Twins Insider: Rotation lacks experience, not talent

The Twins are relying on many youngsters, with all their ups and downs, learning on the major league level while trying to contend for a division title.

Most participants on the Star Tribune's Twins Insider blog have zeroed in on offense as the main problem with this team. While it's hard for me to wrap my brain around the concept of Jason Tyner as a designated hitter, the Twins also have the challenge of trying to reach the playoffs while developing their young starting pitchers.

"How they respond and how they handle the second half when everything gets heated up will tell you how we are going to go along," manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Watching prospects perform in meaningful games could be the best way to evaluate them. It's also a huge risk because of the ground the Twins could lose in the AL Central while dealing with the ups and downs of development.

Scott Baker looked to have turned the corner last Sunday when he held a good Detroit lineup to one run on three hits over eight innings, but then he gave up seven runs in five innings Friday against the White Sox. Still, he said, it's good for his development to pitch in important games in the major leagues.

"If you're never pitching in games that are meaningful, how are you supposed to get better in those games?" said Baker, who is 3-3 with a 5.71 ERA in nine starts. "It's an opportunity to get better, and I seriously wouldn't have it any other way."

Gardenhire knows what he has with two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana. To a lesser extent, he knows what Carlos Silva can do.

But that's only two-fifths of the starting rotation. Ever since Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz failed as starters, the Twins have turned to Plan B, the prospects.

Baker, with a little more than one year of major league service time, is the most experienced of a group that includes righthanders Kevin Slowey (3-0, 5.84 in seven starts), Boof Bonser (5-6, 4.70 in 18 starts) and Matt Garza (called up last week) and lefthander Glen Perkins, who's recovering from a pulled shoulder muscle.

So three of every five days, the Twins need better pitching than their experience can reasonably be expected to deliver.

Slowey gave up 13 homers in seven starts with the Twins before being sent back to Class AAA Rochester on Thursday. His mistakes were punished like never before, and he broke down mechanically.

"The mentality kind of breeds the flaw in mechanics," Slowey said. "You try to do something too well or try to do something out of your ability, that's when you start doing some things mechanically incorrect."

Sometimes it takes several starts before a prospect settles down and shows his real talent. Scouts said that about Garza when he debuted last year. Other scouts watched Bonser recently and said his slider was the best they have seen it.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson looks at times like he's reviving the Macarena while pointing out mechanical flaws in mound visits. And he's trying to convince his starters they can make in-game adjustments as fast as they do during bullpen sessions.

He saw it work, to an extent, with Bonser on Monday in New York. He was shaky early but gained better command in the middle innings. All the pitches he needed in the early innings caught up with him in the sixth and he was knocked out of the game.

Anderson wanted to build off the successful stretch of that game. It might have showed some Saturday, when Bonser went seven innings at Chicago.

"That's the big thing," Anderson said, "the ability to make adjustments pitch to pitch. You can't wait for a few hitters or for an inning."

Baker is confident he and his fellow prospects will adjust. Garza offered more hope of that with six shutout innings Friday night.

"I think," Baker said, "that it's a pretty good Plan B."

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