Tag: Brian Duensing

Minnesota Twins: Has Pitcher Brian Duensing Found His Role on This Team?

Minnesota Twins pitcher Brian Duensing is in his element as a reliever.

On Saturday, Duensing pitched in relief of starter Sam Deduno, who only went four innings in a 5-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

He went 3.1 innings, allowing only one hit and a walk while striking out Alejandro De Aza and Kevin Youkilis.

“I felt real good,” he said. “I felt I was in my own rhythm immediately when I got on the mound.”

He pitched three straight 1-2-3 innings before a difficult eighth inning.

“He really shut it down today,” said manager Ron Gardenhire. “Came in, threw over the plate, used all of his pitches, looked really efficient and relaxed out there.”

“I was very efficient,” echoed Duensing, whose fastball stayed in the low 90s. “Quick innings and all the results were for the most part on the ground and that’s all I can really ask for.”

In the eighth he fanned Youkilis, but gave up a double to Adam Dunn and walked Paul Konerko.

“I felt like Dunn hit a really good pitch,” he said. “With Konerko, I didn’t want him to beat me.”

At that point the Twins were down 4-2 with the heart of the lineup coming up in the latter innings.

“We kinda got back into the game there, I wanted to keep it close,” he continued. “I told myself I’ll keep it close, and if I miss I and if I walk him that’s fine, we’ll have a chance for a double-play ball.

“The walk was kind of an unintentional, intentional walk.”

The double play never came, but relievers Casey Fien and Tyler Robertson got the team out of the inning without giving up a run.

“I’ll take this outing every time,” said Duensing.

He has found his role on this team.


All quotes were obtained first-hand.

Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.


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Signing Cristian Guzman Cost Washington Nationals More Than Just Money

When the Washington Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a $126 million contract this past offseason, they plugged a hole in their outfield and brought in one of the few true five-tool players in baseball.

And because their first-round pick was protected thanks to their dismal 2010 record, all they had to give up was their second-round pick in this June’s MLB Amateur Draft.

And that’s not much, right? After all, over the past two seasons, Werth has averaged .282/.380/.519 with 32 home runs, 92 RBI and 19 stolen bases. A second-round pick might—or might not—make an impact at the major league level, but almost certainly won’t be another Jayson Werth.

Since their first season in Washington, the Nationals have received far more draft picks for lost free agents than they have given up.

2005 was an exception, however. Shortly after Jim Bowden took over as team general manager, he found himself without a left side of his infield. Tony Batista, who had batted .241-32-110 (but with a .272 on-base percent) signed with a team in Japan and Maicer Izturis was traded along with Juan Rivera to the Angels for Jose Guillen.

There was no one in the farm system ready to take over at either short or third and because Major League Baseball—then owner of the team—had gutted the minors in anticipation of contraction, there was not enough depth to trade prospects for established major leaguers.

And so Bowden entered the free agent market to fill the holes.

On November 16th, 2004, Bowden signed Twins’ shortstop Cristian Guzman to a four-year contract worth $16 million.  Three days later, the Rockies’ Vinny Castilla agreed to a two-year, $6 million deal.

The two signings cost the Nationals their second- and third-round picks in 2005.

Was it worth it?

Castilla played in 142 games in Washington, batting .253/.319/.403 with 12 homers and 66 RBI. When Ryan Zimmerman was called up from the minors on September 1st, Castilla moved to the bench. He was traded to San Diego that winter for Brian Lawrence, who never pitched for the Nationals.

Cristian Guzman’s first year in Washington was his worst of his career, batting .219/.260/.314, and he needed a hot September just to get over .200. He missed most of 2006 and all of 2007 due to injuries, but averaged .301/.327/.416 in 2008 and 2009. He hit .284 before being traded to the Texas Rangers last season.

Castilla’s one year with the Nationals was not worth a second-round pick and Guzman’s roller coaster ride in Washington was probably—barely—worth the lost draft choice.

Let’s see who the Nationals lost.

With the fifth pick in the second round, the Colorado Rockies chose outfielder Daniel Carte. His best year was in 2007 when he hit .283-14-71. Over his six-year minor-league career, Carte has averaged .257-16-75 over 550 at-bats.

If he makes it to the major leagues, it’s going to be as a reserve. The Nationals didn’t lose much by signing Castilla.

However, the signing of Guzman hurt.

With the Nationals’ third-round pick, the Minnesota Twins chose pitcher Brian Duensing, a left-handed pitcher who went 17-2, 3.66 in three years at the University of Nebraska. In five minor-league seasons, Duensing had a record of 33-36, 3.61, allowing 9.3 hits and 2.2 walks per nine innings while striking out 6.4. He joined the Twins in 2009.

