I discussed the possibility of trading either Liriano, Slowey, or Blackburn in my last post, and I made it pretty clear that it might not be a bad idea to move Slowey or Blackburn but Liriano needs to be in our rotation through the season and beyond. For the sake of this post, we're going to assume a couple things:
1) No trades are made before the end of Spring Training
2) Nathan, Slowey, and Baker are healthy, and
3) Start the year with a 12 man staff
Ok...so the obvious first step is figuring out the starting rotation. This is probably the easy part. Pavano and Liriano are locks. Gardy said today that Duensing will be starting also. I know that probably isn't written in stone but for the purpose of this, Duensing will be our 3rd starter. That in itself is interesting. Many people thought Duensing might end up in the bullpen simply because he is the only one of the starters with relief experience. And not only is he experienced in the 'pen, he was effective last year with an ERA under 2.00. He could also get out tough lefties holding them to a .167 batting average while in a relief role. After Blackburn imploded last year and Duensing got another opportunity in the rotation, he didn't disappoint. Duensing is 12-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 22 career starts for the Twins. That's not too bad for a guy projected to be a back-of-the-rotation starter after he came up. I think it's absolutley necessary for the Duensinator to be in the rotation. He was our third best starter last year and has, without a doubt, earned his spot.
So now we got Pavano, Liriano, and Duensing penciled in. Liriano and Duensing, being two lefties, will be split up by someone. I think most people will agree that that will be Scotty "Shake 'N Bake" Baker if he's healthy (which has become a big "if" with him). Baker has the potential to be a #2 or #3 starter but he still has yet to put it all together for a full year. He's either been raped by bad health, high pitch count, or the long ball. He's been a fly ball pitcher his whole career, and too many of those fly balls have turned into taters. Pitching at Target Field should turn some of those into Delmon Young adventures to the warning track and eventual outs but he still needs to keep the ball down in the zone. Bert has made that very clear to his TV audience over the years.
So now the rotation looks like this: Pavano, Liriano, Baker, Duensing, and Slowey/Blackburn. Personally, I think Blackburn has the inside track to that fifth spot. After his stint in Rochester, he turned it around last season and rediscovered the sinker. Prior to that, Betty White coulda took him yard. Blackburn also said that he went away from throwing his slider last year and focused more on his changeup after experiencing discomfort in his elbow when breakin' off those sliders. That and his inability to get a two-seam fastball to sink led to his ineffectiveness in July. (So here's my off-topic rant: Why in the HELL didn't he take a stint on the DL instead of "playing through the pain" and hurting his team start, after start, after start?! There's a difference between playing hurt and playing injured). But anywho...if Blackie can incorporate a slider in with a changeup and a fastball with good sinking action, he's going to be effective. I see him regaining his form of early last season and being a solid fifth starter.
Slowey will fill a long relief role in the the meantime. I'm sure he'll be given the opportunity to make the occasional spot start and fill in when someone inevitably goes on the DL. He might be better suited as a reliever anyway after demonstrating over and over again last year that he wore out before he could make it our of the fifth inning.
The dark horse in all of this is Kyle Gibson. (What's a Twins post without mentioning Kyle Gibson?) There's a next to zero chance he makes the rotation out of Spring Training and the Twins have seemed reluctant in the past to put a prospect like Gibson in the bullpen until a starting spot opens up. He'll be starting in Rochester. If he's tearin it up down there and just can't be ignored anymore, and one of the starters in the big leagues implodes, I'd love nothing more than to see Gibson get a shot. He's only 22 but Gardy has already said he's impressed with him. Twins Territory will be buzzing the day he gets that first start. I, for one, can't wait to see this kid in action.
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