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A New Year But Nothing Is New

by Emily Jipp

Bill Smith and the Twins have been increasingly quiet as of late. Since the early November trading of Carlos Gomez for J.J. Hardy, the Twins have been quite motionless. The only significant news has been found in the trade that sent Boof Bonser to the Red Sox in exchange for a low-level pitching prospect and the acceptance of an arbitration offer to Carl Pavano.

But the lack of movement should not come as a surprise to Twins fans, for this has become typical during the Bill Smith era. The Winter Meetings have often been a week filled with rumors and speculation that ultimately leads to very little or nothing at all. But for many Twins fans, the fun is in the chatter. Will the Twins extend Joe Mauer’s contract? Will we add a starting pitcher to the rotation? Will the infield problems be repaired with a signing of a second or third baseman? I think we may have to wait just a little bit longer for these questions to be answered, but here are a couple of things we can think about in the meantime in regards to the starting pitching rotation.

With Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano, and Nick Blackburn set as the top four, there is only one spot left to fill. And although many Twins fans are pleading with Bill Smith to make some worthwhile changes to the starting pitching rotation during this offseason, I do not think we should get our hopes too high. With the lack of fiscal flexibility, I doubt it to be likely that we can expect to see the Twins land a high impact starting pitcher. I still believe that Glen Perkins will be moved during the offseason, so I am anticipating spring training to begin with Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing contending for the fifth spot. Many see Duensing to be the likely choice, so I am probably in the minority on this, but I expect to see Liriano added to round out the roation.

Why should Liriano be considered for the fifth spot?
1. Liriano has some of the best pitches of any of the potential starters. If he is able to get his fastball back on track and maintain control of the strike zone, he will be an altogether different pitcher than the one we watched struggle so much last season.
2. He’s only 26, and when he is on he can be dynamic. If he can re-establish his skill set, his 2010 will quickly overshadow his unfortunate 2009.
3. It would be silly to think that Liriano can recapture the graundeur of his 2006 season. What we need from him right now is to give the team some efficient starts. With efficient starts, he will give the team a chance to win, and if given a spot in the starting rotation, I’ll be excited to watch him do just that.

Again, I am probably outnumbered in this debate, but I for one will not be surprised to see Liriano step it up to secure a spot in the rotation and give the Twins some quality starts. Hopefully I am right, and we don’t have to endure another disastrous season from him.

7 comments:

  1. The Twins depth at starting pitching has been said to be one of their strength over the last couple springs. This year seems to be no different aside from the addition of Carl Pavano, who definitely gives the rotation a added veteran balance. He looked healthy all of last year, though health may become an issue again with his age. Liriano is by far the Twins best option for a lefty and fifth starter. Although; Duensing showed the ability to give the Twins quality starts down the stretch going 5-1 as a starter in the final month and a half of the season, aside from his postseason start. He is the leading candidate for a much needed left handed starter if Liriano doesn't return to form, which I firmly believe he will especially after the positive reports from Gardy. I'm not sure how much longer Perkins will even be around, and his stuff is far less than par for a major league starter. If the Twins do end up signing Washburn to a deal, it would instantly improve not only the quality of their starters, but the veteran presence in the rotation, taking some of the pressure off Pavano. It would be a great dilemma for management to have if 4 lefties are fighting for one spot. I don't see them not taking another long look at Liriano as a starter, unless he is training this winter for a bullpen spot. Which would mean the organization was banking on signing a free agent lefty. The only down side would be how rough Liriano looked out of the bullpen last year, raising debate as to what the long term plan for this young pitcher is. I think the Twins will make the right decisions with him, and his return to dominance is in the foreseeable future. Whether that is in the bullpen or rotation remains to be seen.

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  2. Why don't people get that liriano is done? Everyone says "he'll be fine once he gets command of his fastball." In 96' he was throwing 93-98 mph...now he throws 89-91 mph. He's not getting it back...and hes now scared to throw it...which he should because its dead straight! He's a power pitcher that no longer has power.

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  3. In '96 he was in middle school. Did you mean '06? I'm not anticipating his fastball to be like it was in '06, but most recently (the past few weeks) his fastball has been 92-94 mph. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

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  4. It has nothing to do with getting command of his fastball. His fastball has gained some of it's pop back according to reports this winter, and it wasn't his fastball that made him so dominant, it was his slider. Coming off of tommy john surgery had obviously effected how much snap he got on his release, and getting the ability to snap his wrist has taking longer than expected. Nevertheless, the fact that his fastball is regaining speed is a good indication that his release is returning to form.

    Added speed to his pitches is no doubt a very positive indication that movement on his slider will increase to what it once was. Look for him to throw a cut fastball this year as well. The elbow should hold up, as he relies less on his slider early in the count and more on changing speeds and hitting corners. If he does come out of the pen, then this added speed is crucial, because he will need his super-slider much more often, but for 1 or 2 innings not 6 or 7. I'm rooting for him.

    I liked you article Emily

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  5. I agree that Liriano has potential to improve on his '09 numbers but I disagree that 'it has nothing to do with getting command of his fastball'. I think it has everything to do with regaining that pitch to establish early and set hitters up. Liriano has never been and will never be a 'paint the corners' type of pitcher so the fastball's command is the utmost of importance.
    Furthermore, his slider does not, as the previous commenter stated, rely on a snapping of his wrist. It has everything to do with the torque of his elbow and rotation of his shoulder. It's been said that Liriano is working with a "lesser" slider now because Rick Anderson doesn't want him to go back to whipping it through with sloppy mechanics. It's very wise of the pitching staff to correct his mechanics so that he doesn't sustain long term injuries that derailed his '06 campaign. Liriano's hopeful resurrection will rely on improving the control of his fastball and mixing it with his two good secondary pitches, the slider and change up. This probably wont be an easy task, but that's pitching in the big leagues.

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  6. "Torque of his elbow and rotation of his shoulder," has everything to do with how much snap he gets in his wrist to throw the slider. If there is less of either of those (mainly elbow) then snap of the wrist will be significantly reduced. In other words, you can't snap the wrist to throw an excellent slider, if the elbow doesn't derive enough power for that pitch to be effective. So proper mechanics is crucial for the longevity of Liriano's career is what you might be saying. If he is never going to be a 'paint the corners' type of pitcher, then why is it so important to gain command of his fastball. If he utilizes a change-up, a weakened fastball, and a slider that doesn't break because his wrist does not have the available elbow torque to produce the pitch he effectively struck batters out with, then he is 'done' as previous commenters stated. If Liriano does not regain his slider as his dominant pitch, there is no way for him to proceed as a starter, other than becoming a 'paint the corners' pitcher. Three mediocre pitches for a starter without a strikeout pitch will be short lived. Either Liriano regains the break on his slider, or he finds another way to get batters out by hitting the corners and changing speeds.

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  7. Do something Wetmore

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