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Twins Take a Hard Turn With Deduno

Attached Image: deduno.jpg Even before his three-hit shutout on Sunday, I felt that the time had come to promote Kyle Gibson to the major leagues. The Twins seemingly positioned themselves to do so Monday when they announced the removal of Pedro Hernandez from the rotation, opening up Friday's start. But on Tuesday the club ended any such speculation by informing us that Samuel Deduno will be the one to get the nod.

Even as a confirmed Gibsonite, I can't feign to be overly upset with this move. Because more than I wanted to see the top prospect get a chance, I wanted to simply see the Twins make some sort of change to their stagnating formula. Deduno qualifies in a major way; a step in the exact opposite direction.
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The trademark of Minnesota's rotation was obvious before the season began. This was a group that was going to throw the ball over the plate and allow tons of contact.

Certainly the starting corps has lived up that expectation, as they've allowed fewer walks than all but one AL team and they rank last in strikeouts by a country mile. Unsurprisingly, this staff makeup has yielded terrible results, as Twins starters have recorded the second-worst ERA in the majors at 5.42. Last year the rotation finished with a 5.40 ERA. The bar was set incredibly low and they've still come up short.

For the first six weeks of the season, the Twins managed to stay afloat in spite of their shortcomings, thanks in large part to some timely hitting and sterling efforts from the bullpen. But recently, with other units beginning to falter, the rotation's warts have become more exposed as the season has quickly begun to spiral out of control. The Twins have lost seven straight and are in the early stages of their toughest stretch to date; 15 of 20 games on the road, including trips to Atlanta, Detroit and Washington.

Change was long overdue, and Hernandez in the rotation was a logical starting point given that he probably shouldn't have been starting in the majors to begin with. While Gibson would have been my first choice, Deduno was the next one on my list.

The 29-year-old Dominican has intrigued me since last season, when he came up and enjoyed a run of success for the Twins. Since then, he has made a name for himself by helping carry his native country to an impressive title run in the World Baseball Classic.

I'll admit that perhaps I overrate the significance of this event because I was watching it live and was riveted, but in my mind Deduno's performance in that tournament's championship game earned him an extended shot. Pitching against a potent lineup, in the pouring rain, in a game that mattered immensely to him and his teammates, the erratic yet effective righty delivered five dominant innings, standing out in a 3-0 victory.

A groin injury suffered while toughing out those conditions sidelined Deduno and cost him his chance at an Opening Day roster spot with the Twins, but since returning to the field he's been back to his old tricks. In three starts at Rochester, he's posted a 2.70 ERA despite issuing 10 walks in a 16 2/3 innings.

In the past I've likened Deduno, whose pitches dart to different locations seemingly at random, to knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Both are unconventional pitchers with unique styles. Dickey didn't hit his stride until his mid-30's, so I like the decision to try Deduno, who turns 30 in a month, and see if he might prove to be a late bloomer. Certainly there have been positive signs to that end over the past year.

And in any case, it's nice to see the Twins take such a hard turn from their previous path. The pitchers that have comprised their rotation up to this point – Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia, Scott Diamond, Liam Hendriks and Pedro Hernandez – have obviously enjoyed varying levels of success but have been virtually indistinguishable in approach. Change speeds, try to hit your spots, hope for the best.

Deduno couldn't be farther on the other end of the spectrum. He unleashes electric heaters and breaking balls that essentially have minds of their own and end up who-knows-where. The result is very many walks and very little hard contact. When he's going good, he can be nearly unhittable.

Even if that "unhittable" comes with a considerable caveat, it's still a welcome term for this starting staff.


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