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Week in Review: Rookies Pitching In


As the Twins experienced further veteran attrition in the rotation, rookie pitchers continued to answer the call with a slate of impressive performances, helping propel Minnesota to a second consecutive winning week against high-quality competition.

What more could you ask for at this stage of the season?

Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 8/9 thru Sun, 8/15
***
Record Last Week: 4-2 (Overall: 52-66)
Run Differential Last Week: -1 (Overall: -74)
Standing: 4th Place in AL Central (16.0 GB)

Last Week's Game Recaps:

Game 113 | CWS 11, MIN 1: Sox Build Huge Early Lead in Laugher
Game 114 | MIN 4, CWS 3: Jax Fans 10 as Twins Eke Out Tight Win
Game 115 | MIN 1, CWS 0: Ober and Bullpen Combine for Shutout
Game 116 | TB 10, MIN 4: Cruz Homers in Return, Rays Roll
Game 117 | MIN 12, TB 0: Maeda and Arraez Lead Charge in Blowout
Game 118 | MIN 5, TB 4: Twins Walk Off Tampa, Take 3rd Straight Series

NEWS & NOTES

The Twins lost two-fifths of their rotation via trade on deadline day, and lost another piece to injury on Friday when Michael Pineda exited with an oblique strain amidst an underwhelming outing against Tampa Bay. He was quickly placed on the Injured List and replaced on the active roster by reliever Ralph Garza Jr., a recent waiver acquisition. Garza Jr. shined in his Twins debut, tossing two perfect innings in Saturday night's blowout win.

No timeline was announced for Pineda but he is in all likelihood done for the season. It's been a tough go for the big right-hander in 2021 following a strong start; since the beginning of June, he's been able to make only nine starts while going 1-6 with a 5.80 ERA. The silver lining for the Twins, I suppose, is that re-signing Pineda to solidify the back end of the '22 rotation shouldn't take a whole lot at this point. 

Pineda's absence will require the Twins to lean even harder on their young pitching depth. Logically the next in line will be Lewis Thorpe, who put up 5 ⅔ innings of one-run ball for the Saints on Friday while building up to 65 pitches. Thorpe lines up perfectly for Pineda's next turn in the rotation, on Wednesday against Cleveland.

Other roster moves for the week saw Beau Burrows and his 12.54 ERA optioned to Triple-A, replaced by veteran journeyman Nick Vincent (Alex Kirilloff moved to 60-day IL to make room on the 40-man), while Jorge Alcala landed on IL and was replaced in the bullpen by another waiver pickup, Edgar García.

HIGHLIGHTS

With Pineda sidelined, it's now Kenta and the Kids in the Minnesota Twins rotation. Kenta Maeda looked the part of an exemplary veteran leader on Saturday, firing six shutout innings against the Rays, while the rookies joined the fun with strong performances of their own against first-place teams.

Griffin Jax was flat-out dominant against the White Sox on Tuesday night, striking out 10 over six innings. Chicago managed to score three runs on a couple of homers, but Jax was otherwise excellent, pounding the zone with sliders and fastballs to keep a potent lineup in check. 

Interestingly, Jax has piled up 16 strikeouts over 10 innings with a 20% swinging strike rate in two starts against the White Sox this year, compared to 16 strikeouts in 28 innings and a 6% swinging strike rate against all other opponents.

The following day, Bailey Ober helped lift the Twins to a series victory over the division leaders, contributing 5 ⅓ scoreless innings to an eventual shutout. Ober struck out six and walked one, pushing his K/BB ratio to 62-to-16 in 57 ⅔ innings this season. Like with Jax, keeping the ball in the park is the biggest challenge for Ober and on days like this where he's able to do so, he looks quite legit. Ober owns a 3.55 ERA in seven starts dating back to the end of June, and Minnesota has gone 5-2 in those games. 

Even Charlie Barnes joined in on the rookie revitalization of the rotation. While he wasn't particularly effective in his first outing on Monday, yielding three runs in 4 ⅔ innings as bulk guy behind the opener Burrows, Barnes rebounded on Sunday, holding the White Sox to one run over five frames. The lefty was in line for his first MLB win, leaving with a three-run lead, but the bullpen and defense let him down in the late innings.

