Minnesota Twins – Los Angeles Dodgers Doubleheader Preview

Dodgers at Twins
Setting: Target Field, Minneapolis, Minn.
Season Series: Dodgers lead 1-0 (Twins won last season series 2-1, in 2011)

(All stats entering play Thursday)

Game One Matchup: RHP Dan Haren (3-0, 2.03 ERA, 7.8 K/9, 1.13 WHIP) v. RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-2, 7.32 ERA, 3.7 K/9, 1.88 WHIP) – 12:10 CT first pitch

Haren Lowdown: Haren has been nothing short of sensational in his first five starts as a Dodger, winning three and looking quite a bit like early-career Haren. It’s not exactly business as usual for the righty, however. He’s throwing softer than ever — 87.5 mph on his four-seamer and 86.7 on his two-seamer — so he’s clearly getting by with deception and location (3.1 percent walk rate will also attest). Those velocities are a full three miles per hour slower than his career rates.

Having a wildly diverse repertoire has helped Haren, who can come at a hitter with four different fastball varieties (split and cutter in addition to aforementioned two), and he’s mixed in what PITCHf/x classifies as a knuclecurve, which he’ll throw about one in every 10 pitches. Haren’s location has been very, very good this season. His splitter is the only pitch where he’s seen much difficulty, both in location (8.3 percent walk rate) and execution (.455/.500/.773 batting line against). Everything else is allowing a sub-.700 OPS — including sub-.500 on the cutter and knucklecurve — and a sub 2.1 percent walk rate (and that’s just cutter, everything else is zero). Haren will continue to walk a fine line given his velocity as a right-hander, but it’s going to be absolutely artistic to watch him pitch when he’s on. And so far, that’s been the case.

Pelfrey Lowdown: At this point Pelfrey has to be just pitching for his job, as any positivity from the first couple starts has completely evaporated over the past two weeks (1.9 K/9; 7.7 BB/9 in that span). Pelfrey has nearly twice as many walks (15) and strikeouts (8), and could be just one or two more bad starts from being banished to the bullpen — he warmed up as an emergency reliever over the weekend — or worse yet, Rochester. Apparently he still does have options, though as a vested veteran he could refuse to be sent down. It’s still early, but there has to be some worry about Pelfrey’s location, especially when taken in the same vein as his diminished early season velocity. Out of the pen, Pelfrey could be a very good reliever, but it’s unclear just how close the Twins are to considering it.

Game Two Matchup: RHP Red Patterson (MLB debut) v. LHP Kris Johnson (first 2014 MLB appearance) – 6:10 CT first pitch

Patterson Lowdown: There’s virtually no buzz surrounding Patterson, who’ll come up and make his big league debut in a spot start that was widely believed to be going to Josh Beckett as recently as late Wednesday night. Patterson spent all of 2013 at Albuquerque, posting a 3.03 ERA and 9.2 K/9 in a notorious hitter’s league (PCL). Patterson was a 29th round pick in 2010, and has not appeared on Baseball America’s Dodgers prospect list in any year. If memory serves, that list runs 40 deep each season. In other words, Patterson is a ways down there. John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com did have him as a possible C+ after 2011, but even then by the looks of it he was somewhere in the 30 range in the Dodgers organization nearly three years ago.

True Blue LA — the Dodgers SB Nation blog — had Patterson at No. 64 in the Dodgers organization after 2011, and offered the following (via interviews conducted with Patterson himself and his pitching coach Kremlin Martinez in the Saginaw News:

“Patterson’s best pitch is low-90s fastball (that has been clocked as high as 95 mph), but Patterson feels his best pitch is a “spike” curveball, a combination slider-curve. Red said, “I’ve never been able to throw a real curve, so I came up with the spike, basically digging my fingernail into the ball. It doesn’t move 12-to-6, but more 3-to-9, but even then it sometimes moves different ways.” Kremlin also added, “This year, the control on his off-speed pitches improved. He still has a good fastball, but he’s been able to use his changeup and curve to get lefties out.””

