Today is the (highly?) anticipated 2010 debut of Brian Duensing as a starting pitcher. His success as a starter in 2009 and as a reliever in 2010 has many fans feeling rather confident in his ability to revive a struggling Twins rotation. I’ve already admitted that I was wrong in thinking that the Twins would give Nick Blackburn’s rotation spot to Jeff Manship, but I’m still a bit shocked that they pulled Blackburn from the rotation so fast and immediately gave it to Duensing despite not being stretched out very much.
In Duensing’s previous outing, he pitched 4 innings in relief, using 47 pitches. In case you haven’t heard, it appears that the plan will be for Duensing to throw about 60-70 pitches in his start. Here’s what worries me. Duensing could either pitch very well, and go 5 innings with those 60-70 pitches, or he could struggle and end up only throwing 3 innings. Most likely, he’ll end up with something in between. However, this means that the Twins will have two options to replace Duensing: To use or not use Nick Blackburn?
I already used a little humor when I discussed the possible replacements for Blackburn in the rotation, and more specifically, I said this:
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!”
My beef with the rapid switch to Duensing is that we’re likely going to see the same 2 pitchers in tomorrow’s game, it’s just that their roles and order of appearance will have switched. I fully agree with removing Blackburn, but I can’t see how the coaching staff can justify this switch unless Duensing would be able to pitch 5+ innings,* thus being able to avoid using Blackburn unless the game was already out of hand.
* I understand I’m basically repeating what I said in the above quote.
Here’s the options the Twins likely considered:
Note: I’m assuming that Blackburn remaining in the rotation was not going to happen.
1. When Alexi Casilla came off the DL, send Nick Blackburn to Triple-A, insert Jeff Manship into the rotation, and allow Brian Duensing to stretch out in the bullpen by becoming a long reliever.
This way, Blackburn is able to work on righting his ship in the minor leagues, where he can’t hurt the major league squad any more. Manship isn’t the best candidate to start, but it would be tough for him to perform as poorly as Blackburn was, so he would definitely be some sort of improvement, and he would only be making 2-3 starts anyway. Three starts is roughly 15 days, and that would have been plenty of time for Duensing to be stretched out enough to throw 80+ pitches in his first start, rather than the 60-70.
2. When Casilla came off the DL, send Duensing to Triple-A to get stretched out, put Manship in the rotation and let Blackburn become the long reliever.
Again, Manship would likely only be making 2-3 starts, which would be long enough for Duensing to stay in the minors for the minimum 10 days and get stretched out to about 80 pitches.
3. When Casilla came off the DL, send Manship to Triple-A, put Duensing in the rotation and let Blackburn become the long reliever.
As we know, the Twins picked this option.
What am I expecting today? I think Duensing will pitch pretty well, considering that he’s facing the Orioles. Unfortunately, since he’ll only get through 4+ innings, we’ll also see Nick Blackburn, who won’t pitch terribly, but also won’t be great. I see 4 2/3 innings with 3 runs from Duensing, and an additional 1 1/3 innings with 1 or 2 runs from Blackburn. But if I had my way, it would be 6 innings of Jeff Manship, and none of Nick Blackburn.