In a few weeks, the Twins might have the option of employing a six-man pitching rotation, a phenomenon as rare in Minnesota as a Viking parade.
This is a franchise that, while winning the 1987 World Series, employed Les Straker — who finished his career with 10 big-league victories — as a third starter.
This is a franchise that signed Bartolo Colon last summer so he could belly-bump them toward the playoffs, a franchise that hasn’t drafted and developed a long-term, clear-cut No. 1 starter since changeup artist Brad Radke was leading pitching staffs all too familiar with the notion of launch angle in the ’90s.
Tuesday night at Target Field, Jose Berrios re-established his bona fides, ending a streak of four straight poor starts by striking out 10 and allowing just two hits in 7⅓ innings against the St. Louis Cardinals.
He followed a plan he should tattoo on the inside of his eyelids, pounding the strike zone with his fastball early, working quickly, and rehabilitating his curve.
“We talked from the beginning that we didn’t want to get too far out front in terms of him being the ace, because he’s not quite at the consistent point that I think he’s going to get to,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “I think he’s [getting] better.”
If Berrios is going to resume pitching like a young star, Fernando Romero is going to continue pitching like a young star, Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson continue to perform reliably and Lance Lynn rights himself, the Twins will have an interesting decision to make if and when Ervin Santana returns from the disabled list in a few weeks.
They could employ a six-man rotation. More likely, Molitor will have to eject a quality arm from the rotation.
The sentence, “It’s a good problem to have,” still contains the word “problem.”
Lynn, who will start Wednesday against the Cardinals, his former team, is currently the most logical candidate for demotion to the bullpen. Lynn has never finished a major league season with an ERA higher than 3.97. His ERA this season is 7.34.
Would the Twins demote a pitcher they signed as a prominent free agent two months into the season?
What are their other options?
They could move Romero to the bullpen, where his 98-mph fastball would dominate, but Romero might be their current and future ace.
Odorizzi profiles as a starter. Santana was the team ace last year, and one of the primary reasons the Twins made the playoffs. Gibson is defying the columnist (me) who suggested last year he should be placed on a slow train to Rochester.
One tactic the Twins could employ is slow-playing Santana’s return. Usually, these kinds of “problems” solve themselves. A pitcher slumps or gets hurt, and Santana steps into the available gap.
There is a different scenario, a dream scenario, for the team: The Twins employ a six-man rotation from the time of Santana’s return through mid-July, and then become the first contending Twins team ever to deal away starting pitching at the trade deadline.
Lynn is signed to a one-year deal. Santana has a $14 million option for 2019. If Romero and Berrios are good enough to lead the staff, either could be expendable in this everything-transpires-perfectly script.
Forgive me if this all sounds strange, or overly optimistic, but I have seen the Twins trade for Scott Klingenbeck and Phil Humber. I have seen Rich Robertson act as staff ace, and J.D. Durbin be treated as a prospect.
The 2018 Twins have been, occasionally, offensively inept, defensively sloppy, confused on the bases and lacking in late-game situations.
Entering Tuesday, they ranked just 17th in baseball in starting pitching ERA. They remain under .500 despite a strong road trip to Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim, Calif.
Their six starting pitchers offer reason for hope and curiosity, especially after Berrios made the Twins 3-0 this season against the estimable St. Louis Cardinals.