In the Twins' ongoing struggle to cobble together a starting pitching staff, a decent spring outing offers a glimmer of hope.
FORT MYERS, FLA. - When he skipped TwinsFest, we questioned Sidney Ponson's commitment to his new team.
When he reported to spring training, we wondered about his estimable waistline.
When he was unable to make his first spring training start because of visa problems, we questioned his reliability.
When he admitted that, as a recovering alcoholic, he drinks wine with dinner, some smart-aleck suggested that might not be the 13th step in the 12-step program.
When he got pounded by the Dodgers in his first outing in a real spring training game, we doubted he'd make the team as the Twins' fifth starter.
Turns out, he won't. The Twins' Reclamation Rotation is so unsettled that one good outing on Monday elevated Ponson to the status of sure thing.
Ponson pitched six shutout innings against the Orioles in the Twins' 5-3 loss, but that was only half the story. The other half: A pitcher who once punched a judge on a beach sounded far more mature and wise about his craft than the Twins' presumptive No. 2 starter, Carlos Silva.
Listening to Ponson talk about pitching made him sound like an Aruban Tom Kelly. Once upon a time Ponson could throw a fastball 99 miles per hour; he eased through the Orioles by accepting that, in pitching as in hedge funds, less is more.
"I don't strike people out," he said. "If I can throw 200 innings and strike 10 people out, I'll take it. I'm all about ground balls. That one inning ... three pitches in, I've got two outs. That's what's going to take me deeper into games.
"When you try to strike people out, you're going to get a lot of 3-and-2 counts, a lot of foul balls, foul balls, foul balls ... I always think about contact. I'm never afraid of contact. Let them hit the ball."
Kelly should sue Ponson for plagiarism. When Kelly was managing the lousy Twins teams of the late '90s, his speeches sounded just like Ponson's monologue.
Of course, most talented young pitchers ignore all that advice, hoping to light up radar guns with fastballs and box scores with strikeouts. Ponson says he's learned from his troubled career, and he looked composed on Monday.
Ponson allowed five hits, struck out three and didn't walk anybody, and he continued to be an amiable chatterbox in the clubhouse, willing to needle anyone who walks by.
"In '02, I realized that striking everybody out, I cannot do that," Ponson said. "So I started to use my defense. I always worked my behind off, so I can go nine innings. I want to start the game and finish the game."
The Twins would be thrilled with six workmanlike innings, and they'd be thrilled if Ponson sticks to his plan of inducing as many grounders as possible.
"It's hard to hit a home run when the ball is rolling on the ground," he said. "If you elevate, they crush. If you get strike one, the plate becomes more than 17 inches wide."
The Twins came to camp counting on three veterans to reinvent themselves, with Ponson the acknowledged long shot.
Silva has been dreadful. Ramon Ortiz will have to prove he can avoid the big innings and long homers that have doomed him the past four seasons. With just a little competence on Monday, Ponson looked better prepared to start the season than either, cruising through six innings in only 72 pitches.
|NY Mets - LP: J. Hefner||2||FINAL|
|Chicago Cubs - WP: S. Feldman||8|
|Seattle - LP: O. Perez||4||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: C. Perez||5|
|Toronto - LP: B. Morrow||2||FINAL|
|NY Yankees - WP: D. Phelps||7|
|Cincinnati - WP: B. Arroyo||10||FINAL|
|Philadelphia - LP: K. Kendrick||0|
|Chicago WSox - LP: N. Jones||9||FINAL|
|LA Angels - WP: R. Coello||12|
|Tampa Bay - WP: A. Torres||10||FINAL|
|Baltimore - LP: J. Johnson||6|
|Houston - WP: J. Cisnero||4||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - LP: B. Morris||2|
|Los Angeles - LP: K. Jansen||1||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: C. Gearrin||3|
|Boston - WP: C. Breslow||12||FINAL|
|Minnesota - LP: S. Diamond||5|
|Arizona - WP: B. McCarthy||1||FINAL|
|Miami - LP: T. Koehler||0|
|Milwaukee - WP: J. Axford||6||FINAL|
|St. Louis - LP: J. Kelly||4|
|Detroit - LP: A. Sanchez||2||FINAL|
|Texas - WP: J. Grimm||7|
|San Francisco - LP: T. Lincecum||2||FINAL|
|Colorado - WP: T. Chatwood||10|
|Washington - LP: J. Zimmermann||1||FINAL|
|San Diego - WP: E. Stults||2|
|Kansas City - LP: E. Santana||1||FINAL|
|Oakland - WP: T. Milone||2|