Kevin Slowey needs to get batters out by changing speeds and hitting his spots, not unlike Brad Radke, whose retirement has left the Twins looking for replacements in the rotation.
FORT MYERS, FLA. - There were three pitchers going through bullpen sessions simultaneously Monday morning. Kevin Slowey was in the middle, with Ramon Ortiz to the left and Carmen Cali to the right.
When Ortiz or Cali made a comment in Spanish, Slowey would respond in kind. This is convenient, because when you're as verbal as Slowey, one language might not be enough.
This is Slowey's third professional season and his first big-league camp. He tried to follow the tradition that rookies remain silently in the background and observe the clubhouse irreverence.
"I was pretty quiet for the first week," Slowey said. "I found out the people here are such good guys -- from the stars to the last guy -- that I started being myself."
Which would be: extroverted.
Slowey, 22, was a second-round pick for the Twins in 2005. That's the same year that Matt Garza was the first-rounder. A year earlier, Glen Perkins was a "sandwich" pick between the first and second rounds of the draft.
These are the three pitchers waiting to find out if there will be an opening in the rotation. Three places are guaranteed: Johan Santana, Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Silva. Boof Bonser pitched four hitless innings Monday and looked like a lock for the fourth spot.
That leaves the Twins to take a shot on veteran Sidney Ponson, or to make a decision on Garza or Perkins. Or Slowey?
"I put him in the same category as the other two," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "The only advantage for Garza and Perkins is they did get a taste of the big leagues last year."
The Twins would like a power pitcher in the rotation. That's Garza. They would like a second lefthander to go with Santana. That's Perkins.
How does Slowey figure? "Our minor league guys compare him to Brad Radke, and that seems accurate," Anderson said.
Slowey never met Radke, yet he relishes the comparison.
"I've never met anyone in this organization who didn't like Brad Radke," he said. "People say nothing but good things about him, as a pitcher and a person."
The comparison stems from the fact Radke needed exceptional command and a change of speeds to have a successful 12-year career that ended last October. Slowey has the potential to offer the same qualities.
For sure, the comparison is not based on personality. Radke was so quiet and low-key that you wondered at times if he had a pulse. Three weeks into his first camp, everyone in the clubhouse has had a conversation with Slowey, whether in English or Spanish.
"He talks, yes, but he's also an excellent listener," Anderson said. "He doesn't think he has all the answers."
Slowey has pitched three times with five scoreless innings. He next is scheduled to pitch Wednesday night against the Yankees. If he gets them out for a few innings, that could close whatever gap exists between him and Garza and Perkins.
Slowey has been forced to take the thinker's approach to pitching almost from the time he was a Little Leaguer in Pittsburgh.
"I never could throw the ball past people," he said. "Even in high school, I only threw 83, 84. The college scouts weren't impressed."
Slowey attracted no interest from Pitt, Duquesne or Penn State, the main Division I programs in the area.
"My high school team was playing in a spring tournament in South Carolina," he said. "That's where Winthrop saw me. That was the one school real aggressive in recruiting me."
As a junior in 2005, Slowey beat Wichita State 2-1 in an NCAA opener. Wichita State's pitcher was Mike Pelfrey, who wound up going to the Mets as the ninth overall selection.
Slowey was expecting to be drafted by Oakland, San Diego or another of the "Moneyball" teams that draft based on college statistics rather than radar gun readings.
"When I studied it a little, this was a great spot, because the Twins might like pitchers who throw strikes more than any team," Slowey said.
Anderson is devoted to that concept, and that's why he puts Slowey in the same category as Garza and Perkins: young starters with a chance to fill the final spot in the rotation, if Sidney Ponson doesn't.
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