Saturday, August 13, 2011

Quality Control

Patrick Reusse on last night's historic performance by a Twins shortstop:

That changed on Friday night. Guth's pinch-running excursion was surpassed in dramatic fashion by Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the imported infielder on whom the Twins spent $14.1 million ... $14.1 million that would have better served the Twins if they had taken it next door from Target Field and had the cash incinerated at the Hennepin County garbage burner.

It is time to stop pussy-footin': This young man knows less about the basics of playing shortstop (or second base) than any big-leaguer I've ever watched.

In Friday's sixth inning, Nishioka played two consecutive double play balls off his chest. And then with Travis Hafner - Cleveland's modern-day Jim Thome - running on a slow chopper, Nishioka hurried as if he was trying to throw out Jacoby Ellsbury and booted the ball.

It wasn't that Nishioka allowed the Indians to tie the game at 1-1. He forced them to score that run.

You could see the steam coming off the neck of Carl Pavano, who had been winning a grand duel with Justin Masterson, Cleveland's stud of a sinkerball pitcher.

One inning later, Pavano's anger went from repressed to explosive. Matt Tolbert, in for the reinjured Alexi Casilla at second base, was failing to make plays left and right (mostly right).

Finally, Pavano induced a bouncer that Justin Morneau fielded going toward second base, and looked up to make the throw for the force. Nishioka was eight feet behind the bag, wandering aimlessly.

Morneau turned and made a frantic flip to Pavano, who reached back to grab the throw and get the third out by a foot at first base.

Immediately, Pavano spiked the baseball, and then he threw a dugout tantrum in which he was tossing about the Gatordade bucket. By now, Nishioka was sitting on the bench. Somehow, Pavano resistd the urge to put the bucket over Nishioka's head - throwing it instead to the far corner of the dugout.

As the Twins batted, Pavano was shown sitting in the dugout, mouthing F-bombs about the amateurish fielding from Nishioka, from Tolbert and later from Ben Revere ... but, mostly from Nishioka, who proved decisively that he has no business in the middle of a major league infield.

Bucky Guth, you're off the hook. This fellow Nishioka is a joke. On Friday, the joke was on Pavano, whom I'd guess will be interested in the future in having a designated shortstop than a designated catcher.

I had the distinct displeasure of watching Nishi's sixth inning meltdown and was wondering at the time whether, in all the years that I've followed baseball, I had ever witnessed a single player fail to make more plays in one inning that Nishi did. Now, the unprecedented nature of Nishi's failures has been confirmed by a man who's seen far more baseball than I have.

The 2011 Twins season has mostly been a series of disasters. And no single disaster has been more catastrophic to the team's prospects for winning than the signing of Nishioka. For a team that has built a culture around doing the little things right and playing good fundamental baseball to so badly misjudge a player's abilities should be deeply disturbing to Twins fans. And it should also call it question whether GM Bill Smith really has the acumen to ever put a team on the field that could seriously contend for the World Series.

SISYPHUS ADDS IN DISGUST: Let’s not forget that the Twins made room for Nishioka by trading away shortstop J.J. Hardy to the Baltimore Orioles for two lousy minor league relief pitchers.

J.J. Hardy is currently hitting .274 with 23 Home Runs and an OPS of .846. He also leads American League shortstops with a .988 fielding percentage.