Hartman: Revamped Twins staff looks improved

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 7, 2013 - 11:11 PM

Compared to last season, the starters have done a much better job at keeping the team in the game.

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Twins fill-in starter Pedro Hernandez held the Orioles to three runs over five innings Sunday.

Photo: Gail Burton, Associated Press

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The Twins of 2012, who finished the season 66-96, started the season 2-4, having been swept at Baltimore to open the season before winning two out of three against the Los Angeles Angels at home.

This year the Twins are off to a 4-2 start, having won series against Detroit and Baltimore, both playoff teams last year.

A big reason has been improved pitching from a completely revamped staff.

Last year, Twins pitchers posted an ERA of 5.65 over their first six games, with 16 walks and 28 strikeouts over 51 innings. The starters over those first two series were Carl Pavano (twice), Francisco Liriano (twice), Anthony Swarzak and Nick Blackburn.

This year the staff has posted a 3.74 ERA over those first six games, with 19 walks and 33 strikeouts over 53 innings. None of the starters from the first six games last year has started this season. Vance Worley (twice), Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, Liam Hendriks and Pedro Hernandez have taken the hill for the Twins.

The only pitchers from last season who have appeared in games this season are Swarzak (as a reliever) and relievers Jared Burton, Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins. Those three pitchers have combined to allow one earned run over nine innings in 2013.

Didn’t spend big bucks

Even though the Twins didn’t spend big money on free agents like they did when they signed Josh Willingham last year to a three-year deal worth $21 million, they are off to a much better start.

For some strange reason, the new pitchers are performing much better at the start of the season than they did in spring training.

“It has been a good look here,” said General Manager Terry Ryan, especially after taking two out of three in Baltimore, where they hadn’t won a series since 2010.

On Sunday, Hernandez made a spot start and allowed three runs and four hits in five innings. Then the bullpen blanked the Orioles on three hits the rest of the way.

“We’ve got some decent outings [this year],” Ryan said. “Even though Worley only went five [innings on Saturday], there was some indication that maybe that thing was going to get away from us, and he kept it in check long enough for us to get back in that and stay in that game. Unlike last year, we had a guy who stepped up and at least had some damage control.

“Worley has enough stuff and he certainly is competitive. I like the fact that he doesn’t back down at all. Pelfrey threw a pretty good game the other day up in Minnesota and he is probably going to get better as the season goes on because he’s coming off a year of Tommy John [surgery recovery]. Correia had a good outing. He’s going to pitch again [Monday] at Kansas City, but he did a nice job. Hendriks was the one bump here that didn’t give us much of a chance. He has to do a better job of damage control.”

Surprises, struggles

Another big surprise Saturday was Josh Roenicke, who helped out the bullpen by shutting out the Orioles for three innings, allowing the Twins to get back into a game they would eventually win.

The one disappointment to date has been center fielder Aaron Hicks, who hit .370 in spring training and, even though he got a big hit Sunday by driving in the go-ahead run with a single in the seventh inning to help the Twins win 4-3, he is hitting .077 for the first six games.

“I’m not so sure that should be unexpected,” Ryan said. “But I was hoping he would get off to a better start for his confidence. But he’s doing a decent job in center field and he’s certainly got the skills to play up here. Now it’s just a matter of whether or not he’s going to put those at-bats together and give himself a chance. He got a little out of the zone, which will happen with any young hitter, and we’re facing some good pitching. I think in time he’s going to be all right, but he’s off to a pretty good start.”

Ryan said second baseman Brian Dozier has gotten off to a decent start and the general manager was happy to see first baseman Justin Morneau get his first RBI Saturday and then add two more RBI on Sunday on a double that Orioles center fielder Adam Jones lost in the sun.

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