Silva's troubles may change race

Silva's troubles may change rotation race

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There's only one week left in Spring Training and the race for the Twins rotation is now down to six pitchers.

Following Saturday's 13-7 loss to the Pirates at Hammond Stadium, the Twins optioned left-hander Glen Perkins to Triple-A Rochester. The move leaves only six starters to compete for the five spots in the rotation: Johan Santana, Boof Bonser, Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Carlos Silva and Matt Garza.

But while the rotation had appeared set as recently as a few days ago, things changed quickly with a rough performance by Silva on Saturday. The right-hander struggled mightily, giving up nine runs on 11 hits over 3 1/3 innings and raised his overall ERA this spring to 11.02.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was clearly frustrated with Silva's performance and where it leaves the team, with regard to Silva's spot in the rotation.

"Silva didn't make any pitches," Gardenhire said after the loss. "He made a lot of bad pitches and just got beat all around. It's not the type of performance we're looking for, but all we can do is keep running him out there and see where we're at in the end of Spring Training and how we feel comfortable with who's going to be where. That's all we can do."

Silva has struggled to get his sinker going all spring. Though there have been glimpses of progress at times, nothing has seemed to guarantee that the pitcher has changed at all from the form he showed in '06, when he went 11-15 with a 5.94 ERA.

Earlier this week, the Twins tried to work on changing Silva's arm angle by dropping his arm slot a little lower. It should have given Silva a more natural movement to his sinker, and pitching coach Rick Anderson said that for the first few innings on Saturday, there was noticeable difference.

But after Silva got frustrated following a 1-2 pitch to Brad Eldred in the second inning that was called a ball when he felt it was a strike, things started to fall apart -- and fast.

With the count then 3-2, Silva delivered a mistake pitch that Eldred blasted high over the scoreboard in center field. The two-run homer was a towering shot that traveled close to 500 feet and left plenty of mouths agape.

But the Twins could have dealt with that mistake. It was Silva's debacle in the fourth inning, when things really got ugly, that cleared the way for a possible opening in the rotation for Garza.

That's because in the fourth, Silva gave up hits to seven of the eight batters he faced, allowing seven runs to score. It wasn't just the results that looked bad but the way Silva was getting hit around -- with hard-hit shots falling everywhere.

Those kinds of mistakes are something that clubs expect from young, inexperienced pitchers who didn't quite know how to stop the bleeding, but not from one of their seasoned veterans. And that likely was the reason for the skipper's high level of frustration.

"The fourth was junk," Gardenhire said. "It was just like he, I don't know, lost his concentration. I don't know what he did, but it wasn't good. He knows it, we know it, everybody knows it."

Gardenhire might have believed Silva knew what a poor inning the fourth was, but his pitcher appeared to have a different take on the situation. Citing the change in arm angle that he's working on, Silva feels he's on the right track.

"Those runs they score on me, those don't bother me at all," Silva said. "I feel good, I feel great. The only thing I've got to do is be a little more consistent, to keep my arm there in that spot.

"I'm ready. I'll be ready. We're here for Spring Training to get ready for the season, and I'll be ready."

The Twins are willing to give Silva at least one more shot to turn things around in his final start of the spring. But unlike a week ago, when Silva was considered to be a virtual lock for the rotation, that status has now come under serious question.

"If he continues and he doesn't get it right, we have to make an adjustment, obviously," Gardenhire said.

One thing that appears certain is that Silva won't be pitching in the No. 2 spot, as previously thought. Gardenhire said that over the week, the coaching staff will set up how the rotation will be ordered and right now, Silva is definitely not in line to be in the second spot.

"We can line that up any way we want to," Gardenhire said. "It looks to me like Boof Bonser should go No. 2 behind Santana, No. 1, so if we want to set it up like that, we can make that adjustment real quick. Andy and I are constantly talking."

The lone challenger remaining for Silva's spot is Garza, thanks to Perkins' departure. After pitching 2 2/3 innings Saturday and giving up one run on one hit, Perkins was sent down to join Rochester's rotation.

The reasoning for sending Perkins down was due to the club feeling he needed more seasoning before he was ready for a rotation spot.

"He had a very good Spring Training here," Gardenhire said. "I thought he threw the ball good, other than the one outing where he started and couldn't find his rhythm. Remember, he hasn't had a year in Triple-A ball. He hasn't been there. He came up and pitched very little at the end and then came up and pitched out of the bullpen for us. He's on a very good pace here. We think he'll be a very good pitcher for us."

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