Is Anthony Swarzak a Gem?

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Is Anthony Swarzak a Gem?
(Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

How good was Anthony Swarzak's MLB debut Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers?

It was plenty good.

It was better than Johan Santana's first MLB start. It was better than those of Francisco Liriano and Kevin Slowey, too.

Indeed, Swarzak's seven-inning, five-hit gem ranks right up there with the best debut performances by a Minnesota rookie pitcher in the past decade or so.

Swarzak, who walked two and struck out three, became  the first rookie hurler for the Twins since 1998 to hurl shutout ball in his first MLB start. 

Therein lies a lesson.

One start does not a season, or a career, make.

More often than not, an outstanding debut doesn't mean a thing.

Here's the proof:

 

1998

Eric Milton (Apr. 5, Kansas City Royals): 6 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO (W)

He followed up that effort six days later by limiting the Royals to one unearned run in six innings to earn his second victory in as many starts.

Milton fell to earth in his next start. Seattle hammered him for eight hits, which included a two-run shot by Ken Griffey Jr., and seven earned runs in 3 2/3 innings.

Milton finished his rookie season with an 8-14 mark, an ERA of 5.64, and a man-sized WHIP of 1.538.

Milton fashioned a 57-51 record for the Twins before he moved on to Philadelphia in 2004.

 

Benji Sampson (Sept. 20, Detroit Tigers): 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 9 SO (W)

Rookie Benji Sampson looked like the real deal in 1998.

In five appearances, including two starts, Sampson forged a 1.56 ERA and a 0.923 WHIP in 17.1 innings.

However, it seemed he couldn't get anyone out the following season.

Sampson allowed 15 earned runs in eight innings in his first three starts of 1999. He only started one more game and finished the year with an 8.11 ERA. He was demoted in August to make room for Jason Ryan and never recaptured his early form.

 

1999

Mike Lincoln (Apr. 7, Toronto Blue Jays): 3 1/3 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO (L)

Lincoln surrendered two home runs in his MLB start, a telling statistic that would later  doom his chances his chances with the Twins. For the following season, Lincoln surrendered 13 homers in 20-2/3 innings, and he was sent to Pittsburgh. Lincoln would never start another MLB game.

 

Gary Rath (May 25, Seattle Mariners): 3 IP, 5H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 1 SO (L)

Rath, obtained from the Los Angeles Dodgers, would only pitch four more times for the Twins, all in relief.

 

Joe Mays (June 21, Tampa Bay Rays): 5 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO (ND)

Mays spent nearly the first three months of the season in the bullpen before he received his first start.

Mays was a rock in his next three starts,  too, allowing just a single earned run in 17 innings, before he was rocked by Pittsburgh for nine hits and six runs in two-and-two-thirds innings.

Mays rebounded in a big way with a three-hit shutout against the Chicago Cubs and eight-plus innings of shutout ball against the Chicago White Sox in his next two starts.

He compiled a 6-9 mark and a 3.72 ERA during his rookie campaign.

Mays suffered through a mediocre season during his sophomore year, but he rebounded in 2001 with a 17-13 record and a sparkling 3.16 ERA to earn All-Star status.

 

Mark Redman (July 24, Seattle Mariners): 4.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO (ND)

After appearing in five games in 1999, Redman was installed in the starting rotation in 2000. He started 24 games for the Twins, fashioning a 12-9 record and a 4.76 ERA. He finished fifth in the balloting for Rookie of the Year honors.

In 2001, though, Redman was shipped to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for stopper Todd Jones.

Redman enjoyed his finest year in 2003 with the Florida Marlins, fashioning a 14-9 mark with a fine 3.59 ERA.

 

Jason Ryan (Aug. 24, Boston Red Sox): 4.1 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 4 SO (L)

Acquired early in the season from the Cubs for Rick Aguilera, Ryan had spent three of the past four years at the A level. In 1998, he spent the season at AA going 3-13 with a 4.88 ERA. He opened 1999 on a tear, going 5-0 with a 1.41 ERA at AA before being sent to the Twins.

The Twins kept him at AA for about six weeks, moved him up to AAA, and then called him up in August to be part of the rotation.

Ryan's next start six days later was a hard-luck 2-1 loss against Toronto. He allowed Toronto just two hits and three hits as he struck out four.

Ryan finished the season with three quality starts in six games.

He appeared in 16 games in 2000, only one of them a start, and he was ineffective. He surrendered 37 hits, eight of them homers, in 24 innings, with a 7.62 ERA.

 

2000

Johan Santana (Apr. 7, Kansas City Royals): 5 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO (ND)

Following another horrid start against Texas, the 21-year-old future Cy Young winner was relegated to the bullpen until Sept. 21 when he took the mound for a start against the White Sox. He got whacked again, surrendering seven hits and seven earned runs in four-and-two-thirds innings.

In 30 games in 2000, he was 2-3 with a 6.49 ERA.

Santana would win 93 games and two Cy Young awards before the Twins were compelled to trade him to the New York Mets in 2008.

 

J.C. Romero (July 31, Baltimore): 4.2 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO (L)

Romero authored only three quality starts in 11 outings during his rookie season. He finished the season at 2-7 with a hefty ERA of 7.02.

This didn't dissuade the Twins from giving him plenty of starting opportunities in 2001... with equally disastrous results (1-4, 6.23 ERA).

Romero blossomed in 2002 when the Twins moved him to the bullpen (9-2, 1.89 ERA in 81 games).

