It didn't have to be like this.
After last season, I didn't think Thornton was worth his spot on the 40-man roster. Then, in the spring, I didn't want him to break camp with the big league club. And last night, I certainly didn't want him to come in to pitch in a critical fifth inning.
After a frustrating game, sleep usually calms me down. This time, not so much. I'm still fuming over a performance that I'm pretty sure all of us could see coming. Which isn't to say that I wasn't a lot more angry last night - you can get a play-by-play of my meltdown by reading a clip of a conversation between Devin and I that took place in the fifth inning (warning: it doesn't take much imagination to fill in the asterisks, so you probably shouldn't read it to your kids).
But I'm still pissed.
Say hello to this year's Kevin Jarvis. If there's a bright side to all of this, it's that pitching poorly will get Thornton DFA'd as soon as Pineiro is healthy and off the DL. The bad news is that, until then, we'll have to deal with seeing a lot of him, because the team will want to get a good look at how he does in competitive situations before making a roster decision.
Just think about it for a minute: with a slim lead in the middle innings, and armed with the knowledge that you probably won't score many more runs against last year's AL Cy Young winner, why would you call for the worst pitcher on the roster to get you out of a critical jam? I can understand playing the matchups - three of the four hitters Thornton faced were lefties - but that doesn't mean anything when the pitcher in question really sucks. I mean, if you threw me out there (I'm a southpaw), I'd probably put up a platoon split of my own, but that doesn't mean that lefties wouldn't still beat the crap out of me. They'd just do it a little less thoroughly than righties.
By my own estimation, this is the Official Matt Thornton Accuracy Chart from last night:
He started out with the idea of hitting the low-outside corner, but without the capability, so he immediately got himself into trouble with Mauer, who singled through the hole on a hit & run. Then Thornton moved his fingers on the ball a little bit and was so enthralled with the result that he threw it again, missing the zone by a foot and a half and watching Morneau check-bloop a crap slider into left field. In the next at bat, Hunter hammered a fastball back up the middle. Then it was time for The Pitch.
When someone throws The Pitch, you can't miss it. There's never any question about The Pitch - you know it when you see it, and all you can do is close your eyes and cross your fingers. Brad Radke threw The Pitch to Richie Sexson twice on Monday, and he got punished. So it was when Matt Thornton faced Jacque Jones last night.
When you go to the local little league field with your pals and play Home Run Derby, you always ask for The Pitch. You hold your bat out over the plate, perpendicular to your waist, and tell the pitcher, "this is where I want it. Just float it over right here." When you get The Pitch, your eyes get all crazy-like, you take a big stride with your front foot and take the kind of hack that Steven Seagal would take if he were in a movie where only a home run could rescue the president from his terrorist kidnappers. If you're lucky, you can find the ball after it finally lands, but it's usually a good idea to pack a few extras if you're planning to throw The Pitch to somebody.
I think Thornton knew it as soon as he threw it. I did. Olivo did. The vendors at the Intentional Wok probably did. Jones did. Just like that, it's pretty much ballgame over, with the way most of the bats were swinging. But hey, at least that hanging slider found the strike zone. Thornton's nothing if not making progress before our very eyes.
This game was a microcosm of how I think 2005 will go down: a solid lineup core will drive in some runs, but we'll be hurt by inconsistent starting pitching and a lousy bullpen. Things would be better with a healthy Atchison and, more importantly, a respected Sherrill, but thinking about that only makes me angrier, so I'm going to stop there.
Rafael Soriano really needs to make a full recovery.
Jacque Jones is a career .234.286/.333 hitter against lefties. WHY THORNTON, WHY??
In the spring, Mike Hargrove said that he'd use the DH slot to give guys rest, instead of keeping someone there on a full-time basis. Which is fine with me, especially while Bucky's out of action, but could someone explain to me why Winn was DH'ing while Ibanez was dragging a piano in left field? A decent glove in left could've prevented a whole lotta damage in the fifth inning, when Ibanez stumbled towards a blooper and let it bounce off his glove. Randy Winn is one of the best defensive left fielders in baseball. Raul Ibanez isn't even the best defensive DH.
It's remarkable how, if you just ignore Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, yesterday felt like a carbon copy of something we would've seen in 2004. It's amazing what a couple of good bats in the middle of the lineup can do for an offense. Prior to last night's game, Santana owned a career 2.77 ERA against the Mariners. He's probably a good bet to be the next guy who dominates the Mariners as thoroughly as Pedro Martinez used to. But you wouldn't have known that by watching the first inning, when he got torched by Beltre and Sexson for a pair of run-scoring extra-base hits. It was important to jump on Santana early, before he could settle into a groove (as he did shortly thereafter), and the lineup came through. It's just too bad the pitching couldn't hold up its end of the bargain. Given the chance to score four runs in a game that Santana's starting, I'd take it every time.