Though he started in the bullpen, Duensing has joined the starting rotation and has excelled. He has a record of 15-5 with an ERA of 3.03. He has allowed just 8.5 hits and 2.8 walks per nine innings with a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Last season he went 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA.

He is described as having “moxie” and never giving up. More than once, he argued with coaches in the dugout to let him go back out and pitch another inning. About the only negative is his size. At 5’11” and 175 lbs, stamina is a concern. But thus far, anyway, he has outperformed his expectations.

Look, I realize that just because the Twins chose Brian Duensing it doesn’t mean that the Nationals would have. But conversely, the Nationals—had they retained their second-round pick—might have chosen instead of Carte Yunel Escobar, who in four major-league seasons has averaged .289-11-64.

When the Nationals signed Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman, they knew what they were getting. There weren’t going to be any surprises (though one can say that Guzman’s 2005 season was very much a surprise). But high-round draft picks can either become a bust or a plaque in the Hall of Fame.

You just never know.

But man, wouldn’t Brian Duensing look really good in the rotation right now?

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Minnesota Twins-New York Yankees Game 3 Preview: Brian Duensing’s Time To Shine

The Minnesota Twins did not expect to find themselves in this situation again.

One year after a disappointing but somewhat foreseeable ALDS sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, the Twins entered this year’s rematch with high expectations. The team had not needed a tiebreaking 163rd game to reach the playoffs; they had sewn up the division with over a week left. They had a deep rotation, a strong lineup, and the chemistry brought to this year’s clubhouse by key offseason additions Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson.

Two games into the Series, though, not much seems to have changed. Despite scoring first and holding two leads in each of the first two games, Minnesota trails 2-0 and must now try to topple the Yankees twice on the road just to force a fifth and decisive game back in brand-new Target Field.

The story of the night may be the pitching match-up. After each team sent out seasoned veterans to toe the rubber in the first two contests, the young guns take over Saturday night in the Bronx. For the Twins, that means Brian Duensing, he of the 10-3 record and 2.262 ERA in a season split between the bullpen and the starting rotation. The Yankees send 18-game winner Phil Hughes, who pitched as a full-time starter for the first time this season.


The Ghost of Playoffs Past

Duensing was 26 last season when he made his big-league debut, so he can hardly be painted as a wet-eared youngster in need of drastic maturation. Still, when he took the ball for Minnesota in Game 1 of last year’s ALDS, it was apparent that the rookie had much to learn about the high drama of October baseball and the Yankees mystique.

In the third inning that night, the Twins staked Duensing to a 2-0 lead on a series of hits and a Jorge Posada passed ball. In the bottom of the frame, though, Duensing made a rare mistake up in the zone, and Derek Jeter hit a two-run home run to tie the score.

From there, everything went downhill. Duensing gave up another run in the fourth, and another in the fifth before manager Ron Gardenhire pulled him—whereupon the Yankees promptly pushed across the runner Duensing had left on base. All told, the rookie left-hander allowed five runs and seven hits over four and two-thirds innings.

The Yankees clubbed 10 fly balls and four line drives off Duensing, who normally keeps the ball on the ground very well. Witness his 52.9 percent ground-ball rate, good for 15th among pitchers with 120 or more innings pitched in 2010, according to FanGraphs. Duensing simply wasn’t ready on that night one year and two days ago to stop the offensive juggernaut that was New York.


Let’s See How Far We’ve Come

Duensing pitched against the Yanks just three times this season, all in relief and for a total of only four innings. He lost one game, gave up another home run to Jeter, and seemed generally uncomfortable against the men in pinstripes.

He will have to prove that those days are behind him tonight. He has the stuff to do it: His slider ranks as the best among pitchers who used a slide-piece regularly in 120 or more innings of work this year, according to FanGraphs. The greatest obstacle for Duensing to clear may be the mental hurdle that stands between him and pitching well at the site of his worst big-league moment, in a game that means even more.

Matt Trueblood is a student at Loyola University Chicago and B/R College Writing Intern. Follow him on Twitter.

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Grading Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins’ Pitching Staff: Starters and Closer

The Minnesota Twins appear to be on their way to winning back-to-back division titles and for the first time in two years, not having to go to a game 163. With the Twins sitting comfortably in front of the Chicago White Sox they will have the opportunity to rest pitchers down the stretch and set their rotation however they would like for the postseason.

