Twins roll with Baker as No. 5 starter

Twins roll with Baker as No. 5 starter

Twins roll with Baker as No. 5 starter
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Twins finalized their starting rotation on Tuesday, with manager Ron Gardenhire deeming right-hander Scott Baker the fifth starter while Kevin Slowey will start the season in the bullpen.

The Twins are expected to begin the season with a rotation of right-hander Carl Pavano, left-hander Francisco Liriano, right-hander Nick Blackburn, left-hander Brian Duensing and Baker.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson notified Slowey on Monday, and said Slowey was willing to embrace his new role as a relief pitcher.

"Unbelievable," Anderson said of Slowey's attitude. "We talked to him about it and he said, 'Game on. Anything you want, I'm on board and can do it. I just want to help us win.' So it's awesome."

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Anderson said the club weighed several factors in deciding who should win the position, including the fact that Baker is coming off surgery in October to remove bone chips and spurs from his right elbow.

It takes longer for Baker to warm up because of his offseason surgery, and he has only served as a starter this spring -- posting a 2.84 ERA with 11 strikeouts and three walks over 12 2/3 innings in four outings.

"I think it's a logical thing with Bake coming off elbow surgery," Anderson said, "and Slowey is healthy, and he's done it in the past."

Baker doesn't have much relief experience. He hasn't come out of the bullpen with the Twins since 2007, when he made one appearance as a reliever amid 23 starts. He served only as a starter last season, when he had a 4.49 ERA and struck out 148 batters, walked 43 and allowed 23 homers in 170 1/3 innings pitched.

Slowey hasn't spent too much time as a reliever either, but he did make two appearances out of the bullpen last season and two in his rookie year in 2007. It's a small sample size, but Slowey has a 4.00 ERA over nine relief innings.

His role in the bullpen this season has yet to be determined, as the club will we see how Slowey does over the course of Spring Training before deciding whether he'll serve as a long reliever or a one-inning pitcher. But that's why Gardenhire was happy that Anderson told Slowey he'd start in the bullpen with a week left in camp.

"That's why we did it," Gardenhire said. "You have to get him comfortable."

Slowey has looked comfortable in Grapefruit League play, posting a 2.25 ERA, six strikeouts and three walks over 12 innings in four appearances, including two starts -- and he's coming off a solid 2010 campaign as a starter when he posted a 4.45 ERA over 155 2/3 innings. Slowey had more impressive peripheral stats, fanning four times as many batters as he walked.

Anderson is excited about seeing how those skills translate to the bullpen. He said Slowey has been throwing harder as a reliever, with his fastball reaching 93 mph this spring after averaging 89.6 mph last season.

"He can do a little bit of everything," Anderson said. "You saw him come in for three innings the other day and he was throwing 93. So who knows? We're looking for good arms out there."

Slowey starts his relief work right away with a scheduled appearance against the Orioles on Wednesday night at Hammond Stadium. He also could be used in certain situations this spring to see how he adjusts to coming in with runners already on base.

"We talked about it yesterday, and he said he'd like to get started right now," Anderson said. "So, he'll be in tomorrow night and we'll warm him up real quick. But it gives him time to talk to [Joe] Nathan and [Matt] Capps about how to do it, and how you warm up and prepare yourself. I think it's giving him plenty of time to do that."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.