Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 4/26/12
MINNEAPOLIS When the Minnesota Twins announced earlier this month that right-hander Scott Baker would miss the entire 2012 season after having elbow surgery, Twins general manager Terry Ryan made a proclamation about his team's starting rotation. "Our big issue has not been pitching," Ryan said back on April 11. "We haven't hit too much. Our pitchers have done a relatively decent job here." Two weeks later, the opposite holds true. The Twins havebeen scoring more runs than they were when Ryan uttered that statement, but the starting pitching has put the offense behind early and often. Through Tuesday, Minnesota's rotation had a combined record of 2-10 and an ERA of 6.73, which were both dead last in the majors. Things didn't get any better Wednesday against the Red Sox, as right-hander Liam Hendriks gave up seven runs in four innings to bring the rotation's combined ERA to 7.09 on the season. The second-worst rotation ERA in the majors is Boston, whose starters have an ERA of 5.78, more than a full run lower than Minnesota's. The Twins' starters now have just three quality starts (at least six innings and no more than three earned runs) in 19 attempts. The next-fewest is five by the Yankees' rotation. Opponents are also hitting .319 against Minnesota's starters, which again is the worst in baseball. But how do the Twins fix the biggest problem three weeks into the season? The answer isn't an easy one. "We have to get them straightened out. We can't go out and buy people. We gotta make this work," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after Tuesday's loss. "I can't rub a bottle to make somebody pop out. We have to make these guys work. Confidence level? I have a lot of confidence in these guys. But they have to get it done in the field. It doesn't matter what I say in here. They have to go out between the lines and get it done." Gardenhire was particularly frustrated after Nick Blackburn's latest outing Tuesday, when Blackburn allowed five runs in on eight hits in just three innings. But Gardenhire's frustration was more widely directed at the Twins' entire pitching staff, especially the rotation. None of the five starters have more than one win. And after Hendriks' ERA jumped from 3.86 to 6.89 on Wednesday, no Minnesota starter has an ERA lower than 4.73, which belongs to Carl Pavano. Perhaps the most perplexing starter for the Twins has been left-hander Francisco Liriano. In four starts this season, Liriano has posted an 0-3 record, an ERA of 11.02 and a WHIP of 2.327. He's also walked more batters (13) than he's struck out (12). His latest clunker on Sunday was enough for the Twins to decide to skip Liriano's next start in the rotation to let him "take a step back" and take a mental break before rejoining the rotation Tuesday in Anaheim. Minnesota is hoping that will do the trick, as the Twins seem to be running out of ideas on how to right what's wrong with Liriano. "I'm not sure what the magic potion is," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "I'm hoping (pitching coach) Rick (Anderson) and Gardy can work their magic, because obviously we need him. It's been a struggle." The only potentially promising option at Triple-A Rochester is left-hander Scott Diamond, who made his major league debut with the Twins last season and started seven games in 2011. In four starts with the Red Wings this season, Diamond has posted impressive numbers: a 4-0 record, 1.07 ERA and 18 strikeouts to just five walks in 25 13 innings. "His numbers are good. That's encouraging," Ryan said. "We'll see how he does here, but so far he's had a good start. But it's only been four starts." Sure, Diamond's numbers have come against Triple-A hitting, but those numbers are far better than anything Minnesota's starting pitchers have put together. Pavano is 1-2 with a 4.73 ERA. Anthony Swarzak was 0-3 with a 5.94 ERA before moving to the bullpen, and Jason Marquis has posted a 7.15 ERA in two starts. Yet while the starting pitchers have put their team behind early and failed to go deep into games, the hitters aren't blaming the rotation. "We win as a team, we lose as a team. They've gone out there and thrown five, six innings and given up two runs and we scored one," designated hitter Justin Morneau said after Wednesday's 7-6 loss to Boston, in which the Twins fell behind 7-1 before a late rally fell short. "Sometimes when you score early, it takes pressure off the pitching staff and allows them to not try and have to be perfect. We haven't done that. "There's no finger pointing. We play together and nobody's going to blame anyone. It's never pitchers against hitters. It's win together, lose together." So far, the Twins have been losing together more often than winning. The offense has shown that it can score enough runs to compete. Now it's all up to the starting pitching. Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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