Souhan: Twins hurting in bullpen, and have a shaky rotation

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2013 - 6:32 AM
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Brian Duensing has struggled the past two years with earned run averages above 5.00, but despite those numbers, he might be the Twins’ third-best reliever.

Photo: JERRY HOLT • jholt@startribune.com ,

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Aaron Hicks is fast enough to play center field for any big-league team, but with the Twins, speed may not be enough. Considering the mess that is the Twins’ pitching staff, Hicks might need a bicycle and a helicopter.

A dozen days from Opening Day, the Twins’ pitching staff looks primed to threaten Hicks’ health and the franchise’s well-being.

The rotation looks like an unsafe bridge to the future, and the bullpen is an episode of Two and a Half Men.

When Sam Deduno left camp to pitch for the Dominican Republic, the Twins considered him an extra arm. By the time he returns, they might welcome him like a savior.

Brian Duensing has an ERA of higher than 5 his past two seasons, and he might be the Twins’ third-best reliever.

There are plenty of signs of hope in Twins camp. They just rarely take the mound at Hammond Stadium.

You can walk to the back fields and gape at Miguel Sano’s power or Alex Meyer’s fastball. You can admire Hicks’ range or be swayed by the general health and cheerfulness of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, or the skillful fielding of Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon.

The Twins appear to be building a quality team for 2014 or 2015 while basing their 2013 hopes on a collection of pitchers who are either recovering from surgery or trying to ignore their own résumés.

General Manager Terry Ryan has acquired an impressive group of arms for the farm system, including Meyer, Trevor May and Jose Berrios. But the pitchers he’ll rely on this year might strain to equal last year’s group, which posted the second-worst rotation ERA in the major leagues. And the rotation is more settled than the bullpen.

Mike Pelfrey is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has a spring ERA of 7.45. Vance Worley, the promising young pitcher acquired from the Phillies, pitched exceptionally well as a rookie in 2011 but is recovering from elbow surgery and has yet to look sharp. His spring ERA is 6.00. Free-agent signing Kevin Correia took a beating Monday from a young Marlins lineup. His spring ERA is 6.46.

And those are the sure things for the rotation. With Opening Day looming, Cole De Vries, appears to be leading the competition for the fourth starter’s job that includes Deduno, P.J. Walters, Liam Hendriks and a cast of thousands.

Scott Diamond, the Twins’ best starter last year, is recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs from his left elbow and could be ready to join the rotation by mid-April. Kyle Gibson, another of the team’s best pitching prospects, is recovering from Tommy John surgery and could join the Twins this summer.

There are quality starters in the organization. The question is whether they can perform well enough, soon enough to prevent another disastrous season.

If the rotation isn’t capable of providing quality innings early in the year, the bullpen could become stressed to the breaking point.

The two-and-a-half relievers the Twins feel they can count on are closer Glen Perkins, setup man Jared Burton and Duensing, a lefthander whom righthanded batters hit .310 against last year.

In a deep bullpen, Duensing probably would be a long reliever or lefthanded specialist. For the Twins, he’ll be asked to pitch late in close games.

The bullpen is so shallow that the Twins are starting to hope that pitchers they didn’t consider as contenders for their rotation will become contenders for relief roles.

The other day, Ryan was downplaying Deduno’s chances of making the rotation because he throws so many pitches he can’t be counted on for many innings. By Monday, manager Ron Gardenhire was salivating over the idea of having a starter like Deduno who can miss bats, regardless of how many innings he can provide.

By September, or earlier, the Twins could have a rotation of Worley, Pelfrey, Diamond, Gibson and Correia, perhaps with Meyer or May breaking into the big leagues.

The team’s current hope is to get enough out of their improvised opening-week rotation that they’ll still be playing meaningful games in June.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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