While Kevin Slowey is trying to shake out of his first slump of 2009, the other four starters are starting to put something together.
For Nick Blackburn it's all about maintaining what's been working all season long. For Glen Perkins it's about finding a groove after missing a little bit of time. But for Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano, it's simply about time. All four of these guys are putting together streaks of various lengths, and it's not surprising that their stretches have coincided with more competetive play from the team as a whole.
On Tuesday Baker lasted just five innings, but he also allowed just one run, and it was the first time in seven tries that he didn't give the Twins a quality start. He's now got his ERA under 5.00 for the first time this year. In June, Baker was commissioned for six starts, and he racked up 39.1 innings, a 3.20 ERA and a 4-0 record if you're into that kind of thing. More telling, he's cut down on how often his opposition reaches base and increased his strikeout rates (35 K's in June). It always takes a little while to recognize trends in baseball, to see who can establish something and how they do it, but Baker is re-established. It's good to have him back.
Captain Consistency has been doing it almost all year, leading the team in quality starts (12) and innings (107.1). It's now eighth quality starts in a row, with 58 innings amassed over that stretch. 22 strikeouts aren't great, and versus 13 walks the ratio isn't strong either but Blackburn's general control this year has been outstanding. His 2.02 ERA over these eight starts is a little unreal, but Nick's succeeding in spite of his peripherals, not because of them. He keeps the ball in the park and doesn't shoot himself in the foot, and as long as his fastball continues to sink and his defense picks him up, even if he's not as good as he's been the last month and a half he can still be an effective pitcher.
If it wasn't for May, Perkins would be having one helluva year. As it stands, it still isn't bad; he's been at his best since returning from the disabled list. That's just four starts but covers 27 innings, and a 2.67 ERA in spite of just nine strikeouts. He's allowed just one home run over that stretch, and just a pair of free passes, meaning that just like Nick he relies on hitters making contact the way he wants them to. There will always be questions of sustainability for guys like Perk who don't strike people out, but right now that doesn't matter. Glen has been great since returning from the DL, and he's giving his team a chance to win. That's what it's all about.
Every game, every inning and every pitch is like a crap shoot with Cisco, or so it seems, but he was effective throughout June...if not efficient. His 3.77 June ERA has helped him start to get his 2009 line under a bit of control, pushing his yearly ERA under 6.00. He's struck out 30 in 31 innings over five starts, allowing just 27 hits. Sure, the 14 walks aren't a good thing and he can throw too many pitches, but he's been getting himself under a bit more control physically and mentally these last few weeks. The big innings aren't happening, at least in terms of runs, and that was the biggest source of Liriano's failings early in the year. What's best about Liriano is that if he can keep his mechanics under control, keep his elbow and shoulder where they're supposed to be and maintain a consistent release point, and just focus, these are numbers he can easily sustain.