Baker shooting for another second-half boost

Baker shooting for another second-half boost

MINNEAPOLIS -- The struggles of the Twins' rotation in recent weeks haven't been limited to just one starting pitcher. But if there is one starter the Twins really are counting on to turn things around, it's Scott Baker.

Baker will make his first start of the second half on Monday against the Indians. The Twins pushed Baker back to the end of the rotation after the right-hander received a cortisone injection to treat some tendinitis in his right elbow.

"I feel much better," Baker said of getting the injection. "It's day and night the way I feel. I'll be anxious to see how Monday goes and how I'll recover. That will probably be the biggest thing. But as far as going out there and pitching goes, I'm definitely good to go."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has said the club will stick with a 13-man pitching staff through the first turn of the rotation. It gives the club a long reliever in right-hander Jeff Manship in case anything happens, and that includes seeing how Baker pitches in his first start after receiving the cortisone injection.

"I think the big one here is Bake," Gardenhire said. That's why we put him all the way back at the back and we'll just wait and see.

An MRI showed nothing structurally wrong with Baker's elbow. And now that it's feeling better after the shot, Baker is looking forward to trying to deliver a much better second half following what was an up-and-down start to the year.

Baker was 7-8 with a 4.87 ERA in 18 starts before the All-Star break. But the track record for the pitcher over the past few seasons has been to deliver much better results in the second half.

In the past two seasons, Baker has combined to go 13-4 with a 3.35 ERA in the second half. That's after he had posted a 13-9 record with a 4.54 ERA before the All-Star break in those two seasons, including going 7-7 with a 5.42 ERA in the first half of 2009.

And Baker is optimistic that he's capable of getting on a roll yet again.

"I feel like even with the injury, I was getting really close to where I wanted to be mechanically as far as my pitches," Baker said. "I think you saw that in the last four innings of my last start in Toronto, when I finally realized that it's going to hurt and nothing is structurally wrong. I'm just going to have to deal with it.

"Once I realized that and I wasn't trying to guide balls, I was just letting it fly. I started to throw the way I wanted to throw. And the fact that now I won't be dealing with any nagging things, it makes it that much better."

Baker's strong performances in the second half have been a big reason why the Twins have surged in recent years. And the starter is well aware of how important it is for him to get things turned around as well.

"We all know it starts with pitching and starting pitching," Baker said. "If we're going to win a bunch of games, it's going to start with us no doubt. We have to go out there and provide our team with a chance to win. I think that starts with me individually, too.

"Pitching is contagious. You see it all the time, like the recent run by the White Sox, when every one of their guys was going out and giving their team a chance to win. There is no reason we shouldn't be able to do that too."