 

Matt Kinney (Aug. 18, Toronto Blue Jays):  6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 SO (L)

In eight starts during his rookie season with the Twins, Kinney fashioned a 2-2 mark with a 5.10 ERA.

Kinney disappointed in spring training the following year and spent the entire season at Triple-A.

Kinney, despite battling shoulder soreness, lowered both his ERA and WHIP in 2002 for the Twins in 14 games (12 starts), but it wasn't enough to prevent the Twins from dealing him, along with Javier Valentin in November 2002 to Milwaukee in exchange for minor league righthanders Matt Yeatman and Gerry Oakes.

Kinney went 10-13 in 31 starts for the Brewers in 2003 with a 5.19 ERA.

Neither Yeatman or Oakes made it to the bigs.

 

2001

Kyle Lohse (June 22, Detroit Tigers): 6.1 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO (ND)

Lohse went 4-7 in 19 games (16 starts) during his rookie campaign with a 5.68 ERA.

Lohse won 13 and 14 games, respectively, for the Twins in 2002 and 2003.

On July 31, 2006, the Twins traded Lohse to the Cincinnati Reds for minor league pitcher Zach Ward.

A year later, Lohse was sent packing to Philadelphia, and in 2008, Lohse inked a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lohse enjoyed a career year in 2008 for the Cardinals with 15 wins and just six losses and a 3.78 ERA.

 

2002

Juan Rincon (July 6, Seattle Mariners): 6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO (ND)

Rincon started two more games with mediocre results before the Twins shipped him to the bullpen where he has enjoyed his greatest success.

Rincon was dominant in a reliever's role for the Twins from 2004 to 2006, with an ERA under 3.00 each year and a 20-13 mark.

 

2003

Grant Balfour (Sept. 3, Los Angeles (Anaheim Angels): 2.2 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 5 BB, 3 SO (ND).

Balfour had appeared in eight games of relief before the Twins decided to start him against the Angels. His performance was enough to convince Minnesota that his future rested in the bullpen.

The Twins declined to tender Balfour a contract in 2005.

 

2004

Matt Guerrier (June 17, Montreal Expos): 4 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO (ND)

Guerrier would next appear in relief, then spin another bland start in a loss against Milwaukee before the Twins aborted their effort to turn Guerrier into a starter.

Guerrier would find his calling in the bullpen. He enjoyed his best year in 2007 when he appeared in 73 games, fashioning a 2.35 ERA and a 1.045 WHIP.

 

J.D. Durbin (Sept. 23, Cleveland Indians): 3 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 2 SO (L)

Drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 2000 amateur draft, Durbin never fulfilled his promise.

After spending 2005 and 2006 in the minors, Durbin was placed on waivers and claimed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007.

 

2005

Scott Baker (July 5, Los Angeles/Anaheim Angels): 5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO (L)

Baker went 3-3 in 10 games (nine starts) with a 3.35 ERA during his rookie campaign.

Currently the incumbent ace of the Twins' starting rotation, Baker is 30-29 lifetime with a 4.43 career ERA.

 

Francisco Liriano (Sept. 20, Oakland A's): 3.2 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 6 SO (L)

His first start gave the Twins no inkling of what type of pitcher Liriano would become in 2006 (12-3, 2.16 ERA).

Liriano, following Tommy John surgery in November 2006, is still attempting to recapture his former brilliance.

 

2006

Boof Bonser (May 21, Milwaukee): 6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 8 SO (ND)

Boonser, who is out for the 2009 after undergoing shoulder surgery, was solid during his rookie season (18 starts, 8-8 record, 4.22 ERA), but regressed in both 2007 and 2008.

 

Matt Garza (Aug. 11, Toronto Blue Jays): 2.2 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO (L)

Garza, the 25th overall selection in the 2005 amateur draft, struggled during his rookie season (3-6, 5.76 ERA), but showed definite signs of putting things together in his sophomore season (5-7, 3.69 ERA).

The Twins, however, dealt Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett and reliever Eduardo Morlan to the Tampa Bay Rays in November 2007 in exchange for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie.

Garza was impressive in his first full season down south. He went 11-9 with a 3.70 ERA. He was named as the ALCS MVP as the Rays locked up their first trip to the World Series.

 

2007

Kevin Slowey (June 1, Oakland A's): 6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO (ND)

Another highly touted pitcher, Slowey finished 2007 with a 4-1 mark in 13 games (11 starts) and a 4.72 ERA.

Slowey put together an even better campaign in 2008. He went 12-11 with a 3.99 ERA and significantly lowered his WHIP.

Slowey is off to a showy 5-1 start in 2009 with a 4.23 ERA.

 

2008

Nick Blackburn (Apr. 2, Los Angeles/Anaheim Angels): 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 SO (L)

Blackburn, selected in the 29th round by the Twins in the 2001, made his first start at the rather advanced age of 26.

He was a pleasant surprise (11-11, 4.05 ERA), to say the least.

 

Glen Perkins (May 10, Boston): 6 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO (L)

Perkins made 23 relief appearances in 2006 and 2007 before he strode to the mound for the first time as a Twins' starter.

Perkins finished 2008 with a 12-4 record and a 4.41 ERA.

Perkins started 2009 by allowing just four earned runs in 24 innings. He's currently on the disabled list with inflammation of his left elbow.

He was a pleasant surprise in his rookie season with an 11-11 record and a 4.05 ERA in 193-1/3 innings.

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