COMMENTARY | That loud whooshing sound coming from the Twin Cities on Saturday was a loud exhale from the entire Minnesota Twins front office.
They undoubtedly had been holding their collective breath since top pitching prospect Alex Meyer had gone on the disabled list June 2.
Meyer returned to action for Class-AA New Britain on Saturday, August 24 with an impressive outing. He allowed just one hit and two walks in five scoreless innings with five strikeouts. Multiple reports had him reaching 100 mph on the ballpark radar gun.
Meyer actually had pitched three times before this game for the Gulf Coast League Twins. Meyer had allowed just one run in 8 1/3 innings with 16 strikeouts and three walks. In his final outing before being moved back to New Britain, Meyer had nine strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings, which means of the 11 outs he got, nine were on strikeouts.
However, the game Saturday was the first true test of Meyer's health and sharpness, and he passed with flying colors. This was a huge boost for the organization because the Twins are desperate for a pitcher like Meyer, who not only throws hard but also has struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings this season and for his career.
In an era when strikeout rates continue to climb to all-time highs, the Twins are going back in time. The Twins' current starting staff is averaging 4.8 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, which is far and away the worst in the major leagues. No other team is averaging fewer than 6.
In fact, no team has had its starting staff average fewer than 5 strikeouts per nine innings since the 2006 Kansas City Royals. The Twins' current strikeout rate would be the lowest since the historically bad 2003 Detroit Tigers, whose starters went 29-94 with a 5.71 ERA. The Twins haven't had their starters average fewer than 5 strikeouts per nine innings since the strike-shortened 1995 season.
In the past, the Twins have offset low strikeout rates with excellent control. But, in 2013, the Twins' starters are 16th in the major leagues in walk rate. The Twins' starters are worse than average at allowing home runs despite being better than average at getting ground balls.
What clearly is the biggest problem, is the Twins do not have anyone that can miss bats consistently. The Twins have not had one starter strike out more than seven batters in an outing all season. The rest of the major leagues has had a total of 495 times in which a pitcher struck out at least eight batters. This means the other major league teams are averaging 17 such outings on the season -- and the Twins have none.
The Twins saw this as a problem last season and have tried to address it, but it has been slow going. The biggest step toward improving in this area quickly was trading Denard Span to the Washington Nationals for Meyer after the 2012 season.
The Twins also traded for Trevor May, who has continued to struggle with control in New Britain. They drafted Jose Berrios in the supplemental round of the 2012 draft and drafted Kohl Stewart this June as the fourth overall pick in the draft as well.
If Meyer had not gotten injured, he probably would be in the Twins rotation right now, especially considering that Andrew Albers, who was a teammate of Meyer's earlier this year in New Britain, is in the Twins' rotation. Unfortunately, Albers has the lowest strikeout rate for Twins starters.
Unfortunately, for the Twins, their last two pitchers drafted in the first round, Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers, both had to undergo Tommy John surgery and were each out for about a year. Gibson made it to the Twins this year before control issues forced the Twins to send him back to Class-AAA Rochester. Wimmers has just started to pitch again.
The Twins were undoubtedly fearful that the same thing would happen to Meyer when he complained of a sore arm after his start on June 1. Losing Meyer for more than a year would have been a dreadful setback.
Now it appears that Meyer will be getting some more innings in the Arizona Fall League while facing other top prospects and could find himself in Minnesota by June of 2014. At least, that's the hope.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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