"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Who's Got the Ball?

In a rare offseason when they didn't lose what often seemed like half the team, the Twins came into spring training with very few question marks on the 25-man roster, and most of those involve the pitching staff. We lost Brad Radke to retirement and Francisco Liriano to Tommy John surgery. The spot vacated by Kyle Lohse at midseason was a revolving door in the second half, and Carlos Silva had what can kindly be termed a disappointing season.

And that's only the starting rotation.

In the bullpen, Willie Eyre was released early in the offseason. While this may not seem like a large hole to fill, the guy did pitch 59 innings last season. Also, much of Lohse's time during the first half (25 innings) was spent in the bullpen, and Silva (7 innings), potential 2007 starter Matt Garza (5 innings) and the absent Liriano (22 innings) also saw time in relief. Someone's going to have to cover those innings, and with the holes in the rotation and the question mark that is Silva, the bullpen is likely to eat more innings than usual--particularly in the first half.

So, let's see what we've got here, halfway through spring training. I'll assume that the Twins will break camp with 12 pitchers, on account of the rotation issues. (Please note that I am not projecting a rotation order, just listing players!)

1. Johan Santana
2. Ramon Ortiz
3. Boof Bonser
4. Carlos Silva
5. ????

6. Juan Rincón
7. Joe Nathan
8. Jesse Crain
9. Matt Guerrier
10. Dennys Reyes
11. Pat Neshek
12. ????

Going into the spring, Ramon Ortiz wasn't a lock for the team, much less the rotation, but he's pitched himself into a job very nicely. Silva, on the other hand, may yet pitch himself into the bullpen. The organization isn't making a commitment to Bonser yet, but TBL thinks he's in because he's an innings-eater, he's pitching well now and he did a pretty good job for the Twins last season.

Matt Guerrier is off to a slow start this spring, but he's a long reliever and needs more than five innings against live hitting to find his groove. Dennys Reyes is also having not such a great spring to date, but he's lefthanded, breathing, and was lights-out last season, so he's in.

Who are the fifth-starter candidates (and fourth starter, should Silva drop off the list)?

  • Sidney Ponson, who is not impressing anyone.
  • Matt Garza, who has been pitching very well, but one hears the organization would rather have him in Rochester.
  • Glen Perkins, who is in the same boat as Garza, only even more likely to be held back to get AAA experience.
  • Scott Baker, who is making Ponson look good.
TBL's money is on Garza. This kid is making it really hard to justify keeping him in the minors, on the basis of experience or anything else. He acts like he's ready, he pitches like he's ready, and frankly? The Twins need fire and passion and talent on the mound more than they need major-league experience. They've got arguably the best pitching coach in the league, and experience is easy to come by.

Of course, the Twins do have that unnatural love of veteran players with minor league contracts. We may yet have to suffer through some Ponson in the first half.

As for the bullpen, our contestants are:
  • JD Durbin, whose main selling point is that he's out of options.
  • Glen Perkins, because you can never have too many lefthanded relievers. And he's good.
  • Kevin Slowey, who is pitching like a madman but also suffers from the "let's bring him along gently" curse.
  • Randy Choate, a lefty non-roster invitee who will be remaining non-roster.
  • Carmen Cali, ditto.
  • Mike Venafro, a lefty sidearmer who has pitched pretty well in limited action in spring training, but has not seen significant major league time since 2003.
TBL thinks there are three equally likely scenarios here.

One, Silva ends up in the bullpen and both Garza and Perkins land starting roles.
Two, Perkins makes it impossible to leave him behind when the team breaks camp and is awarded the final bullpen spot.
Three, Venafro gets the nod on the basis of lefthandedness and funky delivery, while Perkins racks up innings in AAA and waits for someone to get injured or stink up the joint.

TBL is making a call here: Perkins will be with the Twins by June, and Slowey will make his major league debut this season.

1 rejoinders:

Anonymous sounded off...

>Scott Baker, who is making Ponson look good.

Dear TBL,