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Scott Baker has regained the form that made him one of the best Twins pitchers in the last decade.
The questions were there coming out of spring training: Could Carl Pavano duplicate his performance from 2010 as the team workhorse? Would Francisco Liriano finally become the true staff ace the team has hoped he would develop into? How would Brian Duensing handle being a starter for a full season? And could Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker bounce back from disappointing campaigns to regain their status as solid, middle-of-rotation pitchers?
After a rough six-week stretch to start the year, a stretch in which Pavano admitted he felt “out of sync,” he has bounced back to become the innings eater the Twins expected when they re-signed him in the offseason. He has lowered his ERA by over two full runs since May 8 and leads the team in complete games and innings pitched.
Liriano was brutal in April but after no-hitting the White Sox on May 3, he seems to have found his groove as well. While sometimes struggling to find consistency with his delivery, he has been completely dominant at times and looked every bit the ace the Twins envisioned him to be. It seems the only thing keeping Liriano from being among the league's best pitchers is himself.
Duensing has given the team about what they expected when manager Ron Gardenhire decided to give him a spot in the rotation this spring. After posting a 2.91 ERA in April, Duensing seemed to struggle for a few starts after having his May 7 outing in Boston postponed by rain after two innings. Overall, his poor starts have generally been when he lacks command, leading to one bad inning that gets out of control.
Blackburn and Baker were two of the bigger question marks coming into 2011. Both dealt with elbow injuries throughout last season that led to less than desirable results. This year, however, they are arguably the Twins' top two pitchers.
Blackburn has been a model of consistency over the last two months after a tough April. He has pitched deep into games, giving Gardenhire exactly what he was looking for when he named him the third starter early in spring training, a move which surprised many. He has certainly rewarded Gardenhire’s vote of confidence with his performance.
Baker, it can be argued, has regained his status as the No. 1 starter. Averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, he has been nearly untouchable at times. He blows hitters away with pinpoint control and command of his fastball. With an ERA hovering just over three, it definitely appears he is over the elbow inflammation that derailed much of his 2010 season.
Overall: The rotation has rounded out to become one of the best in baseball over the last several weeks. If they can continue to perform at this same level, the Twins will have a shot at getting back into contention for the division title.