It's the last week of Spring Training, and then it's off to the upper Midwest for the Minnesota Twins. Well, actually they start off the season this Friday at Toronto in a three-game set. Carl Pavano will pitch. The Twins' first homestand starts April 8 against Oakland at Target Field.
Let's first look at the Twins pitching for the upcoming season. The five starters have been named: Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing will all be in the rotation. So who will be the Twins' Ace?
Last season, Pavano really stepped up. He went 17-11 with 117 strikeouts and a 3.75 ERA. Pavano threw seven complete games, and helped a bullpen that struggled at times last year.
At times, Liriano like an Ace last year. He went 14-10 with 201 strikeouts and a 3.62 ERA. His walks were down, and that was a good thing for the Twins. Liriano had a great final spring game yesterday against the Pirates. He pitched six innings with no walks and four strikeouts. He had a 4.82 ERA in spring.
The most important thing for the Twins is to get consistent pitching from the back end of the rotation this year. Baker was hurt last year, and Blackburn was up and down all year. Blackburn went 10-12 with a 5.42 ERA. He also struggled with his control.
Duensing really came on towards the end of the year, going 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA.
In the bullpen, the Twins will have seven guys. Joe Nathan will be back after a season-ending injury. So will Matt Capps, Kevin Slowey, Jeff Manship, Jose Mijares, Dusty Hughes and Glen Perkins.
It will be interesting to see how Nathan comes back from Tommy John surgery, and if he can have the dominating form he had before the injury. Capps will most likely be the set-up man for the seventh and eighth innings. Slowey was left out the rotation after enduring a tough season last year.
On minnesotatwins.com, Gardenhire said that Capps and Nathan would both start the year as closer. He added that he wouldn't declare Nathan as his main closer until he proves that he is fully recovered.
Dusty Hughes is a newcomer, and has not allowed a run in Spring Training. He is a left-hander.
Manship and Perkins both have had solid springs. Perkins has a 1.80 ERA so far.
Lefty Scott Diamond, who could be a "diamond in the rough," and Anthony Slama didn't make the opening day roster. Both dealt with some minor injuries.
Prospect Kyle Gibson has shown promise in the Twins' farm system, and is a pitcher on the rise. We could see him possibly this season—perhaps in September.
In the infield for the Twins, Justin Morneau will be back at first base after going down with a season-ending concussion in 2010. Doctors haven't cleared Morneau to play yet, but he remains optimistic to play Opening Day against Toronto. Morneau batted .313 in the Grapefruit League the last five games; however, he started the year 0-for-13.
Having Morneau back will be huge for the Twins as he provides a big bat. He can also get clutch hits, is patient and gets RBIs.
At second base, Tsuyoshi Nishioka looks to help the Twins' infield—one that has struggled to find a consistent second baseman who can field and hit. Hopefully, Nishioka can be just that. Nishioka is 26 years old and played for the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Japanese league for eight years. He batted .346 with 11 home runs last year. He also had 59 RBI, 206 hits, 22 stolen bases, and 79 walks. He broke Ichiro's record in Japan of having 26 games with at least three hits. Nishioka had 27.
At shortstop, Alexi Casilla will be the starter. Matt Tolbert will serve as the utility infielder, and Danny Valencia will round out the infield at third base.
Valencia had a great rookie year, hitting .273. But he also had a .292 OBP and posted a .636 slugging percentage. Additionally, Valencia provided much stability at third base, and was very good in the field.
At catcher, Joe Mauer will be the man again, and Drew Butera will back him up. Mauer is excellent behind the plate, and knows how to make pitchers feel comfortable on the mound. The question is: Can he get his power stroke back from two years ago when he hit for over 20 home runs?
In the outfield, Denard Span will roam center field, Delmon Young in left and Micheal Cuddyer in right. Jason Kubel and Jason Repko are the backups. These guys are great outfielders, have good range and will be relied upon heavily as the season progresses.
At designated hitter, Jim Thome is back and he is on a mission. He came back for another year and wants to win a ring with the Twins—and there is much potential. Thome is also chasing 600 home runs, an elite club for hitters.
There you have it. Now we just have to wait until Friday for Twins baseball!