García was among the culprits, surrendering a two-run homer in the sixth, but it was his only blemish in a strong stretch overall. The right-hander stepped up in a pair of earlier long-relief appearances, allowing just one hit over 4 ⅓ scoreless innings versus Chicago and Tampa. In total he struck out five with only one walk, inducing 12 swinging strikes on 80 pitches (15%) while finding the zone with 68% of his offerings. Combined with Garza Jr.'s outstanding debut on Saturday, it was an encouraging week for the club's latest bullpen waiver adds.

It might fairly be described as "too little, too late," but Alex Colomé has quietly become the steady rock of this relief corps, looking very much like the reliable closer he's been in years past following an unbelievably ugly April. 

Since May 1st, he's got a 3.00 ERA and is 5-for-6 in save opportunities. The past week saw him rattle off a pair of saves, both in one-run games against the Sox, and he also worked a scoreless ninth on Sunday to set up Minnesota's win in the bottom half.

Offensively, Jorge Polanco continues to be the star of the show – his 21st homer on Wednesday proved decisive in a 1-0 win, and he walked off the Rays with sac fly on Sunday – but Miguel Sanó's re-emergence should not be ignored. His bat, and more generally his offensive approach, have been resuscitated. The past week saw Sanó collect five hits, including a double and homer, but most importantly, he drew as many walks (4) as strikeouts. 

After leading the league in Ks last year, and fanning in 39% of his plate appearances through May of this year, Sanó has cut that rate down to 31% since the start of June. During that span he is slashing .249/.321/.477 in 56 games. Spectacular? No. But very serviceable and suggestive that the big slugger still has something left in the tank. 

LOWLIGHTS

The Tampa series was a high point for Brent Rooker, who went 6-for-9 with two homers and four RBIs in his two starts. The Chicago series was anything but. 

In three games against the White Sox, Rooker went 0-for-11 with nine strikeouts, extending a brutal slump at a time where the rookie slugger desperately needs to rake. Prior to his four-hit game against the Rays on Friday night, Rooker was slashing just .098/.159/.171 in the month of August, while regularly slotting in as the Twins' No. 2 hitter. His big weekend was not enough to offset the larger struggles this month, and that's sort of been the story of his season. Rooker shows flashes, but has a .198 average and .676 OPS through 119 plate appearances.

His power is not in doubt, but a .252 on-base percentage ain't gonna cut it, especially when you factor in the total absence of defensive value. Unless and until he can find some semblance of strike zone control, it's difficult to project any real value for Rooker as a big-leaguer.

In a sense, it feels too soon to rush to judgment on Rooker. But then again, he'll turn 27 this offseason and the Twins are staring down a potential 40-man roster crunch. With the redundant and superior Sanó already in the plans for 2022, where does Rooker fit in? Weeks like these present a crucial opportunity to make his case. Rooker needs more than a random blow-up game here and there to maximize it. 

Trevor Larnach isn't so much fighting to prove he's got an MLB future – that's not really in doubt – but he too is battling to carve out an immediate spot on the 2022 team. With the way things have been going for him of late, it'll be tough for the Twins to pencil him in. 

It was another lackluster week for Larnach, who went 1-for-11 with a single and five strikeouts in his four starts. The outfielder's last home run came on July 7th; since then he's batting .156 with a .188 slugging percentage in in 110 plate appearances, while striking out 43% of the time. 

Larnach doesn't really appear to be benefiting from getting repeatedly beaten by major-league pitching. The signs of growth and adjustment aren't there. With the Triple-A schedule extending through September this year, there's still time to get him back in the minors so he can find his swing and rebuild some confidence. Will the Twins go that route, or are they committed to seeing it through in the majors?

TRENDING STORYLINE

For those of us keeping a close eye on the Twins' pitching pipeline, Sunday was a big day. Matt Canterino, who ranked 8th in TD's recently-updated prospect rankings, made his first official appearance at Cedar Rapids since May, following a lengthy rest-and-rehab program to address elbow soreness. 

