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We are now only about 3 weeks away from the regular season, and many of the questions that Twins fans had going into Spring Training are still awaiting answers. We are moving towards them, but we just haven't reached them yet.
1: Who Starts? Scott Baker looks sharp, Boof Bonser looks light, and nimble, Livan Hernandez looks awful, and Francisco Liriano doesn't have much to show. Those are the first 4 starters in the Twins' rotation this year (barring a Liriano-injury that is). Hernandez will get his Ponson/Ortiz/Batista/Castro shot. That leaves one starting spot. The "leader in the clubhouse" going into this spring was Kevin Slowey. He has struggled giving up multiple runs in multiple outings. The other main candidates are Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins. Both Blackburn and Perkins have looked impressive early in the spring. Perkins had a rough relief outing in his first appearance, but has followed it up with two strong starts including a 3 IP, 2 H, 1 W, 3K performance against the Blue Jays. Blackburn has been lights out. He hasn’t given up a run this Spring and that includes a game against the Rays where the stats didn’t count, and Friday against the Red Sox when he pitched 2 1/3 IP and didn’t allow a hit.
My Take: I can’t even pick a favorite between Blackburn and Perkins. I think Slowey is out unless he really pitches phenomenal. Blackburn has done everything that the Twins asked of him during the offseason, but Perkins is left handed. One thing hurting Perkins is that he is coming off of an injury and was in the bullpen, so they could always use the “needs building arm-strength time.” If I had to pick right now, I say the 5th Starter is Nick Blackburn.
2. Who relieves: The closer is Joe Nathan, the other relievers that are in are Pat Neshek, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon, and Dennys Reyes. Ron Gardenhire has said that he will carry 12 pitchers. That leaves one spot in the bullpen. If Perkins doesn’t make the squad as a starter, and Gardy doesn’t feel he needs to start in AAA to build arm-strength, then he will be here. Otherwise, I see the Twins keeping a guy like Randy Kielser or Phillip Humber (who helps validate the Santana trade). Brandon Bass is also a possibility.
3. Who in CF: There are two candidates. Jason Pridie and Carlos Gomez. Okay... so there are 3 candidates if you include Denard Span, but he isn’t going to win the job. Pridie is a fundamentally sound player. He isn’t great at anything, but according to reports, he is pretty good at the tools needed to be a CF. Gomez on the other hand is a great quote (just go to any Star Tribune or Pioneer Press article), has tons of skills and is just unpolished. My Take: If I’m not mistaken, as is the case with the Rays 3B Evan Longoria, just 2 weeks in the minors to start the year will push back one year of Arbitration. If that is the case, I say start the season with Jason Pridie. The Twins must’ve seen something that they liked in him, because otherwise they wouldn’t have drafted him in the Rule V Draft and then traded for him this offseason.
4. The Bench: Nick Punto/Brendan Harris, Mike Redmond, Craig Monroe/Jason Kubel and one more. Who will be that one more player? Garrett Jones could be a candidate. He plays both Corner Outfield spots and 1B. He is also out of options and his power isn’t something that you want to lose. It could also be Brian Buscher. He bats lefthanded and plays 3B. They are trying to teach him 1B and he has been a quick study. They are both lefthanded. My Take: Take Jones. Buscher can come up if he is needed but Jones isn’t someone who you want to lose.