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Breezing Through the Rotation

Running down the list of rotation hopefuls.

There are questions, this we know.  One-by-one, here is how each of the candidates for the starting rotation have fared this spring.  We'll look through their stat lines so far, and in the end I'll note how many major league innings they've logged in addition to how likely they'll be to make the rotation out of spring training.

Livan Hernandez

GS    IP   H  SO  BB  HR   ERA
 4  13.0  24   6   3   2  9.69

Apparently anointed the Twins starter for Opening Day, Hernandez struggled again on Sunday.  In his fourth spring start, Livan was slow to the plate, easy to hit and even easier to steal on.  While it's obvious that he's either rusty or lazy, he wasn't too concerned about his latest performance, saying spring training is about "how you feel".  As accurate as that is, he still admits he isn't quite there:

"The light is not on yet. The light is going to be on the 31st. So trust me, it's nothing that bothers me. I'm ready to go."

At 33 and being the only starter on the roster with more than 300 innings under his belt, Hernandez will be relied upon to soak up innings and be a good example.  He won't be expected to be an ace, but he will have to be good enough to not get benched.  The veteran is scheduled for two more starts before the regular season kicks off.

Career Innings:  2371.0
Starter Scale:  10

Scott Baker

GS    IP   H  SO  BB  HR   ERA
 2   4.0   5   3   1   0  0.00

Baker has had a slow spring, getting pulled due to a strained muscle in his second spring start.  He hasn't pitched since then (March 8), and now has had a bullpen session moved back due to the flu.  Tuesday afternoon has him scheduled for a light session, but if he still doesn't feel well will miss an opportunity to start on Thursday.

Before Hernandez was brought in, Baker was the acting ipso facto ace of the team, as Liriano continued to work himself back.  It's likely that Scott will still enter the season as the team's number-two starter, but there's no doubt that his growth has been stunted this spring due to lack of action.

Career Innings:  280.2
Starter Scale:  9

Boof Bonser

GS    IP   H  SO  BB  HR   ERA
 3   9.0   6   4   5   0  3.00

Boof's biggest news of the off-season has been related to his weight loss, and with good reason.  He looks slimmer, and the hope is that being in better condition helps with his overall performance.  So far this spring he hasn't given up any home runs, which is nice.  He has struggled with his control at times, which isn't too much of a concern in March when pitchers are working on motion, body control and tweaking their arsenals.  

With the youth of the rotation, Bonser's biggest task for the summer will be a more efficient use of this pitches.  He topped the 100-pitch plateau nine times in 2007, and only once was that good enough to get him through seven innings.  Yet he pitched through at least seven innings eight times, and never allowed more than three earned runs in those starts.  That's pretty telling, and it basically says that Bonser has the ability to eat up innings and be effective.  As long as he can get through his innings in 15 pitches instead of 20.  If Boof can be more efficient, he should be able to eat up 200 innings.

Career Innings:  273.1
Starter Scale:  10

Francisco Liriano

GS    IP   H  SO  BB  HR   ERA
 3   6.2  11   3   5   1  8.10

While Liriano certainly has been getting starts so far this spring, it's clear he still has a long way to go.  He made it into the fourth inning in his third start of the spring on Monday, striking out one and getting charged with three runs.

By his own admission he was going full-throttle, which is very good news.  After the game he spoke about being more efficient with his pitches and throwing more strikes, which is a dime-a-dozen quote but true all the same.  Rick Anderson wasn't too concerned about Liriano's apparent lack of control however, stating that it's natural to lose some control when you really "let go" for the first time in ages:

"I told him before this start, 'If you're not cutting it loose and all of a sudden you do start cutting it loose, you're not going to have the command because you're not used to that motion,' Anderson said.  "But now that he has [cut it loose], we can start working on it in the bullpen and see if the command will come."

Stretched to 59 pitches in Monday's start, Liriano will still need a couple more starts to be "stretched out" to the point where the Twins wouldn't be afraid to let him go long enough to last five full innings.  Minnesota's plans for Liriano in regards to the regular season have yet to be determined, but if he shows improvement over his next couple starts he'll make a very strong bid for the rotation coming north.

Career Innings:  144.2
Starter Scale:  5

Kevin Slowey

GS    IP   H  SO  BB  HR   ERA
 3  10.2  17  13   5   3  5.91

Slowey is second on the team in innings and first in strikeouts through Monday, but he's still allowing a lot of hits and having issues keeping the ball in the yard.  The juxtaposition has left him with a very up-and-down spring, but with Liriano's situation and a lack of an obvious choice for the fifth rotation spot, Slowey is in a very good position to come north with the Twins if he doesn't implode.

In his start on Saturday, it was an auspicious start as Ryan Howard took Slowey deep for a solo shot in the second inning.  The rest of his appearance was solid however, as he lasted four innings and allowed just two hits and one run.  Another performance like that, and he'll be a lock.

Career Innings:  66.2
Starter Scale:  7

Phil Humber, Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins

Name      GS    IP   H  SO  BB  HR   ERA
Humber     0   9.0   3   5   2   0  0.00
Blackburn  1   7.0   3   1   3   0  3.86
Perkins    2  10.0  15   6   4   2  6.30

Humber, Blackburn and Perkins are scheduled to pitch in Tuesday afternoon's game.  It will be Humber's first start of the spring, and with the competition wide open for the fifth starter slot each pitcher will be looking to make a good impression.

Humber and Blackburn have each had excellent springs through this juncture, while Perkins has struggled on a couple of occasions. Blackburn and Perkins have the advantage of having been in the system, and are familiar to Twins staff and management--those who will be in charge of evaluating who will go north. Humber's advantage, apart from his performance, is being part of the Santana trade. Any part of that deal which can be put on the field to show a return will be appealing, and appeasing, to many fans.

Each pitcher's performance today will go a long way in determining what their fate will be to start the season.  No matter who gets called north of these three, it is fairly certain that they all will see time with the Twins at some point in the summer.  As of this morning I'd have to give the advantage of spot number five to Phil Humber, in spite of Blackburn's excellent March.

I also believe that the long relief slot will go to one of these three, a position that both Blackburn and Perkins filled in 2007.

Humber Career Innings:  9.0
Starter Scale:  4

Blackburn Career Innings:  11.2
Starter Scale:  3

Perkins Career Innings:  34.1
Starter Scale:  2


I'm taking the liberty of making two predictions:  one that involves Liriano and one that doesn't.

    With Liriano          Without Liriano
SP  Hernandez             Hernandez
SP  Baker                 Baker
SP  Liriano               Bonser
SP  Bonser                Slowey
SP  Slowey                Humber
LR  Blackburn             Blackburn
MR  Rincon                Rincon
MR  Guerrier              Guerrier
MR  Reyes                 Reyes
SU  Neshek                Neshek
CL  Nathan                Nathan

So, not much of a difference.  I believe the Twins will go north with 11 pitchers and a 5-man bench, which at some point will be lowered to four men as Jesse Crain works his way back into the bullpen.  The battle for a starter's slot has been one of the most contested (after center field), and after today's results we might get a hint of which direction the Twins will go.