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Silva has something to prove in' 07

Silva has something to prove this season

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Carlos Silva's face lit up when he saw Rondell White walk into the clubhouse at Hammond Stadium on Monday morning.

There was something Silva had been waiting to say to his teammate for quite some time, and now that opportunity had finally come.

"It's '07 now, that season is gone!" Silva said as he hugged White, who grinned from ear to ear.

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No one may have better understood the feeling of starting a new year better than the two players who spent much of '06 struggling. Despite all of the team's success, the season was difficult for both Silva and White.

And no one seemed to take that harder than Silva.

"Sometimes last year I was so negative about the season because it was frustrating," Silva said. "But this year, all of that ends."

Building back confidence is something that Silva has had on his mind since the Twins were knocked out of the playoffs last season. Coming off a successful year in 2005, when he went 9-8 with a 3.44 ERA, Silva entered last season with plenty of expectations. The problem was that almost immediately, those hopes were dashed. After five starts in April, Silva had amassed a 10.31 ERA.

Gone was the trademark sinker that had made Silva such a successful groundball pitcher. Gone too was the aggressiveness on the mound that the Twins had become so used to seeing from their workhorse.

The rough start was enough to make the Twins demote Silva to the bullpen for three weeks in May. But things didn't immediately improve upon his return to the rotation. Silva still couldn't seem to find his sinker and was well on his way to giving up a Major League-leading 38 home runs.

And even when things did go right, Silva seemed to lack the confidence to complete a turnaround. In a September start against the Devil Rays, Silva threw six shutout innings but asked to be taken out of the game with a 2-0 lead, due to an upset stomach. He apologized to his teammates after that contest, but it seemed the breaking point in a year gone terribly wrong -- a season that finished with an 11-15 record and a 5.94 ERA.

Still, instead of dwelling on the past, Silva has turned last season into a lesson for himself. Thanks to his teammates, the pitcher is trying to change his outlook on what happened in '06.

"Some people tell me that was a good year and the only thing I could do was laugh," Silva said. "But they say that it's a good year because you can learn a lot of stuff, especially from the bad games and from the frustration. And it's true, I learned a lot."

Excuses aren't something that the right-hander likes to throw around readily, but Silva thinks his progress was slowed before last season even began. Mostly, he feels it was due to his participation in the World Baseball Classic.

"It was exciting to be there, but it was like, I pitched one day and then waited for like six more days to pitch again," Silva said. "That was the only work I did and in Spring Training, it's all about preparation -- batting practice, your bullpens. It's like a routine. I've been doing that every year, and it's not that I have a great season every time, but nothing like the problems last year."

With the loss of starters Brad Radke and Francisco Liriano, there is the perception that the Twins' rotation is pretty much an open race after ace Johan Santana. Silva, 27, has put pressure on himself to earn that No. 2 spot, and it's clear the Twins are expecting a lot out of him, too.

"I know a lot of people in Minnesota gave up on him," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson added. "We didn't here, but I heard plenty of people this winter saying that. We saw at times that he had it and now it's just about being consistent. The last thing he said when he left after the playoffs was, 'You watch, I'm going to show everyone next year.' And I think he can."

The offseason has brought many changes for Silva. He got engaged right after the season ended. And when the Twins made the decision to pick up his $4.35 million option, Silva immediately got a huge confidence boost and began working hard to fix his troubles from last year. That included losing some weight working out, and in the process discovering that maybe he had hindered his own progress.

"I've been working hard on my mechanics, but it's more mental," Silva said. "If you stay positive and say, 'Yes, I can do this and I can do that,' then you're going to do it."

Silva feels he's already on the right path to correcting some of the troubles. While working with a trainer this offseason, Silva said the trainer noticed he was favoring his left knee. Silva had undergone surgery to fix a torn meniscus in his right knee following the '05 season and while it may have been subconscious, Silva feels like he was overly cautious with that knee all of last year.

"I was so scared to push on it and be aggressive," Silva said. "And hopefully now I can do that and maybe it will be the answer to getting my sinker back."

For Silva, finding his sinker is important, but regaining the confidence to be the No. 2 pitcher behind Santana seems like the biggest task at hand.

"Carlos is one of the guys we're counting on," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We need him to step up. And he expects it along with us."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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