• In analyzing the rotation’s struggles a couple weeks ago, I noted that Francisco Liriano was suffering from some combination of bad luck and bad defense, because while his ERA was still plenty good, his secondary numbers showed one of the elite pitching performances in baseball this season. At the time, Liriano was coming off a start in which he failed to make it out of the second inning, and so some readers found it hard to believe, but he’s been unhittable since.
He shut out the Mariners for seven innings Sunday, making him 4-0 with a 33-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just two runs allowed in 29 innings spread over his last four starts. And even his current 3.18 ERA is worse than it should be, because Liriano still has one of MLB’s highest ball-in-play batting averages. Based on his 150-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio and two homers allowed in 136 innings, Liriano has been the best starter in baseball, according to FIP and xFIP.
• Liriano wasn’t alone in blanking Seattle’s awful lineup, as Kevin Slowey threw eight shutout frames Friday. I avoid relying much on win-loss records to evaluate pitchers, and Slowey being 10-5 with a 4.44 ERA when Liriano is 10-7 with a 3.18 ERA isn’t fair. With that said, beating the Mariners improved Slowey’s career record to 36-20, which is a .643 winning percentage that ranks as the second-highest in Twins history among pitchers with at least 75 starts:
To be clear, that definitely does not mean Slowey “knows how to win,” or even that he’s been particularly good while posting a 4.40 ERA in 437.1 career innings, but it is kind of interesting.
• Trevor Plouffe was recalled from Rochester to replace Nick Punto, whose hamstring strain requires a stint on the disabled list. Plouffe started six games at shortstop when he was called up to replace J.J. Hardy in mid-May, but seems unlikely to play much this time around with Ron Gardenhire committed to Alexi Casilla as the starting second baseman and No. 2 hitter while Orlando Hudson is out.
Plouffe played just 20 of his 770 games at second base in the minors but, like most shortstops, should be able to handle the position just fine and in theory could compete with Casilla for the starting job there in 2011 if Hudson isn’t re-signed. Plouffe has shown good power at Triple-A with a career-high 15 homers and .462 slugging percentage, but he’s hitting just .259 with a .318 on-base percentage and 71-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his third season at Rochester.
• You wouldn’t know it by his going 24-for-58 (.414) with 12 extra-base hits in 14 games since the All-Star break, but Joe Mauer has been diagnosed with tendinitis in his right shoulder and received a cortisone shot after going 3-for-4 in Saturday’s game. According to Gardenhire, an MRI exam revealed no structural damage, but because the soreness “just won’t go away,” the Twins decided to “put this in there, give it a couple days without throwing, and go from there.”
• Justin Morneau was initially scheduled to take batting practice before Sunday’s game but opted against it at the last minute in part because it was “family day” and various Twins would be on the field with their kids. Gardenhire explained that Morneau “didn’t want to be on center stage” and “wants to ease into it … with less people around.” He hasn’t played since taking a knee to the helmet on July 7 and recovering from a concussion is notoriously unpredictable.
• After sending Wilson Ramos and Joe Testa to the Nationals for Matt Capps, the Twins failed to make another move prior to Saturday’s trade deadline, but they reportedly were close to acquiring Brett Myers from the Astros. Whether that would have been a sound move is impossible to say without knowing the players heading back to Houston, but Myers was listed among my preferred starting-pitcher targets when examining potential fits two weeks ago.
Despite owning the fourth-worst record in baseball and going into full-scale rebuilding mode by trading Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, the Astros chose not to deal the 30-year-old Myers and instead signed him to a two-year, $21 million contract extension with a $10 million option or $3 million buyout for 2013. That seems like a questionable decision for a team years from contention and certainly suggests the Astros’ asking price for Myers in trade was substantial.
• To make room on the 25-man roster for Capps’ arrival, the Twins sent Nick Blackburn and his $14 million contract to Triple-A. I’ve made my objection to Blackburn’s extension clear since the day it was signed in March, but at this point demoting him to Rochester certainly makes sense. Whether Blackburn has the ability to get back on track is up for debate, but obviously it wasn’t going to happen while pitching sporadically as a mop-up man in Minnesota.
• Washington assigned Ramos to Triple-A following the trade, but general manager Mike Rizzo said he’ll be “at least” a September call-up because “we feel like he’s major-league ready.” For now the Nationals have Ivan Rodriguez as their starting catcher and the future Hall of Famer is actually signed through 2011, but he’s hitting just .264/.291/.345 at age 38, and moving into more of a backup/mentor role next year seems likely if they truly think Ramos is MLB-ready.
• Capps uses “Final Countdown” as his entrance music, which will always remind me of this…