There’s a good chance Francisco Liriano will be thrown out in Game 1 against either the Tampa Bay Rays or New York Yankees. The other option would be Carl Pavano, who has been a godsend for the Twins’ rotation with the way he eats up innings.

The postseason is creeping up closer and closer, which means it’s time to grade the pitching staff up to this point.


Francisco Liriano—B+

It was a tough choice not to give Liriano an A especially seeing how well he’s pitched since the All-Star break. While he’s had a very good season, he hasn’t pitched like a staff ace consistently enough. Consistency is something the promising lefty is going to have to work on if he ever wants to be considered an elite pitcher.

Right now, Liriano is having a good stretch, but as many Twins fans know, he is just as capable to fall into a three- or four-start funk.


Carl Pavano—B

He always seems to give Minnesota seven or eight quality innings every start and more importantly, a chance to win. When Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn were struggling, it was Liriano and Pavano who kept the Twins afloat.

Over June and July, Pavano compiled an 8-1 record, lowering his ERA to 3.21 at one point, which put him in the Cy Young conversation for a brief stint. Since then he has come back to Earth a bit, but without that remarkable stretch earlier in the season. the Twins wouldn’t be where they are today.

Scott Baker—D

“Moonshot Scott” is by far one of the more overvalued players in baseball.

For some reason Minnesota believes that Baker is an above-average pitcher, even though he hasn’t produced like it on the mound. Baker will sucker you in with a dazzling performance making you think that he’s turned a corner, only to break your heart with a subsequent poor outing. One complaint about Baker is his consistency.

That’s not the case this year as he has been consistently bad. 


Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn—C

Slowey gets a C because he simply is an average starting pitcher who is having an average season.

Blackburn is different. He was so bad at one point during the season that he was sent down to the Minors to try to rediscover his sinker ball. In May, he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA, which he followed up with two disastrous months leading to his demotion. Since being called back up, he has pitched very well and would most likely be the fourth starter in a seven game series. 


Brian Duensing—A

Since joining the rotation, Duensing has posted a 5-1 mark to go with a 3.06 ERA. Not to mention that he was a key member of the bullpen for the majority of the season before he was summoned to be a starter.

It’s clear that he has become the No. 3 guy behind Liriano and Pavano surpassing Baker, Slowey, and Blackburn. For the second-straight season, Duensing has stepped into the rotation in a pennant race and delivered. His stellar pitching helped the Twins surge past the White Sox into first place. 


Matt Capps—C-

Capps was acquired from the Washington Nationals in exchange for highly touted catching prospect, Wilson Ramos. While Capps‘s numbers with Minnesota may not look all that bad, they aren’t much better than the man he replaced, Jon Rauch. He’s blown two save opportunities in 11 chances, but has routinely given up base runners and made the game much more interesting.

That’s never a good thing if you are supposed to be a shut down closer. The complaint about Rauch was that he didn’t have overpowering stuff and gave up too many hits. Capps has come in and thrown the ball harder than Rauch, but not necessarily more effectively.

In 19 innings, the former National has given up 20 hits, while striking out 13 batters. The jury is still out on Capps as his so-so regular season performance with the Twins will definitely be erased if he is able to get the job done in October.

Something not even former All-Star Joe Nathan could do.

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Minnesota Twins Starting Pitching: Who Will Emerge As the Ace?

For the Minnesota Twins, 2010 has been a roller coaster ride for the starting pitching staff.

It’s been almost a different pitcher stepping up to lead the club every month. 

Of late, Carl Pavano appears to be ready to settle into the ace of the staff. 

The Twins just completed a crucial 12 game stretch, going 9-3. Half of these games were against the second place Chicago White Sox—where they won four of six games, building a five game lead in the AL Central.

Now they start another crucial stretch where they will face the first place Texas Rangers seven times over the next 13 games. 

Nick Blackburn has been recalled from AAA Rochester, replacing Kevin Slowey who has been placed on the DL, opening the four game series in Arlington for the Twins.

Here’s a month-by-month look at how the starters have taken turns, not only on the mound, but as the staff ace.

April Pitcher of the Month: Francisco Liriano

Liriano: 4 GS, 3-0 record, 0.93 ERA, 0.965 WHIP.

Team: 23 GS, 12-7 record, 4.08 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

Liriano opened the season as the Twins’ fifth starter. After Joe Nathan suffered a season-ending injury, there was talk about moving Liriano into the closer role.

Thankfully, Liriano turned down the offer and dominated in April. He started the season with a no decision before rattling off three straight wins. He allowed three or less earned runs in each of his four starts.

He was awarded the American League Pitcher of the Month for April.

