Twins prospectus for 2009 – pitching

The 2009 Minnesota Twins should have a fine pitching staff.

The best clue is that for the first time in a few years, they haven’t felt the need to go out and sign a castoff journeyman starter like Livan Hernandez to bolster the rotation in order to field five starters. While Livan contributed more than previous off-season pickups, both in wins and sage advice, he didn’t make it past the middle of the season. Once Francisco (Franchise) Liriano was (finally!) ready to return from Tommy John surgery, Livan was sent packing.

30-6412505952This year’s starting rotation includes 4 young pitchers who each had 11 or 12 wins last year in their first full year of experience. Baker, Blackburn, Slowey and Perkins are a fine group, and when crowned with Liriano, the expected centerpiece of the staff, this rotation should be able to match nearly any major league rotation 1 through 5.

The bullpen is another matter. For several years since Joe Nathan arrived (and before) the Twins have consistently fielded one of the quality bullpens in the majors. Unfortunately, last year became the exception when the bullpen melted down in August and gave up several leads and lost more than a few games. Hindsight tells us that any single one of those games if won could have given the Twins the pennant over the hated Chicago White Sox, instead of leaving them to play a one-game playoff (unfairly) in Chicago. Don’t expect the meltdown to recur. It probably resulted from the pressure of backing up a rotation of 5 rookies who, before last year, didn’t have a season’s worth of starts among them. This year that rotation is loaded and ready to go.

In addition to the level of talent, pitching coach Larry Anderson has proven to be a magician with pitching staffs. One example of his success is the fact that the Twin pitching staffs are consistently among the leaders in fewest walks allowed. Anderson tells his charges to “pitch to contact,” meaning don’t be afraid to let the batter hit – your defense will run it down.  And the Twins have a defense that the pitchers are confident can do just that, with gold glove quality sprinkled around and an outfield that can chase down anything.

This year’s Twin pitching staff is as talented, one through twelve, as it has been in years.  Larry Anderson, along with manager Ron Gardenhire should have this crew ready to challenge the best staffs in the majors.

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