Our friend Phil Mackey had a bunch of interesting news tidbits within his latest filing on the ESPN 1500 SportsWire (which you should have bookmarked by now). Most intriguing among these are reports that Jeff Manship seems to be in line to start tomorrow and that Pat Neshek may soon be demoted to Rochester.
Manship's start tomorrow would come in place of Nick Blackburn, who has left the team to deal with a family matter. Manship, who posted a 5.68 ERA over 11 appearances for the Twins last season, may seem like a solid fill-in option based on his 3.48 ERA in four starts for the Red Wings this year, but a deeper look reveals that he hasn't been on top of his game.
While he's done a decent job of keeping runs off the board, Manship has yielded a .316 batting average to Triple-A hitters thus far. He's also getting more outs through the air than on the ground and he's already surrendered four home runs in 20 2/3 innings. Those are bad signs for a guy whose trademark coming up through the minors has been keeping the ball on the ground.
The more suitable candidate to make a spot start for the Twins would be Brian Duensing, but he's not stretched out since he's been pitching out of the bullpen. This is the downside to having your sixth starter working in a relief role; when needed in a pinch, he's not available. The Twins will have to hope that Manship can remain steady and get the job done tomorrow.
I was a bit surprised to read that the club is leaning toward sending Neshek to the minors, given how solid he'd looked over his first handful of appearances, but the move would not be unmerited. Neshek's availability as of late has been limited due to a finger injury and he couldn't throw strikes in his most recent appearance. More worrisome is that his velocity has dropped noticeably; the right-hander is averaging just 86.8 MPH with his fastball and he's showing significantly less faith in the pitch than in the past, having thrown it just 34 percent of the time compared to 45 percent last year and 51 percent in 2007.
A drop in a velocity and an unwillingness to lean on the fastball aren't uncommon traits for a pitcher fresh off Tommy John surgery, but if Neshek isn't at full strength the Twins would be wise to swap him with someone who can be relied upon right now, given that Jesse Crain has looked terrible. Maybe the team will finally give Anthony Slama a look, as the righty has continued to dominate by posting a 1.26 ERA and 18-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding opponents to a .109 average over 14 1/3 innings in Rochester this year.