Unfortunately, he would only go 3-6 over the months of June and July.

Currently with a 3-1 record in August it appears he back on the right track.


May Pitcher of the Month: Nick Blackburn

Blackburn: 5 GS, 5-0 record, 2.65 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

Team: 28 GS, 15-9 record, 3.95 ERA, 1.31 WHIP

After going 1-1 in four starts in April, Blackburn dominated in May.

Blackburn won all five of his starts, pitching at least seven innings in each of them. Included were two victories over the Yankees—a feat that had not occurred since August 13, 2008, when Kevin Slowey won at the Metrodome.

At 6-1 through the first two months of the season, Blackburn was leading the team. Unfortunately, with the turn of the calendar to June he lost something. After finishing first half at 7-7, going 1-6 in June and July, Blackburn was sent to the Rochester Redwings.

The team would not mind at all if he were to return to his winning ways of May, while Slowey is on the disabled list.


June Pitcher of the Month: Carl Pavano

Pavano: 5 GS, 4-1 record, 2.25 ERA, 0.80 WHIP

Team: 27 GS, 9-13 record, 5.10 ERA, 1.26 WHIP

After starting the season 5-5, Pavano was the only good thing for the Twins in June. As the team struggled with a 12-15 record, his four wins would account for a third of the team’s. For the month, no other starter would have a winning record. Besides Slowey going 2-2, no other starter would win more than one game in the month.

Pavano would pitch back-to-back complete games, dominating Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies, and Johan Santana and the New York Mets, incredibly, allowing only one earned run over the 18 innings.


July Pitcher of the Month: Carl Pavano

Pavano: 6 GS, 4-0 record, 2.91 ERA, 0.95 WHIP

Team: 26 GS, 13-5 record, 4,19 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

Pavano would back up his dominate June with a strong July.

Falling to third place in the AL Central at the All-Star break, the Twins’ turn around would begin with a four game series at Chicago, where Pavano would have another complete game.

At the end of the month he would emerge as the staff ace, with a team leading 13-6 record, and as a Cy Young candidate.


August Pitcher of the Month: Brian Duensing

Duensing: 4 GS, 3-0 record, 2.08 ERA, 0.96 WHIP

Team: 20 GS, 10-4 record, 3.71 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

With eight games remaining in August, each of the starters will get at least one more turn on the hill. Since his promotion to the starting lineup, Duensing has been almost unbeatable. In six starts in July and August he has four wins and two no-decisions.

He currently has a combined 7-1 record with a 1.92 ERA.  

This has turned out to be the best acquisition the Twins made at the trade deadline.

After going 8-1 in June and July, Pavano has come back to earth with a 2-2 record in August.

If Duensing can continue pitch this effectively, the Twins will have a formidable trio, along with Pavano and Liriano going into the postseason.  

With the playoffs still more than six weeks away, I like the thought of the Twins opening with Pavano, followed by Duensing and Liriano.  After that, it really doesn’t matter.

Scott Baker is currently 11-9, but has won four of his last starts with two no-decisions. He has not won, nor lost, three consecutive starts all season. With a strong finish in September, I see Baker as the fourth pitcher to take a turn in the playoffs.

As for Slowey and Blackburn, the only way I see either of these two pitching in October would be due to an injury.  

Of course anything could happen, a look back to 2009 on this date—the Twins were in third place, 4.5 games behind the White Sox and Tigers


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Minnesota Twins Are the AL Central Trade Deadline Winners!

The non-waiver trading deadline has passed.

The Texas Rangers made arguably the biggest move in the AL with the acquisition of ace Cliff Lee.

They also added some depth with shortstop Cristian Guzman, infielder Jorge Cantu, and catcher Bengie Molina.

In typical New York fashion, the Yankees have put themselves in a position to repeat as World Series champions with the additions of first baseman Lance Berkman, outfielder Austin Kearns, and pitcher Kerry Wood.

Berkman was rumored to be a target for both the Tigers and White Sox, and some reports are he vetoed a deal that would have sent him to Chicago.

So here’s a look at how the three teams contending for the AL Central fared in attempts to make improvements before the trade deadline at 3:00 pm CDT on Saturday.

Chicago White Sox

Key additions: Edwin Jackson—Right-hand pitcher, 6-10, 5.16 ERA.

Key subtractions: Pitcher Jake Peavy—out for the season with right shoulder surgery.

Going 25-5 before the All-Star break, the White Sox went from nine and a half games back and in third place to leading the division by half a game.

