It looks like the Twins will have a lot of gaps to fill in their young rotation. With the departure of Johan Santana and Carlos Silva, the pitching staff has no inside veteran starters to look up to and learn from.
The legacy of Brad Radke as the guru of the staff has departed as well, seeing that he passed his ace status off to Santana. The team now has to look up to new arrival Livan Hernandez as their veteran presence.
Hernandez has shown that he can be the workhorse of the staff, pitching over 200 innings 9 out of the past 10 seasons, missing the 200 mark by a third of an inning in the tenth year. He has also shown that he can be a successful pitcher despite his near .500 record and a career ERA of 4.25, but probably suffers from what a lot of the Twins staff endures: lack of run support.
Hernandez's whole career has been in the National League, however. Being in the American League now can have its advantages as well as disadvantages.
The pro, is that with a new league, a lot of hitters will not have seen his stuff and will have trouble adjusting to his delivery and arm slots. But facing the Central Division possibly 12-18 times in a season could make his stuff easy to figure out in the games that matter most.
The con is that the National League is known as the inferior league offensively, with the different style of ball. Coming over to face American League hitters, and the DH, leaves no room to fool around, i.e. walking the 8th batter to get to the pitcher.
We'll see how he pans out for the Twins as the mentor for the rest of the staff, being the oldest and most experienced.
The rest of the projected rotation will consist of Baker, Liriano, Bonser, and either Blackburn or Slowey; all have less than two years of Major League duty under their belts. This will quite possibly be the youngest staff ever put forth by Twins Management.
Matt Garza would have played a key role, having more experience than the rest of these pitchers, and having pitched in “big game” situations. But he was dealt to the Rays this last off season.
Scott Baker showed a lot of promise last season, and nearly recorded a no-hitter, taking the no-no into the ninth. Early in spring training, before the Santana deal, rumors spread that if Santana were to depart, Baker would take on the role as the opening-day starter.
Baker, is very much a Brad Radke-type pitcher, relying on changing speeds and leaving hitters off balance to get by, since he does not have an overpowering fastball.
Boof Bonser meant business when he went into the off season, shedding 20 pounds and arriving at camp with more stamina to last into the late innings. Bonser will be a good player to watch, to see if his new look and drive helps him succeed this season.
Bonser was always tagged for big innings by fatiguing and leaving balls up to get rocked. His goal this season, most likely will be to maintain control and stay out of big inning situations. The leaner Bonser, if he stays healthy, can be a big innings eater, saving the arms in the pen.
Slowey and Blackburn, the likely contenders for a rotation spot, will have to step up their game to stay up in the majors. Both have some Major League experience, but it looks like Gardy will turn to one of these guys for the long haul.
Last but certainly not least, Francisco Liriano earned himself another start in spring to prove that he is ready to tackle the majors once again. He recently had a very impressive outing, going four no-hit innings, giving up only two walks, and striking out five.
He showed a glimpse of what he had before the Tommy John, topping out at 94 on radar gun. Gardy still is a little weary of letting Liriano loose because of their miscues over his injury recovery and the training camp ordeal.
Liriano says that he feels no pain, but is still very conscious about throwing his harsh slider. He has proved that he can survive without relying on the pitch. Hopefully as the season progresses, his stuff will get better and he will find a different and less dangerous arm slot for that nasty slider that we are accustomed to.
Even though the Twins are in a rebuilding phase, and the rotation has a lot of questions, they are a bunch of talented arms which could in time give a stacked rotation like the Tigers and Red Sox a run for their money.