Twins Starters Putting the Pressure On

In 2010, the inaugural season at Target Field, Carl Pavano started 32 games for the AL Central Champion Minnesota Twins. Pavano went 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA, including a league-leading 7 complete games. That season, Pavano pitched at least 6 innings 27 out of 32 starts, and completed less than 5 innings just 3 times. He lived up to his “Bulldog” nickname and mentality about as well as any pitcher in recent memory that year – outside of guys like Roy Halladay and his 67 career complete games. That same season Halladay started 33 games, completed 9, threw 250.2 innings, and completed less than 6 innings just once – and that game he went 5.2 innings. Pavano also had a sweet mustache…

After a surprisingly rock-solid start by the rotation in April this season, the month of May has been a completely different story for this pitching staff. In 23 games in April, the rotation threw 5.37 innings per start, gave up just 12 home runs (2nd only to the Tigers starters, who gave up only 7), walked a league-low 28 batters, and held a moderately decent 4.88 ERA – good for 10th among AL starting rotations. In 18 May games, Twins starters have averaged 5.20 innings/start, given up 17 home runs, walked another league-best 25 batters, but yielded a league-worst 6.15 ERA.

After pitching just 78.1 innings and finishing with a AL-leading 2.30 ERA in April, the Twins bullpen has been over-worked in May to the tune of 70.1 innings (more than any other AL bullpen) and a 4.09 ERA. None of this is helped by the fact that the entire staff has tallied just 230 strike outs in 366 innings this year – dead last by far in the American League.

In his first five starts as a Twin, all in April, Kevin Correia completed at least 7 innings in each start, picking up the W in three of those five starts. Since then he’s finished more than 5.1 innings just once in four starts in May. In the mean time his ERA has risen from 2.23 on April 28th to 3.90 after his loss last night in Atlanta. In those last four starts he’s managed to strike out just 7 hitters, including a big doughnut last night against the most strike out-prone lineup in baseball.

Scott Diamond gave up 6 runs in each of his last two starts, one lasting 5.2 innings and the latest just 4.1 innings. In those two starts Diamond managed to strike out just one batter in Mike Napoli last week at Target Field.

Leading up to his demotion yesterday, Pedro Hernandez hadn’t pitched more than 5.1 innings in any of his 6 starts. Prior to his 6 inning outing last week against Boston, Vance Worley hadn’t pitched 6 innings in 4 straight starts. In fact he’s only made it through 6 innings in 3 of his 9 starts to begin his career in Minnesota, resulting in a bloated 6.20 ERA and a 1-4 record.

Veteran Mike Pelfrey has completed 6 innings just twice in his 8 starts as a Twin, both actually happening in May. Despite his short outings according to his innings total, he’s thrown at least 90 pitches in every start but one – a 2 inning performance in Kansas City over a month ago. Pelfrey gets another shot to get deep into the game again tonight in Atlanta.

In 2011 the Twins bullpen pitched 460.2 innings – 7th most in the American League – and held a league-high 4.51 ERA. Last season the bullpen threw an astonishing 558.2 innings, just shy of Kansas City’s 561.1 innings. That bullpen finished 9th in the AL with a 3.77 ERA. Last year 3 of the top 5 teams in the AL for fewest bullpen innings were playoff teams. As long as this rotation continues to produce short outings, the bullpen will continue to be over-worked, and good relievers will get hurt or falter –¬†inevitably¬†bringing forth another 90+ loss season.

All of this being said, no one expected this Twins team to be in playoff contention in 2013. In April, however, when starters were going deep into games, they were right there in the middle of the pack. If they would like to stay in the middle of the pack and have a shot to make any kind of run in September, the rotation needs to be able to limit damage and get through 6 innings consistently. Knowing this, it’s a bit surprising that Sam Deduno was the man called up to be the 5th starter this week, as opposed to Kyle Gibson. Deduno did make it through 6 innings in 8 of his 15 starts last season with the Twins, but Gibson threw two complete games in his last 3 starts with Rochester, and would seem to be the logical candidate to relieve some pressure off the bullpen. He is on an innings limit, however, so we’ll see what Deduno can do in this make-or-break opportunity with the Twins at age 29.

Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.