Starter headed for 'pen if Twins reach playoffs

Starter headed for 'pen if Twins reach playoffs

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire won't discuss a potential postseason rotation or a playoff roster until his team officially clinches the American League Central title.

But he has indicated that his team will likely use a four-man rotation if it gets to the playoffs, meaning that at least one of the Twins' starting pitchers could possibly be pitching out of the bullpen in the postseason.

Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing appear to be locks for three starting spots, and right-hander Nick Blackburn, who is 2-2 with a 1.91 ERA in his five starts since returning from Triple-A Rochester, looks to be the leading candidate for the fourth spot.

Right-handers Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker could also factor into the mix for that fourth starting spot. Baker is set to start Tuesday, which will be the first time he has pitched since Sept. 2, when he was sidelined for a second time this season with elbow tendinitis.

Slowey is going to make one more start, likely next Tuesday at Kansas City, and then Gardenhire said he could be used out of the bullpen down the stretch.

There has been talk of having Slowey available out of the 'pen this week since he won't pitch for another seven days, but Gardenhire said that Slowey is scheduled to throw two side sessions before his next start, making that possibility unlikely.

But Gardenhire said the Twins would have to be cautious if they use either Slowey or Baker to pitch out of the bullpen.

"Both of these guys have had elbow [issues]," Gardenhire said. "You have to be careful not to rush those guys and get them ready out there. I think if either one of them are in the 'pen, or both of them are in the 'pen, I think you would want them to start their own inning and give them plenty of time to warm up.

Gardenhire was asked if it's tough for starters to move to a relief role.

"It's an adjustment for some of the guys to handle it," he said. "I think Slowey would be a guy that could warm up a little quicker than, say, a Baker or somebody like that. [Brian] Duensing had to learn that, but once he did, he was fine."

The Twins will likely carry 11 pitchers for the playoffs, which would mean a seven-man bullpen.