For many seasons, Brad Radke was the opening day starter for the Twins because of his composure, consistency and his competitive nature. With the emergence of Johan Santana as the staff ace, Radke conceded his opening day role to a very worthy teammate.
It was a case where the student surpasses the skills of his teacher, and the teacher graciously steps down. However, since the best pitcher in baseball is no longer with the club, he doesn't have the opportunity to pass down the legacy to one of the young hurlers.
With so many questions about the rotation, it's hard to predict who will get the honor of Opening Day starter. The top contenders are Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Livan Hernandez.
Liriano seems to be the best choice to be the opening day starter, but the Twins are leery about giving him the nod, or even letting him start the season in the majors.
Liriano is only 15 months removed from the Tommy John surgery yet says he feels good and has no pain. But his reservation to throwing his violent slider shows that he either might be afraid of injuring himself again or that he is not being honest about his lack of pain.
Gardenhire wants to give the kid a chance, but given his latest track record of miscues and dishonesty, might deny him the spot for this season.
After Liriano's latest start, where he went four no-hit inning striking out 5 while walking two, he has proven that he is the most worthy. He also showed that his velocity is back up close to what it was, that he is dominant, has command of his pitches, and that he can move back and forth across the plate.
Liriano is the most poised pitcher on track to start, but it does not look like he will get the nod.
Baker was asked flat out by Gardenhire, before the Santana trade, whether he was ready to get the ball opening day if Santana were to be dealt. Baker was moved by the gesture, but at the same time nervous.
Baker had been up and down between AAA Rochester and the bigs several times in the past two seasons, but finally established himself as a Major League pitcher after his wife had some complications giving birth to his son Easton.
His very next start, he took a no-hitter it into the ninth inning. He later told reporters that after what he had been through, there are other things in the world to worry about, and baseball shouldn't have be one of them.
He just went out and pitched a heck of a ballgame. He was decisive, confident, trusted his catcher and his stuff. If he continues that mindset, he will be the next Brad Radke. A non-overpowering pitcher, but a consistent, pinpoint accurate deception artist.
Baker, however, caught the flu and has been out for a good portion of spring training. He has posted good numbers in the limited innings he has pitched, but unless his health changes quickly, it looks like Baker wont pitch until the fourth or fifth game.
Hernandez may be the new guy on the team, but he has more major league experience than the rest of the guys vying for the #1 starter position put together. He has proven that he could be the consistent workhorse of the staff, and is a very good pitcher despite his mediocre stats.
Unlike last seasons pickups, Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz, neither of which were very established pitchers, Hernandez has pitched in the “big game” and has been very successful. His postseason numbers of 7-3, 3.97 ERA, with a complete game, shows that he his not afraid to work, nor is he intimidated by the sights and sounds of the big stage.
Livan Hernandez seems the most likely choice for the nod.