FORT MYERS, Fla. Minnesota's rotation is the only place Brad Radke has ever been in the major leagues, and the right-hander might soon be ready to give up the job.
If this, indeed, is Radke's final year, the Twins are sure to relish it.
"Brad Radke's my favorite pitcher," said teammate Carlos Silva, who has closely watched and tried to copy the way the slender, scruffy 33-year-old has conducted himself in the clubhouse, carried himself on the mound and maintained such marvelous control of his pitches.
"The young guys in here, they should be watching him," said Silva, who joined the Twins for the 2004 season and has been right behind Radke in the staff hierarchy since. "It's not like he gets the ball and throws it. He knows what he's doing in every pitch he throws. Fastball, curveball, changeup, whatever he throws, he throws strikes."
Silva has even stood in back of Radke in bullpen sessions in springs past, soaking up as much as he can. During regular season games when he's not on the mound, Silva will typically watch the first several innings. When Radke starts, he's fixated from beginning to end.
"That's what I try to do the same thing that he does," Silva said.
The biggest influence on Radke's decision will be his wife and two sons, in regard to some personal issues he'd prefer to keep private.
"Family's first," he said.
Health will play a part, too. Especially after a sore shoulder that bothered him last year, causing some neck problems and eventually prompting manager Ron Gardenhire to hold him out of the season's final two weeks, when the playoffs no longer were a possibility. But Radke, who went 9-12 with a 4.04 ERA with three complete games, still reached 200 innings for the ninth time in his 11 years.
"He's a tough guy," Gardenhire said. "He'll pitch through just about anything. And you know what? We expect him to be sore here in spring training, just like he always is. It's no different, and we expect him to take the ball every fifth day just like he's always done."
Nobody, including himself, sounds concerned about the shoulder now. But there are a lot of miles ... er, innings, on the joint.
"It's getting worn out," Radke said with a smile on Monday after Minnesota's first official workout for pitchers and catchers.
The Twins had a stellar starting five at Triple-A Rochester last season, so if Radke who will make $9 million in the final year of his contract retires there are plenty of capable young pitchers ready to replace him. That doesn't mean they can, though.
Despite a career record (136-130) and ERA (4.22) that are barely above average and only one All-Star game appearance, in 1998, Radke has become one of the sturdiest starters in club history. For many years, in the last half of the 1990s, he was about the only good starter on some really bad teams.
"We're just going to give him the ball like we always have," Gardenhire said.
Radke is not one to seek out teammates and offer his own advice, but he'll gladly give it if they ask.
"Stay healthy," he said, without hesitation. "Do the best you can on doing that, and just go out there and pitch, man. Just try not to let anything bother you."
To outsiders, Radke has always been adept at doing that, with his seemingly unflappable demeanor and laid-back, shoulder-shrug attitude. But last season, as his teammates struggled to provide acceptable run support and Minnesota fell out of the pennant race, Radke's frustrations were more evident.