Not much more than a week ago, Francisco Liriano was one bad start away from losing the faith of Twins Territory. Maybe he wouldn't have lost his starting job yet, but it would have certainly been close.
But, after two straight starts in which he pitched seven innings and put his team in a great position to win, his job is safe for now.
Tuesday night's game against the Yankees, however, clearly punctuated another possible hole in the rotation--this time with the team's most veteran starter, Scott Baker.
Baker's problem this season is not necessarily incompetence, though such was the case Tuesday. Baker has been inconsistent at best and most importantly, inefficient. Baker threw 111 pitches and 86 pitches in his last two starts, yet didn't make it to the sixth inning in either game. Tuesday, his 86 pitches didn't put him through the fourth inning, giving up five (earned) runs on nine hits in just three innings pitched.
It didn't exactly set the pace well for the Twins Tuesday, who went on to lose 10-2 thanks to meltdowns again by rookie reliever Brian Duensing, who is still not a solid option, as well as the usually effective R.A. Dickey.
The Twins, despite winning 8 of their last 12 prior to Tuesday, still haven't put together a good string of feel-good wins. Furthermore, Tuesday's loss put them at 0-5 against New York and 6-17 against the AL East, definitely not good precedence for a possible playoff run.
As for Baker, the heat should be on, but not until Slowey returns from his injury. However, another stint for Anthony Swarzak like his last cannot be ignored by the front office. Additionally, with Duensing having started 13 games for Triple-A Rochester this year too, more options are available for the Twins, making Baker possibly expendable.
Whether that will happen remains to be seen. Baker's veteran presence is an intangible one that nobody can define.
Clearly, however, Baker's inconsistency has hurt the Twins. He lost his first four starts and allowed at least four earned runs in each of those outings. He has only had four starts all year in which he allowed less than three earned runs, a difficult standard for the Twins' offense to meet, as Tuesday night showed.
When Slowey comes off the disabled list later this month or next, a decision will have to be made. Baker will probably keep his job over Swarzak. But, without a marked improvement on his ability to retire batters early and keep his pitch count low, the bullpen, the offense, and obviously, the team, will suffer. And the team's ability to contend will too, as proved with Tuesday night's complete annihilation.
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