I shared a full 5 Thoughts column with members on Monday. It was Byron Buxton-heavy and it was a lot of fun to put together. I do recognize that there are readers who are not quite ready to support the column, and I’ve been thinking of ways to try to share thoughts with that crowd while also providing the very best stuff for the supporting members.
So here’s a “Membership preview,” free for all to read but very clearly not as timely as the stuff that members get when they sign up to pay for the column.
Here are a few points from last week’s column. If you’re able and interested, I’d ask you to please consider supporting the column with your membership. It costs less than a dollar a week and every single one helps me to continue doing this kind of work. Thank you!
Here’s what I wrote about Josh Donaldson at the time of his injury; and now he’s on the verge of returning to the lineup as soon as the weather will cooperate.
– Recovery & then Rest
The next example [of selflessness] is Josh Donaldson. I expect that he’ll return relatively quickly from the 10-day Injured List after he hurt his hamstring on the first extra-base hit of the season. But even before that hop rounding first base in Milwaukee, I had seen some humility that I did not expect from one of the most hyper-competitive people I’ve ever met. “Probably the first month we’re going to try to do a little bit of management,” Donaldson said the day before the new campaign began. “As far as playing back-to-backs, starting to kind of understand the days off and everything and then getting used to the travel. Just kind of the little stuff that probably used to not matter as much, that probably matters a little bit more as far as recovery.”
The former AL MVP mentioned that he’d still like to play as often as possible, but I thought his point was revealing. He and Rocco Baldelli and others have discussed ways to keep Donaldson healthy and at his best, and although the solutions offered likely go against his instinctual ‘play every day at all costs’ mentality, it sounded to me anyway like he’s ready to run with that new philosophy when the 35-year-old returns.
And, of course, like we said with Donaldson when the contract was signed – and like we say with Byron Buxton every offseason – keeping the star on the field will be one of the primary objectives for the Twins in 2021.
— Team Wins over Financial Gain?
Lastly, Taylor Rogers might not be the 9th inning guy this year. If the first series of the season is any indication, this year Rogers will instead be the Retire Great Lefties Late in Close Games guy. Twice vs. the Brewers, including on Opening Day, the one-time Twins closer was brought into a game during the 7th inning to face Christian Yelich and other left-handed impact bats on the Brewers. “For this series it’s [Kolten] Wong and [Lorenzo] Cain and Yelich. So now I can work about my day preparing for getting those guys out. … You know, Nelson [Cruz] is playing and we’re facing [Lucas] Giolito, he’s thinking about hitting homers off Giolito all day. And for the pitcher it’s completely the opposite.”
This sort of bullpen arrangement may very well be worth it’s own Thought in the future. What I’d like to get across for now, though, is that this appears to be an evolution in thinking for Rogers. Or, perhaps, he still feels like he’d prefer to the 9th inning – and the save chances that come with that Closer title – but for the good of the collective he’s certainly saying the right selfless things. As Twins beat writer Phil Miller pointed out this week on the Twins Today show, that’s no small thing.
“Ego plays a role, don’t kid yourself,” Miller said. “Taylor Rogers, I don’t doubt, takes a little bit of pride in the saves that he’s racked up. And with relief pitchers, especially in arbitration, counting stats like that, they can mean money, too. So it’s no small thing that he has to swallow his pride and do what’s best for the team.”
So in this case, a cynic might point out, the selfless thing to do is also good for the team’s future salary planning. (Rogers has another year of arbitration before he can become a free agent, for those curious.) I personally don’t think that’s what’s going on in this situation; more of a convenient externality. Rogers has looked tremendous his first two times on the mound this season.
Anyway, these first 3 Thoughts are somewhat related and are just to point something out that I view as an important ingredient in championship-caliber teams. Selflessness matters. I can’t help but wonder how much influence that Rocco Baldelli has had in massaging those egos involved.
– Nelson Cruz is hard to explain
In the 2nd inning on Monday vs. the Tigers, Nelson Cruz stepped to the plate with the bases full and hit a pitch the other way that would have been a home run if it landed fair. Cruz asked the umpires to have another look at the long foul ball, apparently thinking that he had earned the 4 RBIs. Umpires gathered, they looked at a monitor and decided that no, sorry, that crossed in front of the foul pole, so the count is 1-1.
So Cruz went back to the box and crushed the next pitch from Tigers starter José Ureña out to left field. No need to worry about the right-field foul pole there.
The veteran slugger got his first homer out of the way in his first start of the campaign, and just for good measure he hit it at a time that would do maximum damage. Of course I continue to be amazed by Cruz.
Make that 397, actually, after Cruz went deep again in the 5th inning Monday. You can argue amongst yourselves over the legitimacy of a number of the names on the 28+ list, but that’s the list.
And I want to highlight a quick fact that I saw dug up by MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park. Cruz now has the highest exit velocity on a homer in a Twins uniform in publicly recorded history! (Known on the internet as the ‘Statcast Era.’) The short version of the story is that he’s an incredible hitter.