Daily Process: Johnny Damon and Matt Joyce Power Rays Over Twins

Playing the Twins means exposure to various superlatives about their style of play. If you believe the gasconade of some media folk, then the Twins play baseball the way gods would endorse: with grit, with whiskers, and with a $113 million opening day payroll. Any narrative attempting to tie the Twins and Rays together as small market bros is rooted in the past since the Twins payroll is closer to the Red Sox than the Rays by a fair margin.

The platitudes mean the American League Manager of the Year voting is a flow chart that looks something like this in textual form:

Was there a surprise team?
–> Yes –> Vote for him
–> No –> Vote for Ron Gardenhire

With that angst out of the way, James Shields pitched fine against the Twins. Unfortunately, the offense was unable to plate anyone against Carl Pavano, leaving Shields in a similar spot to his first start of the season against Baltimore.

The Rays lineup against southpaws is weak in the wake of Evan Longoria’s injury and Manny Ramirez’s retirement, but they should be fine against righties. You’d expect good results with a right-handed sinkerballer on the mound, but alas, Pavano is a little better than that. In fact, he has enjoyed reverse splits in recent years thanks to his changeup, as Tommy noted in The Process Versus post earlier today.

Pavano went eight, striking out seven, walking two, and allowing four hits. Two of those hits came from Matt Joyce, yet his second inning at-bat versus Pavano demonstrated why the bearded righty is difficult to tame for lefties and righties alike. After falling behind 3-1 thanks to a pair of sinkers and four-seam fastballs, Pavano placed a sinker on the inside portion of the plate for strike two. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Pavano tossed a perfectly located changeup down and away. It probably looked like a fastball to Joyce, but it would’ve been too close to take. Instead, it was a strikeout of the swinging variety.

For Shields’ part, he allowed a batter to reach in all of his seven innings. At some point or another, a run or two will bleed across, and sure enough, two did in the sixth. Give Shields credit for picking off Alexi Casilla in the fifth on what felt like the fourth or fifth throw over. A Denard Span double moments later almost assuredly scores Casilla otherwise.

The Twins entered (and exited) the game with three home runs, so for Shields to go without allowing a longball was nice to see, if not entirely unexpected. Shields gave up three in Chicago, so he is averaging one per start, but has yet to allow a blast at Tropicana Field.

I suppose you could give Shields credit for finishing the seventh inning too, although I question why he was left out there to begin with. Joe Maddon had Jake McGee warming in the sixth and (ostensibly) ready to go with Justin Morneau and Jim Thome coming up. After retiring Michael Cuddyer, Shields was allowed to continue and finished the inning. Still, -why warm McGee if you’re not comfortable using him there, and conversely not warm Cesar Ramos instead?

Speaking of the lefty relievers, Maddon did elect to use both later on. I mentioned in my section of The Process Versus series that they would come in handy thanks to the Twins limited options, and sure enough, they did.

McGee got Jason Kubel in the eighth (with Juan Cruz getting the other two outs) and Cesar Ramos retired Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, and Morneau in the ninth, then struck out Thome in the 10th.

The aforementioned Joyce was most of the Rays offense in regulation time (as Tommy will cover in more depth for the Game-Changer), but his baserunning earlier in the game was a little disheartening. To go from almost picked off to definitely picked off on two separate bases within the same instance on base is just silly. It’s sad to see a natural athlete lose focus all the time like that. You have to wonder if he even cares about being out there. Never smiles or anything.

Wait, wrong outfielder. Hold on, let me get his narrative. Oh, he just made a mistake. That’s it. Moving on.

Felipe Lopez scored the Rays first run of the night and started the rally in the ninth, but seemingly made a questionable decision in trying for two. He did make it into second base, but had he been running full-steam out of the box, he would’ve done so in less dramatic fashion. Tonight marked Lopez’s ninth game and him batting cleanup is sort of a joke, but nevertheless, he has played well so far.

I expressed concern over Johnny Damon’s contact rate earlier this season, but as I checked it this morning, he was back around 80 percent. This was his third homer of the year and the first walkoff variety. I know Damon was the afterthought of the big offseason signings. I know I’d rather have Manny Ramirez. I know his super nice guy, Mr. PR attitude can feel artificial. And I know it’s rather sad that Ramirez’s lasting meme will be for something he said at his introductory press conference, but screw it: Thank you, Johnny.

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