It’s taken nearly three months, but it appears as if the Twins’ starting rotation is finally settling into a groove.
Minnesota’s starting pitching got off to a bumpy start to open the 2014 season, despite the big free-agent signings of Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco. The Twins’ offense carried the club through the first month as the rotation struggled to find its footing.
As is the case with any baseball season, Minnesota’s offense has fluctuated throughout the year. Over the course of the last few weeks, though, the Twins’ starting pitching has been rock solid as the offense has faltered.
Now as the Twins begin their six-game road trip in Anaheim and Arlington, they’re feeling good about the way the rotation has pitched as of late.
"Our pitching, if it holds like this, we can hang with anybody," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "We’ve competed with just about every team now. We’ve seen just about every team. I like our chances. I like our chances to compete with all these guys. We have to go out and pitch. We know that. We have to get a little more consistent offensively, but there’s a lot of good things happening."
Over the last 12 games, Minnesota’s starters have posted a 2.86 ERA as the Twins have climbed closer to a .500 record. Eight of those 12 outings were quality starts, and the rotation held opposing teams to two runs or fewer in nine of those 12 games.
Oddly enough, the Twins’ rotation has turned things around despite two less-than-stellar starts from Hughes — Minnesota’s best starter this year — over his last four outings. The rotation’s resurgence has been led by right-hander Kyle Gibson, who has not allowed a run in each of his last three games, throwing seven scoreless innings each time.
Veteran right-hander Kevin Correia has been nearly as effective after a rough April and May. In his last three starts, Correia is 2-1 with a 1.00 ERA. He allowed a total of two earned runs in those outings, pitching six innings each. After surrendering just one run in six innings Saturday against the White Sox, Correia lowered his season ERA to 5.02. It was at 7.33 at the end of April and as high as 6.80 on May 14.
"I’ve been steadily doing a little better," Correia said. "I think the ball’s just kind of bouncing my way a little more than it had. I think I’m getting into less trouble, and when I do get into trouble I’m able to make maybe that one or two pitches that you need to get out of it giving up a run or two rather than three or four. That’s a huge difference."
Minnesota had the worst ERA of any starting rotation in baseball last year at 5.26. They held that dubious title at one point this season too, but the Twins’ starters have slowly started to climb out of the cellar in that category. After a four-game sweep of the White Sox, Minnesota’s rotation now has a collective 4.63 ERA. It’s not great, but it’s more than a half run lower than it was a season ago. And it’s currently better than four rotations in the majors, including American League Central foes Cleveland (4.66) and Chicago (4.75).
The hope is that this rotation will only continue to get better. The Twins invested a lot of money in Nolasco (four years, $49 million) and Hughes (three years, $24 million) this past winter. While Hughes has looked like a bargain at $8 million a year, Nolasco’s numbers haven’t quite lived up to his contract, which was the largest ever given to a free agent in Twins history. Nolasco’s 5.52 ERA in 15 starts is the highest of any Twins starter.
One big key for Minnesota’s rotation has been that four of the five starters have remained the same all year; Gibson, Correia, Hughes and Nolasco have all made at least 14 starts each. The only change has been what is now the No. 5 spot. Mike Pelfrey began the year in the rotation but was placed on the disabled list. Samuel Deduno took his spot as a starter but has since been moved back the bullpen. Now 30-year-old Yohan Pino has been given a shot to show what he can do in the rotation.
"Over the course of a season you’re going to have changes," said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. "Two weeks ago, somebody asked me when we were going to make a move on that starting rotation. I said, ‘Well, it has a way of correcting itself.’ And it has. We’ll see if we say the same thing in two weeks or a month. I don’t really gauge much until we get to about October to see what they do over 35 starts."
The Twins enter Tuesday’s game against the Angels in a tie for third place in the AL Central, five games behind first-place Detroit. While Minnesota will need its offense to get on a roll — they’re tied for the fewest runs scored in the division — the Twins will also be counting on the starting pitching to continue to perform at the level it has over the last two weeks.
"We didn’t get off to the greatest of starts as a staff. We knew we were a lot better than that, and we knew it was going to turn around," Correia said. "It was just a matter of sticking to it and going out there and keep giving it your all every start and we knew it would turn around, and it’s starting to."