On Thursday, Ron Gardenhire announced his opening day lineup. Giving it the once over, you will notice that the lineup is filled with “professional” hitters, a stark contrast to the motley crew that the manager was forced to field at the end of last year.


Headlining names like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span have returned. It is deep enough that Chris Parmelee, who hit in the heart of the order in September, is batting eighth. With the offseason additions of Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Jamey Carroll, there is optimism that this offense will not finish at the bottom of the league in runs scored.

Of course, while the offense is providing some warm fuzzies, it’s the pitching staff that is the real concern. And it’s already off to an ominous start.

Scott Baker, in efforts to rehab an arm issue he experienced this spring, made a start for the Ft Myers Miracle yesterday. It did not go well. Just 11 pitches into the outing, he was pulled, stating he was unable to get loose. The News-Press’s David Dorsey tweeted that Miracle manager Jake Mauer said “the radar guns were 80 to 84 or whatever the heck it was. He wasn’t comfortable at all.”

There is no clarity as to what is actually wrong with Baker, either. Earlier in the day, general manager Terry Ryan was on KFAN with Dan Barreiro and said, of Baker, “the only concern I have is that he’s not injured. There’s nothing wrong; we’ve done all the test and so forth.”

Baker’s situation is starting to sound somewhat similar to Glen Perkins’ plight in 2010. That season, Perkins complained about shoulder pain which sidelined him for an extended period of time and drew the ire of Twins officials who were “privately questioning his pain tolerance and willingness to compete.”  As we know, Perkins rebounded swimmingly, assuming the set-up man’s position in the bullpen and earning himself a three-year deal after a terrific 2011 season. Baker, meanwhile, has now had multiple seasons now end with arm issues and this one, much like Perkins in 2010, does not have a clear diagnosis. Is he now receiving the Perkins treatment from the team’s inner circle?

In August of last year, Baker headed for the disabled list, saying that he noticed a “lack of velocity and less sharpness in his breaking pitches.” Back then he was still hitting the upper-80s despite the discomfort. This spring, the radar gun has said he has been at 86 miles per hour and below. As someone who lives up in the zone and allows a high percentage of fly balls, the drop in velocity would be fuel to the fire.

It’s frustrating, as Ryan told Barreiro, because despite throwing just over 130 innings last year, Baker was undoubtedly the rotation’s lone bright spot through the first half of the season. He was a breath of fresh air as a strikeout pitcher (whiffing 22.5% of batters faced) in a sea of contact artists (Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn) and zone avoiders (Francisco Liriano). Now it appears there is no timeline in which Baker will recover in the near future. His absence will also further highlight the Twins lack of depth in the system when it comes to the starting rotation. Liam Hendriks, who pitched decently in September, will assume his spot however, if any other injuries crop up, there is little left in the farm system to replace them. There are no Matt Garzas, Kevin Sloweys or Francisco Lirianos waiting in the wings.

And what of the bullpen?

A year ago, the reinforcements blew 20 save opportunities and were responsible for 28 losses (the most in the American League) while allowing 4.96 runs per game (the second most in the AL). Have the Twins improved themselves in this area?

Matt Capps’ spring - following up a tumultuous 2011 season - has not reassured fans much that he’s turned things around. Likewise, the one pitcher who may have added a dominating force to last year’s group, Joel Zumaya, lasted 13 spring pitches. The Twins have also lost Joe Nathan and have not replaced him with a similar right-handed reliever. This doesn’t inspire much confidence, does it? Well, you are not alone in that sentiment. Ryan was also equally as uncertain by the unit he put together.

“The biggest question is the bullpen,” said Ryan Thursday afternoon over the airwaves. “The bullpen has a bunch of question marks…I’m worried about the bullpen just like you are.”

At the very least, the honesty is refreshing. It’s not like the front office is trying to feed us a spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go do. The reality is this pitching staff may very well leave a bitter taste.