With the loss of Jake Peavy for the season, Jackson will help to add some depth to their rotation. With a slightly higher ERA and lower strikeout to walk ratio will have to pitch better in Chicago than he did in Arizona. 

This was the only deal General Manager Ken Williams was able to pull off before the deadline. Will it be enough to keep the Sox out front?

Having gone 9-7 since the All-Star break, their lead remains a half game, but Minnesota has taken over second place from the struggling Tigers. 

The White Sox will still need to add some depth in order to win the division. The task just became a lot more difficult. Any player will have to clear waivers before the deal is completed.

Detroit Tigers

Key Addition: Third baseman Jhonny Peralta—.251 batting average, nine HR, 46 RBI, .315 OBP.

Key Subtractions: Brandon Inge—Out four to six weeks with a broken hand.

The Tigers picked up Peralta from Cleveland for a 19-year-old class-A pitcher Giovanni Soto.

The Tigers were in desperate need of a replacement for Inge and Peralta will fit the bill.

He brings a little more power than what Inge was demonstrating this year, with a slight drop in average and on-base percentage.

The Tigers have been struggling since the break going 4-13, falling to 52-51 and six games behind the White Sox.

Without adding some pitching depth to the lineup is President and General Manager Dave Dombrowski throwing in the towel?

Minnesota Twins

Key Addition: Closer Matt Capps—27 saves, 2.68 ERA

Key Subtractions: Justin Morneau—Currently on the 15-day DL for a concussion.

The Twins needed to add another quality starter to the rotation, and should have been looking for some insurance to back-up Morneau at first.

Michael Cuddyer has been doing a good job filling in, but the addition of either Berkman or Adam Dunn would have gone a long way to plug any potential long-term absence of Morneau.

The only deal GM Bill Smith was able to pull off was the addition of Washington closer Matt Capps. In return, the Twins gave up Double-A left-handed pitcher Joe Testa, and Triple-A catcher Wilson Ramos.

The addition of Capps bolsters the Twins bullpen, allowing interim closer Jon Rauch to move back into the set-up role. This helps fill the gap made with the promotion of Brian Duensing to the starting rotation.

Having gone 12-4 since the All-Star break, the Twins have moved past the Tigers for second place, only a half game behind the White Sox.

Based more on the lack of moves made by the White Sox or Tigers than the move made by the Twins, they can claim victory in deadline deals for the AL Central division. 

At this point the division appears to be the a two-team race between the White Sox and Twins.

The winner will earn the probable right to face either the Rangers or Yankees in the divisional round—and an early exit in the playoffs.     

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MLB Trade Rumors: Bullpen Help Should Be Twins’ Top Trade Priority

The burning question among Twins fans is whether or not their ball club needs to make a deadline move to bolster an inconsistent pitching staff.

A starting rotation led by the unlikeliest of aces, Carl Pavano, had their best week in over a month. The Twins are one game behind the Chicago White Sox and have jumped the suddenly reeling Detroit Tigers.

General Manager Bill Smith will have to weigh whether the recent success is smoke in mirrors against poor opponents or whether it is actual signs of improvement. His decision will ultimately determine if the Twins will be challenging for a World Series title in October or will be struggling to win their division in late September.

The starting staff of Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, and Kevin Slowey combined for a 4-0 record, 34 innings pitched, 21 hits allowed, a 1.06 ERA, and 23 strikeouts in their most recent run through the rotation. The superb numbers can be contributed to a number of factors. Most importantly, playing the worst team in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles (31-68).

Or, is it possible the Twins have solved all of their pitching problems up front when they dipped into the bullpen for Brian Duensing last Friday? Nick Blackburn had won only one start since June 1st. Opponents were batting .378 with 11 home runs and an on-base percentage of .427. Blackburn, a sinker-ball pitcher, had been working with pitching coach, Rick Anderson extensively on keeping his fastball down in the zone.

After the Twins came back to win in Blackburn’s last start on July 18, Blackburn said, “I don’t know how much longer they’re going to keep putting up with this stuff.” He was shipped out to the pen prior to his next scheduled outting. In his only relief appearance, he gave up three runs, on five hits, in two innings.

Duensing picked up the start this past Friday against Baltimore. He pitched five innings and gave up one earned-run over five solid innings of work. He was limited due to a strict pitch count enforced by pitching coach, Rick Anderson.

“We wanted to keep his pitch count around 65, we will add about 15 pitches each start, and work forward from there,” stated Anderson. Duensing didn’t factor in the decision, but gave the Twins a chance exiting the game with the Twins up 2-1. The lead he earned was lost when Luke Scott hit a two-run home run off rookie Anthony Slama the very next inning.

