How About the Rotation?


Are you wondering what the 2012 Twins pitching rotation is going to look like? Yesterday Puckett’s Pond took a look at the 2012 lineup. Fair is fair, so now it’s time to talk about the rotation.

I haven’t heard Ron Gardenhire say anything about the order of the rotation, other than the fact that Carl Pavano would be the starter on Opening Day, and that Scott Baker would pitch the Home Opener three days later. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t said anything else; it’s just that I haven’t heard or read any statements to that effect (contrary to common belief, I do not follow Gardy around all day listening to what he says; to tell the truth, I suspect he spends most of his time talking about Barrel of Fun potato chips and/or his Local Hardware Store, and those are both boring topics).

But even given my total lack of insider information, I think few would disagree that the starting five will look something like this:

1. Pavano

2. Francisco Liriano

3. Nick Blackburn

4. Baker

5. Jason Marquis

It’s a little strange to see Baker in the number four slot, since he is arguably the best pitcher on the staff. But it makes sense to put him on the mound for the Home Opener, thus giving the home crowd a good chance to see a Twins victory, so he’ll be the fourth guy for at least one turn of the rotation. By default, Liriano becomes starter number two, since he his arsenal of pitches is far superior to those of Blackburn and Marquis, who are typical Twins-style ground ball artists.

As with the starting lineup, the rotation is highly subject to change. So what might those changes be?

Brian Duensing could pitch his way out of the bullpen. The conventional wisdom is that Duensing, who struggled last year with a 5.23 ERA, would be sent to the ‘pen this year. It seems to make sense, given that he has troubles against right-handed hitters. Righties have hit .300/.359/.477 in Duensing’s career, while lefties hit just .203/.248/.263. Make him a LOOGY, and he becomes a big strength.

It seems to make sense, but it’s not a perfect fit. First, the Twins are not short on lefties in the bullpen. Glen Perkins, Phil Dumatrait, Matt Maloney, and Scott Diamond are all in camp with a chance to make the team. Second, Duensing may actually be better-suited to start. He isn’t a hard thrower, and he certainly does not strike out a lot of batters. If you need a guy to come in with men on base and get a quick K, Duensing will never be that guy. Also, keep in mind that between 2009 and 2010, Duensing went 12-3 with a 2.93 ERA as a starting pitcher. Even after a dismal 2011, Duensing’s is a career 21-16 with a 4.15 ERA and 1.38 WHIP when he starts. That stacks up well against Blackburn’s career 39-43, 4.41, 1.43.

Diamond could win a spot. Blackburn and Marquis have made career starts and will earn $7.75 million between them in 2012, but the Twins would be foolish not to allow some competition for the back of the rotation. If that happens, Diamond could be candidate. The Twins obviously like him, otherwise they wouldn’t have traded Billy Bullock for him last year. And the lefty Rule V pick isn’t giving up on his chance to break into the starting five.

Anthony Swarzak could win a spot. Swarzak was very competent in 11 starts last year. He had a 4.52 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. He’s a pitch to contact guy of the same ilk as Marquis and Blackburn, so there’s no reason to discount him.

Someone could get hurt. Just like the starting lineup, the rotation is full of guys with injury issues. Baker and Liriano both missed most of the second half of 2011, and while they’ve both healed by now, there’s certainly no guarantee they’ll be hale and hearty by April. Blackburn had arm problems as well, and he missed all of September with a strained forearm, and Marquis has been limited to 190 innings over the past two years due to injury. Pavano has been the picture of health with the Twins, but a time-traveler from the year 2008 would never believe he could pitch 200 innings. This is, after all, the same guy who missed all of 2006 due to a buttock bruise and a Porsche accident.

The point is, it’s impossible to write these five guys’ names in stone right now, even though it’s pretty hard to imagine things being any different.