If you haven’t heard, Nick Blackburn is struggling. Like, he’s been mind-numbingly bad. His troubles have been so bad that people have been calling for Brian Duensing to be flip-flopped with him. Even though Duensing has not been stretched out enough to pitch more than just a couple innings, Twins fans have been making rationales as to why this switch must be made. The best way to sum those up would be:
“Even if Duensing threw only three innings, those would be better than if Blackburn threw, period.”
Here’s an issue that I believe a lot of people have ignored, though. Let’s say Duensing doesn’t get stretched out, so he’s only able to throw 2-3 innings, maybe about 50 pitches. Then who is your long reliever? Maybe Alex Burnett, but he could probably only go another 3 innings. That would still leave 2-3 innings (depending if the Twins are home or away and if you they are winning or losing) to the remainder of the bullpen. This plan is just begging to overwork the relief corps. If the next day’s starting pitcher doesn’t pitch well either, then your bullpen is definitely overworked. It would be a great way to destroy your pitching staff.
Another option would be to use Blackburn as the long reliever, which is the most likely scenario. But wait, the whole reason for putting Duensing into the rotation was to prevent giving innings to Blackburn. Until Duensing is capable of pitching 5+ innings consistently, the plan would have switched from
a) Blackburn starts, pitches poorly, use variable relievers to finish game.
b) Duensing starts, pitches a handful of innings, bring in Blackburn, potentially pitches poorly, use variable relievers to finish game.
Basically, b) sounds like a), but with one more reliever and a different order of steps. If you remember when Homer Simpson changed his name, the mysterious, unidentified c) is the right way, b) is the wrong way, and a) is the Max Power way.
Lisa: “Isn’t that the wrong way?”
Homer: “Yes, but faster!”
So what is this c) that I’m talking about? Well, this isn’t a serious idea, but it’s one to ponder. The talk is for Brian Duensing to get moved to the rotation, but Alex Burnett is better prepared to start than Duensing (i.e. more stretched out).
There have been plenty of trade talks for Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, etc. but the title of this post already hinted that I’m focusing on in-house options. My suggestions here are going to focus on the premise that Nick Blackburn was sent down to Triple-A Rochester. Who comes up from the minors to replace him? Here are the starting pitchers from Triple-A.
First, the guys that are on the 40-man roster.
3-5, 5.11 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 7.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 1.59 WHIP
1-6, 6.84 ERA, 5.33 FIP, 4.96 K/9, 3.08 BB/9, 1.37 HR/9, 1.67 WHIP
3-8, 6.98 ERA, 4.79 FIP, 7.19 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 1.46 HR/9, 1.66 WHIP
Second, the guys that are not on the 40-man roster.
4-7, 4.44 ERA, 4.65 FIP, 8.18 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, 1.40 HR/9, 1.42 WHIP
4-7, 4.70 ERA, 4.90 FIP, 5.68 K/9, 2.51 BB/9, 1.42 HR/9, 1.45 WHIP
Note: Mike Maroth and knuckleballer Charlie Zink are both on the 7-day DL. Neither has pitched much this season, which suggests that both pitchers have fairly serious injuries this year. They both have also had major league experience, though if you remember, Maroth is the guy that has 21 losses in the 2003 season for the 43-119 Tigers, and Zink hasn’t had much success, either.
Unfortunately for the Twins, the pitching staff of the Rochester Red Wings has been horrible this year. The only two pitchers that are deserving of a call-up, regardless of role, are Kyle Waldrop and Anthony Slama. Matt Fox has the best ERA of all the Red Wings starters, so that gives you an idea of how bad their rotation has been this year.
If I had a choice, I would take Jeff Manship to replace Nick Blackburn in the Twins rotation. Although the ERA and WHIP aren’t pretty, his 3.90 FIP suggests that he’s just been having an unlucky season, and he has pitched well for the Twins in limited duty this year.
Down at Double-A New Britain, there is only one starting pitcher that is currently on the 40-man roster.
2-4, 3.44 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 6.22 K/9, 2.65 BB/9, 0.66 HR/9, 1.25 WHIP
Guerra sure looks like a guy deserving of a promotion to at least Triple-A. He did receive a promotion earlier in the year, but didn’t pitch well for Rochester, putting up an ERA above 6. Jumping him straight up to the majors probably wouldn’t be the best idea. With how young he is (21 years old), there’s no good reason to rush him up to Minnesota, even if Twins fans still want some justification for trading Johan Santana to the Mets. By the way, Kyle Gibson and Carlos Gutierrez are pitching decently at Double-A, but not well enough to warrant a promotion for either pitcher, so don’t consider throwing them into the discussion.
To summarize everything you’ve just seen, it’s pretty clear that there’s not really a good reason to send Nick Blackburn to the minors. In the short term, using Brian Duensing would likely be an improvement over Blackburn, but in the long run it would overwork the bullpen, which eventually would hurt the team worse than if Blackburn remained in the rotation. If Jeff Manship was called up to replace him, it would most likely be an improvement, even with some regression from Manship. I doubt the Twins want to send Blackburn to Rochester, though. It almost seems that if we want to see an improvement made to the rotation, it’s going to happen from outside the organization.
Let the speculation continue.