After coughing up seven runs on nine hits while recording just six outs against one of the league's worst teams last night, Brian Duensing now owns a 5.12 ERA on the season, including 7.42 since the All-Star break. Right-handed hitters, who were slugging .546 against Duensing entering the contest (a mark that would rank 11th in all of baseball for a hitter), ripped five more extra-base hits against him in the disastrous outing.
The Twins are asking for trouble if they're figuring Duensing into their future plans as a starter at this point. The problem is, the same can be said about nearly every member of their rotation.
Nick Blackburn may have dodged a bullet with his latest arm injury, but his deteriorating command and his 6.32 ERA since the start of July must have the team wondering how much they can rely on him, especially after a substandard 2010 campaign.
Francisco Liriano owns a 4.85 ERA this season and hasn't been able to settle into a prolonged groove. Carl Pavano has allowed the most hits in baseball.
All of these starters are under team control for next year, but with the way things have played out this summer, can any of them be counted on to be even quality mid-rotation options for a contender?
Kyle Gibson, whom the club almost surely had in their plans for next year, may end up needing Tommy John surgery, which would put him on the shelf until 2013.
Scott Baker, the only Twins hurler whose performance has been good enough that you could feel comfortable penciling him into next year's starting five, continues to battle elbow problems that have plagued him since last year, raising long-term doubts about the durability of his arm.
The wide array of issues circling the Twins' rotation creates plenty of questions, but also makes three things crystal clear as we look ahead to next year:
1. Kevin Slowey must be retained.
I'm sure the Twins would like nothing more than to part ways with the embattled righty, but right now that doesn't look like a luxury they can afford. Entering his final year of arbitration, Slowey will likely cost only half what a starting pitcher of comparable ability would command on the open market. He's necessary depth.
2. Liriano also must be kept.
Liriano is making $4.3 million this year and will get a raise in arbitration. Are the Twins willing to pay that price for a pitcher coming off such a tumultuous year? Undoubtedly they'll be listening to offers for Liriano this winter, but in their position they'd be wise to hang onto the frustrating southpaw and hope for the best. He's the most talented starting pitcher they have, and you bet on talent above all else.
3. Seek a starter with some upside who can miss bats.
Even if Baker is healthy entering next season, you're counting on the reliably unreliable Liriano and a bunch of a extremely hittable strike-throwers to comprise the rest of your rotation. That's just not a recipe for conquering the Yankees or Red Sox in the playoffs. The Twins need to identify a pitcher who has demonstrated the ability to dominate. The list of pending free agents includes Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Chris Young and Rich Harden. Maybe you get brave and take a shot at Wandy Rodriguez. Take a risk, and break the mold. After a season like this, the status quo is not acceptable.