2014 Starting Pitchers

Review of the field positions was relatively easy compared to the uncertainty of the pitching staff. In the last few years of 90-plus losses, the starting pitching has been a primary problem. While moves this off-season have improved the prospects for better results on the mound this year, there is still plenty of room for concern.

Three key acquisitions through free agency are, at this point anyway, what gives some reason for optimism. One hopes the starters will be consistent enough not to completely wear out the bullpen as was the case the past couple of years. Ricky Nolasco is probably the number one starter going into spring and Phil Hughes is my number two. Both should be capable of putting up innings and keeping the team in the ballgame regularly. The third free agent signing was actually a re-signing of Mike Pelfrey, who was with the Twins last year. I list him as my number three starter over Kevin Correia because Pelfrey had a decent year last year in spite of coming off TJ surgery the year before. One more year out and he should be better yet this year.

Number four is Kevin Correia, who surprised many of us fans last year and pitched fairly well, at least in the context of the other starters. He is not overpowering but last year was pretty consistent at getting to the sixth inning or later with the game still winnable. If he does that again in the fourth starter slot, he will be a solid member of the rotation. He is in the second year of a two year contract this year, so if he falters, he is unlikely to be on the roster after June.

Several pitchers will be vying for the fifth starter slot including some who have had some success in the Twins’ rotation in the past. When he has been healthy and not completely wild, Sam Deduno has been very good. In the rotation last year, he was arguably the best of the bunch. Because he had surgery over the winter, he may not be ready to really compete the first day of spring. In fact, he may not enough time to get fully ready for opening day. If he is healthy, he will need to be on the active roster to avoid losing him since he has no more options.

Scott Diamond is another contender who is coming off a down year after being quite effective in 2012. If he is able to bounce back this year, he would be the only left-hander in the rotation (assuming the first four remain as I’ve predicted above). Diamond is another player without options, so his chances of making the roster as a starter or reliever are slightly better than someone who has options.

Although his major league debut last year was anything but stellar, Kyle Gibson is still considered a major prospect with number one or two starter potential. If he is healthy and does well this spring, he may break camp as the fifth starter, but I expect him to begin again in Rochester and establish himself before being called up when another pitcher falters or is injured.

Vance Worley probably needs to at least be mentioned as a possible number five, but he is a long shot at this point. He might end up in the bullpen if the Twins want to keep him, but my guess is he will not make the team and will be subjected to the waiver process because he is out of options.

Logan Darnell and Trevor May are the two other starters on the 40-man who are not on the active roster. Though they have a slim chance of being the fifth starter, I expect them to be at Rochester or New Britain when the season opens.

Alex Meyer, the Twins’ top pitching prospect, is being talked about as being close to ready after a good showing in the Arizona Fall League, but he would be making the jump from AA to the majors if he found himself in the rotation. I hope and expect he’ll get the opportunity to prove himself at AAA Rochester first. Maybe by mid-season depending on other circumstances, he will get the call up.

If I had to pick the rotation now, the first four are set and Scott Diamond would be my pick for number five with Deduno opening on the DL and Worley either released or stashed in the bullpen. Much can happen in the next couple of months, so I do not necessarily expect this prediction to hold.

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Another Lost Season

With now less than a week before September is upon us, it is time to consider some options for September call-ups. A third lost season in a row leads one to be thinking more about the future than how the Twins will do the rest of the way this season. As a result, the September call-ups this year are more likely to see some extended playing time than simply being an extra bat on the bench or arm in the bullpen.

Starting pitching has been the most significant weakness this season for the Twins and right now there are some iffy members of the rotation to even complete this season.  Apparently the Twins are monitoring Mike Pelfrey’s innings count as he is in his first year back from surgery. I find that a bit odd in that he will become a free agent at the end of the season. As a result, the Twins’ caution with him may turn out to aid some other team.  Also, Samuel Deduno has had some arm issues that may end up limiting his starts the rest of the way.

Kyle Gibson pitched today for AAA Rochester and is scheduled for one more regular season start for them.  If the Red Wings make the playoffs – currently leading for the wild card slot – Gibson might get a start in the postseason, but with his innings limit, he may also be shut down the best of what New Britain has to offer called up for the playoffs to replace him in the rotation.

