FORT MYERS, FLA. - Twins pitcher Scott Baker acknowledged Friday that he might open the season on the disabled list because of a recent bout of elbow tendinitis, but he's trying to take the long view.
In 2009, Baker was named the team's Opening Day starter before right shoulder stiffness forced him to the DL. His first start came in the team's 10th game, but after losing his first four games, Baker went 15-5 with a 3.79 ERA in his final 29 starts and pitched a career-high 200 innings.
"If that's what we need to do, then that's what we need to do," Baker said. "I know I would love to make the home opener start [April 9], and as far as I know, that's still the [plan], but you've got to do what's smart and do whatever it takes to get ready for a long season."
Baker came down with elbow tendinitis after a rocky appearance in a B-game against Pittsburgh last Saturday. His fastball, which normally averages 91 miles per hour, was clocked between 83 and 86 mph, as he allowed six runs on six hits in 1 1/3 innings.
"I'll tell you what, I've dealt with some type of elbow inflammation my entire career," Baker said. "I know what's OK and what's not OK. It was just a little more than I was willing to push through."
Baker did not throw for a couple of days and said this helped tame the inflammation. On Friday, he played catch from 120 feet but was throwing noticeably softer than the other pitchers on the field.
He's scheduled to have a bullpen session Saturday. If that goes well, he'll have another one Monday. Pitching coach Rick Anderson said the soonest Baker will pitch in a game is Thursday.
Anderson acknowledged that it will be tough for Baker to make his April 9 start against the Angels if his pitch count has only reached 60, while the other starters are at 90 to 100.
Baker is being counted on as a key member of a rotation that also figures to include Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn and Jason Marquis.
"Any time a guy is injured, I don't care who they are, you always worry," Anderson said. "But after talking to him today, he didn't think it's anything [serious], and the trainers don't think it's anything to be alarmed about. It's more precaution. To me, it's why push it now?
"If it was in the season, I'm sure he'd probably still be pitching. It's spring training. Get it right now, so he can have 30 starts."
Baker, 30, is in the final guaranteed year of a four-year, $15.25 million contract and will become a free agent at season's end if the Twins decide not to pick up his $9.25 million option for next year.
He is considered one of the team's hardest workers, but this has been another reminder how delicate his arm is. He was the Twins' best starting pitcher through July 28 last year, going 8-6 with a 2.86 ERA, but he made just two starts after that and made two trips to the DL with elbow problems.
Baker said he has not had an MRI this time around.
"It's not necessary," he said. "It's triceps tendinitis. I've been there, done that. It's just a matter of getting it taken care of.
"But if it's not taken care of, it for sure can be a problem. It can progress into something that you definitely don't want to be dealing with. So let's just get it knocked out, and this is the time to do that."