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Wetmore: Could rest hold the key to getting Twins rotation back on track?

MINNEAPOLIS – The Twins starting rotation was a big reason that the team was one of the best in baseball through the first two months of the season. Recently, not so much. And the Twins aren’t hiding from that fact. So while the bats continue to rack up runs and bombas in bunches, Minnesota has an eye toward getting the starting-pitching cart back on the rails.

To their credit, it has by and large been the same group of 5 guys taking the ball in turn and working to put the Twins in position to win games. The rotation quintet has started 95% of the team’s games this year, and we’re almost through August. In May we were bickering about which of three Twins starters would be first in line to start for the A.L. in the all-star game; in August, the conversation has shifted as the staff ERA has ballooned.

Now, I’m curious to see if the team pulls any tricks to help get the group to the finish line.

Would it make sense to skip a start or give an extra day off between outings? Six-man rotation? September-callups ‘bullpen’ day? Spot starter to take someone’s turn?

Here’s a look at how each of the four starters performs this season on different rest schedules. The chart below includes days of rest between starts, opponent batting average, and starter ERA. It’s a crude look with the help of Baseball Reference. I still think it helps to illustrate a point.

Jake Odorizzi

4 – BA .301, 4.76 ERA
5 – BA .211, 4.35 ERA
6+ – BA .179, 1.00 ERA

Kyle Gibson

4 – BA .276, 5.43 ERA
5 – BA .227, 3.32 ERA
6+ – BA .266, 5.00 ERA (only 27 innings)

Martin Pérez

4 – BA .261, 4.21 ERA
5 – BA .254, 3.92 ERA
6+ – BA .300, 6.75 ERA  (only 3 starts)

José Berríos

4 – BA .225, 2.87 ERA
5 – BA .293, 4.42 ERA
6+ – BA .186, 2.81 ERA

A couple notes and then a thought about the immediate future in Minnesota.

*I excluded Michael Pineda from this analysis because he just got his breather with a stint on the 10-day Injured List.

**It was important to me to have at least 100 batters in each sample, but even with that, some of these measures represent a pretty small pool of stats. So take them as guide posts that help tell an interesting story and don’t take them as The Truth.

I asked Rocco Baldelli if the Twins are considering added rest for any of their starters. The conversation had begun with a group of reporters asking about Berríos, but I didn’t mean for the question to be about him specifically.

“We can do some interesting things with the schedule and I don’t think that’s always a bad idea,” Baldelli said. “I think that there’s actually some benefit. We talk about rest and recovery, and over the course of making 30-plus starts, many pitchers can benefit from taking some time – it’s usually a matter of days. But I think there can be benefit from that.”

“I think guys sometimes come back stronger; I think guys sometimes the mental part of that is actually important, too. And it doesn’t have to be an IL stint where there’s actually a physical issue involved. Sometimes you can find ways to find days [off] for guys by just shuffling some pitchers around and working around off days. Is it something that can be beneficial? I think, sure it can.”

The Twins have an off day Monday, which could mean some built-in rest for the starting rotation cast. And with September right around the corner, there is some rumblings that the cavalry of pitching depth is about to descend on the Twin Cities.

Rocco hinted as much Saturday. “It’s September and we’re playing competitive baseball in a competitive situation; we should never be short-handed in a situation like this,” he said.

Here’s what I’d do. I’m laying out the schedule for the next three weeks and trying to chart a course. Given the numbers above, I’m trying to find six days between starts for Odorizzi and also for Berríos.

The reason that I’d lean 6+ for Berríos right now is that he’s working through mechanical adjustments, he said Saturday. The Twins and their pitching group are trying to help the still-young righty work his way through some challenges that may be contributing to his inconsistent control. He also experienced a brief step down in velocity for a few starts, and some might wonder if that’s related to the fact that he’s taken the post 26 times this season, and he’s tracking toward 200 innings for the first time in his career.

Here is how I would attack each of the upcoming series if I was the Twins:

After Monday’s off day, the Twins go to Chicago for 3 against the White Sox. I’d go with Pineda (6 days rest), Odorizzi (6) and then ask a starter to step up from the group of Devin Smeltzer, Zack Littell, Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe and Kohl Stewart. This might be the biggest proposed challenge I’m laying out in this stretch but the rewards could be worth it.

Then for the Tigers series, I’d roll with Gibson (5 days rest) after he looked good Saturday against that same club. Then it’s Berríos (7 days rest), Pérez (6) and Pineda (5). You could flip Gibson and Berríos if you’d prefer that each pitcher gets 6 days between outings.

The Red Sox series goes to the spot starter – not necessarily the same one you picked last time – and Odorizzi (6) and Gibson (5). The difference this time around is that there ought to be more than enough arms to provide ample coverage to the pitching staff for that series.

Then the all-important series with the Indians: Pérez (4), Berríos (6) and Pineda (5).

This format allows for some added recovery days in here and it eliminates the need to skip anybody for a start. Then you’re at the next scheduled off day and you get to do whatever you want after that. You’ll also know much more about where you’re at in the A.L. Central standings.

Kyle Gibson threw 95 pitches Saturday, and the Tigers swung and missed 18 of them.

Yes, it’s the Tigers. But if Gibson’s stuff caries through the season and he continues to attack the strike zone, he’ll help the Twins get to where they want to go this fall. Getting 18 swinging strikes in 95 pitches is a big number for Gibson.

The most prominent example of that Saturday was in the 3rd inning, when stuff was starting to hit the fan. Home run, hit batter, and an error on Luis Arraez. That’s how the frame starter. Gibson got three swings and misses against a hitter who dominated a generation of baseball, Miguel Cabrera, to help cut down a potential big rally from the Tigers.

“I was able to really execute breaking pitches and even fastballs — I got probably more swings and misses on fastballs than I’ve had in a while,” Gibson said after the game. “It was [because I had] better execution and mechanics were a little bit more consistent. When you can get swing and misses in those situations — especially against a guy like Miggy [Cabrera], who is really good at executing in those situations and finds RBIs in those situations really well — to be able to execute pitches in that scenario consistently all night was good.”

Players Weekend:

Byron Buxton is about to begin a rehab assignment.

The Twins could fast-track him back to the big leagues, but we’ll have to wait and see. Rocco Baldelli indicated that he was not interested in divulging a timeline for Buxton’s return.

Byron Buxton to begin rehab assignment as he aims to return to Twins’ lineup

Triple-A Rochester’s box score caught my eye Saturday.

Five Red Wings pitchers combined to pitch 9 innings of 1-run ball. Preston Guilmet, Trevor Hildenberger, Jake Reed, Bursdar Graterol and Ryan O’Rourke.

Specifically, Hildenberger and Graterol catch your eye. While O’Rourke, in his first tour of the Twins organization, was a nightmare for left-handed hitters. September call-ups, anyone?

For what it’s worth, Trevor Hildenberger earned the win, while former Twins ace Ervin Santana took the loss.



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