Neal: With stakes raised, Anderson staying the course

  • Updated: February 9, 2013 - 7:43 PM

 Challenges abound, and overcoming them could be a job-saver for the coach.

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Twins' pitching coach Rick Anderson (second from right).

Photo: John Smierciak, Associated Press

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Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson has fixed mechanics, protected arms from overuse, extended careers, helped players win awards, built sturdy bullpens -- all while handling a multitude of personalities, body shapes and abilities.

From the time he turned around LaTroy Hawkins' career in 2002 to last season, when Scott Diamond became an above-average starter, Anderson has been able to adapt and produce. The past two seasons haven't been as productive as his previous nine, but injuries have played a significant role.

This year, Anderson might have his biggest challenge yet: helping Twins manager Ron Gardenhire retain his job.

There was no way the Twins were going to trot out an extension for Gardenhire last year, coming off a second consecutive 90-loss season. But even if they believe in Gardenhire, he'll have to show that the program is moving forward.

The key to doing that is turning around a rotation that was one of the worst in the league.

Gardenhire has answered questions about his future as honestly as he can. He's not going to panic, and if it doesn't work out, he will leave with many more great memories than poor ones.

Anderson, also in the final year of his contract, is approaching the season the same way.

"We have been pretty good here through the years in what we have done and developing and winning,'' Anderson said. "We have had a couple rough years, but I am not going to change who I am and try to do a lot more.

"I hope we show a lot of improvement, but as a coach or a manager, if you are pressing and stressing and trying to do it all, the players will pick up on that. Gardy is going to relax and do his job, and hope it works.''

Anderson did not attend TwinsFest last month but has had phone conversations with all but one of his pitchers. He's still playing phone tag with Kevin Correia.

Anderson's job seems to get tougher each day. Anthony Swarzak's broken ribs -- suffered during TwinsFest horseplay -- are expected to sideline him a month and at least temporarily take away a rotation option. The Twins already had enough pitchers on the mend. Mike Pelfrey and Kyle Gibson are coming back from Tommy John surgery. Rich Harden missed last year because of shoulder surgery. Diamond had a bone chip removed in December and might not be ready for Opening Day. Nick Blackburn is still in a cast after wrist surgery in January.

Somehow, Anderson has to weave his way through this maze and assemble a starting five.

As dismal as last year's bottom line was, Anderson oversaw some positive pitching developments. He got Diamond on a routine that helped him go 12-9. Sam Deduno is not headed for stardom, but he showed more flashes of talent than he had with Colorado and San Diego. Anderson had Deduno throw two bullpen sessions between starts to sharpen his control. In the bullpen, he was careful with Jared Burton's first injury-free season in several years and watched him flourish.

If you give Anderson a control pitcher, he'll teach him to pitch to contact. If you give him a Johan Santana, he'll let him blow away hitters and win Cy Young Awards.

"Everybody seems to like Andy,'' Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. "I think everyone trusts him. I think he's good about not cookie-cutting pitchers. I think he's very approachable. He works hard. He's got the right personality to be able to mesh with 14, 15, 20 pitchers, like last year. Every year it is going to be a different mix.

"The main thing you are looking for is consistency.''

Anderson will have to be at his best this season. How will he assemble a rotation from the trainer's room? Can he get reliever Alex Burnett to finally put it all together? Can he get Brian Duensing to use the full windup again? How much of a workload will he recommend for Gibson? Can he help his pitchers hold baserunners again? Can he prevent his starters from being knocked out of games in the second inning, a common occurrence last season?

If Anderson can do all that, the program should move forward. And Anderson and Gardenhire will be back in 2014.

La Velle E. Neal III • lneal@startribune.com

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