Ron Gardenhire hopes a revamped pitching rotation can propel the Twins back into contention.
By TYLER MASONFS North
MINNEAPOLIS — Sure, it might be the heart of hockey season in the State of Hockey, especially with the NHL starting back up this week. But for Ron Gardenhire and the Minnesota Twins, this week also indicates a step closer to baseball season.
On Monday, Gardenhire and other Twins players and coaches began the annual Winter Caravan, a lead-up to TwinsFest later this month at the Metrodome. From there, it's only a matter of days before pitchers and catchers report to camp in Fort Myers, Fla.
"It kind of gets you really pumped up for it and you get excited to get down there and get going again," Gardenhire said. "We have a lot to prove and we have a lot to do."
Indeed, Minnesota will have plenty of work to do to rebound from back-to-back 90-loss seasons. The Twins stumbled to a 66-96 finish in 2012, mainly a result of having the American League's worst pitching rotation. Minnesota's starters had the highest ERA in the league and second worst in baseball behind Colorado.
In hopes to alleviate some of the pitching woes, the Twins added several veteran pitchers and a few more promising pitching prospects this offseason. To do so, though, they had to trade away a pair of center fielders in Denard Span and Ben Revere.
"We lost good players, but the only way to get good pitching is you're going to have to move some players to get it," Gardenhire said. "Moving Span and Revere was kind of a shocker for a lot of people. That's two pretty good center fielders, one that's established and one that was getting there. But you move them and get pitching, which we desperately needed"
Span was dealt to Washington in exchange for prospect Alex Meyer, while the Twins traded Revere to Philadelphia for Vance Worley and minor leaguer Trevor May. Additionally, Minnesota signed veteran free agents Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia. Those two, along with Worley, will be expected to help bolster a rotation that had a 5.40 ERA last year.
"All we ask is that you get us deep into the game," Gardenhire said of his starting pitchers. "We've got guys that can hit. We can score runs. We just needed to stay in the games a little bit longer. Hopefully that's what we've accomplished. We'll see."
The new faces in the rotation aren't the only changes the Twins made this offseason. Much of Gardenhire's coaching staff received a shake-up. The only coach to keep his title was pitching coach Rick Anderson. Several others were either let go or reassigned within the organization.
Minnesota hired former Twins player Tom Brunansky as the team's new hitting coach, Bobby Cuellar as bullpen coach and former Twins catcher Terry Steinbach as bench coach and catching instructor. Brunansky and Cuellar both worked for the Rochester Red Wings, Minnesota's Triple-A affiliate, last season as the hitting coach and pitching coach, respectively. Now they'll join Gardenhire's staff in the majors.
"I've known Bobby a long time, hard worker, will always be there if the players need him. Same with Steiny. Steiny's been there and done it.," Gardenhire said. "And then Brunansky's been with a lot of our players through the minor leagues. He's a great hitting coach, great guy, a very positive guy. He was destined to be a big league hitting coach. He's getting an opportunity now."
As Gardenhire hits the road among the various stops on the caravan, he'll likely be asked whether the Twins can still compete in 2013 while also building for the future. General manager Terry Ryan has said that he believes the Twins can still complete this year while also rebuilding.
Gardenhire echoed that sentiment Monday.
"In baseball, you're always developing. It's not any different this year whether it's young or veteran players. You're always teaching. It's a constant," he said. "So really, it doesn't change a lot. We're going to have some young pitchers that are developing during the course of the year. The best developing that you can do is put them out on a baseball field and let them learn by playing the game and being aggressive and all of those things. That's really how they're going to develop. We can talk all we want to, but it's game experience. That's what these guys need is game experience."