Will the bigger man please stand up?
It seems rather odd that I’m saying this so shortly after I wrote about how well the pitching staff had been doing lately, but it seems like the glaring weaknesses from Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, and Francisco Liriano started catching up to them. As the Twins now sit 10 games out of the AL Central lead, it’s become a crapshoot on the type of start we’re going to see from the Twins starters outside of Scott Baker.
While Pavano and Liriano are unlikely to be removed from the rotation, Duensing and Blackburn could be candidates to be replaced. While Duensing’s FIP (3.85) is much better than his ERA (4.43), he’s also been exhibiting a serious platoon split, not just this season but for his whole career. Lefthanders are only hitting .201/.247/.260, while righties have battered him for a .288/.348/.444 line so far. He clearly appears to be best suited for the bullpen, but the Twins coaching staff decided Duensing had earned a rotation spot.
As for Blackburn, we’re probably not going to see much more from him unless he makes some changes to his pitching. Inducing more swings-and-misses would be the obvious place to start, but he’s also walking more hitters than he ever has in his career. Considering his BABIP is at .312 for the season and his FIP (4.89) is actually higher than his current ERA (4.58), which can’t really wish for good things from Blackburn for the rest of the season.
This should open the door for Kevin Slowey. That is, if the Twins are willing to open that door. By now, Slowey’s discontent with relieving has become well known, and it’s unfortunate to the extent that he became a scapegoat for the team. However, one thing that has bothered me is that the Twins have appeared – or at least attempted to make it appear – as though they are not at fault in any way, shape, or form in the handling of Slowey.
Nothing seems to have changed even though he’s been marooned in Triple-A for the past couple months, as Ron Gardenhire recently had some interesting quotes. First, it sounded like Gardy believes it’s Slowey’s call on whether he gets to stay with Minnesota for the rest of the season and beyond. Second, when asked on if the relationship between Slowey and the Twins had to be rehabilitated, Gardy said, “I don’t know about rehabilitating, that’s totally up to him whether he wants to come up and be a part of it.”
It still sounds to me like the Twins are refusing to take any responsibility for this debacle. I won’t disagree that Slowey handled this poorly; he certainly should be willing to pitch in any role the Twins want. But it’s not like Slowey’s been a problem for the Twins throughout his career. If anything, this is the first time we’ve ever learned of Slowey complaining about anything. Sure, we’ve had the blunt quotes from him when he talks about his recent outings, but it’s not like he’s ever come off as being moody or a problem in the clubhouse. Being an outsider, it’s very likely I’m getting this wrong, but I’ve seen no reason to complain about Slowey’s attitude prior to this season.
On the Twins’ side though, this isn’t the first time they’ve had a conflict with a player in recent memory. If we go back a couple years to 2009, there was the issue with Luis Ayala. Orlando Hudson didn’t exactly leave on the best of terms either last season, nor did Jon Rauch. Then there’s the service time grievances for Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins. All told, it seems like the Twins have had some issue pop up with one of their players. Perhaps it’s no wonder then that the team is “led” by Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer.
Enter Slowey, of which we’re already well acquainted with. After it became very clear that he was no longer interested in pitching out of the bullpen, he started complaining about some stomach soreness and eventually was put on the 15-day disabled list with an abdominal strain. I hate to say this, but at that point in late May, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been making up the injury. After all, once you get sick of doing something you don’t enjoy doing, you’ll likely start making up excuses so you don’t have to do it anymore.
Slowey rehabbed in the minor leagues before being taken off the disabled list in July, but he was kept in the minor leagues. So now I ask, why is he still down there? Are the Twins still trying to prove a point? Hasn’t being stuck in the minors for 2+ months been enough? At the very least, the Twins could ship him off to another team, but he’s not going to have a ton of value being stuck in Rochester. I’m sure the Twins tried to trade him before the July 31st trade deadline, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were asking for too much in return.
If the Twins want to justify their trade demands, then Slowey’s going to have to rebuild his value in the majors. With the team now 10 games behind, they won’t have anything to lose with swapping out Duensing or Blackburn with Slowey. As far as I’m concerned, Slowey felt like he would help the team more as a starting pitcher rather than a reliever, and he never publicly complained about his role. It was the Twins that made public that he was unhappy.
I don’t care anymore if Slowey is traded away or if he sticks with the team for the rest of the season. All I want is for Bill Smith, Gardy, whomever to become the bigger man and repair this relationship. It’s too bad that the media ganged up on Slowey and started complaining about him, because as far as I’m concerned, the Twins have been the real babies in this whole mess.