The Yankees’ Trash Has Turned into the Twins’ Treasure

Phil Hughes

The Yankees followed a four-game winning streak with a four-game losing streak. Then after back-to-back wins they have now lost five straight. What does that mean? Other than that they have been a bad team for a while now, I have no idea. But I hope it means that they are about to go on a 12-game winning streak.

With the Yankees and Twins meeting in Minnesota for a four-game series, Jesse Lund of Twinkie Town joined me to talk about Phil Hughes’ first half-season with the Twins, Eduardo Nunez’s surprising production and how two failed Twins starters have become reliable relievers.

Keefe: The last time we talked was on May 30 for the last Yankees-Twins series. A lot has happened in those five weeks. Mainly, the Yankees have gone in the tank. Before that series, the Yankees were 28-24 and since then they have gone 13-18. I thought after finishing their nine-game road trip with four wins in five games that they would use a home series against the Twins to start a summer run, but that didn’t happen. The Twins didn’t use their series win over the Yankees in the Bronx to start a run of their own either, going 14-18 since since then.

What has gone wrong for the Twins since the last time they played the Yankees?

Lund: I don’t know if as much has gone wrong as much as it’s just the Twins playing to their true talent level. Some guys could be doing better (Nolasco, Arcia) and some guys have cooled off (Dozier, Escobar, Suzuki), but it’s really just an issue with inconsistency. And that’s to be expected when you have a roster of middle-of-the-road talent … and that tag is probably being a little generous.

This team has some pretty good role players, but with Mauer out and one of their new hot hands (Danny Santana) also on the disabled list, the lineup has been patchwork and being competitive is mostly down to the starting pitcher having a good night.

Keefe: My worst nightmare came true on June 1 at Yankee Stadium and I was in the Stadium to watch it unfold: Phil Hughes beat the Yankees. Not only did he beat the Yankees, but he was in line for a loss after giving up two earned runs over eight innings before David Robertson had a meltdown and the Yankees gave up six runs in the ninth for a 7-2 loss.

Since that start, Hughes has slowly started to return to being the Phil Hughes that pitched for the Yankees in 2013, allowing five earned runs in three of his five starts. The biggest difference about 2014 Phil Hughes is that he isn’t walking anyone. He has walked just 10 in 103 innings this season after walking 42 in 145 2/3 innings last season. (As you can tell and as I told you last time, I’m rooting heavily against Hughes after how he pitched his way out of the Bronx after being sold to Yankees fans for about a decade.)

Are you waiting for pre-2013 Phil Hughes to show up in Minnesota or do you think 2014 Phil Hughes is here to stay?

Lund: I don’t think he’s as good as he was the first two months of the season, but I still think he’ll be better for Minnesota than he was for the Yankees. He’s established a nice rapport with Kurt Suzuki, who has a better acumen for game-calling than I expected, but Hughes has also been pitching with a good deal of confidence. To live and die up in the zone, I guess you need to have a good deal of faith in your abilities. I see Hughes stabilizing as a solid No. 3, which will make him well worth his contract and, until Alex Meyer arrives, also probably makes him the best pitcher on staff.

Keefe: In the ninth inning of that nightmare June 1 loss, Eduardo Nunez doubled in the ninth in his only at-bat of the game. If I’m rooting heavily against Phil Hughes this season then I’m rooting incredibly against Eduardo Nunez after his Yankees tenure and his projected future costing the Yankees Cliff Lee in 2010, as I told you during the last email exchange.

Nunez is hitting .305/.337/.463 for the Twins this year with three home runs in 87 plate appearances after hitting .260/.307/.372 with three home runs for the Yankees in 336 plate appearances last year. As for Yangervis Solate, Nunez’s replacement on the Yankees, well after carrying the Yankees through the first two months of the season, he was sent down to Triple-A on Thursday prior to the start of this series.

What are your thoughts on the man the Yankees referred to as Nuney?

Lund: I think he’s one of those fine role players I mentioned earlier. The Twins organization’s inability to plan for issues in center field has led to a lot of infielders playing in the outfield somewhere, and that’s opened up a few opportunities for Nunez. As long as we don’t need him to step in for anything more than a couple of games at a time, he’s a perfectly suitable bench option, provided he keeps producing. You’ve seen firsthand how quickly he can lose his ability to produce, and I sincerely doubt that he’s suddenly tapped into his missing potential now. It’s not easy to be one of those guys – a guy who only gets playing time when he produces but can’t get playing time when he doesn’t produce and so how to you earn the playing time to produce when you’re not producing, but for now he looks like a nice get. I just wish he’d be willing to take a walk.

Keefe: I remember in 2009 when Glen Perkins was a starter and Brian Duensing was a starter, starting Game 1 of the 2009 ALDS. That was five years ago and now the two are no longer starters and haven’t been for a couple of years now. However, Perkins has turned into a reliable closer for the Twins and Duensing a reliable middle reliever.

Are you disappointed with how the potential starting careers of the two turned out, or are you happy that they turned out to be viable options in the bullpen?

Lund: It’s different for each guy. For Duensing, he was durable enough to start but he didn’t have the stuff and right handed hitters ate him for breakfast. So he’s turned into a pretty reliable middle innings reliever, even if Gardy doesn’t utilize platoon advantages as much as he could to get the most out of the lefty.

For Perkins, he seemed destined to be a wash out. His fastball sat right around 90, the curveball was too big and too slow, and he was just hit hard. Constantly. No doubt you’ve experienced this before as a fan — a guy with decent potential can’t make the adjustment to big league ball, his performance suffers, maybe says the wrong things to the wrong people in the organization and he’s in the dog house and you can already hear signatures going onto his walking papers.

But then he told the organization there wasn’t anywhere else he wanted to be, the team gave him an opportunity out of the bullpen, he started throwing 97, developed a slider and gave up on the curve, moved up the bullpen hierarchy and now he’s one of the best relievers in the American League. So while for Duensing it was a situation of low expectations and just being glad the guy found a place to be effective, with Perkins it was the case of a first round draft pick nearly going bust before being reinvented. There’s no disappointment there, just surprise.

Keefe: When we last talked, you said you thought the Twins would win 70 games before the season started and on May 30 you still believed that to be true. At 38-45, the Twins are 10 games out in the Central and would need to go 32-47 the rest of the way to meet your prediction, which won’t exactly be hard for them to do. After another month of baseball and half the season left, are your feelings on these Twins still the same and how your opinion on their future changed at all?

Lund: I think I’m willing to up my projection to 75 games. Now that’s without taking into account the fact that the Twins should be selling off spare parts at the trade deadline, which would change things again. But at the halfway mark they are on pace to win 76 games – a ten-game improvement over 2013 – and that’s a big step in the right direction. It’s been a rough two or three weeks here, but it’s definitely been a lot of fun watching the team be more competitive this year.