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Jason’s Blog: Nolasco’s woes

Posted By: Jason Iacovino

The Twins dropped the rubber game of a three-game set at first place Detroit on Sunday due mostly to poor defense in right field by Oswaldo Arcia.  Arcia misplayed a ball in right early in the game which led to the Tigers’ first run and then lost a fly ball in the sun in the ninth, allowing the Tigers to win, 4-3, on a walkoff sacrifice fly.

Starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco acknowledged the miscues after the game, reminding everyone that you can’t give a good lineup like Detroit extra outs and expect to win.  There were other misplays–including a bobble by third baseman Eduardo Escobar and a foul pop-up that first baseman Joe Mauer allowed to drop, which extended Nolasco’s pitch count.

Point taken by Nolasco, but here’s the real story–we’re now in mid-June–and our $49 million free agent starting pitcher has not looked like an Opening Day starter this year.  He looks more like a fifth starter, in fact.

Nolasco had a solid 2013 with Miami and Los Angeles, going 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA.  He’s been steading in the National League the last five years, although he has never been as good as his 2008 stint with the Marlins when he went 15-8 with a 3.52 ERA.

Maybe it’s the transition to the American League, but there’s something about Nolasco which suddenly reeks of being overpaid.  In 14 starts here in 2014, Nolasco is 4-5 with a 5.66 ERA.  He’s given up 104 hits in 84 1/3 innings pitched and he has given up an American League-leading 53 earned runs.  He has one complete game to his credit.

These numbers do not spell 4 yrs, $49 million.  They don’t spell ace, either.  Despite dropping to 5 games behind the Tigers after losing the final two games of the weekend series at Comerica Park, the Twins have managed to stay near the .500 mark and are still in the AL Central race in mid-June largely because of consistent starting pitching.

The four veteran starters of Nolasco, Mike Pelfrey, Phil Hughes, and Kevin Correia had an awful first three weeks of the year, to the point where Pelfrey was replaced in the rotation (And subsequently landed on the disabled list) and Hughes, who did not have a good 2013, was under heavy scrutiny.  Hughes bounced back with a tremendous May, Pelfrey has been adequately replaced by Samuel Deduno, and Correia, who never really did recover from early woes, has managed to piece together a couple of strong outings to keep him from being replaced by Trevor May or Alex Meyer.

But what is most suprising from this veteran group of starters is Nolasco.  In his 14 starts, he has completed 7 innings only 3 times. Again, this is not what you would expect from a $12 million per year starter.  And unlike Pelfrey or Correia, the Twins are in it for the long haul with Nolasco.  They need him to stop talking about defense and start striking out a few more hitters so we don’t have to worry if Arcia kicks a ball around in right field.  Because guess what–he will; this Twins lineup (Correctly, in my view) is built for scoring runs, not necessarily playing great defense.

If the Twins expect to contend for a playoff spot in the second half of this season, and last weekend’s signing of Kendrys Morales indicates they do, then the number one priority is to keep the bullpen from burning out.  That means starters have to go six innings, minimum. And for high paid starters like Nolasco and Hughes–seven innings should be the expectation every start–even if this means giving up 5 runs.

The Twins brought in a free agent starter to pitch on Opening Day last season as well and that turned out to be a disaster as Vance Woorley had to be sent to the minors and appeared to be done as a major league pitcher.  But a funny thing happened on Sunday: Woorley made his first MLB start of 2014 for the Pirates the same day the Twins were kicking the ball around in Detroit.  Woorley pitched seven shutout innings, giving up five hits while striking out five and walking none to earn a no-decision.

Is this a National League / American League thing? I don’t know and I don’t care.  The bottom line is when you pay a veteran starter the kind of money the Twins generously have thrown at the likes of Woorley, Pelfrey, Correia, and Nolasco, you expect those guys to get hitters out.  This is true whether we’re playing at Wrigley with the wind blowing in against a weak Cubs lineup or at Fenway Park, as the Twins will today through Wednesday, where pop-ups turn into doubles.

Joe Mauer aside, the Twins have got everything they could’ve ever wanted out of its lineup so far in 2014.  It’s time for the pitchers to follow suit, and that begins with the Nolasco, the man at the top of the food chain.

Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50 p.m. Email him at jjiacovino@stthomas.edu. Follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.

 

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