Ervin Santana: Opening day starter
Paul Molitor has named his Opening Day starter for 2016. Ervin Santana will get the nod in Baltimore, which is how it's looked from the beginning. The 33-year old is the 9th opening day starter for the Twins in ten years, with only Carl Pavano getting repeat honors.
2015 - Phil Hughes
2014 - Ricky Nolasco
2013 - Vance Worley
2012 - Carl Pavano
2011 - Carl Pavano
2010 - Scott Baker
2009 - Francisco Liriano
2008 - Livan Hernandez
2007 - Johan Santana
If there's an illustration of how poor the Twins' rotation has been in recent seasons, a decade's history of opening day starters will do it. The Hernandez and Worley seasons in particular stand out. Santana qualifies as one of the better options, and if he can pitch a full season he'll do a fine job of anchoring a solid if unspectacular rotation. It's worth remembering that he posted a 1.62 ERA over his last seven starts; while not an ace, when Santana hits his stride he can be incredibly effective.
Behind Santana will be Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, which means that if the Twins don't skip turns (with the off-day in the first week) Gibson will get the home opener at Target Field. Gibson led Minnesota pitchers with 194.2 innings last season, and with sub-4.00 ERA and FIP marks he should be a solid contributor again this year.
During yesterday's Twins broadcast, Perkins discussed his off-season regimen with Dick and Bert. He started workouts to strengthen his back in November and continued to do so all winter. Working with strength coaches, the extra effort was designed to increase muscle endurance so that when the second half rolls around Perkins' back and body are in a better position to stay healthy.
Perkins' health deteriorated in the second half of 2014 and 2015 to the point where he finished both seasons a shadow of himself. He blew three saves in his last eight appearances in '14, posting a 14.21 ERA in the process and pitching his final game on September 16. Last year he posted a 7.32 ERA after the All-Star break, illustrating his attempts to battle through pain for half of a season.
In his game appearance on Tuesday, Perkins ramped up and let loose on a couple of fastballs, hitting 94mph. That's a good place for him to be at this point of the spring. A fully healthy Perkins, as we've seen, is one of the best closers in the American League. If he's healthy all year, the bullpen will be all the better for it.
The Twins have outrighted strong, bringing the 40-man roster count to 39. Clearing that spot is no doubt a precursor to the club adding a lefty for the bullpen.
Strong was one of four left-handed pitchers that the Twins optioned out of camp on March 14. To stay on top of which players are still hanging around spring training, our tracker is available here.
Bullpen taking shape?
Behind Perkins, we knew that Kevin Jepsen, Casey Fien, and (eventually) Trevor May would hold down four of an assumed seven bullpen spots. With one of the three remaining roles likely reserved for a long reliever, that leaves the Twins with two bullpen spots to hand out before the team heads north.
Excluding long relief options, right-handers still in camp include Ryan Pressly, the out-of-options Michael Tonkin, and non-roster invitee Brandon Kintzler. While Tonkin's spring has been very up and down, it's very clear that he's been focusing on his pitches; he's thrown 46 pitches in spring training, and 45 of them have gone for strikes. In a league that looks for a strike percentage around 60-66%, but this is a 98% strike rate. We know spring training stats aren't much to go on, but Tonkin's performances have sometimes seen him thrown under a bus. I'm not convinced he's as much of a long shot as he's sometimes being made out to be.
Pressly has pitched better than Kintzler, and with his Major League track record to go on (3.46 ERA in 132.2 innings the last three years) it seems highly doubtful that Kintzler is higher in the pecking order. The battle for the final right-handed reliever might be between Tonkin and Pressly.
On the left-handed side, Fernando Abad appears to be the favorite with Taylor Rogers optioned out of camp this morning. But this is still far from settled as well. Ryan O'Rourke is the one on the 40-man roster but is the dark horse in this competition, while Dan Runzler and Logan Darnell have posted nice numbers this spring, too. Nobody seems to be getting too good of a read on any of these guys. Batters are hitting .250 off of Abad this spring; .222 off Runzler; .188 of Darnell; .118 off O'Rourke.
Earlier today I posited a guess that Pressly and Abad were the favorites for those two roster spots. But is it that cut and dried?