Last year, Brian Duensing stepped into a ravaged Twins rotation in late August and performed admirably down the stretch, going 5-1 with a 2.64 ERA in eight starts and helping the Twins surge for a division title.
This year, he'll look to pull off a similar feat.
Nick Blackburn was demoted to the bullpen earlier this week after getting shelled yet again, so Duensing -- who has been serving in a relief role all season -- will once again get an opportunity to step into the rotation during the final months of the season. It's not realistic to expect Duensing to maintain the 1.67 ERA he has accumulated largely through situation-based relief appearances (his vulnerability against righties will be more exposed, for instance) and it's probably not realistic to expect him to repeat the 2.64 ERA from his rotation stint a year ago, but all the Twins need from Duensing is better performance than they were getting from Blackburn, and that shouldn't be difficult to achieve.
Tonight, Duensing makes his first start of the season in Baltimore. He won't have the luxury of pitching in spacious Target Field, where nearly every Twins starter has performed far better than on the road, and a strict pitch count limit will likely prevent him from being able to go past the fifth inning or so, but Duensing does have a few things going for him as he makes his transition to the rotation.
1) The Twins are hot. They've shut out their opponent in each of the past two games, so Duensing won't feel pressure to step in and stop the bleeding as he might have if he were starting in the wake of a Scott Baker or Kevin Slowey meltdown.
2) The Orioles suck. They're in last place at 30-65 -- a whopping 30.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. They rank second-to-last in the American League in both runs scored and team OPS, ahead of only the dreadful Mariners offense.
3) The Orioles especially suck against left-handed pitchers. They've hit just .251/.308/.360 against port-siders, with only 17 of their 81 homers coming against them.
It's a great situation for Duensing to step into. Let's hope he can take advantage and keep the run of strong pitching going for this team.