Thursday, March 29, 2012

Replacements could fill back end of the rotation

The Twins went into the start of this spring with a little different feel in regards to their starting rotation. Last season there was a battle between six or seven players to fill the five roles needed to complete the starting rotation at the beginning of the year. This year the Twins seemed set with five players penciled in to occupy the rotation when the team would break camp for the start of the regular season. Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, and Jason Marquis were all set to be the five men to lead the pitching staff but some issues have arisen in the last week and it looks like the plan will have to change for the Twins.

Baker has been dealing with some elbow tendinitis that has limited his ability to get on the field for some of his recent scheduled outings. In his last start on Monday, he suffered through a disaster as he got lit up for seven runs in 2 2/3 innings pitched. If Baker can't get stretched out before the start of the year, the Twins will have to look for some different options to fill his spot in the rotation. He was in line to get the home opener start for the Twins at Target Field on April 9 but it is looking more and more like someone else will be taking the mound that day.

The other pitcher dealing with some off field family issues is Jason Marquis. His 7-year-old daughter was hospitalized after a serious bicycle accident and he has been away from the team for over a week. According to the team, he has been completing some throwing session while he is away but they still don't know when to anticipate him returning to the squad. Family matters are always going to take precedent over your job in the big leagues especially when it comes to a serious injury to a person's child. Fans of the Twins have been sending their thoughts and prayers to the Marquis family. But on the baseball side of things, his absence from the team leaves another spot open in the starting rotation.

There are three pitchers who could be asked to fill the void left by Baker and Marquis. Liam Hendriks, Anthony Swarzak, and Matt Maloney are all being stretched out so they can be ready to step into the starting rotation if they are called upon. Hendriks and Swarzak were both part of the starting rotation at the end of the miserable 2011 season and Maloney is a new member of the Twins organization. Here is a brief look at each of these players and what each of their chances are to be in the rotation by Opening Day.

Liam Hendriks
2011 Season: 6.17 ERA, 23.1 IP, 16 K, 6 BB, 1.500 WHIP, 4 games
2012 Spring: 2.40 ERA, 15.0 IP,  12 K, 5 BB, 1.200 WHIP, 6 games
As the reigning Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year, the team was going to take a long look at Hendriks before deciding where he should start the year in 2012. He started last year in Double-A and he put up some impressive numbers on his way to making his debut for the Twins. During the 2011 season, he made only nine starts at Rochester for a total of 49.1 innings. This means there was a good chance the team wanted him to get in some more time at Triple-A before he was needed with the big league squad. He might be the most likely player to step into the starting rotation because he was the only one out of the three that was in line to begin the season as a starter. He is already able to throw 75 or 80 pitches in a game and that number could be higher by the time the Twins break camp. 

Anthony Swarzak
2011 Season: 4.32 ERA, 102.0 IP, 55 K, 26 BB, 1.343 WHIP, 27 games
2012 Spring: 3.86 ERA, 9.1 IP, 6 K, 4 BB, 1.393 WHIP, 5 games
The Twins asked Swarzak to fill quite a variety of roles last season from late inning relief pitcher to long man out of the bullpen and even a starter here or there along the way. He seemed to adjust well to his varying role on the team and he pitched a near-no hitter on May 28 versus the Angels by allowing one hit over the course of eight innings. Swarzak was in position to make the 25-man roster as a relief option but that role might have to be adjusted in the next week and a half. Until the Twins get some of their other starters back on the field, Swarzak could be asked to go back to his role as fill-in starter. On Tuesday afternoon, Swarzak pitched 3 2/3 innings without allowing a hit against the Orioles. In the game he was able to throw 59 pitches so it is most likely that he would need a little more time to be fully stretched out.

Matt Maloney
2011 Season: 9.16 ERA, 18.2 IP, 13 K, 4 BB, 2.143 WHIP, 8 games
2012 Spring: 0.00 ERA, 11.1 IP, 14 K, 3 BB, 0.705 WHIP, 7 games
Maloney has put on one of the top performances so far in the spring for the Twins. His spring stat line looks unbelievable but it is hard to judge a player off of such a small sample size. Maloney's time in the majors last year with the Reds was not very productive so the Twins hoped a change of scenery would bring out the best in him. He spent most of the last four seasons stuck at the Triple-A level with a total of 80 innings pitched in the big leagues. For most of his career, he has been used as a starter and the Twins were trying to get him to be more comfortable as a relief pitcher. He may need to revert back to his old role of starter before the season begins so the Twins can have a full starting rotation. Maloney will take his perfect ERA to the mound on Thursday as he is scheduled to start the Twins contest against the Pirates.

The lucky thing for the Twins is they have an off day worked into the early portion of their schedule so the team won't necessarily need a fifth starter for the first time through the rotation. In the grand scheme of things, the team will be able to survive with the likes of Hendriks, Swarzak, and Maloney as replacement players. The concern could be if these players are forced to take on a more permanent role in the rotation for a big chunk of the 2012 campaign.

No comments: