Minnesota Twins: 5 Options for the Twins Starting Rotation

Tim ArcandCorrespondent IApril 26, 2012

Minnesota Twins: 5 Options for the Twins Starting Rotation

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    The Minnesota Twins starting pitching is in trouble—big trouble. Before the final game against the Red Sox on Wednesday, they had the highest ERA in all of baseball at 6.73. After Liam Hendriks gave up seven earned runs in four innings, it's now at 7.09.

    They also lead the majors with 11 losses and have the fewest wins of any starting rotation with only two.

    The Twins opened the season short a couple of arms when Scott Baker opened the season on the DL and Jason Marquis needed to tend to a family emergency. 

    After losing Baker for the season to Tommy John surgery to repair his pitching elbow, every other starting pitcher slated to open the season, with the exception of Carl Pavano, has missed or will miss a scheduled start.

    As expected, Pavano has been the workhorse, leading the team with 26.2 innings pitched over four starts.

    For Nick Blackburn, it was shoulder stiffness that caused him to miss his previous start before the Red Sox series. He is currently 0-2 with a 7.53 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP in three starts and 14.1 innings pitched.

    Francisco Liriano has been so erratic that the Twins plan to skip his next start. He leads the Twins pitching staff with an 11.02 ERA and a 2.33 WHIP, going 0-3 in four starts.

    Hendriks, who made the Opening Day roster, missed a couple of starts after getting food poisoning the opening weekend in Baltimore.

    That leaves Anthony Swarzak, who opened the season as the long reliever. He has made three starts so far this season and could see more action in the Twins rotation. Things are so bad for the Twins starters that his 5.94 ERA is second on the staff behind Pavano's 4.73 ERA.  

    The only saving grace to this season so far is the Kansas City Royals.

    The Royals are currently last in the AL Central, just a half-game behind the Twins, with only four wins so far this season. That means the Twins will be battling to stay out of last place when the Royals close out the current home stand.

    General manager Terry Ryan, manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson need to do something to turn things around, and quickly. 

    While it's still early, it's plain to see that the starting pitching is just not getting it done, and it might be time to really shake things up and see what the Twins have in their minor league system that might be able to jump-start a dying season. 

    The worst thing that could happen is they bring up some young pitchers who get roughed up as they figure out how to pitch at the major league level.

    It's already happening for the veterans Liriano, Blackburn and Marquis, so there's not much to lose.

    Here are five pitchers the Twins need to consider as part of the future, and the future might be sooner than planned.

Bring Scott Diamond Up

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    The Twins selected Scott Diamond as a Rule 5 draft pick from the Atlanta Braves before the 2011 season.

    They were able to work out a trade in order to keep Diamond, and assigned him to Rochester to pitch for the Triple-A Red Wings.

    He made his major league debut on July 18th last season and finished with a 1-5 record and a 5.08 ERA—which would be the second best on the starting rotation this season.

    Diamond is having a great April in Rochester, winning all four of his starts for the Red Wings with a 1.07 ERA over a team-leading 25.1 innings.

    Sure, it might be better to let him get more experience at the Triple-A level and not rush him, but if the Twins wait too long, when they do promote him, it might be to an empty Target Field.

Give P. J. Walters a Look

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    The Twins acquired P.J. Walters as a free agent last December. A former 11th-round draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006, he's appeared in 20 games over three years, making four starts for the Cardinals in 2009 and 2010.

    For his career, he is 2-0 with a 7.24 ERA in 51.0 innings—very Nick Blackburn-like numbers.

    He's currently 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in four starts for the Rochester Red Wings. His 21.1 innings pitched is second on the team behind Scott Diamond.

Dig a Little Deeper and See What Luke French Can Do

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    Luke French is currently pitching for the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats.

    He is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts over 30 innings, and he has a very good 0.97 WHIP—the best start in his nine seasons in the minors.

    An eighth-round draft choice of the Detroit Tigers in 2004, French last pitched in the majors in 2010 for Seattle. 

    He made 13 starts that season and finished with a 5-7 record and a 4.83 ERA.

    In 2011, he spent the entire season pitching for the Mariners' Triple-A club in Tacoma. He finished with a 9-9 record in 26 starts and a 6.27 ERA.

    Perhaps having been demoted to Double-A after spending time at the major league level has awoken something in French and he's ready to prove he belongs with the Twins.

    At the very least, he should get promoted to Rochester, especially after the Twins bring up Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters.

Take a Chance on a Long Shot

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    Steve Hirschfeld is another Rock Cat the Twins might want to take a look at.

    Currently 2-1 with a 2.78 ERA over 22.2 innings in four starts, he is second to Luke French in innings pitched.

    A ninth-round draft pick of the Twins in 2007, he has spent six seasons in the Twins minor league system.

    Over the past three seasons at Double-A, he is 10-9 with a 3.81 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. 

    If Hirschfeld is in the Twins future, they might as well give him a shot now. He couldn't possibly do any worse the Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, Jason Marquis or Liam Hendriks.

Don't Give Up on Liam Hendriks, but Bid Farewell to Blackburn and Liriano

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    Liam Hendriks had a fantastic spring for the Minnesota Twins. He went 3-1 with a 2.84 ERA in 25.1 innings.

    Before his start against the Red Sox, he had a 3.86 ERA in two starts.

    I suspect after watching his mates in the rotation go 0-3 with a combined 7.52 ERA since his last start, and the Twins last win, he must have felt left out.

    Against the Red Sox, he gave up seven earned runs in four innings, raising his ERA to 6.89 on the season in only his third start this year.

    There's more upside to keeping Hendriks in the rotation over Nick Blackburn or Francisco Liriano.

    In his sixth season with the Twins, Blackburn is 39-48 with a 4.56 ERA. He has never finished the season with a winning record or an ERA below 4.03. He's had more chances to prove himself and failed. It's time to cut him loose.

    As for Liriano, the Twins need to realize that he will never be the pitcher he was in 2006 when he was leading the league with a 2.16 ERA, going 12-3 before suffering an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Since then, he is 34-40 with a 4.77 ERA.

    The Twins need to bolster their bullpen, and perhaps like Glen Perkins, this is the best chance to resurrect Liriano's career.

Better to Know Now How Bare the Cupboard Is

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    For a team less than two years removed from 94 wins and a division title, general manager Terry Ryan needs to understand what he can count on from his minor league system.

    By bringing up some of these young pitchers now, the Twins will get a good opportunity to assess what they can do at the major league level, and what kind of dealing Ryan needs to do in order to not only right the Twins ship, but bolster what was once the organization's strength. 

    If the future looks bright and some of these pitchers can make the jump, there could be renewed excitement at Target Field.

    If not, then Ryan will have his work cut out for him and once again will have to rebuild the Twins franchise from the ground up and find a way to restock the minor league through trading away veteran players for prospects.

    It could be another year at the bottom the AL Central and a few years before the Twins become relevant again.

    At least there will be fresh air and sunshine in an open-air stadium, and an open seat to place your jacket.