Nick Blackburn will be in the starting rotation for the Twins this season, manager Ron Gardenhire said Saturday (Minneapolis Star-Tribune ), meaning Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey are in a head-to-head battle for the fifth and final spot. The news came after Blackburn threw three perfect innings against the Rays.
Wednesday, Brian Duensing was given a spot by Gardenhire, making him the third member of the rotation behind ace Francisco Liriano and re-signed Carl Pavano.
Blackburn went 10-12 with a 5.42 ERA last season in 161 innings, but had offseason surgery to clean up his elbow. He's looked sharp in the spring, especially with his sinker.
Duensing went 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA last season. He closed in the rotation, starting 13 of his last 14 appearances after he joined the rotation. As a starter, he was 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA. His 85 2/3 innings meant he averaged about 6 2/3 innings per start, and that was after coming out of the bullpen for the first part of the season.
The Baker vs. Slowey battle shows just how deep the Twins are with starting pitching. Baker is just two seasons removed from an 11-4, 3.45 ERA and 1.18 WHIP campaign. Last season, he battled inconsistency -- and minor health issues -- to a 12-9 mark with a 4.49 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. Slowey is one year removed from a season where he went 10-3, but his ERA was 48.6 and WHIP was 1.41. He was 13-6 last year with a 4.45 ERA, but has had issues getting knocked around, as he's allowed 10 hits per nine innings throughout his career. His control is solid, though, as he only walked 29 guys in 155 2/3 innings last year.
Baker was 5-0 in his last 10 starts last season and, like Blackburn, underwent a procedure to clean up his throwing elbow in the offseason.
Baker has a slightly better track record than Slowey, but that doesn't always decide the winner in spring training battles. Either way, the Twins have six legitimate major-league starting pitchers. Many teams would surely trade places.
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