Canterino picked up right where he left off, overpowering High-A hitters to an absurd degree. After striking out eight of the 10 he faced over three hitless innings on Sunday, he now has a 0.86 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 21 innings for the Kernels. Yes, that is an 18.4 K/9 rate. This isn't even fair. 

Time to get him up to the next level and see how Double-A fares against him. I'm eager to find out. Even though he has yet to pitch above A-ball, the 23-year-old is going to be fast-tracked and has the ability to factor as a pivotal difference-maker for the Twins next year if he can stay healthy. 

LOOKING AHEAD

Minnesota's run against solid competition rolls on as they welcome Cleveland to Target Field, wrapping up a long homestand before heading to the East Coast for a four-game set against the dreaded Yankees. Can Kenta and the Kids keep it clicking? 

MONDAY, 8/16: CLEVELAND @ TWINS – RHP Cal Quantrill v. RHP Griffin Jax
TUESDAY, 8/17: CLEVELAND @ TWINS – RHP Eli Morgan v. RHP Bailey Ober
WEDNESDAY, 8/18: CLEVELAND @ TWINS – RHP Zach Plesac v. TBD
THURSDAY, 8/19: TWINS @ YANKEES – RHP Kenta Maeda v. RHP Jameson Taillon
FRIDAY, 8/20: TWINS @ YANKEES – LHP Charlie Barnes v. LHP Nestor Cortes
SATURDAY, 8/21: TWINS @ YANKEES – RHP Griffin Jax v. RHP Gerrit Cole
SUNDAY, 8/22: TWINS @ YANKEES – RHP Bailey Ober v. LHP Jordan Montgomery

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I have no faith in Sano. It's awfully hard to ignore he's going to finish this year as the 3rd in the last 4 where he produced 0.5 WAR or less. He's a pure DH at this point with a -42.50 UZR/150 at 1B and it's just bizzare the Twins could keep trotting him out there. He might actually have 1.0 WAR this year if he wasn't in the field booting half the balls that come his way.

 

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I hope that is the last time Pineda takes the mound as a Twin. I don't wish him ill will, I just am tired of watching him pitch - the pace, the hat adjustments, and the homers. I am sure he will find another home, but probably not on a contender, and if we are a contender, it shouldn't be here, either. We have to look for better to be better. Pineda is filler, and always has been filler, in my book. 

And I am really tired of Thorpe and his lost velocity. I want to see Joe Ryan. I have seen Thorpe way too much already. 

Why is it that we always take all this time with the minor league pitchers that don't even have high ceilings? Over and over they are the next up it seems.

Guys like Canterino will never be able to field a hit ball they way he finishes. Why can't pitchers end their wind up like Jim Kaat and Greg Maddux did? 

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8 hours ago, bean5302 said:

I have no faith in Sano. It's awfully hard to ignore he's going to finish this year as the 3rd in the last 4 where he produced 0.5 WAR or less. He's a pure DH at this point with a -42.50 UZR/150 at 1B and it's just bizzare the Twins could keep trotting him out there. He might actually have 1.0 WAR this year if he wasn't in the field booting half the balls that come his way.

 

Pop fly's mystify him.

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I agree on Thrope and  Rooker, and feel much the same way about Barnes.  We need to add a lot of players this winter, so many of these players (maybe up to 10) will be let go after the season.  We already have 2 Pineda and Simmons and some others, though the jury it out on the newbies (E Garza, Minaya, etx.)

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This is a really good summary of a crazy week. It shows the twins potential, but at the same time it reflects some of the same things we've seen in the past. Are bullpen is consistently pieced together with waiver wire pickups instead of working from within our system the way our starting pitchers have been finally promoted. We need a hitting coach who can work with these young players to get better production and help them make their adjustments. 

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10 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

That seems high but in today's game, it's really not. Sano will be a very productive hitter with a K rate around 30%. Here's hoping this latest trend continues through the end of the season.