Something that's always bugged me: if the batters in front of him have done some damage, Bret Boone will invariably hack away at the first pitch he sees. It's like he doesn't want to feel left out, like he wants to keep up the momentum. After Beltre and Sexson launched two wallballs, Boone came out of his shoes swinging at a big breaking ball. I don't think there's ever a good reason to throw him a first-pitch fastball.
Also on Boone: his defense last night was less than inspiring. Where Valdez has shown some good range so far, practically covering each side of second base, Boone has watched a few balls go up the middle that he might've been able to reach or at least knock down a few years ago. He also made a weak relay throw that lost a potential DP. I'm guessing that he and Reese become something like Jeter and Rodriguez last year, where Jeter's defensive numbers look good because A-Rod had so much range that he got to some of the balls in Jeter's zone.
Wilson Valdez's Balls Hit Past the Pitcher Count: 4 times out of 6 opportunities, including one borderline bunt.
Will someone wake up Jeremy Reed? He's taken nothing but ugly swings in eight plate appearances. This after hitting .337 in March. It's a good thing those Spring Training numbers mean so much.
Shigetoshi Hasegawa: Windup Most Likely to be Emulated By Ten Year Olds (now that Hideo Nomo has died, or gone to Tampa Bay, or both).
The difference between Good Santana and Bad Santana is pretty easy to see - when he's on, he has that low changeup fooling everyone (see: Richie Sexson, third inning), but when he's off, he misses his spots and hitters don't bite, forcing him to throw fastballs in the zone (see: Richie Sexson, first inning). This is why you need to get on him early, before he starts getting a feel for his pitches. Although still pretty good, Santana has historically been at his worst in the first inning, presumably before he's comfortable with his offspeed stuff. Once he has that working, it's pretty much lights-out, as we saw yesterday.
At one point, Santana threw what FSN North told me was a 60mph change. I was flabbergasted until Bert Blyleven mentioned that the Safeco radar gun clocked it at 83. I don't know how two guns can be off by 23 miles per hour, but this presents an interesting defense against your next speeding citation.
Ryan Franklin threw the eighth inning last night in an 8-4 game. Six pitches. Then he got pulled so that JJ Putz could pitch the ninth. Apparently, once a guy who's thrown 200 innings in each of the past two seasons moves to the bullpen, he's no longer capable of exceeding the one-inning threshold. Except that Hasegawa threw 35 pitches and 2.1 innings. I don't...how did...why...
Mike Hargrove had a quick hook last night, yanking Meche after 82 pitches when he got into some trouble in the fifth. For this, I am appreciative; I'm just not happy with how Hargrove tried to stop the bleeding. This early in the year, you don't want your arms out there throwing a bunch of pitches in high-stress situations, because nobody's arm is at full strength yet. When the weather warms up and guys have a handful of appearances under their belts, then you can start extending them, but this was the right move.
Like with Santana, it's easy to spot when Meche is on his game, and when he's getting himself into trouble. In the first inning, he came out throwing fastballs low in the zone that routinely hit 94-95 on the gun. Although he didn't have much command of his curve, its sharp break fooled a few hitters in the early going, and he generally looked impressive. Later on, Meche started elevating his pitches too high in the zone, missing his spots. Unable to get much consistency out of other pitches, he had to keep going back to his fastball, and he lost effectiveness. I will say one thing: it's not hard to see why some people think he'd be a lights-out short reliever. In the short-term, he just needs to work on building some endurance and staying low in the zone. I really don't like him using a high fastball as his strikeout pitch. That can only lead to trouble.
It's worth pointing out that the Twins' broadcast (Bremer/Blyleven) was reasonably informative at certain times. They got into a little discussion about Meche's arm angle which I found interesting; he's more over-the-top now, where he used to struggle with dropping too low and subsequently losing command and velocity. Going over the shoulder essentially limits Meche to up-and-down movement, which is why you rarely see him miss too far inside or outside - when he misses the zone, it's almost always too high or in the dirt. The downside is that losing lateral movement removes a variable from the hitting equation (batters usually have to take into account side-to-side and up-and-down movement), but it doesn't mean that you can't have as much success as anyone else.
Carlos Silva goes up against Bobby Madritsch today at 6:35pm EST.