The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

June 2, 2014

Thoma column: Free Josmil: Twins need a third catcher who doesn't play

Josmil Pinto’s batting average isn’t impressive, but his on-base percentage is strong and his slugging percentage is the second highest among the 12 Twins with at least 50 plate appearances.

But he seldom cracks the lineup.

The core issue for Pinto: He’s one of two catchers on the active roster, and the lesser one defensively. And Ron Gardenhire fears being without a “real” catcher available if the starting backstop gets hurt.

Pinto got regular action as the designated hitter in April, when Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia were on the disabled list and catcher/outfielder Chris Herrmann was on the roster. Herrmann didn’t do much on the field to help the team, but his presence freed Gardenhire to have both Pinto and Kurt Suzuki in the lineup.

Herrmann was shipped back to Rochester May 8. He was briefly restored to the 25-man roster for the five-game road trip for interleague play, but that was a period when the DH wasn’t used.

In the 21 games since May 8, Pinto has started just seven games — six times as the catcher, once as the designated hitter.

It’s no real coincidence that as Pinto’s playing time has diminished, so has the Twins’ ability to score runs. And the outsider grumbling over Gardenhire’s reluctance to deploy the roster’s second-best OPS is getting louder.

A reader inquired late last week via email: Is Gardenhire’s phobia about DHing catchers common among managers?

My answer: Probably. For most teams, it’s not an issue, because most catchers aren’t good enough hitters for their managers to use them as a designated hitter.

It’s been an obvious issue for Gardenhire for a decade, because between Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit and Pinto, he’s almost always had at least one catcher who was also one of his better hitters. (In the cases of Doumit and Pinto, they were/are better hitters than receivers.) That’s just not common.

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