Rotation Shuffle

Once again, the Twins’ starting pitching has failed and another shuffle is about to occur.

Francisco Liriano’s work in the bullpen, while less than stellar, was good enough that he is back in the rotation beginning Wednesday. It appears to be not so much that he has earned the spot than the poor performance of the other options. Anthony Swarzak pitched miserably yesterday relegating himself back to the bullpen to make room for Liriano.

The more I think about the move, the more I believe it is really the only option left for the Twins when it comes to this enigmatic pitcher. He has great stuff, as everyone says, but he is maddeningly inconsistent. For some time now I’ve been of the opinion that he will not be with the Twins next year and it is only a matter of time before he is gone this year. Unfortunately to be worth anything in a trade, he will have to pitch better and it will need to be as a starter. Thus his promising career is hanging in the balance.

Carl Pavano again failed to get out of the fifth inning today even after delaying this start by two extra days, and that signals that something is wrong. Has he hit the wall and his career is over? Is he just still slow at developing the his normal velocity in the early season? The signs have been there over the past two years, and now I think he is not going to regain any significant velocity. He does not have good enough stuff to pitch consistently anymore, so I look for the Twins to put him on the DL and hope for a rehab that builds back some strength. Like Liriano, if he does not improve, he will be worthless as trade material and may face the same fate as Jason Marquis, being designated for assignment or released.

I’m guessing the Brian Duensing is going to get another chance to make it in the rotation replacing Pavano. That will mean calling up one of the relievers who has done well in Rochester. If I am right, it probably will be announced tomorrow and then I’ll review who I think the options are for call up and who I think should be the one.

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Is There a Plan?

Over the last couple of weeks as the Twins have made some roster moves, I’ve been trying to discern a plan. So far, the closest thing I can come up with is a short-term strategy of trying out some younger players to see how they do. No real long-range plan is clear yet.

Brian Dozier has been very good so far, both at bat and in the field. He looks like a possible long-term answer at shortstop and that is good news. Of course, the sample size is small and we’ll have to see how he handles the inevitable slumps, but he is a promising prospect to help solidify the infield in the future. Whether he is the solution at shortstop for the next five or six years at least will be determined not only by his play, but also by the progress of other shortstops in the system – namely Levi Michael, the Twins’ first round draft pick in 2011 now playing at Fort Myers, and Pedro Florimon, a waiver wire claim in the off-season. Florimon seems to be on a fast track right now as he was promoted from AA New Britain, where he began the season, to AAA Rochester, and is playing well enough to be noticed. I would not be surprised if later this year he is called up to play shortstop and Dozier moves either to third base or second base to make room for him.

As I predicted in my last post, Danny Valencia is no longer on the 25-man roster. He was demoted to Rochester and had a slow start there. It is hard to see him in the long-term plans for the Twins. The best hope they might have now is that he plays well enough to be worth something in a trade. Jamey Carroll continues to be a solid player, now at second base most of the time. At his age, he is destined to be the veteran utility player, but that will be delayed as long as no one else plays better and earns a right to play every day at third base or second base. So far, Alexi Casilla has been too inconsistent to be a regular.

Trevor Plouffe appears to be getting an opportunity to earn a regular spot in the lineup playing third base in the absence of Valencia. He has not been bad in the field at third, but he continues to struggle at the plate. It will be very interesting to see how long they give him to get his act together as a hitter. Almost certainly, the primary reason for a long tryout is the power he showed last year when he hit 15 home runs in a partial season at AAA last year. When the Twins broke camp to open the season, he was pegged as an outfielder, but his play in the outfield (both left and right) has been less than stellar and there is a bit of a log jam there with recently claimed Erik Komatsu and Darin Mastroianni (another off-season, waiver pick-up recently called up from Rochester) showing much better defensive prowess. They both have been decent at the plate so far as well.

Today Justin Morneau will return to the active roster from the DL. Chris Parmelee will be optioned to Rochester to make room for him. Parmelee played well enough in the spring to earn an opening day spot. While he did hit well in spring training, at least one reason he started the season on the 25-man roster was the uncertainty surrounding Morneau and his readiness to play first base. That all is past now. Morneau will return to play first base, meaning Parmelee would be relegated to bench duty, so it will be better for him to go to AAA where he can get his hitting stroke back in order. In some respects, it’s too bad he had to be rushed to the majors because of the Morneau situation, because he really needs time to develop more and he has not spent any time at AAA yet. Now he will get that chance.

