggest surprise.

Jones was a Rule 5 pick from the Yankees last winter and the Twins gave up a decent minor-league reliever in Charles Nolte to keep him in the organization after not making the team, but he never struck me as a particularly worthwhile pickup. Leveret has hit .303/.390/.442 in four pro seasons, including .286/.363/.399 at high Single-A last year, but lacks the power to be a legit first-base prospect. Lanning was an eighth-round pick just two drafts ago.

Speaking of Seth, during the Twins-Cardinals exhibition game last week, FSN coincidentally showed him eating in the bleachers. Bert Blyleven had been talking about how relaxing it was at Target Field, so when Seth popped up on camera he said: “Now that’s relaxing, that gentleman stuffing his face.” And since this is the Internet, naturally a bunch of other people who noticed one of their favorite bloggers on screen captured the moment for posterity:

To see Seth “stuffing his face” in person, check out the latest TwinsCentric event Saturday.

Last week,Jeremy Greenhouse of Baseball Analysts interviewed me about the Twins, but somehow it segued into Lost and LaVelle E. Neal III‘s je ne sais quoi.

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