Reusse: Baker a source of frustration, but Twins options few

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2012 - 11:26 PM

The Twins righthander, once again battling an ailing elbow, got back on the mound but did not look good in doing so.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - An injury epidemic turned what would have been a bad year into a disaster for the 2011 Twins. Monday marked the six-month anniversary of the 99th and final loss.

When you look at the fallout from that carnage, a case can be made that it wasn't an injury suffered for the Twins but rather for the Rochester Red Wings that might have the most-lasting effect.

There's no asset the Twins could use more at this moment than Kyle Gibson, their No. 1 draft choice in 2009, getting ready to take his place in the season-opening rotation.

Gibson didn't rate as a phenom, but at 6-6 and with plenty of angles and sink on his pitches, he would have been the best new arm to join the Twins rotation since Francisco Liriano and Matt Garza in 2006.

Gibson was shut down at Class AAA Rochester because of a sore elbow on Aug. 2 and underwent Tommy John surgery five weeks later. He could throw a few innings in the minors near the end of this season and, best case, show up next spring as a candidate to make the Twins.

The presence of a healthy Gibson would have given the Twins a viable option to Scott Baker -- and the team's brain trust would like one of those after Tampa Bay's bombardment of the veteran righthander Monday.

Baker has long been the king of the mixed message. He was ripped by Pittsburgh minor leaguers March 10 and said there was soreness in his elbow. This is now three years in a row with various degrees of an elbow problem.

Last week, the General Manager Terry Ryan mentioned the need to identify a starter to fill the rotation "if Baker isn't ready to start the season.''

By the weekend, Baker was saying he was OK to make a start Monday. And then he threw glorified batting practice to the Rays, giving up seven runs in 2 2/3 innings -- including a grand slam by Ben Zobrist and an enormous blast from Elliot Johnson.

Baker talked optimistically about the condition of his arm after the outing. The Twins brain trust talked through gritted teeth.

Manager Ron Gardenhire was worked up over several things after the game. This was what Gardy had to say about Baker, minus four adjectives and a noun:

"Our starting pitcher put us in a hole today. He got his work in, yes, but we chased the ball all over the field and spent eight hours [out there] in the first three innings.

"That ain't good enough. He's got to pick up the pace and get going. He says his arm's fine and everything's good, then let's go. Get on the ball, throw the ball ... that's all I want to see from here on out.

"Everybody gets put to sleep and then we play a [poor] ballgame. Anything else?"

What was your view of Liam Hendriks? The rookie pitched four innings, three scoreless before giving up a two-run homer to Class A infielder Cody Rogers.

"He throws about four different pitches and throws them over,'' Gardenhire said. "He's still learning: what guys are sitting on, what's his out pitch and when to throw them."

Ryan gave a shrug when asked about Hendriks' effort on Monday.

You can't compete in the Grand Old Game when the other team sends out a better starting pitcher 60 percent time. And that's the predicament the Twins figure to face in 2012. Consider:

Carl Pavano was damaged by poor infield play last season, but he also gave up 35 more hits than in 2010 with the same workload. Francisco Liriano has looked good this spring, but Jaoquin Andujar's famous observation about baseball -- "youneverknow" -- was intended for Frankie.

Nick Blackburn has been better this spring, but he's 39-46 for his career for a reason. Jason Marquis is a very hittable journeyman and hasn't been at spring training for a week after his 7-year-old daughter was injured in a bicycle accident.

And there's Baker, again a mystery two weeks before his scheduled start in the home opener April 9.

It's strange. I've only seen Gibson throw a couple of times, and yet I really miss him.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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