CLEVELAND -- The biggest concern the Twins had when they chose to go with a very young rotation was how those arms might hold up toward the end of the season. Only one of the Twins' current five starting pitchers -- Kevin Slowey -- had pitched 200 innings in a season. So the expectation was that most of the starters would near that mark or at least reach their career highs in innings pitched. And now that the end of the season is nearing, manager Ron Gardenhire said he believes he's seeing some of the effects of that workload.
In the last five games entering Wednesday, only two Twins starters have made it past the fourth inning. And Gardenhire also pointed to the fact that the starters have combined to give up 10 home runs in the 22 2/3 innings they pitched. "That is a little worrisome," Gardenhire said. "From home runs flying out [to] not getting very deep into the games, those are the things that really concern you as a manager." One of those short starts was from left-hander Francisco Liriano in Tuesday night's loss at Cleveland. Liriano lasted just 2 2/3 innings, giving up a career-high eight runs (four earned) on seven hits. The pitcher said the rough outing was a result of his inability to locate his pitches and to slow himself down on the mound. "I think that I was too excited to pitch yesterday," Liriano said. "I was rushing, try to make perfect pitches. I was watching the video and rushing too much, not staying back in my motion. I'll work on that in my bullpen tomorrow and get ready for that next start." Although Liriano's pitching motion was one problem, there is also the question of whether the left-hander's workload is starting to catch up with him. Gardenhire said that he and his coaching staff have been keeping a close eye on Liriano for any signs of fatigue. They felt that might be a concern since it's his first full season back following Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow, and he's already thrown 188 innings between the Minors and Majors this season. So far there has been no reason for concern, but Gardenhire doesn't want to take any risks. "I know a lot of people are saying, 'You need to figure out a way to pitch him on short day's rest against the White Sox,'" Gardenhire said. "I just want the guy healthy for the rest of the year. That's been a big goal." But Liriano is not the only starter the Twins are keeping their eye on. Glen Perkins is coming off a left shoulder injury last year that limited him to just 48 total innings. He has already pitched 178 2/3 innings this season between his time at Triple-A Rochester and the Twins. Nick Blackburn has already exceeded his career high in innings pitched, having thrown 180 2/3 this season. That's after the right-hander pitched through November in the Arizona Fall League last season. Scott Baker and Slowey have also thrown their share of innings, around 160 for each, although they both went through injuries early in the year that has kept their inning count down slightly. With the Twins still in the midst of a playoff chase in the American League Central, trailing the White Sox by 2 1/2 games entering Wednesday, the club doesn't have many options in terms of giving those starters a rest. This is the time when the Twins need their starters to deliver innings, and if they realize their goal of making the playoffs, those innings counts will undoubtedly rise even higher. "Can we do anything about them, really? No, we have to keep sending them back out there," Gardenhire said of his starters. "We've got a lot of things to worry about and not many games left, so you keep plugging away."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.