Liam Hendriks had another dismal outing and simply does not look like a viable option for next year’s rotation, although given the Twins’ propensity for second chances, he will probably be given another chance to earn a spot next spring. It is unlikely that he will be sent down now unless he is deemed useful in a Rochester play-off run.

As best I can tell, Scott Diamond is close to pitching his way back into the good graces of the major league team, but it also would make some good sense to keep him with Rochester in the event of their wild card or division championship. There is something to be said for playoff experience and “learning how to win”.

Two pitchers currently on the New Britain Rock Cats who have major league experience might be options for recall. They are Cole De Vries and Pedro Hernandez. Either might also be selected for Rochester if Gibson is shut down for the playoffs. Neither one has been stellar this season. Both have been injured and somewhat limited as a result. For the 2014 rotation, it would surprise me if either one is considered a front runner for the Twins. A highly touted prospect, Alex Meyer, may have a chance to crack the 2014 rotation, but I see him as unlikely for September, maybe more likely for the Arizona Fall League.

In the bullpen, Michael Tomkin is a very probable September call-up candidate, but only after Rochester is finished playing. He could gain some valuable experience as closer if they make the playoffs.

My best guess right now is the following will be part of the September rotation to evaluate their potential roles for 2014.  Kevin Correia is the only current starter with a two year contract, so he will stay. Andrew Albers has earned an extended look. If he remains healthy, Samuel Deduno has done well enough at times to deserve a longer look. As soon as Rochester is done, Scott Diamond will get his chance to redeem himself and return to a 2014 rotation option. That would leave Pelfrey and Hendriks as the next in line, maybe even going to a six-man rotation.

In the position player ranks, I’m guessing Eduardo Escobar, Darin Mastroianni are very probable with Chris Parmelee a long shot. If in the next few days Justin Morneau ends up being traded, his chances improve some. Aaron Hicks might get the call, but he has struggled so much both with injuries and in effectiveness since he was sent down, that I expect he will have to wait until spring to see if he can make the opening day roster again. Although it is very unlikely, I’d like to see Deibinson Romero called up and given full time at third base. In my opinion, Trevor Plouffe has been given enough time and has not produced consistently enough to count on him.

All in all, that is not a very exciting lineup of players for us to get excited about in September and for the future. We’ll have to hope for an active off-season for the Twins to bolster their chances to compete next year.

Series Two in the Books

This afternoon the Twins completed their weekend series in Baltimore, the second series of this young season. Now with a record of 4-2, the Twins are leading the division (tied with the White Sox) and have won their second consecutive series since who knows when. It is very good to see they have finally broken the spell the Orioles seemed to have on them in Baltimore.

During the weekend the Twins made their second roster adjustment of the season already. It’s hard to not see a connection between Tyler Robertson’s first pitch in relief Friday night resulting in a grand slam for Chris Davis, and Robertson’s being optioned to Rochester after the game Saturday. He was replaced Sunday by Anthony Swarzak, who was activated off the DL and pitched the same day, and picked up the win even though he was not particularly effect. He just happened to be the pitcher of record when the Twins took the lead.

Glen Perkins notched his second save of the series (and season) after backing into a “vulture” win in the Detroit series. Overall, a good first week for him.

Once again in this series, the Twins played every position player in at least one game and used the bullpen effectively to keep the Orioles from mounting comebacks after the colossal failure of the first game of the series Friday.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Roberto Hernandez after his decent stint as the starting pitcher Sunday filling in for Cole De Vries, whose forearm has still not loosened up enough to work and currently on the DL. Scott Diamond is due to come off the DL later in the week and probably will pitch in the series against the NY Mets beginning Friday, so one possibility is for Hernandez to be optioned out to clear room for him. On the other hand, I would not be surprised if he sticks a while longer with the Twins if Liam Hendriks has another terrible start Monday at Kansas City. It would be nice to have another lefthander (Hernandez) among the starters to complement Diamond when he returns.

