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Slowey making the right strides

Slowey making the right strides

JUPITER, Fla. -- In what has become a pretty tight battle between a few pitchers for the final spot in the Twins' rotation, every outing could be considered critical.

That was perhaps the case for right-hander Kevin Slowey in his start against the Marlins on Monday.

Following two disappointing outings to start the spring, Slowey, who had once been considered to be a front-runner for the fifth spot, entered the day with the need to prove that he's not falling behind in the race just yet.

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Slowey took a step in the right direction Monday, pitching three scoreless innings in a 4-2 victory over the Marlins. The right-hander allowed six hits and struck out three, while not issuing a walk in his outing.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire deemed Slowey's outing "better," but hesitated to say that he's back to form just yet.

"It's a confidence thing with him," Gardenhire said. "He's got good stuff. He's just got to quit overthrowing the ball and use [all of his pitches] and trust them all."

It wasn't a completely smooth outing against Florida for the right-hander. Slowey found his way out of a few jams, including a one-out, bases-loaded situation in the third inning. The jam wasn't entirely Slowey's fault as two bunts led to the first two hits. The second of which Slowey fielded and appeared to have an out at first, only to find that he had no one to throw to at first base.

Slowey still managed to get out of the inning unscathed as the next batter, Marlins left fielder Josh Willingham, lined into a double play.

"I felt a lot better today," Slowey said. "Obviously, a line-drive double play isn't exactly how you draw it up. But I was throwing strikes and keeping the ball down a lot better today. Overall, I just felt better out on the mound."

In his first two outings of the spring, Slowey gave up a total of six earned runs on nine hits over just 3 2/3 innings. The coaching staff felt the problems were due to the pitcher's inability to mix in all of his pitches and perhaps focusing a little too much on the rotation battle.

"I said to him the other day, 'You're worried about that outcome, that fifth spot. Work on the process and it will take care of itself,'" pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "Right now, he's overlooking the process it takes to get there and just thinking about [the spot]."

Anderson said Monday that many of Slowey's problems are the same the pitcher had during his first callup to the Twins last season. Relying mostly on his fastball instead of his other pitches, Slowey posted a 5.84 ERA in seven appearances before being sent back to Triple-A Rochester just before the All-Star break.

But when Slowey rejoined the Twins in September, he demonstrated to the coaching staff that he had heeded their advice on trying to mix in all of his pitches. It allowed him to go 1-1 with a 3.34 ERA in his final six appearances.

Anderson said he's just waiting to see that form again.

"He's not there yet," Anderson said of the pitcher they saw in September. "He was able to slow the ball down, and throw the ball downhill. And now he's not slowing it down as well, but he will. He's smart enough to figure it out."

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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