Major league average is 23%. The closer to average Sano can get the more productive he will be. The point he would be considered very productive is subjective. When he is moved closer to the 3 spot in the lineup would be the indicator for very

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10 hours ago, bean5302 said:

It's awfully hard to ignore he's going to finish this year as the 3rd in the last 4 where he produced 0.5 WAR or less.

This is awfully close to lying with statistics.

2017 - 2.4 WAR
2018 (71 games) - 0.1 WAR
2019 - 2.7 WAR
2020 (53 games) - 0.5 WAR
2021 - 0.0 WAR

By making your cut off "the last four, including this year" you cut off 2017 where he accrued 2.4 WAR (all WARs are from FanGraphs).  Also, in 2018 he played less than half a season, and 2020 was, of course, The Covid Season where everyone played half a season.  The 2020 AL leader in WAR was Jose Ramirez with "only" 3.4.  Compare that to 2019, where the AL leader was Alex Bregman with 8.5.  You can't hold 0.5 WAR in 53 out of 60 games against Sano.

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I doubted Barnes from the start but how do you dump him when he has been quite effective.  Maybe crafty lefties will be more effective now that so many players have built swings to deal with 95+.  IDK but I would continue to test him at the MLB level.  

I should add that perhaps we should be a little more open minded to the rookies and waiver wire pick-ups that helped us go 7-3 against all the 3 division leaders in successive series.  Pretty good without having Buxton / Kirilloff and Rodgers.

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2 hours ago, HojanSolo said:

This is awfully close to lying with statistics.

2017 - 2.4 WAR
2018 (71 games) - 0.1 WAR
2019 - 2.7 WAR
2020 (53 games) - 0.5 WAR
2021 - 0.0 WAR

By making your cut off "the last four, including this year" you cut off 2017 where he accrued 2.4 WAR (all WARs are from FanGraphs).  Also, in 2018 he played less than half a season, and 2020 was, of course, The Covid Season where everyone played half a season.  The 2020 AL leader in WAR was Jose Ramirez with "only" 3.4.  Compare that to 2019, where the AL leader was Alex Bregman with 8.5.  You can't hold 0.5 WAR in 53 out of 60 games against Sano.

Yes, I did cut off 2017. You cut off 2016 when he could actually play 3B and still only produced 1.2 WAR so I could accuse you of lying with statistics. Then you could argue I cut off 2015, when he looked like a future All Star 3B. It's called supporting an argument. There are endless ways I could choose to critque Sano which would be more damning of his play. WAR was just easy, low hanging fruit which compiles almost everything together.

In regard to your SSS arguments, Sano has never played more than 116 games in a season. Considering how much flak Buxton gets, it probably sounds surprising to people Sano has never been a qualified hitter for a normal season in his career. If we doubled his 2020 season, he'd still only have 1.0 WAR across a typical Sano full season and a wRC+ of 99 who is now a DH. He had 299 (300) plate appearances in 2018. That's not really small sample size. Values have already become pretty stable at that point.

For the record, I'm looking at the trend and Sano's trend has been obvious. I typically look at the last 3-4 years for players because it removes luck or a season of playing hurt (like Polanco), etc. I don't look further back than that because it's not relevant. Players change over time and looking at what they did 5 years ago isn't relevant to the player's expected value today.

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Great week!

I think we are learning three things at the end of the year:

Polanco is a very good 2B (with O, D, baserunning....maybe not a good D, but very good at the others) and should be a 2B.
Arraez is not a fielder, and should be a DH or traded. 
Ober is a lock for a SP spot next year (assuming health).

I'm not sure we are learning much else with any certainty at this point.

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4 hours ago, HojanSolo said:

This is awfully close to lying with statistics.

