Hartman: Kelly says rotation, defense need work

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2012 - 9:31 PM

The former Twins manager likes the team's offense, but it is giving up too many runs in other areas.

Tom Kelly managed the Twins to World Series championships in 1987 and 1991 and knows the game of baseball as well as any man I've met in my long media career.

So when one is looking for an analysis of the current Twins squad, there's no one better.

"Well, we have to pitch better, you know that, everybody knows that," Kelly said. "We're not pitching, especially in the starting role. The bullpen has been just fabulous. I think [General Manager] Terry Ryan and Rob [Antony, assistant GM], when they went out this winter and got those power arms to come in and pitch, those fellas have been terrific out there. [Pitching coach] Rick Anderson and [bullpen coach Rick] Stelmaszek have done a wonderful job of piecing that all together down there, along with the manager."

However, Kelly agrees with most critics of the team with the worst record in the American League that the team was hurt when starters such as Carl Pavano and Scott Baker were sidelined and Nick Blackburn didn't pitch up to his ability.

"These are all things that blew up in our face and so it made it a little tough on the starters," Kelly said. "But it's another man's opportunity, so there's a lot of people getting a chance to be starters in the big leagues here for the Twins and take a spot in that rotation. They just have to step up and grab it, like this [Scott] Diamond fella."

However, Kelly doesn't put all the blame on the starting pitchers. He believes the defense is not playing as well as Twins teams have in the past.

"I think the manager would like to see the defense perform a little bit better, too," Kelly said. "We've done better this year compared to last year, but lately there's been a few [poor] plays out there. [Twins manager Ron Gardenhire] has that German in him and he's not too happy with a few of those defensive plays that we've made and some of the baserunning blunders we've made the last week or so. There's a few things to clean up and Gardy is the right man to do the job."

On offense, Kelly believes the Twins have a solid group.

Kelly described the free-agent signing of outfielder Josh Willingham: "My goodness, he's the pickup of the year or right up there. He's been just fabulous.

"Watching him perform on a daily basis and knocking in runs and hitting it over the fence, a good teammate, a good guy, good in the community, how can you ask for anything more than what we got out of Willingham?" Kelly said.

"Of course Joe [Mauer] has his eye on the batting title again and playing every day for us, so there's a lot of bright spots out there. We just have to do better with our starting pitching, just a touch, and see if we can improve that and make life a little bit easier for everybody."

Kelly said Mauer provided him with one of the great moments in the baseball season earlier this month when he worked a 10-pitch at-bat against Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman, who was regularly reaches 100 miles per hour on the radar gun. Mauer fell behind 0-2 in the count, faced seven more pitches and finally hit a stinging double to left-center field.

"He is a professional hitter, and that at-bat he had two weeks ago against the big shot down there in Cincinnati, that was one of the better at-bats that you'll ever see in your life, my goodness gracious," Kelly said. "Then Willingham followed with the home run to get us a win down there in Cincinnati. These are the kinds of at-bats professional people take, and Joe certainly fits in that mold."

Kelly is a booster of third baseman Trevor Plouffe but added: "He needs work. He's not a Gold Glove down there or anything, but he's trying. He's improved immensely, in his whole game. I think what's much, much better is the quality of at-bats that he has. He has a lot better quality at-bats and his batting average and his home run production have indicated that he's improved his selection at the plate and what he's doing. He's been fun to watch, that's for sure, but he has some work to do, he'll tell you that."

One hears lots of praise for the great job Kelly does when he is the color commentator on Twins broadcasts, but that field doesn't interest him as a long-term career.

"No sir, [Sunday] is the last day for me," Kelly joked this weekend. "I haven't won any games. I'm starting to think I might be the jinx."

Gophers additions

New Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague has made some additions and changes since he succeeded Joel Maturi on June 18.

Teague named a top assistant June 22 when he appointed David Benedict as executive associate athletic director. Benedict came to Minnesota from Virginia Commonwealth, where he worked under Teague and was the interim athletic director.

Now the word is that Teague might bring in another executive for his staff.

Jottings

• Rumors are that Bill Lester, who has been executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission -- the owner and operator of the Metrodome -- since 1987, will announce his retirement Thursday morning at an MSFC meeting.

• Mauer was asked how he prepares when he is the designated hitter instead of catching or playing first base: "It's kind of been a learning process over the years. Here at Target Field, we have a cage behind the dugout so you can get some swings in when you're trying to stay loose. What's worked for me is I like sitting on the bench and just get as involved in the game as much as I can. Just watch and see what the pitchers are trying to do and watch our defense, instead of getting back behind the dugout and taking hundreds of swings."

• This past week, defensive players on the Gophers football team transferred 52 cases of food into 11,000 boxes for shipment to feed families around the world for Kids Against Hunger. Now the offensive players will try to beat the defense by packing more than the 11,000 boxes their teammates did. It's another example of community service Jerry Kill gets done besides coaching football.

• Jim Thome, in town with the Orioles, will try to add to the 61 home runs he has hit against the Twins over the years, more than any other opposing hitter in franchise history.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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