Their bullpen was a surprising bright spot last season, but they were overworked thanks to a starting staff that too often couldn't get past the fourth inning.
The pitchers who could save the Minnesota Twins aren't ready yet, and they may not be until 2014.
Alex Meyer and Trevor May arrived in separate trades over the winter, bringing with them the kind of power arms and strikeout mentalities that have been sorely lacking in the organization's pitching stock for years. Both have yet to throw a pitch in Triple-A, and the Twins appear content to let them get some needed seasoning in the minors this year before giving them a shot at the big league rotation.
Kyle Gibson, a first-round draft pick in 2009, appears to be closer to helping the beleaguered starting staff out. But he struggled with his command in his first spring training after Tommy John surgery and will start the season in Rochester as well.
With Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham at or nearing the end of their primes, can the Twins afford to wait that long?
"We had a lot of starting pitching problems," Mauer said. "It's been well documented. We're trying to fix that problem."
After six AL Central titles in nine seasons, the Twins have lost 195 games over the last two years, with their pitch-to-contact starting staff the main culprits in last year's 96-loss season. With several high draft picks failing, general manager Terry Ryan went outside the organization to bring in reinforcements. He traded center fielders Denard Span and Ben Revere in separate deals to bring in Meyer and May, two big, strong, flamethrowers who were highly regarded in Washington and Philadelphia.
That's for the future.
When it comes to immediate help, Ryan went shopping in the bargain bin. Veteran sinkerballer Mike Pelfrey is coming off Tommy John surgery. Kevin Correia was demoted to the bullpen in Pittsburgh last season. Vance Worley had arm problems of his own last year. All three National League transfers have had rough springs, and with Scott Diamond starting the season on the disabled list and World Baseball Classic star Sam Deduno coming down with a groin injury, the search for an ace continues.
Correia (6.30), Worley (6.35) and Pelfrey (7.45) all have high ERAs this spring, which doesn't inspire a ton of confidence that the group will be able to succeed where Jason Marquis, Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano all failed last year.
While the names are different this season, the resumes are strikingly similar. Like Marquis, Correia is a back-of-the-rotation career National Leaguer who figures to have his location-based approach challenged more extensively in the American League. Like Pavano, Pelfrey is a solid, innings-eating veteran who is working his way back from an injury. At 24, Worley is looking to recapture the form that made him a promising piece of Philadelphia's star-studded rotation.
Bone chips in his elbow contributed to a 6-9 record with a 4.20 ERA last season, and Worley hasn't been sharp this spring. But on a team with few options, he is the favorite to be the opening day starter. Worley is undaunted by coming over to pitch in the slugger-heavy AL. Actually he sees more of an opportunity for himself, Pelfrey and Correia to really assert themselves.
"I think most of us will be able to go deeper in the game," Worley said. "I felt like that was something that hurt my innings last year, too. It was an opportunity for a pinch hitter. You're out of the game, and it's only the sixth inning. When it's something where the pitch count was down, you can maybe go seven or eight innings. I think we'll all be able to log some innings."
The Twins need that more than anything. Their bullpen was a surprising bright spot last season, but they were overworked thanks to a starting staff that too often couldn't get past the fourth inning. For as solid as setup man Jared Burton and closer Glen Perkins are on the back end, it doesn't do much good if they never get the ball with a chance to lock down a lead.
"We've got guys that can hit. We can score runs," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We just needed to stay in the games a little bit longer, and hopefully that's what we've accomplished. We'll see."
Gardenhire's future may depend on it. The popular skipper is in the final year of his contract, and another defeat-filled season could mark the end of his 12-year run in Minnesota.
"You know what, you should be held accountable year by year," he said. "I have no problem with that. I'll go about my business. It's not going to change what I do, I don't think."