Duensing will start Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals on the road. He has a career ERA of 4.84 against the Royals. He has had a bit of trouble controlling the right-handed hitters from Kansas City. It will be a good start to measure his progress as a pitcher thus far through his career.

The tools he has learned as a reliever should translate over into his mechanics as a starting pitcher. His ability to get right-handed batters out will be the deciding factor in his effectiveness as a starting pitcher in the MLB.

You can bet on both Gardenhire and Smith keeping a close eye on what goes on through the end of the month. If Duensing has trouble on Wednesday, I would bet on the Twins making a move to add a piece to the front-end of their rotation. If things go smoothly, odds are they will wait for the waiver and non-waiver deadlines.

The bullpen is definitely in need of some live arms. The front office doesn’t have a choice in waiting for bullpen help. The make-shift pen of waiver claims from last year have not met the hopes of management. Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay, Jose Mijares, and Alex Burnett are all expendable.

With the only effective left-hander now in the starting rotation, the Twins are in dire need of some help to close out games.

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Minnesota Twins’ Brothers ‘No’ Stop Freefall, Shore Up Rotation

Heading into the All-Star Break, Twins fans split into two camps.

The “oh God, it’s all over” camp reacted to the hometown nine’s recent run of form—a poor one, dropping them into third place in the decent AL Central.

The other camp was the “Second Halfers.”  They’ve seen this team really catch fire in the second half of the season and remember pretty well how the performance of several starting pitchers (like Scott Baker) started to pick up rapidly after the annual midsummer classic.

It took the “Brothers ‘No,” Francicso Liriano and Carl Pavano (along with his sidekick, Super Mario’s moustache), to breathe life back into the Twins starting rotation and help point the club toward the usual second half rally.  Although not in a hole nearly as deep as last season’s at this time, the Twins desperately needed solid starting pitching to reappear in the four game series with the White Sox.

The first game was Kevin Slowey’s, and he didn’t last too long, letting a lead escape him early in the game.  It was more of the same from Slowey, who seems to have lost most of the movement on his fastball, and the repercussions from this latest inadequate start have yet to be fully felt.  More on that later.

Next up was Liriano, Frankie Fastball, The Franchise, call him what you will.  The hurler who turned in incredible April (enough to earn him AL Pitcher of the Month honors) and then hit an up and down patch through May and June returned to his best on Friday against the White Sox, going seven and two thirds and letting the bullpen relax for most of the night. 

Only giving up two runs on a Chicago lineup that was on the verge of going on yet another double-digit winning streak was a much needed shot in the arm for the Twins pitching staff.

Next up was Carl Pavano.  He established himself as more or less the staff ace early in the season and has consistently performed in the clutch for the Twins.  His complete game against Chicago on Saturday night, accomplished in under two hours, was his fourth of the season.  Only having a one-run lead for most of the game, Pavano worked the lineup and managed to hold the Sox to just two runs for the second night in a row.

These two performances went a long way toward calming down the entire pitching staff.  When Nick Blackburn took the mound on Sunday afternoon, he got off to his first strong start in several outings. 

Although he gave up four runs in just five innings of work, this is a considerable upgrade from giving up many runs in the first three innings, as Blackburn had done in most of his starts leading into the break.  Hopefully Blackburn can use the first few innings of this most recent start as a building point for his next one.

In any event, with Pavano and Liriano showing that they’re ready for the second half, the rest of the rotation has a much better chance of following suit.  What’s more is that both of them are now able to do something the best pitchers do: adjust on the fly.

Pavano has been doing this for the Twins since mid-April, but for Liriano, demonstrating the ability to adjust his approach to hitters in the middle of the game is something new and promising. 

Liriano’s MO has been similar all season: getting off to a good start in the first couple innings gave him confidence and let him cruise through the rest of the game.  If he were tagged for a couple runs early, the rest of the game was pretty rocky for him, as well.

Against the White Sox, Liriano faced a potentially disastrous jam in the fifth inning, somewhat of an oddity given how his games have normally gone.  Instead of folding, Liriano got his game face back on, mixed his pitches, and managed to get the Sox to leave several men on base.  This is a definite good sign.

The confidence that Liriano and Pavano will have now to work off of will hopefully rub off on the rest of the starting staff to some degree.  Next up in the rotation is “Big Spot Scott” Baker.  He did more than his share to carry the rotation in the second half last season, and he will be looked upon again to do the same. 

