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Riffing on the Rotation

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As April has shifted into May, the Minnesota offense has cooled off a little bit but continues to get the job done. On Friday they were shut out for just the second time all year, but they bounced back to score 11 runs in a pair of wins on Saturday and Sunday. The series victory over the weekend brought the Twins back within a game of .500.

The offense seems sustainably effective, with Joe Mauer starting to heat up, Oswaldo Arcia preparing to return, and several other lineup fixtures continuing to look good.

So the club's ability to stay around the .500 mark will probably hinge on the rotation's ability to deliver quality starts, as it did in all three games against the Orioles.

There's much change afoot in the starting corps, so let's examine the state of the unit as we head into the second month.

* Following another poor start on Thursday, the Twins finally made a move with Mike Pelfrey, placing the righty on the disabled list with a groin injury.

Pelfrey said the ailment had nothing to do with his performance, and continues to insist that there's nothing wrong with his arm, but I'm not buying that he's physically right.

He has tallied more walks than strikeouts in four straight starts, and according to Mike Berardino, Pelfrey touched 91 on the radar only six times in his entire start Thursday; this is a guy who averaged more than 92 miles per hour on his heater last year, and is ostensibly supposed to be getting stronger as he moves away from Tommy John.

I liked what I saw from Pelfrey in the second half, and held the somewhat unpopular opinion that his two-year deal signed during the offseason could turn out to be a decent value, but this year he has been a complete mess and not himself.

Hopefully this time away helps him get straightened out so that he can return and be an asset, whether in the rotation or bullpen.

* Replacing Pelfrey in the starting five is a guy who probably should have been there all along: Samuel Deduno.

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ID:	7334He was the team's best starter last season and followed up with a brilliant spring, showing no ill effects from offseason shoulder surgery, but still Deduno was on the outside looking in during the first five weeks, working in a mop-up relief role where his outstanding work (2.89 ERA with 18 K in 18 2/3 innings) went underutilized.

Now that he's back where he belongs, let's see if Deduno can replicate or even improve upon his success from a year ago. As you may recall, he joined the Twins rotation in late May of 2013 and put up a 3.17 ERA in his first 13 starts, completing six or more innings in all but two.

His play took a turn for the worse in mid-to-late September, but it seems fair to assume the shoulder troubles may have contributed to that.

Now Deduno is healthy and coming in with a head full of steam. Should be entertaining to watch.

* Deduno is a fun story because he never really emerged as a top prospect and didn't get an extended look in the majors until he was 28, but has proven to be a late bloomer with unforeseen upside.

Another guy currently playing in Triple-A is attempting to craft a similar story.

After tossing a complete game shutout on Saturday, Yohan Pino is now 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA for the Rochester Red Wings. In 32 innings across seven appearances (three starts), Pino has a 31-to-7 K/BB ratio and has allowed only 15 hits. That's domination.

A skinny right-hander, Pino was originally signed by the Twins out of Venezuela and was a solid performer in the system before being traded to Cleveland for Carl Pavano in '09.

Pino has since bounced around between a few different organizations. He had a great showing last year while playing in Triple-A for the Reds, so the Twins brought him back during the offseason.

He's not currently on the 40-man roster, but if he keeps pitching lights-out in Rochester the 30-year-old is bound to get a chance at making his major-league debut sometime this summer. He doesn't have a high ceiling but with his excellent control and decent stuff, he could make a positive impact.

* While Pino is intriguing enough, Alex Meyer and Trevor May are clearly the starters in Triple-A with the best chance to be difference-makers for the Twins rotation. Both pitched over the wee

May has been inconsistent for the Red Wings, but has looked terrific at times, including his latest start in which he struck out 11 over six innings while allowing only one walk and three hits.

Meyer pitched Sunday and came back to Earth after back-to-back spectacular outings, failing to complete five innings.

Both need to demonstrate more start-to-start consistency before they'll be in the mix for a call-up to the majors, and the Twins will probably take it extra slow with Meyer for various reasons (he's not on the 40-man, he's coming off an injury-shortened season, Super 2 arbitration status is a consideration), but each is pitching his way toward getting a chance sometime this season.

That will keep the pressure on Kevin Correia to keep pitching like he did on Saturday -- as it should be.

* Among the three free agent starters that the Twins signed this offseason, the one I was most optimistic about was Phil Hughes. His age, combined with the fact that he'd spent his entire career in a tough pitching environment, made it plausible that we hadn't seen him at his best yet.

Everyone was buzzing about Hughes when I was down in spring training and it wasn't hard to see why. His pitches were hard and sharp, and one sensed that if he could stay healthy and command his offerings, good things were in store.

After six starts, Hughes has been pretty much everything I'd hoped. His control has been excellent and he has attacked the strike zone, even after some bad fortune early on (opponents hit an absurd .409 on balls in play in his first three starts). As that has begun to normalize, Hughes has quickly emerged as the team's best starter.

In fact, he's head-and-shoulders above the rest.

While an inability to last deep into games was one of the marks against him in New York, Hughes has completed at least five innings and kept his team in the game every time out, and that's not true for anyone else on the staff.

Also, in a rotation where -- very disturbingly -- no other starter is averaging more than 4.7 K/9IP, Hughes is providing a much-needed change of pace at 7.6. He is striking out nearly five hitters for every one he walks; every other starter has been close to equal (or in Pelfrey's case, tilted in the wrong direction).

Simply put, Hughes has been everything the Twins need him to be, and there's no doubt that right now they're feeling pretty good about having the 27-year-old locked up for the next three years.
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