Twins’ rotation has changed, but is it better?

This is the first in a five-part series previewing the Minnesota Twins by position heading into spring training, which starts Tuesday with pitchers and catchers reporting.
 
Friday: Starting pitchers 
Saturday: Relief pitchers 
Sunday: Catchers
Monday: Infielders
Tuesday: Outfielders
 
ON THE ROSTER (alphabetical order): Kevin Correia (12-11, 4.21 ERA), Cole De Vries (5-5, 4.11 ERA), Scott Diamond (12-9, 3.54 ERA), Kyle Gibson (0-2, 9.45 ERA at Triple-A Rochester), Liam Hendriks (1-8, 5.59 ERA), Mike Pelfrey (0-0, 2.29 ERA), Vance Worley (6-9, 4.20 ERA)
 
OFFSEASON CHANGES: Acquiring starting pitching was the Twins’ first, second and third priority this offseason after Minnesota had the worst rotation in the American League in 2012. The Twins’ starters posted a combined ERA of 5.40; only Colorado’s 5.81 ERA was worse. Knowing that, general manager Terry Ryan made it his mission to add starting pitchers to the roster, and he did just that.
 
The Twins signed a pair of free agents in Correia and Pelfrey and also traded outfielder Ben Revere to Philadelphia in exchange for Worley and pitching prospect Trevor May. All three of those veteran pitchers will be making the move to the American League for the first time in their careers.
 
Pelfrey, 29, missed most of 2012 after having Tommy John surgery early in the season. He appeared in just three games with the Mets last year before injuring his elbow. Pelfrey’s best season was back in 2010, when he went 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA for New York. Correia, 32, spent the last two years in Pittsburgh and has played for three different teams in his 10-year MLB career. He’s won 12 games three times in the past four seasons. And the 25-year-old Worley spent three years with the Phillies, finishing third in 2011 National League Rookie of the Year voting, when he went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA.
 
The Twins are hoping those three can help bolster a pitching staff that gave up the second-most runs in the AL in 2012. Part of the problem with the rotation last year was injuries, as Minnesota’s pitchers couldn’t stay healthy. Veteran Carl Pavano dealt with a shoulder injury that limited him to just 11 starts. P.J. Walters, who began the year in the minors, pitched well at times in the majors but was shelved in June with a shoulder injury and didn’t pitch again until early September when he made five relief appearances. Right-hander Scott Baker never threw a pitch in 2012 after having Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Nick Blackburn also spent time on the disabled list and made just 19 starts.
 
Because of the plethora of injuries to the rotation, Minnesota was forced to call up several young pitchers from Triple-A Rochester. A few of the Twins’ young arms were able to put together some impressive starts, but the rotation struggled as a whole from start to finish.
 
STARTER SPOTLIGHT: All three of the Twins’ new additions figure to be in the rotation. They’ll join Diamond, who was Minnesota’s most consistent starter a year ago. The 26-year-old left-hander went 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 27 starts for the Twins as the team’s only pitcher with more than six wins. Diamond exhibited great control, walking 1.6 batters per nine innings while striking out 4.7 per nine. 
 
The important thing for Minnesota’s starters will be to get deeper into games than they did a year ago. Too frequently, Twins pitchers were knocked out of the game after just four or five innings, putting a strain on the overworked bullpen. Pelfrey has had two 200-inning seasons in his career, but that probably won’t happen  coming off Tommy John surgery. Worley, meanwhile, pitched about 130 innings in each of the last two seasons, while Correia’s highest innings total in his 10-year career was 198 back in 2009. Combined between the majors and minors, Diamond surpassed 200 innings in 2012. That 200-inning mark is something many pitchers strive for, as it’s a sign of a healthy and, at the very least, a somewhat consistent season. It should certainly be a goal for the Twins’ starters in 2013. 
 
SPRING TRAINING QUESTION: Who will win the fifth starting spot? It appears four out of the five spots in the rotation are set heading into spring. That means all eyes will be on who wins the last spot. The Twins have a few candidates who pitched in the majors last year in De Vries, Hendriks and Samuel Deduno, who is not currently on the 40-man roster after being assigned outright to Triple-A Rochester in November. 
 
De Vries, a Minnesota native and former Golden Gopher, made his big league debut last season and went 5-5 with a 4.11 ERA and a rather impressive 1.21 WHIP in 17 games (16 starts). Hendriks had success in the minor leagues but failed to carry that success to the majors, as he went 1-8 with a 5.59 ERA in 16 starts despite going 9-3 with a 2.20 ERA in Rochester. And Deduno exhibited perhaps the best “stuff” of those three, although his control was an issue — which was evident by his six walks per nine innings, highest on the Twins in 2012.
 
One other candidate for that fifth spot — and perhaps the front-runner — is Gibson, Minnesota’s first-round pick in 2009. He missed most of last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. But Gibson pitched in the Arizona Fall League this offseason and seems to have proven that he’s fully healthy. He almost certainly would have pitched in the majors at some point last season if he hadn’t injured his elbow. This will be a big spring for him as he competes with several others for that final spot in the rotation.
 
MANAGER RON GARDENHIRE SAYS: “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. Moving (Denard) 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. We did that, but we also made some free-agent signings and some people that know how to pitch. All we ask is that you get us deep into the game. 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.”

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