Hoping to keep his pitches down a little lower than he did in the first half, Baker will be able to relax just a little more on the mound knowing that each start isn’t quite as critical as they were at this time last season.  The Twins now sit only a game and a half back of the White Sox and have the easiest schedule (on paper) of any of their competitors in the division.

It is worth mentioning that, despite the success that Liriano and Pavano helped breed in the team, the starting rotation certainly isn’t settled.  Kevin Slowey’s performance on Thursday night moved him one step closer to a ticket to Rochester, NY and the Twins’ AAA affiliate.  If he cannot regain movement on his fastball, Slowely’s spot in the rotation will likely be taken by current bullpen hand Brian Duensing. 

Duensing, who started a playoff game for the Twins in New York last season, caught fire for the club in the second half last season.  Duensing’s place in the ‘pen will be taken by someone from the Twins’ minor league system.  Rumors abound as far as who this person will be, but the two most prominent names are Anthony Slama and Kyle Waldrop.

Slama has been on Twins fans’ radar for a few seasons as a pitcher who doesn’t overpower, but disguises his pitches well.  The Twins pitching coaches have been worried that all Slama had to really rely on was his mastery of hiding his pitches, but so far in AAA, he has been quite impressive.  The number of walks he has issued is a potential worry, however.

Waldrop enjoyed a very good first half of the AAA season with Rochester as well.  In total this season, he has pitched in 41 games and only issued 14 earned runs, putting his ERA at 2.09.  With 41 strike outs compared with 15 walks, Waldrop has been impressive this season.

Regardless, with The Brothers ‘No finding their fire early in this second half and Baker looking to reacquire the stuff he had this time last season, the Twins rotation seems to already be in much better shape than it appeared just a week ago.

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Minnesota Twins Falter Before Break: How Will They Turn the Season Around?

Let’s face it: The AL Central is the Minnesota Twins’ division to lose, and they did just about everything they could to lose it in the last month or so before the All-Star break. The starting pitching was atrocious and the offense faltered. 

So what should the Twins do? With Mauer and every starting pitcher besides Pavano underperforming, it’s looking pretty rough. I’ve got a few ideas to entertain:

Trade for Dan Haren or Ted Lilly

Cliff Lee already slipped by. I’m sick of seeing the Twins wait and wait for a great deal to land under their nose, only to get stuck with a lackluster upgrade right before the trade deadline.

Supposedly the Twins would have had Lee for Wilson Ramos and Aaron Hicks, but backed out. I understand that Minnesota values their prospects, but they’ve been developing some great young players for the last 19 years with no championships.

Why not trade the young guys? Looking ahead to the future is a good thing, but not if there is never a “present.”

Dan Haren would come to Minnesota with an option for 2013 if they could land him, and would be a better deal than Cliff Lee because he is young, proven, and isn’t just a rental. Roy Oswalt has been great this year, but hasn’t been given any run support and comes at a high price. Either pitcher would be a great upgrade, and the Twins absolutely need to make a push for one of the two. Shoddy pitching is not how teams win divisions. 

Some other starters that should be on the move are Ted Lilly and Fausto Carmona. Lilly could benefit from a change of scenery, as he has posted a 3-8 record in a Cubs uniform. The Twins would love another lefty starter as much as I’d like to see Lilly pitch in the American League. Carmona looks to be back to 2007 form, going 8-7 with a nice 3.64 ERA before the break. 

Shop for a Starter at Third Base

I’ve heard rumors about the Twins eyeing Miguel Tejada. He would bring great defense, and is currently hitting .276/7/35. Not too bad for an old guy. The problem is he likes playing in Baltimore. If the Twins could hoist him over to Minnesota, he would be a nice upgrade both offensively and defensively.

What about Joe Crede? He is apparently healthy and would sign for next to nothing. He promises stellar defense at third, but his offense is questionable. At this point, I don’t see why the Twins don’t sign him for $1 mil or so and spend some real big bucks on another offensive upgrade.

Mix Up the Starting Rotation

Trade Nick Blackburn. Cut your losses. Blacky has shown nothing but his inability to compete at the major league level, and hasn’t been effective since the end of May. 

Something else I’d like to see is Brian Duensing in the starting lineup. He’s been lights-out as a reliever and even showed great starting stuff last year, ending with a start against the Yankees in game one of the ALDS. Putting Duensing in the starting five would give the Twins another proven (although briefly) lefty starter. 

I wouldn’t even be opposed to sending Alex Burnett to the mound for some starts. He’s thrown 40 innings so far this season and boasts a 3.60 ERA from the bullpen. Sure beats Blackburn’s 6.40 or Baker’s 4.87.

