Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson, a 2005 Milaca graduate. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: Minnesota Twins rookie outfielder Aaron Hicks is off to a terrible start at the plate (3 hits in 43 at-bats for a .043 average through Sunday). How should manager Ron Gardenhire handle the situation?
-Dorr: I think if Sunday’s game with the Mets hadn’t been postponed, and Hicks would have had another horrible game, Gardenhire might have made a move. Gardenhire should have sat him down against the Angels. He’s missing fastballs down the middle and pitchers have quickly found out they can get him to chase breaking balls out of the strike zone. I wrote twice this spring that he had never played above the Class A level and wondered if it was too big a jump. So far it has been too big. I’d get Hicks out of the leadoff spot and play him off and on until, or if, he gets going. The problem isn’t just with Hicks, however. I wasn’t in favor of Pedro Florimon playing shortstop and so far he’s also been a bust. He’s not a hitter and we knew that. But he’s supposed to be a very good fielder, according to Gardenhire. He has 3 errors in his first 8 games this year and 10 in the 51 games he’s played with the Twins since last fall. Brian Dozier, who Gardenhire dumped last year after rushing him to the majors, made errors at about the same rate but had 6 homers in 83 games. And J.J. Hardy, who Gardenhire didn’t want after the 2011 season, won a Gold Glove last year and has made only 12 errors in 287 games with Baltimore, leading the AL in fielding percentage for shortstops the past two years. That’s one more error than Florimon while playing 231 more games. An added tidbit, sayings that could only come from Bert and Sid. During Monday’s 8-2 win, TV analyst Bert Blyleven said that an Angel pitcher was making his SECOND major league debut. Yes, second. And Sunday on TV, Sid Hartman, while talking about Hicks, said Denard Span and Ben Revere were tearing the cover off the ball for their new teams. Span is hitting .313 with Washington and Revere is hitting .222 with the Phillies. He has 9 hits, all singles, and a .296 on-base percentage, not very good for a leadoff hitter. But nobody on the show challenged Sid.
-Marxhausen: An old saying about the baseball season is that the season is a marathon, not a sprint. There is a lot of baseball left to be played and obviously Hicks is still a rookie looking to bounce back and make a name for himself. Clearly he still starts because of his speed and defense. Now, because his hitting is so abysmal, he can no longer be put in the leadoff position. That is the first move and for the second, play him in fewer games until he gets the feeling of the rigorous season down and is comfortable with it. Darin Mastroianni is looking to play, so switch the outfield around regularly and maybe some success will come out of it.
-Larson: It took Gardenhire several years to figure out Joe Mauer should be batting second in the order, something I’ve harped on for several years. So, it’s not surprising Gardenhire has batted Hicks leadoff for so long. Hicks would now have to go on some kind of record hitting streak to get his average to .225 and a team can’t afford to have its starting center fielder and leadoff hitter batting less than .280. Give Hicks another couple of weeks and if the futility continues, get him in Class AAA or Class AA where he might have a chance at the plate.
-Johnson: To be in a slump, you would have to come down from a higher level of performance. Hicks has yet to show any signs of high performance. Time and time again I watch him fall behind in the count 0-2 or 1-2 and then chase pitches out of the strike zone. This tells me he is not ready for the big leagues. Former New York Yankees player and manager Yogi Berra once said, “90 percent of the game is half mental”. Funny right? I think the half (or 90) percent he may be referring to when hitting is your approach. The talent is there in Hicks but his approach to big league hitting is not. I’d send him down to AAA until he regains confidence and learns how to go up to the plate with a plan. Once he has demonstrated both, I’d call him up for another opportunity.
•Question: Last week Carlos Quentin of the San Diego Padres charged the mound after star pitcher Zack Greinke of the LA Dodgers hit him in the shoulder with a pitch. In the resulting scuffle Greinke suffered a broken collar bone and will likely miss about eight weeks. Quentin was suspended for eight games. Was that an appropriate penalty?
-Dorr: It was a one-run game, the count was 3-2, and I doubt seriously if Greinke was throwing at Quentin, regardless of their past history. I think an appropriate penalty might be the one suggested by Dodger manager Don Mattingly who said Quentin shouldn’t be able to play until Greinke can pitch again. Maybe that’s too harsh but the Dodgers have lost a top pitcher for perhaps a couple months or more. I noticed Sunday that Quentin, who had said he was going to appeal the suspension, is now not going to do that. I think he, and/or his agent, are smart enough to figure out that he’s getting by pretty easily with just eight games.
-Marxhausen: In a way I believe that the penalty fit what happened. Some have argued that Quentin should be suspended as long as Greinke is out, but that should not be the case in this situation. Quentin has had a decent career against Greinke including three home runs in 24 at-bats. Also once in 2008 and again in 2009, Greinke has hit Quentin with pitches when they were both in the American League. Quentin wasn’t charging the mound with the idea of breaking his Greinke’s collarbone. He was responding to being hit by the pitch.
-Larson: Quentin, who’s been plunked 116 times over 7-plus years, needs to realize that when you hug the plate you’re going to get hit. For him that was 17 times last year and 23 times two seasons ago. As Luther said, there was no reason for Greinke to hit Quentin on purpose. To justify charging Greinke because Greinke had hit him in 2008 and 2009 was absurd as was his “it’s a man’s game on the field” statement. The suspension should have been for at least 25 games.
-Johnson: I like listening to Brian Kenny, a baseball analyst from the Major League Baseball network. He made a good point about Greinke getting hurt in the brawl. He stated that if it were a “no-name” relief pitcher who was hurt in the fight, no one would care so much but because it was the Dodgers’ ace Zack Greinke, it brings forth the debate of charging the mound and penalties associated with it. Personally, I like watching the brawls but would I like my children imitating a player charging the mound on the little league field after being hit by a pitch? Absolutely not. I think the penalty was appropriate.
•Question: Minnesota Timberwolves Coach Rick Adelman achieved his 1,000th victory as an NBA coach last week, with almost all of them coming before he came to Minnesota. How would you rank him among past Timberwolves coaches?
-Dorr: As far as knowing the game and how to handle NBA players (many of whom act like spoiled children), Adelman might be the best the Timberwolves have had. He’s had key injuries to deal with in his time here and that might cause him to move on. I wish he would stick around for another year to see if the team would be better if everyone is healthy.
-Marxhausen: Adelman has not been able to shine his talents through the ball club in the short amount of time he has spent here. This season especially hurt because of star player Kevin Love injuring his hand before the season, then reinjuring it shortly into the season. If we are just looking at the success with the Timberwolves organization Adelman would not be near the top of the list, but if we included the entire careers of each individual coach then I believe he is the best coach to ever coach the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves need to bring him back next season and give him a chance with hopefully an injury-free season.
-Larson: Put Adelman No. 2 behind Flip Saunders. He knows the game and it shows. If Adelman comes back (his contract expires after this season) and he’s given an upgraded roster, he could move up to No. 1. If not for injuries this season Adelman would likely have had the Timberwolves in contention for a playoff spot.
-Johnson: Adelman has had a very good career as a coach in the NBA. It is hard to rank him among past Timberwolves coaches since he has only been with the team since 2011. I hesitate to attribute Minnesota’s struggles in the past two years to Adelman because I believe the talent he has had to work with has been so poor. If they can keep Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love healthy, I think the Timberwolves will have a bright future with Adelman. I would rank him second behind Flip Saunders, the only coach to reach the playoffs and who amassed 411 wins. This is a remarkable two spot to be ranked for only being with the team since 2011 but when you look at the records and accomplishments of previous coaches, I think it is appropriate.
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