With the lineup figured out, the Twins have to figure out what their rotation will look like come Spring Training. The biggest question is whether or not they will be re-signing Carl Pavano. Rumors say that the Twins and Pavano are very close in agreement on a two year deal. If that is the case then the Twins will enter the 2011 season with the same starting pitching as they had at the end of the 2010 season. Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, Scott Baker, and Kevin Slowey is the order I would go with if it was Opening Day.
Francisco Liriano had a very nice rebound year in 2010. He went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA, walking 58 batters and striking out 201. Many people were skeptical about his strength and ability to recover form Tommy John surgery. There was talk of the Twins having to rebuild his delivery to avoid another serious injury, but they didn’t have to tweak it too much. Throughout the season he showed flashes of the Liriano of 2006, when he went 12-3. Expect him to feed of his 2010 season and become the true ace of this team.
Carl Pavano will likely be the #2 starter, assuming the reports are true and he re-signs with the Twins. If you would have told me that Pavano was going to win 17 games last season, I would have thought you were crazy. He has been known for having injury problems, the most notable was the car accident he was in that he didn’t feel he had to report to the New York Yankees during the 2006 season. He was able to put all that behind him and have a great season, while providing veteran leadership for the Twins young pitching staff. With a shaky bullpen, look for Pavano to be an innings eater, after pitching in 221 innings during 2010.
Brian Duensing may have been the biggest surprise of the Twins pitching staff. After starting the 2010 season in the bullpen, manager Ron Gardenhire moved him to the rotation in July after demoting Nick Blackburn to Triple-A Rochester. Duensing wasted no time proving Gardenhire made a good move. Ending the season with a 10-3 record and a 2.62 season EAR, he had a record of 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 13 starts once he entered the rotation. His most impressive game was on August 14th at home against Oakland. He pitched a complete game shutout, giving up only three hits. I expect him to build off a great second half of the season as a starter.
After having a good 2009 season, Scott Baker continued to give up the home run ball in 2010. Even though he went 12-9, he gave up 23 home runes, a year after giving up 28 in 2009. He had a better second half of the season going 5-1 with a 3.82 ERA as opposed to the first half of the season when he went 7-8 with a 4.87 ERA. He gave up half as many home runs in the second half than he did in the first half. I think he is a solid #4 starter, but he really needs to work on giving up the home run balls.
The last spot in the rotation belongs to Kevin Slowey, who came off season-ending wrist surgery in July 2009. He bounced back nicely from the injury and had a good 2010 season. He went 13-6 with a 4.45 ERA in 28 starts. Many people say Slowey reminds them of Twins great, Brad Radke. I am beginning to see more and more of this every time he makes a start. He is a great control pitcher, although he doesn’t strike out a lot of batters. In four seasons with the Twins he has a total of 79 walks. Considering that most pitchers average anywhere from 50-90 walks per season. Perhaps, Slowey’s best start of his career occurred on August 15th against the Oakland Athletics. He was in the midst of a no-hitter, but then Ron Gardenhire removed him from the game due to prevent possibly re-injuring his wrist. Whether it was a good move or not, I side with Gardenhire on the side of caution towards keeping him healthy. Look for Slowey to have another season like he had in 2010 and be a very nice fifth starter.
Aside from the five starters who work so hard on their off days to improve, the biggest praise has to go to pitching coach Rick Anderson. He has been the Twins pitching coach since the 2002 season. He has done wonders with very little all-star caliber talent. He has taught the pitchers to not worry about strike outs, but rather getting the hitters out anyway possible.
Look for the 2011 Twins rotation to again be underrated and talked about very little, but continue to make noise. They will continue to be a very disciplined pitching staff, as their starting rotation walked a league best 233 batters, 150 less than Boston who led the league with 383 walked batters. There is definite potential for the Twins to have two 15 game winners since the 2001 season when Joe Mays (17 wins), Brad Radke (15 wins) and Eric Milton (15 wins) all eclipsed the 15 win mark.