Hendriks and Swarzak will fight for fifth spot
MINNEAPOLIS — Twins right-hander Liam Hendriks said he was "bummed out" when he learned that teammate Scott Baker would miss the 2012 season due to elbow surgery. But Hendriks also realizes the potential ramifications Baker's injury might have for him personally.
With Baker sidelined for the year, Minnesota will need to find another starting pitcher to fill his spot in the rotation. There's a good chance it could be Hendriks, who missed his first start of the season in Baltimore due to food poisoning but will start Sunday against the visiting Texas Rangers.
"It's definitely a huge opportunity for me. I'm looking forward to it," Hendriks said. "(When) I start on Sunday, I'm really looking forward to my first start of the year. We'll see how it all plays out, but I'm just going to go out there and do my thing and we'll see how it goes."
Hendriks' first start of the season could be an audition of sorts, as he and fellow right-hander Anthony Swarzak are Minnesota's two best options for Baker's replacement in the rotation. Both have spent at least a little time in the majors with the Twins, although Swarzak has made more career starts (24) than Hendriks (four).
Swarzak also has experience in Minnesota's bullpen, as 16 of his career appearances in the majors have come in relief. As a reliever, Swarzak's ERA is 3.99 in 38 1/3 innings. As a starter, his ERA jumps to 5.22 in 127 2/3 innings of work.
The 26-year-old Swarzak will start Friday against the Rangers, but he said he'll be happy with whatever role he ends up in once the Twins' rotation picture becomes clear.
"I'm just trying to keep the same approach that I've kept since spring training, and that's getting myself ready to get outs, whether it's in the first inning or the third inning or the sixth inning, whatever it is," Swarzak said. "I've been working really hard on being a professional every day. This is when it comes into play. Opportunities like this come along every once in a while. Hopefully I'll get a chance to run with it."
The Twins' starting rotation has been in flux since before the season started. Offseason acquisition Jason Marquis is currently pitching in Double-A New Britain as he builds up his arm strength after missing time this spring to be home with his injured daughter. When he returns to Minnesota — which should be soon — he'll join Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano in the rotation.
Who eventually joins those four in Minnesota's rotation remains to be seen. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire wouldn't tip his hand when asked about it Thursday. He did reiterate that starter-turned-reliever Brian Duensing will remain in the bullpen, but said Swarzak and Hendriks are both in the mix.
"Baseball is competition," Gardenhire said. "It depends on our days off and those things. That's what we kind of led to. We're getting close. We're getting in a stretch where we play a few ballgames in a row where you need the five. So we're real close."
Hendriks, 23, made his big league debut last year as a September call-up and was 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA in four starts. But he has been touted as one of Minnesota's top prospects.
In 68 career appearances in the minor leagues since 2007, Hendriks has pitched in relief just twice — once in 2010, once in 2011. If he doesn't earn the spot as Minnesota's fifth starter, there would be a better chance he'd be sent back to start at Triple-A Rochester rather than move to the Twins' bullpen.
With Marquis due back soon, the upcoming starts for Swarzak and Hendriks in the next few days could determine which of the two right-handers ends up in Minnesota's rotation.
No pressure, of course.
"I'm not too bad with pressure. I'm not too bad with all that sort of stuff," Hendriks said. "It's more about just preparing myself physically and keeping not my nerves in check but keeping my emotions in check on the mound. I got away from that a little bit in my last start of spring training. I've just got to keep working hard. Now it's working hard to stay up here for as long as possible."
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