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Twins Starters' Early Struggles a Matter of Adjustment

Last week I wrote about my observation of a very positive trend in the early 2009 edition of the Twins—their characteristic spunkiness and refusal to admit defeat when the game is on the line. That’s still true in week two, evidenced by the remarkable Kubel-led comeback on Friday night against the Angels.

But at the conclusion of their second week of play, I have also observed a more disturbing trend—the inability of their young starting pitchers to get anyone out. It’s a trend that was evident in their first three series and, writing this on the last day of their three games with the Angels, may or may not have been resolved.

Until now, the announcers on the Twins TV and radio stations have been saying there is nothing to worry about because it’s still very early in the season and the pitchers haven’t hit their stride yet, generally serving as apologists for the organization for which the announcers work—the Twins.

It is a little disturbing to see the generosity with which the Twins have given up runs to Seattle, Chicago and especially Toronto. The Twins young starting pitching was billed as one of the team’s greatest strengths. So it’s surprising to see that the pitching staff is so far behind the hitting. It’s a well-known baseball adage that early in the baseball season, hitting usually lags behind pitching because pitchers usually fare better in the cooler spring weather, while hitting blossoms in the heat of summer and after seeing lots of pitches. Apparently, not so with this year’s Twins staff.

Maybe the crux of the Twins early starting pitching problems is one of adjustment.

The ritualistic dance between pitcher and hitter is one of finesse and adaptation, ever evolving to compensate for the strengths and probing to find the weaknesses of the other. Once a batter has seen a pitcher several times in a season, he adjusts his hitting approach to capitalize on the weaknesses in the pitcher’s style and delivery. Likewise, a good pitcher realizes that a good hitter has probably adjusted to the pitcher’s formula for getting him out, so the pitcher makes adjustments and pitches the hitter differently. It takes some time to figure out how to do this. The one who leaves the dance with the girl is the athlete who makes the better adjustment first.

Perhaps the Twins’ early-season pitching problems are indeed based on their young staff’s lack of experience, rather than a newly-exposed lack of ability. With the exclusion of Glen Perkins, every one of the Twins’ starters seems to be having control problems and serving up lollipops to opposition hitters. Since each starter only pitched full-time for the first time last year, maybe each of them needs to adjust to how the hitters have adapted to their pitching style.

The Twins have a dearth of power pitching, with the possible exception a “rebuilt” Francisco Liriano. Baker, Slowey, Blackburn and Perkins are all control, finesse pitchers. To be successful, they need to locate their pitches and keep the hitters off balance, not knowing what to expect next. They don’t have the power to blow a mistake pasta good hitter. They need precision and surprise on their side.

All five of the Twins second year starters have shown a great deal of promise. In fact, many teams would be drooling to have five young starters like the Twins have. With a little more experience on how to adjust and pitch to hitters in year two, the results should improve. Let’s just hope the adjustment come sooner rather than later this season.

Twins Blog Writer: By Rick Jourdan

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