Intriguing times for the fifth starter competitors. We shall see.

Rotation Roulette

The starting rotation for the first few games has now been set. Vance Worley gets opening day followed by Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. Most likely Cole De Vries and Liam Hendriks will fill out the group at least until Scott Diamond is ready to return. No matter how one looks at this array of starting pitchers, it is not a World Series image that comes into view. Fifth place in the division is a more realistic picture.

With the whole off-season and ample payroll room to work out solutions, it is more than a little disappointing that this rotation is the best Terry Ryan could assemble for 2013. Was he counting on Kyle Gibson making the big league roster? Does he really believe the three former National Leaguers comprising the front end of this rotation are going to get the job done to be competitive this year? Did he miscalculate and lose other free agents he thought would bite on his offers? From my vantage point, these questions are unanswerable. I can only speculate, but it appears to me Terry Ryan knows this year is a place holder for the future and he was just trying to get some innings eaters – basically 4th and 5th slot starters – to bide time until younger arms are ready.

While I think Diamond paid his dues and pitched quite well for much of the year last year, the latter part of last season does not give me high confidence that he can sustain his performance level of last year. He is definitely a regression candidate for 2013, primed for a sophomore slump. I hope I’m wrong and he comes on strong right out of the chute whenever he is finally activated, but it does not seem like a good bet to me. At best, he is much more likely to be a future back of the rotation guy.

Beginning in just a few days, we’ll have the opportunity to start watching how it all will play out. Today Correia looked like he might be coming around (in his final spring start against Boston) and that is at least one reason for encouragement. Whether he and the others can make a positive adjustment to the American League is going to be one of the intriguing story lines to follow this year. My bet is Correia and possibly Pelfrey will be in the bullpen or gone by mid-season with Sam Deduno, Gibson, Rich Harden and/or possibly one or two of the young power arms acquired in the off-season moving into the rotation to gain experience for 2014 and 2015.

In spite of all the pessimism in this post, I am excited for the season to begin. It will be interesting to watch so many new faces, some young future stars, develop even if the won-lost record leaves something to be desired. If the Twins play better defensively and show improvement in consistency of good at-bats, that will be enough to return to a more optimistic outlook for 2014 and beyond.

Core of 2013 Roster

As the month of August winds down when a team is out of playoff competition it is almost inevitable that fan focus shifts to the next year. In the case of the Twins, it is too late for there to be any hope for a miracle finish, as if that hope was not already dashed in April, and the way the team has played in recent weeks, waiting for September call-ups to bring new fan interest in watching the games is getting old.

As my first post about 2013, I am going to look at the current set of players and project which ones are most likely to be the core for the coming year. Two factors will be primary in my selecting these players – current/past performance and whether or not they are under contract already for next year. I’ll also consider Ron Gardenhire’s known predilections because, like it or not, they will influence Terry Ryan’s decisions.

Several weeks have passed since the Twins signed Ryan Doumit to an extension, but at the time I saw that as a key move for the 2013 roster. Obviously, Joe Mauer is a given. With his extension, so is Doumit. What may not be as obvious, but I think there is a good case to be made for it, is I believe that signing also all but assures a spot for Drew Butera. I can hear the boos and derision from Twins fans already, but here is the case. Both Mauer and Doumit in recent years have missed a good deal a time due to injuries. Both Mauer (1B and DH) and Doumit (DH and mostly LF) have been in this year’s lineup for many more games than they would have been had they been the number one C with just days off at DH. That has been good for the Twins’ offense. Having Butera as backup and occasionally catching full games has made Gardenhire (here is one of his predilections) feel good about using both of his hitting catchers regularly and not run the risk of giving up the DH in any given ballgame. Keeping only two of these catchers would make them both less productive and Butera is not exactly blocking any other catchers from making the roster. He is not going to get worse as a hitter sitting on the bench and playing rarely. He is a good defensive catcher who calls a good game. Having his weak bat taking up a spot on the bench limiting pinch-hitting options is not enough of a detriment to not keep Butera because of the production of Mauer and Doumit all year. It makes sense to go into 2013 with the same plan. In future years, if better hitting catchers in the system are ready for the major league level, this plan can be altered.