Starting pitching has continued to be problematic. The good news has been the way Scott Diamond and P. J. Walters, both recent call-ups from AAA, have pitched. Diamond in particular has impressed with two outings of 7-inning, shutout ball each time. Walters pitched well, but got no run support in his first start. The rest of the rotation has been dismal. What the Twins have in mind for the rest of the year is not at all clear. They appear to continue to hope that Francisco Liriano will regain his dominance while working out of the bullpen for a while so he can return to the rotation, but I do not hold out much hope for that to happen. Carl Pavano and Jason Marquis are just not effective enough to even be the innings eaters they were intended to be. A couple more starts each and if they continue to be bad, they should be let go so younger players can gain some experience. Nick Blackburn pitched a little better the last two times out, but still is missing consistent location of his fastball, which has meant too many home runs. Since he is under contract through next year, I expect he will either remain in the rotation, if he improves, or end up in the bullpen, perhaps as the long man.

Surprising to many, the bullpen has been the bright spot of the season so far. Jared Burton and Glen Perkins have done the job in the set-up role, Matt Capps has converted all save opportunities (although he has blown two tie games that he came in and took the loss), and the others have pitched better than expected. Perkins, Burton, and Alex Burnett are probably keepers for the near term. Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak are being kept stretched out enough that they could be options for the rotation, although both seem better suited to bullpen use, as that is where they have excelled this year.

The whole pitching situation is still muddled enough that it is premature to project long-term. The next month or so will probably provide some clarity as to what the Twins’ powers that be are planning.

For now, my speculation is on which players are most likely to be on the trading block this summer. Topping my list are Denard Span, Matt Capps (if he remains effective as a closer), Francisco Liriano (if he does reasonably well in the pen), Ben Revere (no longer seems to be in the long-term plan) and Justin Morneau (if he returns and hits well with power). My off-the-wall guess is Morneau will be traded to Toronto for a starting pitcher filling needs for both teams and giving Justin an opportunity to play in his native land, Canada.

Time will tell if any of my thoughts are anywhere close to what the Twins have in mind. I look forward to the next few weeks to see how the rebuilding process plays out.

Tail Spin and Call-ups

Wow! This Twins team is looking like it might continue to set records of futility. First time in the modern era of baseball that a team has so few hits in four consecutive games. Starting pitching remains awful.

Any hope on the horizon? The news that Brian Dozier and Scott Diamond will be joining the team for the next game at least will bring some new faces to the mix. With Dozier’s promotion in particular, the signal is the process of rebuilding has begun. He will play shortstop and that means Jamey Carroll will get a little bit of rest and then we shall see how the infield rotation works out.

My bet is Danny Valencia is not going to be with the team all that much longer. I hope he gets traded so he has another opportunity to get it together, but it is also possible that he will be demoted to make room for Ben Revere or Rene Tosoni when either one is ready to return.

Scott Diamond will get a chance to earn a spot in the rotation. If he does well the rest of the year, he is a lock for a spot in 2013, but that is a big if. His stuff is not spectacular so he will have to win by location and good defense.

I am finding my interest in continuing to follow the Twins now focused on the future. Following the younger players in the minors more closely has generated a bit of enthusiasm for the long haul even while watching the disaster that is developing at the major league level this season.

24 Games In

With a day off on their current west coast swing, it is a decent time for an early season assessment. Having completed 24 games with a record of 6-18 and on now on a three game losing streak following the sweep by the Angels, the Twins are the worst team in the majors by far. To add insult to injury, the Twins were no-hit by Jered Weaver.

Is this team really that bad?

Short answer: yes.

While the dearth of hitting the last couple of games has been obvious, that is not the primary problem. Starting pitching is the real culprit and it is very difficult to believe it is going to get any better soon. Francisco Liriano showed a few signs of improvement in his start against the Angels, but he is going to have to continue to improve and demonstrate some kind of consistency to remain in the rotation. Carl Pavano may improve some as the weather warms up, but he is not a top of the rotation pitcher anymore. Nick Blackburn is also not a top of rotation guy, and if he cannot get his sinker working consistently, he should be moved to the bullpen as the long-man/mop guy. Liam Hendricks may have some potential to be decent, but he is likely to take a few more lumps as he learns. He would definitely have benefited from some more time at Rochester, but for various reasons he has been needed.  Jason Marquis looks to be a Pavano clone – ok for the back of the rotation, but not reliable enough to be a stopper. And there you have it. By far the worst rotation in the major leagues.

That being the case, the question that comes to mind is: how long will it be before Terry Ryan declares the season lost and starts the rebuilding effort in earnest.

My best guess is he has already started working on it, testing other GM’s to determine what interest there may be in which players, but not much will actually happen until June when contending teams start to seriously explore to fill their needs for the stretch run.