Stingy Twins rotation in control

Stingy Twins hurlers ready to take control

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- They are poised, polished and seemingly always in control.

For the Twins pitching staff, control is the operative word. Want to get on base against Minnesota? You'd better be ready to swing the bat. Wishing and hoping for a walk generally gets you a one-way ticket back to the dugout.

Last year, with starters Carlos Silva and Brad Radke setting the tone, the Twins led the Major Leagues in fewest walks with 348. It wasn't even close. Cleveland was second with 413 walks and the Astros and Red Sox were tied for third with 440 walks.

There's nothing to indicate the Twins won't blow the competition away again in the fewest walks category, especially with Minnesota pitchers taking their cues from longtime control guru Radke.

"This organization really stresses not walking guys," Radke said. "I think that as a staff, we've sort of been able to feed off each other in that regard. You learn. I know that when I walk guys, most of the time they are going to score."

Silva led the league in fewest walks per nine innings (0.4) last year, finishing with just nine walks in 188 1/3 innings. Radke surrendered just 23 walks in 200 2/3 innings and Johan Santana and Kyle Lohse had 45 and 44 walks in 231 2/3 innings and 178 2/3 innings, respectively.

"I always try to be around the plate," Radke said. "Sometimes, it backfires. There are times, depending on the situation, where you might want to be a little more off the plate and a little more careful. But for the most part, we're about putting our defense to work.

"The organization wants you to throw the ball around the plate so hitters put the ball in play and our defense has a chance to do its job."

Silva was on pace to set a record for fewest walks per nine innings late in the 2005 season. Giving up a few singles doesn't bother him because he's so confident he can get a double-play ball with a well-located sinker.

"As the season progressed, it was like, 'Holy cow.' Carlos has such a nasty sinker and throws so many ground balls that he can be really confident about making the hitters put the ball in play," Radke said.

Outstanding control can help a ballclub in many ways. One short-term effect is that fielders are always on their toes and generally less likely to make an error when the ball comes their way. By avoiding walks, pitchers generally throw fewer pitches, which lessens the chances of injury or fatigue through the grind of a long season.

"A lot of times, when a pitcher has a history of good control, the hitters will come up really revved to hit the first pitch," Radke said. "Sometimes that works out for them and sometimes it doesn't. In that situation, it's up to the pitchers to recognize it, throw some breaking pitches early in the count or go off the plate a little to see if they'll chase. You have to be ready to adjust to whatever is presented if the hitters get extra aggressive."

Radke said Santana is a special pitcher because he has extraordinary stuff coupled with control.

"He's amazing because he overpowers guys and still has finesse, too," Radke said.

Lohse, though he hasn't gained the overall prominence of the aforementioned three, takes the mound with a similar attack-the-hitter mentality. And there's every indication that Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and the other quality young arms on the Twins staff will fall in line with the control theme as their careers unfold.

"Keep guys off the bases by limiting walks and you really give yourself a chance," Radke said. "Guys are going to get hits. But if you limit those free passes, they have to work a lot harder to put up runs."

Robert Falkoff is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.