Jim Souhan: If younger arms prove adept, can team adapt?

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 2, 2007 - 8:51 PM

Less experienced pitchers are outperforming the veterans brought in to round out the Twins starting rotation.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - Friday night, the view from the Hammond Stadium stands featured a fluorescent moon suspended above the first base stands; pink cirrus clouds beyond the left field fence; a new grass berm filled with families down the right field line; and headlights streaming down Six Mile Cypress toward the Twins' first home spring training game, which should be some kind of Minnesota holiday.

Like a snow day, only with palm trees and tropical breezes. Those of us in Fort Myers have to be careful this week -- stand behind the batting cage long enough, you can get a touch of sunburn on the back of your neck. Think of it as frostbite that goes away.

Anyway, Friday you could also see most of the team that won 96 games last year take the field together for the first time this spring.

The 2007 Twins have just about everything you could want -- speed, fielding, youth, experience, strength up the middle, power, chemistry, an exceptional bullpen, winners of the Cy Young, MVP, batting title and Gold Glove, and a manager who has made the playoffs in four of his five seasons.

Yes, the Twins have everything but what they usually covet most -- a rotation that can keep the capillaries in Ron Gardenhire's face from bursting like postgame fireworks.

Johan Santana might be the best starting pitcher in the game. Boof Bonser looked the most polished of the Twins' young starters during the pennant race last year. After that, it's three guys looking for "bounce-back" seasons -- the spring euphemism for players who stunk last year.

The Twins picked up the option on Carlos Silva's contract for $4.35 million so he could be the No. 2 starter behind Cy Santana. He pitched on Thursday against the Yankees and gave up five runs in two innings. The problem is, he's a sinkerballer whose pitches still aren't sinking.

The Twins signed Ramon Ortiz for $3.1 million, and received this scouting report: He allows one bad inning to beat him. Friday, Ortiz started, and allowed one run in two innings.

The Twins signed Sidney Ponson for $1 million, guaranteed only if he makes the team. He cleared up his visa problems on Friday, and has assured us that his drinking problems are over now that he limits his alcohol to wine with dinner. Is that the 13th step of the 12-step program -- drinking only with meals?

This is a fragile rotation, and the Twins are committed to starting the season with Silva and Ortiz no matter how they perform this spring, because GM Terry Ryan, a beer & brats guy from Wisconsin, eats salary about as often as he eats tofu.

It's early, but you can see the potential for several young pitchers to outperform the three veterans enlisted to fill out the rotation.

Wednesday, Matt Garza again demonstrated that he has the second-best stuff among the starting pitchers in camp, easing through two shutout innings against the Red Sox and striking out David Ortiz with a nasty slider. He's the only pitcher in camp currently capable of being a true No. 2 starter.

Thursday, Kevin Slowey deked his way through two shutout innings against the same Yankees who destroyed Silva. He lacks a dominant pitch but is known for his control, composure and pitching intelligence.

He's a slim, talkative and bespectacled righthander who Twins coaches were calling "Hershiser" on the back field Friday, because of his resemblance to former Dodger ace Orel (Verbal) Hershiser.

Friday, former U lefty Glen Perkins, like Garza a first-round pick, allowed a high-pop home run down the right field line to Spring Training Twin Killer Edwin Encarnacion but otherwise had an easy two innings in relief of Ortiz.

Last year, the Twins started the season with Tony Batista at third and Juan Castro at short and turned their season around when they went to Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto.

This spring, the Twins could face a similar choice -- limited veterans or unproven kids?

If the rotation flounders in April, they better not wait until June to go young.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. jsouhan@startribune.com

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. jsouhan@startribune.com

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