Twins hoping day to regroup resets pitching

Twins hoping day to regroup resets pitching

Twins hoping day to regroup resets pitching
MINNEAPOLIS -- When Twins general manager Terry Ryan announced on April 11 that Scott Baker would undergo season-ending elbow surgery, he said starting pitching hadn't been the problem for the club.

But that's certainly changed since then, as Minnesota's starting pitchers have combined to post a Major League-worst 7.09 ERA with just three quality starts in 19 games.

It's been a major reason why the Twins are just 5-14 on the year, as the offense has fared fine with the fifth-highest batting average in the American League, and the bullpen has posted a respectable 3.74 ERA despite logging the third-most innings in the AL.

Given that it's still early in the season, Minnesota doesn't want to hit the panic button just yet, but it's been a frustrating start for a team that wanted to get past last year's disappointing 99-loss season.

"We win as a team, we lose as a team," first baseman Justin Morneau said. "They've gone out there and thrown five, six innings and given up two runs and we scored one. Sometimes when you score early, it takes pressure off the pitching staff and allows them to not try and have to be perfect. We haven't done that.

"There's no finger pointing. We play together, and nobody's going to blame anyone. It's never pitchers against hitters. It's win together, lose together. Right now, if we need to win 3-2, we need to win 3-2. If we need to win 8-7, whatever it is, we need to score more runs than they do. That's the simplest way to put it. We can't say it's this guy's fault or that guy's fault."

But it's been a tough go for the starting pitchers, as Carl Pavano has the staff's best ERA at 4.73. Francisco Liriano has struggled so much, with an 11.02 ERA, that he had his last turn in the rotation skipped as a result. And Nick Blackburn (7.53 ERA), Jason Marquis (7.15 ERA) and Liam Hendriks (6.89 ERA) haven't fared much better.

"Right now, we're scuffling," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We gotta get better performances and more consistent performances, or else we'll kill our bullpen. So we've got a lot of work to do with these guys to get them on track. We need them to step up. I think they know that. Nobody knows that more than them."

So while starting pitching has been a major problem this season, the club has also had trouble hitting with runners in scoring position. They're hitting just .236 in those situations, while hitting .266 in all other scenarios.

As a result, despite having the fifth-highest batting average in the league, Minnesota ranks 11th in runs scored, with 71.

"It seems like we're always one big hit away," Ryan Doumit said. "We're going through a pretty tough patch right now. But I think our offense is good enough that we'll be able to turn this around."

The Twins, though, take some solace in the fact that they've battled back in several games, including Wednesday's 7-6 loss to the Red Sox. They trailed by six runs early in the game, and nearly rallied back for a victory, but instead suffered their fourth loss by one run.

"We're close," Trevor Plouffe said. "We're gelling as a team. There are times when we're together, and we're pretty tough to beat. I think one thing we need to do better is just hit better with runners in scoring position. We put ourselves in good situations and have opportunities, but lately, we haven't really been coming through. Teams that win games, they hit in those situations."

The Twins are also hoping that Thursday's off-day will help the team regroup after going 5-10 since their last day off, on April 10. Gardenhire said it gives the bullpen a much-needed day of rest, and that it hopefully helps the rest of players clear their heads before they host the struggling Royals in a three-game set that begins on Friday.

"It's nice to have a day off," Gardenhire said. "We played 15 in a row. There have been some good ballgames, and some tough losses, and some good wins in the middle of it, but not enough. A lot innings out there, so it's good to get a day off and hopefully regroup this weekend and play a better series."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.