Grab Some Relievers and a Real Closer

Neshek is injured, Condrey is injured, and Guerrier has imploded as of late. It’s about time to shore up the bullpen. A lot of guys could be moving, and I would expect one if not more to land in a Twins uniform by the end of July. 

A diamond in the rough down the stretch has been Jesse Crain. He’s been electric lately, although his numbers don’t really show it. I expect Crain and his rejuvenated slider to see a lot more time in the second half.

Matt Capps is somebody I would love to see end up in Minnesota. While I haven’t heard anything involving the Twins and Capps, he makes perfect sense. Matt has had some issues with the long ball this year, and Target field seems to be a pitcher’s ballpark through and through. The Twins need a good closer, and Capps could fit the role nicely.

Another (more likely) option for the Twins is David David Aardsma of the Mariners. Aardsma is a proven closer, but holds a rough 0-6 record and a sub-John Rauch 16-for-20 saves. At this point, I’d stick with Rauch unless the Twins can land a Matt Capps or Heath Bell kind of closer. 

Just Make Some Moves!

The Twins are going to need to be busy before the trade deadline. The White Sox have already been linked to some big players like Prince Fielder, and the Tigers don’t appear to be going anywhere. A new third baseman, a veteran ace, reliever and closer are what the Twins need. Here are my suggestions and hopefuls for said deficient positions:

Third Base Suggestion: Miguel Tejada
.277, 7 HR, 35 RBI

Third Base Hopeful: Kevin Kouzmanoff .266, 8 HR, 40 RBI

Starter Suggestion: Ted Lilly 3-8, 4.08 ERA

Starter Hopeful: Dan Haren 7-7, 4.36 ERA

Reliever Suggestion: Todd Coffey 2-2, 4.41 ERA

Reliever Hopeful: Mike Wuertz 2-1 5.60 ERA

Closer Suggestion: Kerry Wood 8 SV, 6.30 ERA

Closer Hopeful: Matt Capps 23 SV, 3.18 ERA

There’s the blueprint. A handful of moves could put the Twins back on track in 2010, and will hopefully help Ron Gardenhire win his sixth division title and first World Series as manager of the Minnesota Twins. 

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Delmon Young Double Gets Minnesota Twins Back To Winning Ways

In a pitchers duel, it doesn’t take much to shift the balance of the game. For the Minnesota Twins Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays, two key base hits provided a lead that they would refuse to relinquish.

Minnesota’s Scott Baker managed to scatter several hits from the potent Ray’s offense with minimal damage on the scoreboard. Working an effective slider and a fastball with plenty of bite, Baker managed to keep the Rays at bay, with the exception of a run scored on a ground-rule double in the first inning.

Hits were much tougher to come by against David Price. The former first-overall selection had his deadly fastball/curveball combination working like a gem, and the Twins only managed four hits the entire game. Half of those hits came in the bottom half of the seventh inning for Minnesota, which game them a 2-1 lead.

Delmon Young, the oft-maligned Twins outfielder who could be the most over-qualified 7th batter in the league, followed up a Jason Kubel single with a game-tying double to left-center field. He was knocked home with a base hit to center field off the bat of rookie Danny Valencia.

The Twins relied upon Brian Duensing and Jesse Crain to get them through the 8th inning before putting the ball in the hands of impromptu closer Jon Rauch.

Rauch, 6”11′ and 290 lbs, was given the 9th-inning role when it was discovered that Joe Nathan needed season-ending surgery. Although Twins fans lack confidence in the towering 31-year old, his sub-3.00 ERA and 18 saves speak volumes to Rauch’s ability. That being said, Rauch’s success also shows how over-rated the closer position is; if Rauch can thrive in the high-leverage 9th inning, so can most relievers.

With the win, Minnesota evens the four-game series with Tampa at one apiece. Tomorrow, the Twins’ top-performing starting pitcher will take the mound in Target Field. Francisco Liriano has solidified his place in Minnesota’s rotation this season via several excellent starts and a 3.47 ERA.

Liriano’s opponent will be Wade Davis, who has struggled this season despite a low BABIP, low line-drive percentage, and high strand rate. Although it appears that Davis is a prime candidate to give up a 10-spot to the Twins this afternoon, the 24-year old righty has an ERA of 2.65 in his last three starts and appears to be settling down.

If Minnesota can notch another victory, they will guarantee themselves a series split against one of the tougher teams in the league. The Twins are coming off a rough month of June and a series split would be a fine way to get back on track. Winning three of four from the Rays, though, would be an even better way for the Twins to shake off the rust and get back to their winning ways.


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