Ron Gardenhire made it official yesterday: Brian Duensing is a starter.
Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano have to be considered rotation locks, but it seemed as though the manager might use spring training performance to determine which of the remaining four would be awarded starting jobs.
Not so for Duensing. Apparently, in Gardenhire's mind, the left-hander earned the billing through his performance last year, when he went 7-2 with a 3.08 ERA after joining the rotation in July.
That performance, combined with his excellent work after stepping into the rotation late in the 2009 season, has convinced many people -- including Gardy -- that Duensing is the team's third-best starter. And, looking only at his ERA and win/loss record from the past two years, that certainly seems to be the case.
Unfortunately, for anyone looking past those categories, it's tough to see him sustaining the kind of success he had last year in a starting role. Duensing doesn't have the stuff to throw past hitters -- evidenced by his 5.5 career K/9 rate -- and as his .275 BABIP from last year inevitably begins to normalize his other numbers will see regression, perhaps drastically so. It seemed as though his luck started to catch up with him late in the season, when he gave up 19 runs on 35 hits in 27 innings over his final five starts, including a playoff dud against the Yankees (though one could make the case that he simply wore down).
To be sure, Duensing is a solid pitcher with admirable poise and there's no reason he can't be a fine back-of-the-rotation arm, but guaranteeing him a starting job also minimizes his greatest and most sustainable asset, which is domination of same-sided batters. Duensing held lefties to an anemic .162/.217/.239 hitting line last year, and showed similar proficiency against them in the previous season.
As a reliever, he would provide the Twins with an established commodity in a bullpen that lacks many. He'd be able to fully utilize his dominance against lefty swingers rather than facing starting lineups stacked with righties. And, should one of the five other starters get injured or fail to cut it, he'd be available to step into the rotation, as he's done successfully in each of the past two seasons.
Instead, assuming everyone stays healthy, the Twins will opt to either potentially weaken the bullpen by asking Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey or Nick Blackburn to pitch in relief -- something none of them have experience doing -- or weaken their starting pitching depth by trading one of those three.
It's frustrating. Not so much that Gardenhire has reached a decision I disagree with, but more so that -- on March 3rd -- his mind is apparently already made up.