2017 - 2.4 WAR
2018 (71 games) - 0.1 WAR
2019 - 2.7 WAR
2020 (53 games) - 0.5 WAR
2021 - 0.0 WAR

By making your cut off "the last four, including this year" you cut off 2017 where he accrued 2.4 WAR (all WARs are from FanGraphs).  Also, in 2018 he played less than half a season, and 2020 was, of course, The Covid Season where everyone played half a season.  The 2020 AL leader in WAR was Jose Ramirez with "only" 3.4.  Compare that to 2019, where the AL leader was Alex Bregman with 8.5.  You can't hold 0.5 WAR in 53 out of 60 games against Sano.

Those short seasons still count.  Now pull up what Buxton does in his partial seasons.

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1 minute ago, Dodecahedron said:

Those short seasons still count.  Now pull up what Buxton does in his partial seasons.

So it still counts they won the division? Also, it is a counting stat, so giving a raw number is quite misleading. He was much closer, as a percent, to the maximum fWAR than .5 seems it would be.

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7 hours ago, h2oface said:

I hope that is the last time Pineda takes the mound as a Twin. I don't wish him ill will, I just am tired of watching him pitch - the pace, the hat adjustments, and the homers. I am sure he will find another home, but probably not on a contender, and if we are a contender, it shouldn't be here, either. We have to look for better to be better. Pineda is filler, and always has been filler, in my book. 

I want to like Pineda.  I really do.  In spite of him being here for 3 years, I feel like I still have no idea who he is as a pitcher.  

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19 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

So it still counts they won the division? Also, it is a counting stat, so giving a raw number is quite misleading. He was much closer, as a percent, to the maximum fWAR than .5 seems it would be.

Sure.  But if I were running a team, I would care about a player's value over the course of a full season, if I were using WAR as the measurement.  It would not matter to me how that number was come up with, as WAR is a measure of value not of performance.

If we want to change to OPS+ to look at performance, I'd be all for it.

2017 - 126
2018 - 83
2019 - 140
2020 - 105
2021 - 107

2018 was not good, but is a forgivable anomaly in an injured year.  2020-2021 are not good enough for a first baseman, even if Joe Mauer got the Twins accustomed to such performances. 

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7 hours ago, h2oface said:

"His <Rooker> power is not in doubt, but a .252 on-base percentage ain't gonna cut it, especially when you factor in the total absence of defensive value."

I do give him credit for that incredible diving catch on Saturday. I guess one can't really say total absence of defensive value.

I'm not saying he can't ever make a play, but Rooker's gonna be the worst corner OF on the roster pretty much no matter what, and that's evidently the only place he can play.

That the Twins seem to have zero trust in him at first base is eye-opening to me. 

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2 minutes ago, Nick Nelson said:

I'm not saying he can't ever make a play, but Rooker's gonna be the worst corner OF on the roster pretty much no matter what, and that's evidently the only place he can play.

That the Twins seem to have zero trust in him at first base is eye-opening to me. 

If what you are saying is true, he simply shouldn't be with this team.  

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15 minutes ago, Dodecahedron said:

I want to like Pineda.  I really do.  In spite of him being here for 3 years, I feel like I still have no idea who he is as a pitcher.  

He was remarkably consistent (when on the field) up until these last couple months, where he clearly hasn't been at full health/strength. That's why I like the idea of bringing him back on a favorable deal. The pitcher he was in his first ~40 starts as a Twin is a huge asset (literally and figuratively) for the middle or back of a rotation. Even the diminished version has been a mostly serviceable strike-thrower.

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Buxton is more valuable than Sano. Between the two of them, Buxton is probably more productive at the plate, but Buxton also provides enormous defensive value when he plays.

Sano is a boat anchor on the team in the field and should really be relegated to DH where his league average bat doesn't produce more than scrub value. Non relief pitcher players producing less 2.0 WAR hurt a team's chances at the playoffs and arguing Sano is a 2.0 WAR player as a DH at this point in his career is dubious. That said, I pointed out I have no "faith" in Sano. I didn't say Sano has no talent or that it's impossible for Sano to succeed. I just don't think he will.

I believe Sano has the talent to be much better than he is, but the Twins are overloaded at 3B/1B/DH players as it is giving him few ironclad paths to production. If Sano were to drop to 225-230lbs, I fully expect he could still be an All Star caliber third baseman, but that is pure fantasy. At least I actually think Sano is trying hard right now to improve his game due to a wake up call when he essentially lost his starting spot, but the idea of Sano sustaining the effort just doesn't seem realistic to me.

