Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Six in a row, Slowey looks to cure what ails the Twins

David Ortiz got credit for the game-winning hit again, tapping a slow dribbler toward first base that Phil Dumatrait failed to field because he tripped over his own feet attempting to get the out.  A fitting way for Minnesota to allow the go-ahead run to score, and an epitome of their season as a whole.  It was their sixth consecutive loss, and they still have one more game against Boston tonight.

That's a pretty swift fall from grace, as the Twins are now 14 games under .500.  After a middling road trip, the Minnesota Twins returned home and have completely fallen apart.  They suffered a demoralizing sweep at the hands of the White Sox, a team they've owned over the past few years, and followed that up with two losses to open their series with the Red Sox.  The starting pitching has been disastrous, with the only even decent start being Carl Pavano's from Sunday, when he went 8 innings and allowed two runs.  Unless, of course, you want to count Francisco Liriano's "quality start" yesterday, a game in which he walked a career-high seven batters.  He didn't even manage to throw half of his pitches for strikes, missing the zone on 56 of 109 pitches.  Somehow, though, he squeezed and squirmed through six innings, giving up only three runs.

Liriano has been just one of the Twins' many problems in the starting rotation.  In fact, with Scott Baker headed to the disabled list again, every piece of the rotation has become a problem.  Liriano can't throw strikes, as evidenced by his 5.09 BB/9 rate for the season.  The issue has been particularly acute of late: over his last seven starts, he's struck out only 1.16 batters for every walk and as a result has allowed opposing batters to get on base over 40% of the time.  And, oddly enough, Nick Blackburn has had the same problem.  Now, normally Blackburn allows hits like he's throwing the game, but his control and ability to limit walks makes him at least sort of effective.  All of a sudden, though, he can't do that either, as he's walked 11 batters over his last two starts.  Amazingly, in his last three starts, Blackburn has pitched 12.1 innings and given up 28 (28!) hits and 39 (39!) baserunners.  That's a problem if I've ever seen one.

Throw in Brian Duensing, whose struggles against right-handed hitters have seriously limited his effectiveness, and Carl Pavano, whose already-low strikeout rate has dropped to the worst in the majors this year, and the Twins have a rotation that ranks among the worst in the league, and certainly as one of the most hittable.  And, finally, with all that being true, Kevin Slowey gets his first starting opportunity only because the Twins' sole starter having a good season finds himself on the DL for the second time.

It's amazing that it's taken this long.  Obviously I don't know exactly what caused a seemingly enormous rift between the Minnesota organization, Ron Gardenhire in particular, and Slowey, but it's unfathomable that through all these struggles Slowey has yet to make a start this season.  Sure, Slowey figures to give up just as many hits as the other guys in the rotation, but his proven ability to maintain one of the lowest walk rates in the league makes him a superior option.  The guy is in his prime at age 27 and has a 4.43 ERA, a 4.21 FIP, and a 1.28 WHIP over 488 career innings--he should never have been demoted to the bullpen in the first place.  Those numbers may not look all that impressive, but they compare favorably with all of the pitchers currently in the rotation (with Baker injured).  Unlike the Minnesota organization, I am glad to Slowey returning to the big league club in a starting capacity.

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