Among the pitchers, very few are what I consider to be core players now. Scott Diamond is the only starter who deserves a guaranteed spot in the rotation. In the bullpen, I see only Glen Perkins and Jared Burton as having spots locked up. That doesn’t mean other current roster members won’t make the team and contribute in positive ways, but it does mean no guarantees for them.

Other position players in the core for 2013 are Josh Willingham, Ben Revere and Jamey Carroll. I list only these three because I see Denard Span and Justin Morneau as important trade bait during the off-season. If they are not traded, they become members of the core group. Perhaps the most controversial choice is Carroll. I name him not because I see him in a starting role, but because he is under contract and serves as an excellent utility player whose veteran leadership/mentoring will be needed if the Twins go with young players as starters in the middle infield.

That is the core for 2013. If others want to become part of that core, they are going to have to earn the spot between now and the end of the season.

Post-Break Rotation Watch

Back to the reality of 2012 after that little foray into the future here yesterday.

Today the Twins made a necessary move to call up a starting pitcher for Saturday’s game in Texas. With the call up of Sam Deduno, the Twins now have a full 40-man roster having selected his contract and added him to the roster.

Starting pitching continues to be the major weakness of this year’s squad, although Scott Diamond continued his excellent work today going 7 innings allowing only two runs and leaving the game with a 3-2 lead. Thank goodness for at least one bright spot in the rotation. Unfortunately, the bullpen failed today and the Twins lost a game they should have won.

I’m looking forward to seeing Sam Deduno pitch for the first time. He appears to have good stuff based on his strikeout to walk ratio this year at AA and AAA. He can be a little wild, so we’ll hope for at least “effectively wild” if he doesn’t conjure up pin-point accuracy. He will be facing a tough lineup – a good test for a guy who has had only 6 relief appearances with two teams at the major league level. The Twins need him to do well, go deep into the game, in his first start.

The three-game, weekend series is the wrap-up of the traditional first half of the season. This year the All-Star break will be very timely for the Twins, giving them a few extra days to sort out what the rotation will be at least for a few weeks, if not the rest of the season.

Based on recent performances, only two starters can count on being in the rotation – Diamond and Liriano, who has been much better though not great lately. The other three spots are more or less up for grabs.

Pavano remains on the DL with no timetable for return, so he can be effectively ruled out. Most disturbing about that, as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that he will not be worth anything in trade at the deadline. Blackburn, Hendriks being sent down to Rochester to get straightened out, means he is also out of the running.

That leaves Brian Duensing (assuming his foot/heal injury is not serious) and Cole De Vries as the front runners for two of the spots.  If Deduno has a great debut, he might be given a shot to continue, but I think it is more likely that P.J. Walters will be reinstated if his rehab assignment this weekend goes well.

As the next few weeks play out, the rotation situation could get even more interesting if Liriano is traded away for prospects as many bloggers and sports writers, local and national, are speculating. If near major league ready starting pitching prospects are not part of the return, the Twins will have to rely on Pavano or Blackburn returning to form just to get through the season.

No matter what happens, the probability of the Twins making any kind of run for a division title are quite remote. That increases the likelihood of some roster shuffles via trade before August 1.

First Look At 2014

The game tonight (July 4) marks the midway point (game 81) in the season for the Twins. It also is the third game of the four-game series in Detroit to be followed by a three-game series in Texas to wind up the traditional first half of the season before the all-star break.

The Twins’ record is not good enough to realistically expect them to contend for the division title this year, but they remain close enough to the top (8 games back) to not rule them out completely. For many of the Twins fans who have consoled themselves by looking forward to a pre-trade deadline selling spree, this position is the worst one could hope for. Not close enough (not to mention too weak a rotation) to have real hope for a miracle finish, and not far enough out to trigger the full rebuild most of us believe is going to be necessary for the Twins to be competitive in the future.

Right now, 2013 looks like a bleak year mostly because the starting rotation is a disaster with little on the horizon in the upper minors to make one feel like there are reasonable options. We will know more in the next three to four weeks which direction the Twins are going to go the rest of this year. Most likely, it will be during the off-season that Terry Ryan gets serious about fixing the rotation for next year. That is of course assuming that Ryan remains the GM. All bets are off on that if the Twins collapse the way they did last year.

Just for the fun of it, I’m going to look ahead – beyond next year – and see what 2014 might look like, based on the players currently in the Twins organization who are either under contract extending through 2014 or likely to still be with the Twins. Where I see no close to worthy alternatives, I’ve indicated the need for acquisition via trade or free agency to fill the hole.

  • C Joe Mauer, Chris Hermann
  • 1B Chris Parmelee
  • 2B Brian Dozier
  • SS Pedro Florimon
  • 3B Trevor Plouffe
  • LF Josh Willingham
  • CF Ben Revere
  • RF Oswaldo Arcia
  • DH Ryan Doumit
  • Bench: Alexi Casilla, Darin Mastroianni, utility player
  • Starters: Scott  Diamond, Kyle Gibson, (Liam Hendriks), two or three via trade or free agency
  • Relievers: Glen Perkins (CL), Jared Burton, Alex Burnett, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, Lester Oliveros, several internal options (Tyler Robertson, Kyle Waldrop, Deolis Guerra, Anthony Slama, Esmerling Vasquez, Jeff Manship, Matt Maloney)

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.

What to do with Liriano

Now that Francisco Liriano has had four consecutive bad starts, it is not difficult to believe the Twins’ brass will not even let him try “one more time” before looking at some alternatives. Given the comments by manager Ron Gardenhire after Liriano’s last start, patience has run out and options are being considered.  As a result, there is a good deal of speculation on what might be in the works for him, at least in the short term.

Perhaps most likely is his being moved to the bullpen, at least to see if he can regain some semblance of consistency on locating his fastball. If this is the decision, someone else may need to be moved to the starting rotation. My guess is the number one option for that is Anthony Swarzak, who has started a couple of games and pitched out of the bullpen to relieve Liriano on Sunday putting him in the right position to rejoin the rotation in a normal time interval.

If Liriano is envisioned to return soon to the rotation, the Twins could just skip his next start using the day off to keep the others in a normal five-day rotation. That would allow him to pitch out of the bullpen a couple of times in between starts.

A more radical alternative would be to send him to AAA to give him time under less stressful circumstances to regain his form and confidence before calling him up again later in the year. Because he has been in the major leagues for five or more years, he would need to give his consent to be optioned to Rochester. He might be amenable to that because in this contract year it is also in his best interest to demonstrate his value. Pitching well in AAA would be an improvement over his poor showing so far. Sending an established player who is struggling down would not be new for the Twins, so this choice cannot be ruled out.

If he is taken out of the rotation, one other move might be considered by the Twins. The fact that Scott Diamond has pitched so well at Rochester, gives them the option of calling him up and placing him in the starting rotation leaving Swarzak for the bullpen, where he is better suited.

Least likely, but not completely out of the realm of possibility, is some kind of trade that nets a serviceable starting pitcher for the Twins. I consider this a long shot because it is never wise to trade from a point of weakness, and I cannot imagine Liriano having lower market value than he has right now. Also, if the Twins have any hope of being competitive this year (a rapidly fleeting thought), the need is for a top of the rotation pitcher not another fifth starter type. Swarzak, Diamond or even Matt Maloney or Brian Duensing could fill the latter role cheaper than a veteran available by trade at this time of year.

If the decision was mine to make, I’d have Liriano pitch out of the bullpen a couple of times to see how he does and delay a final decision on his status in the rotation for at least a week. I’d choose to skip his start keeping others in rotation and giving as much bullpen flexibility as possible because the reduction from 13 to 12 pitchers is coming soon, probably after Nick Blackburn’s start on Tuesday. If all goes well for Blackburn, someone will be sent down or released and if he has a recurrence of his shoulder cramp, he’ll be put on the DL, creating yet another problem for the starting rotation.

I expect Blackburn to pitch well demonstrating he is fully recovered and the focus will then remain on Liriano and how to get him back on track.