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Griffin Jax pitched in today's St. Paul Saints game, so we must have a different starter tonight.  He didn't make it out of the 3rd inning. 3 ER, 3H, 5BB and 2K.  Playing mind games with the rookies?

Also, Brent Rooker is DH'ing for the Saints.  So far, 2-2 with a HR.  Must be a couple of transactions that haven't been announced yet.

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32 minutes ago, bean5302 said:

 

Sano is a boat anchor on the team in the field and should really be relegated to DH where his league average bat doesn't produce more than scrub value. Non relief pitcher players producing less 2.0 WAR hurt a team's chances at the playoffs and arguing Sano is a 2.0 WAR player as a DH at this point in his career is dubious. That said, I pointed out I have no "faith" in Sano. I didn't say Sano has no talent or that it's impossible for Sano to succeed. I just don't think he will.

I believe Sano has the talent to be much better than he is, but the Twins are overloaded at 3B/1B/DH players as it is giving him few ironclad paths to production. If Sano were to drop to 225-230lbs, I fully expect he could still be an All Star caliber third baseman, but that is pure fantasy. At least I actually think Sano is trying hard right now to improve his game due to a wake up call when he essentially lost his starting spot, but the idea of Sano sustaining the effort just doesn't seem realistic to me.

Right.  I'm not sure what the Twins are waiting for with Sano.  Sano has been blocking people since he first put on a Twins uniform.  He has played in the outfield, at 3B, 1B, and DH.  The only one of those positions that ever made sense was DH.  Sure he will be good again, but he is no hall of famer.  The Twins could get the same hitting production from someone else, and this was always the case.

Even if he goes elsewhere and turns into David Ortiz, so what?  The Twins just don't need him.  If anyone chooses to blame the Twins front office or management for Sano's shaky performance as a Twin, let them.  We all know better.

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1 minute ago, Bill Tanner said:

Griffin Jax pitched in today's St. Paul Saints game, so we must have a different starter tonight.  He didn't make it out of the 3rd inning. 3 ER, 3H, 5BB and 2K.  Playing mind games with the rookies?

Also, Brent Rooker is DH'ing for the Saints.  So far, 2-2 with a HR.  Must be a couple of transactions that haven't been announced yet.

Sorry to sound a false alarm.  I didn't see that the Saints are playing the back half of a postponed game (from June 20) where Jax and Rooker played...

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5 hours ago, Dodecahedron said:

If what you are saying is true, he simply shouldn't be with this team.  

Not unless he can hit enough to offset it, like a Cruz or Schwarber. That's an incredibly high bar, but Rooker's raw power is so amazing it's really hard to just give up. 

Then again, there's an opportunity cost to chasing that perceived power potential. I think of someone like Kennys Vargas, who got wayyy more chances than he should have -- at the expense of other possible assets -- because he could mash in BP and looked good during a brief MLB debut. (Actually, that example makes me a little apprehensive about Rooker going on a tear in September...) 

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5 hours ago, Nick Nelson said:

He was remarkably consistent (when on the field) up until these last couple months, where he clearly hasn't been at full health/strength. That's why I like the idea of bringing him back on a favorable deal. The pitcher he was in his first ~40 starts as a Twin is a huge asset (literally and figuratively) for the middle or back of a rotation. Even the diminished version has been a mostly serviceable strike-thrower.

Middle or back of rotation. Serviceable strike-thrower. Add innings eater. Crafty. Etc. Etc. I get all that. And those terms always make me cringe. Especially if it is what one choses to fill their rotation with instead of young pitchers from the farm that could be so much better with time instead of just the same consistent innings eater, a term that one in baseball uses when they can't come up with anything better to say and want to be nice. I just want the Twins to shoot higher than to consistantly be all that. And I don't believe that inspiration comes from out of shape vets with a record that includes PED suspension.

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