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Updated: March 31st, 2013 8:21pm
Zulgad: Twins' best pitch will be to stress that fans remain patient

Zulgad: Twins' best pitch will be to stress that fans remain patient

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

A fan base that has watched the Minnesota Twins lose 99 and 96 games en route to last-place finishes in the American League Central the past two seasons doesn't want to hear it, but if this franchise were to have a completely honest marketing slogan for 2013 it would be this: Patience is a virtue.

The reason for this is simple.

General manager Terry Ryan is building a roster that has some pop in the lineup and might be better defensively. But there is no getting around the fact that the starting pitching staff is a major work in progress and the real hope for the future isn't going to begin arriving until, maybe, sometime this summer and then into next season.

This means that as the Twins get set to open the season on Monday against the defending AL Central champion Detroit Tigers, it's difficult to predict a massive turnaround from 2011 and 2012. Just look at the Opening Day matchup at Target Field - Vance Worley against Justin Verlander - and you have an idea just how far behind the Twins are against a division rival.

Verlander, the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young winner, is one of the best pitchers in baseball and signed a seven-year, $180 million contract extension last week. Worley was acquired from the Phillies in the Ben Revere trade during the offseason and wasn't even the marquee piece of that deal.

That doesn't mean there isn't hope for the Twins' future.

The Twins will open the season with a rotation of Worley, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Scott Diamond, once he returns from the disabled list. Liam Hendriks and Cole DeVries also could be candidates to crack the rotation.

Out of those six names, there is not one pitcher who can be looked upon as an ace. Correia and Pelfrey, like Worley, were brought in this offseason after the Twins' rotation proved to be one of the worst in baseball in 2012.

Worley finished spring training with a 5.73 earned-run average in six starts. Correia, who had been with Pittsburgh, had a 5.40 ERA in seven starts, Pelfrey, coming off Tommy John surgery and a former Met, was at 6.38 in six starts.

While the Twins will have their fingers crossed that Worley, Correia and Pelfrey can get the job done in 2013, they will do so with the confidence that youngsters Kyle Gibson, Trevor May and Alex Meyer will enable the team to strengthen its rotation in a big way in 2014.

Gibson is coming off Tommy John surgery, while May was the star attraction of the Revere trade and Meyer came over from Washington in the deal that sent Denard Span to the Nationals. The feeling is that all three could be top of the rotation types and May and Meyer are big, hard-throwing guys.

Keep in mind, there's also a possibility Ryan could attempt to get even more starting pitching near the trade deadline if first baseman Justin Morneau is dealt in the last year of his contract.

Since it appears the Twins are prepared to take their lumps in 2013 - it doesn't help confidence that the guys in the bullpen in front of closer Glen Perkins also had their issues this spring - it will be interesting to see what the expectation for manager Ron Gardenhire will be this season.

Gardenhire did not receive a contract extension after last year and his coaching staff was shaken up. This caused the immediate reaction that if the Twins struggled out of the gate Gardenhire could find himself out of work before summer arrived.

That, however, might prove to be an incorrect assumption.

Gardenhire was hired by Ryan to replace Tom Kelly after the 2001 season and has won six AL Central titles. Ryan knows better than anybody that Gardenhire is an extremely capable manager and he also knows that he hasn't given his manager a pitching staff with a real ace or even a clear-cut No. 2 guy.

That could and should change in 2014.

Gardenhire likely will survive this season, all the while being told that he just needs to remain patient.

Twins fans are likely to hear the same message. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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