Ron Gardenhire recently announced that Brian Duensing will be in the starting rotation this season, which leaves just two spots open behind he, Francisco Liriano, and Carl Pavano. For the record, I don’t think the decision to make Duensing a starter was a bad one at all, though I would be very surprised if the lefty posts an ERA below 3.00 again this year. He doesn’t miss many bats (a career 8.0 whiff rate), but he doesn’t give up many home runs either (7.7 HR/FB%), and provided Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka aren’t complete butchers in the field, Duensing should make a perfectly acceptable mid-rotation starter. Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, and Kevin Slowey will all be competing for those spots, provided nobody gets traded, of course. While there have been rumors floating around that the Twins have been shopping Liriano, and maybe even Slowey, nothing has been substantiated, so for the sake of this exercise, I’m operating on the assumption that the odd man out will be sent to the ‘pen.
Nick Blackburn: It is probably a moot point, since he actually did pretty well in his first spring training appearance, but it is pretty unlikely that Blackburn would be sent to the bullpen if he failed to crack the rotation. With a career 4.25 K/9 rate and 88.3% contact rate, he isn’t really suited to relief work.
Scott Baker: Baker struggled in his first spring training appearance, needing 40 pitches to complete 1.2 innings, but he’s also suffered elbow problems and, given that he still isn’t completely healthy, seems a likely candidate for Tommy John surgery. This is precisely why I’m hoping the rumors that the Twins are interested in trading one of their starters is just idle talk by beat writers who have a deadline and no actual news to report.
Baker, for all his faults, is a fantastic control pitcher. He issues few free passes (2.27 BB/9) and misses a good number of bats, with a career 7.07 K9 rate. Though he is a bit homer-prone, with a 9.4 HR/FB%, he is good at getting pitchers to chase pitches outside the strikezone, with a career 30.8% O-Swing rate. Baker should be given every chance to make the rotation, it remains to be seen whether he will be healthy enough to stay there.
Kevin Slowey: If Baker is healthy, Slowey appears to be the odd man out of the rotation. He was clearly shaking off rust in his first spring training appearance against the Red Sox, surrendering three runs, including a two-run homer to David Ortiz, and walking two batters in just two innings of work. His last appearance was much better, pitching a couple of scoreless innings against the Rays, though he didn’t record any strikeouts. Slowey is the ultimate control pitcher; he hardly ever walks anyone (1.41 BB/9), but doesn’t rack up many strikeouts, either (6.86 K/9). However, he hasn’t been particularly durable during his major league career, suffering a slew of injuries of both the garden and freakish variety. Last season, a variety of arm problems limited him to 155.2 innings, and he hasn’t ever pitched more than 161 in any of his three major league seasons. Though I would like to see a healthy Slowey get another shot at sticking in the rotation, a move to the bullpen, where he wouldn’t have to pitch more than 70 innings a season, may be inevitable.