The burning question among Twins fans is whether or not their ball club needs to make a deadline move to bolster an inconsistent pitching staff.
A starting rotation led by the unlikeliest of aces, Carl Pavano, had their best week in over a month. The Twins are one game behind the Chicago White Sox and have jumped the suddenly reeling Detroit Tigers.
General Manager Bill Smith will have to weigh whether the recent success is smoke in mirrors against poor opponents or whether it is actual signs of improvement. His decision will ultimately determine if the Twins will be challenging for a World Series title in October or will be struggling to win their division in late September.
The starting staff of Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, and Kevin Slowey combined for a 4-0 record, 34 innings pitched, 21 hits allowed, a 1.06 ERA, and 23 strikeouts in their most recent run through the rotation. The superb numbers can be contributed to a number of factors. Most importantly, playing the worst team in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles (31-68).
Or, is it possible the Twins have solved all of their pitching problems up front when they dipped into the bullpen for Brian Duensing last Friday? Nick Blackburn had won only one start since June 1st. Opponents were batting .378 with 11 home runs and an on-base percentage of .427. Blackburn, a sinker-ball pitcher, had been working with pitching coach, Rick Anderson extensively on keeping his fastball down in the zone.
After the Twins came back to win in Blackburn's last start on July 18, Blackburn said, "I don't know how much longer they're going to keep putting up with this stuff." He was shipped out to the pen prior to his next scheduled outting. In his only relief appearance, he gave up three runs, on five hits, in two innings.
Duensing picked up the start this past Friday against Baltimore. He pitched five innings and gave up one earned-run over five solid innings of work. He was limited due to a strict pitch count enforced by pitching coach, Rick Anderson.
"We wanted to keep his pitch count around 65, we will add about 15 pitches each start, and work forward from there," stated Anderson. Duensing didn't factor in the decision, but gave the Twins a chance exiting the game with the Twins up 2-1. The lead he earned was lost when Luke Scott hit a two-run home run off rookie Anthony Slama the very next inning.
Duensing will start Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals on the road. He has a career ERA of 4.84 against the Royals. He has had a bit of trouble controlling the right-handed hitters from Kansas City. It will be a good start to measure his progress as a pitcher thus far through his career.
The tools he has learned as a reliever should translate over into his mechanics as a starting pitcher. His ability to get right-handed batters out will be the deciding factor in his effectiveness as a starting pitcher in the MLB.
You can bet on both Gardenhire and Smith keeping a close eye on what goes on through the end of the month. If Duensing has trouble on Wednesday, I would bet on the Twins making a move to add a piece to the front-end of their rotation. If things go smoothly, odds are they will wait for the waiver and non-waiver deadlines.
The bullpen is definitely in need of some live arms. The front office doesn't have a choice in waiting for bullpen help. The make-shift pen of waiver claims from last year have not met the hopes of management. Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay, Jose Mijares, and Alex Burnett are all expendable.
With the only effective left-hander now in the starting rotation, the Twins are in dire need of some help to close out games.