Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Francisco Liriano and the Rotation

I have to post something substantive tonight, and it might as well be about the amazing performance of Francisco Liriano, along with some random thoughts on the Twins rotation. Liriano was robbed of a no-hitter tonight in the sixth inning by a blind umpire (although his pitch count was rapidbly rising and there was no way he would have finished the game, no-hitter intact or not), but regardless his performance was masterful. He walked a few guys, but threw some downright nasty sliders. He demonstrated yet again why he is going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. The thought of him and Santana anchoring the rotation for the next 6 or 7 years is remarkable (and yes, I expect Santana to be a Twin for life, or at least through another extended contract).

The question is, who will be with Liriano in the rotation for the rest of the year? With Kyle Lohse exiled to Rochester, probably for good (or at least until the Twins can find a taker for him on the trade market), and Carlos Silva in the bullpen working on re-finding his arm slot, not to mention the titanic struggles of Brad Radke and Scott Baker this year, the Twins rotation has seen better days. What was supposed to be a strength has become a glaring weakness. There is hope, however.

Johan Santana has not been dominant this year, but he has been very, very good in the majority of his games. He should finish the season with 16-17 wins, and an ERA around 3.50, and that's absolutely nothing to complain about. While Brad Radke still has an outrageously high ERA, he pitched well in his last start against Anaheim and should have picked up the win. If he can start pitching inside effectively, he'll be fine. I would gladly take a remainder of the season with an ERA around 4.50, and I think he's very capable of doing that. Liriano is the clear number 3 on this staff now, and that isn't going to change. He's slotted in to that position for good now.

What happens after that is interesting. Boof Bonser has pitched well in two outings for the Twins, and I think he will be given an opportunity to prove himself over the course of the season. After all, there aren't that many options for the Twins right now, and if Bonser can be a serviceable starter, he'll be ok. Baker, however, is about to lose his job to a re-emergent Carlos Silva.

I am a little bit reticent about this. Silva has been horrid as a starter this season, but has been reasonably good out of the bullpen. Baker is one of my favorite young Twins, a guy who I think has the potential to be a very good #3 starter at the Major League level. I would love to see him stay in that role. Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to happen. In the next few days, I expect the Twins to demote Baker to Rochester, and announce that Silva has been reinserted into the rotation.

The really interesting question, then, is who will be called up to replace Baker. I can think of only one really serious possibility, and that is Pat Neshek. Pat Reusse earlier this year suggested that Neshek, a right-handed sidearmer with some nasty stuff, could benefit the Twins immediately, and I think he's right. Putting Baker in the bullpen wouldn't do him, or the Twins, any good. This isn't a Liriano situation, where the Twins were in desperate need of a left-handed reliever. They have Matt Guerrier in the 'pen to pitch in situations similar to where they would use Baker, and frankly I'd rather have them go to Guerrier. And so it's only logical to send him down. With the Twins surviving effectively with 12 pitchers, it makes sense to bring up another pitcher, and Neshek is the Red Wing most likely to contribute immediately to the Major League team. I look for Neshek to be making his Major League debut sometime before the Twins return home from this west coast swing. Then, hopefully, Baker will make a triumphant return to the rotation next Spring, after Brad Radke has retired. Santana, Liriano, Silva, Bonser and Baker sounds like a pretty solid starting five to me.


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