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Twins undecided on fifth member of rotation

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Twins undecided on fifth member of rotation
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Minnesota Twins upgraded their pitching staff for the 2014 season with the additions of right-handers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, but as spring training begins to wind down, the question of who will become the team’s fifth starter was still unanswered.


That appears to be changing.

When Nolasco and Hughes signed on with the Twins, they immediately jumped to the top of the staff. They have performed this spring and have justified that jump.

Nolasco was named the opening day starter against the Chicago White on March 31, which happened before his second-to-last start of the spring on March 21, when he threw 44 pitches in the first inning and gave up seven runs on six hits.

That means that right-handers Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey (who re-signed as a free agent) moved down in the rotation from last year to Nos. 3 and 4, respectively.

The fifth starter, however, has been a battle and is not yet known.

The contenders for that spot include right-handers Samuel Deduno, Vance Worley, Kyle Gibson and left-hander Scott Diamond.

All three pitched for the Twins in 2013 with limited results. Deduno had the best season of the four but is coming off of shoulder injury he suffered last season.

“We hope they all pitch really well and make it really, really hard to make our decisions,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Early in the spring, it seemed that Deduno had done so and held the inside track for the job. He has a 2.19 ERA in 12 innings, which are the best numbers of the four players competing for the job.

That is despite a March 19 outing in which he gave up two runs on two hits with two walks (and three strikeouts) in two innings against the Cardinals.

The Twins would like to add a left-hander to their right-handed heavy rotation, but Diamond has struggled this spring. He has pitched 14 innings in five games and has 5.79 ERA.

On March 20, he made his strongest statement for the job yet, pitching four scoreless innings, but couldn’t close the deal. In the fifth, Diamond walked the bases loaded and watched each runner score from the dugout in the Twins’ 5-4 loss to the Rays.

“In terms of what I’ve been doing, it’s definitely a good sign for me,” Diamond told the Star-Tribune. “Whether they see that, I really can’t make that decision.

“Ultimately, I want to stay here. I love these guys, I love playing with this organization, but if they don’t see it that way, I want to pitch in the major leagues. I’m a major league pitcher, I’m not a minor league pitcher.”

Worley, who pitched the season opener in 2013, was sent down later in the year and has not shown much in spring training this season. He has a 13.50 ERA in 10.2 innings and pitched himself out of the competition. He was waived on March 21, according to CBS Sports.

The youngster in the bunch is Gibson, who was called up in 2013 and had flashes of success. He has pitched well this spring, and in his last outing on March 19 against the Cardinals, Gibson gave up one run on four hits in 4 1/3 innings.

That run came on a solo homer given up to Matt Adams.

“I shook off (catcher Josmil) Pinto on the last pitch to Adams,” Gibson said. “He wanted a fastball away and I wanted to go slider down, and I should have just went with what he had called.”

Still, Gibson is beginning to look like he could earn the starting job. While no official announcement had been made, the Twins set up the rotation for the final week of spring training and Gibson is the scheduled starter at home against Baltimore on March 25, which could put him line for the opening week.

Gibson, who has a 2.70 ERA this spring and has been impressive in his last two starts, may be separating himself.

There was some speculation that that Gibson could end up in the Twins’ bullpen, but if that is the case, Gibson’s manager wasn’t saying so.

“It could happen,” Gardenhire told the Pioneer Press. But he added that he hasn’t discussed the possibility with anyone yet. It is possible that Deduno, who is out of options, might end up in the bullpen.

The bottom line is that nothing has been announced yet, but the decision may have been made. Stay tuned as the Twins’ youth movement continues.

Notes, quotes

n RHP Ricky Nolasco, the anointed opening day starter, didn’t instill much confidence in his team or fans with his second-to-last start of the spring on March 21. In a loss to the Mets, Nolasco had a terrible start in which he threw 44 pitches in the first inning and gave up seven runs on six hits. He followed it up with two hitless innings, but he will need a better showing in his final tune-up to get Twins fans excited for the new pitching staff.

n CF Aaron Hicks had not separated himself from Alex Presley in the battle for center field and it was frustrating his assistant general manager Rob Antony on March 19. “Hicks hasn’t been anything special this spring,” Antony told the Star Tribune. “Neither has Presley. So there’s your center field battle.”

But Hicks’ bat might have responded when he went 5-for-6 in the following two games, including 4-for-4 against the Rays on March 20. That could be what Antony is looking for.

n SS Danny Santana, who was thought by some to have a chance to make the roster in the battle for shortstop, was sent down on March 16. Santana was optioned to Triple-A Rochester, but he vowed to return, “probably in a couple months,” according to the Pioneer Press. Santana said he had to work on the “routine play.”

n INF Jason Bartlett got his first hit of the spring on March 19. Battling for a utility spot, Bartlett has struggled at the plate. It was his first hit in 676 days because he missed last season because of injury, so it looks worse than it is. Bartlett followed up that hit by going 1-for-1 on March 20, but went 0-for 3 against the Mets on March 21. He is batting 2-for-31 (.065) this spring and is hoping it isn’t too little, too late.

n C Kurt Suzuki batted in the second spot in the batting order on March 20 against the Rays. He has batted there before when he was with Oakland with some success, and since the Twins are trying to find the top of their order, they have to look at every possibility.

“He had a .290 on-base last year; that in the two hole probably isn’t going to work,” general manager Rob Antony told the Star Tribune. “But he’s taken some good at-bats and shown some bat control in spring training, so that it’s a possibility. These are some things that (manager Ron Gardenhire) is going to have to look at.”

n DH Jason Kubel played his second game in right field this spring on March 21 against the Mets. He has been playing primarily as the designated hitter thus far.

“I’m going to DH mostly,” Kubel told the Pioneer Press. “DH takes some getting used to. I’d rather work that out now. It’s been good this way. My legs feel great.”

Kubel went 2-for-2 with a walk in three plate appearances against the Mets.

n SS Pedro Florimon returned to game action on March 18 after being out most of spring training recovering from an appendectomy. He has batted 1-for-8 in three games since his return, but has looked good in the field. Despite the lack of hit production so far, he is the incumbent in the position and hasn’t seen a real challenge for it, with Danny Santana being sent down and Jason Bartlett struggling at the plate.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I wish some guys would step up and earn a job. No one is really doing that.” — Assistant general manager Rob Antony, on the competition for roster spots.