Johnson Lowdown: Unlike Patterson, Johnson isn’t making his big league debut on Thursday, but it’s not far from it. Johnson made four nondescript appearances for the Pirates last year (6.10 ERA, 7.8 K/9) before coming over in the bizarro Duke Welker shuttle situation. Even with the magic of MiLB.tv, the writer has yet to see Johnson pitch live, so here’s a breakdown of the lefty from Rochester’s own Chris Fee, who covers the team for Sports and Leisure Magazine:

“So far Johnson has either been average or virtually unhittable, there has been no middle ground. In his first and last start, Johnson has not allowed an earned run in 11 innings, and has given up just five hits and struck out 10. In his second and third starts, Johnson allowed seven earned runs and 13 hits in 11 innings with 10 strikeouts and three walks. While Johnson has an overall ERA of 2.86 with 20 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched, there needs to be more consistency from him before a promotion to the next level is a possibility. (Johnson went 10-4 with 2.39 ERA with Indianapolis last season).” Of course, Mr. Fee is suggesting a more permanent promotion rather than the 26th man situation the Twins are in today.

Best Dodgers Player You Haven’t Heard of: Scott Van Slyke, outfielder/first baseman

Lowdown: It can be easy to forget about Van Slyke, the son of former Pirates great/good Andy Van Slyke, but that’s more because he’s behind the troupe of Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Carl Crawford. That’s not totally his fault, and to his credit he has mashed when given the opportunity the past couple years. He’ll play all over the outfield — though unlike pops he can’t really do center — and can give Gonzalez a rest at first base as well. More importantly, he has mashed when given the opportunity the past couple of years, hitting .248/.349/.491 with nine home runs in just under 200 plate appearances. That’s more or less a 30 home run pace over a full season. So far he’s profiled more as a lefty masher (.826 OPS v. LHP | .691 v. RHP) as he bats right handed — contrary to his pops’ lefty swing. Still, this will be a guy the Dodgers will find plenty of playing time for, especially with Ethier’s platoon issues and Crawford’s Crawford issues.

Injury Bug:
Dodgers pitchers Chad Billingsley (elbow), Scott Elbert (elbow, appendectomy), and Onelki Garcia (elbow) are on the 60-day disabled list. Billingsley and Elbert are out indefinitely after Tommy John surgery, while Garcia’s elbow surgery was of the arthroscopic variety and should only keep him sidelined until early summer. Lefty Clayton Kershaw (back) is on the 15-day disabled list but is expected to be activated next week. Catcher A.J. Ellis (left knee) is also on the 15-day disabled list after having surgery to repair his medial meniscus. He’s expected back in early- to mid-May.

Twins outfielders Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia are on the 15-day disabled list. Both are expected back sometime in May.

Who’s Hot (last two weeks):
1B Adrian Gonzalez – .381/.438/.690 (.470 wOBA, 3 HR)
OF Yasiel Puig – .302/.388/.535 (.405 wOBA, 2 HR)
OF Scott Van Slyke – .263/.333/.526 (.374 wOBA)
SP Dan Haren – 1-0 (2 starts), 2.03 ERA
SP Zack Greinke – 2-0 (3 starts), 1.42 ERA
RP Brandon League – unscored upon in 6.1 IP (four appearances)

OF Sam Fuld – .429/.455/.667 (.486 wOBA)
C Josmil Pinto – .278/.469/.472 (.425 wOBA)
C Kurt Suzuki – .385/.441/.577 (.425 wOBA)
3B Trevor Plouffe – .293/.388/.512 (.389 wOBA)
RPs Casey Fien, Sam Deduno, Michael Tonkin, and Caleb Thielbar – unscored upon in 18.2 innings pitched
RP Glen Perkins – 1 ER over 5 IP in 5 appearances (1.80 ERA)
SP Phil Hughes – 2-0 (2 starts), 2.77 ERA

Who’s Not (last two weeks):
OF Carl Crawford – .107/.161/.179 (.155 wOBA, 3 for 28)
IF Justin Turner – .160/.250/.200 (.216 wOBA)
3B Juan Uribe – .205/.234/.341 (.243 wOBA)
RP Brian Wilson – 6 ER in 5 IP in 7 appearances (10.80 ERA)

SS Pedro Florimon – .150/.190/.200 (.179 wOBA)
OF Jason Kubel – .211/.268/.263 (.244 wOBA)
OF Aaron Hicks – .192/.323/.346 (.308 wOBA)
SP Kevin Correia – 0-2 (2 starts), 11.88 ERA
SP Ricky Nolasco – 1-1 (2 starts), 8.49 ERA
SP Mike Pelfrey – 0-0 (2 starts), 6.75 ERA

Weather (courtesy of BleacherWeather.com/subject to change): High 48/Low 39, 70 percent chance of precip Thursday (30 percent Thursday night)

Other notes:
Twins rank fifth in runs scored in MLB.
Twins rank first in offensive walk rate (12.6 percent) and team OBP (.353) in MLB.

About Brandon Warne

Sportswriter trying to make it.
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