Through four starts, the young right hander is giving the Twins just what they needed.
While he hadn't been "rocked" in any of his first three starts, Scott Baker had allowed six home runs in his previous two. It had been a story of effective pitching mixed with a handful of bad decisions. Those six long balls were the only runs to touch Baker in outings in Chicago and Detroit; an offensive explosion protected him against the White Sox while the bullpen blew his lead over the Tigers.
On Sunday afternoon, Baker turned in the performance that the previous three could have been. Baker attributed his successes to mechanical tweaks:
"I felt I needed to make a few mechanical adjustments between the previous start and this one, and I felt like I did that," Baker said. "I felt I was more consistent out of the windup, made some pitches down and was able to execute pitches pretty well."
Whatever the case, the results were shown across the board. Five hits and eight strikeouts through seven strong innings, it was Baker at his best. In the climate-controlled Dome, his breaking balls snapped better than they had in Chicago and Detroit, and his fastball appeared more effective as a result. Six of his eight strikeouts came on the four-seamer, with breaking balls used as the set-up pitch most of the time.
On a more pessimistic note, Baker had a similar start to his season in 2006. He went on to be destroyed in five May starts, pitching into the sixth only twice. The rest of the season saw him on a yo-yo string between triple-A and Minnesota; this won't happen in '08, but the sudden collapse after a solid April should be a cautionary tale.
Of course some of the peripherals are different, but the results are the same. Baker has looked pretty good so far this April, on the whole, but it's still too early to do much more than appreciate each good inning as it comes. My thoughts, as per usual: cautious optimism.