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Updated: August 21st, 2011 2:42pm
Notebook: Could Duensing or Blackburn move to bullpen next year?

Notebook: Could Duensing or Blackburn move to bullpen next year?

by Phil Mackey
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins' list of flaws this season spills over to multiple pages, but somewhere near the top of Page 1 is the inconsistency of a starting rotation that owns the fourth-worst ERA in the American League (4.36).

And that ERA is being dragged down almost entirely by the 3.21 mark of Scott Baker, who's been sidelined for two weeks with elbow troubles.

Carl Pavano leads the way among the other four starters with a 4.52 ERA.

Twins starters also strike out the sixth-fewest hitters in the majors (5.89 K/9), while allowing the seventh-most home runs (88), and pitching to contact has been taken to an entirely new level by Pavano and Nick Blackburn, who have given up the most and sixth-most hits, respectively, in baseball.

Manager Ron Gardenhire acknowledged Saturday that changes could be on the horizon in 2012.

"I'm not afraid to move somebody to the bullpen out of that rotation if we find somebody else," Gardenhire said. "There's a couple of people -- (Brian) Duensing could go, and I'm not saying he will. I like Duensing in the rotation right now. ... But he's got enough ability to go to the bullpen if it would make our bullpen better. Blacky can do it with that sinkerball, come out and do some things. So we have people who could move.

"It just depends on who you're going to fill that spot up with, and who we get to replace them."

Regarding Duensing, the left-hander has struggled mightily against right-handed hitters this season, allowing a .321/.376/.546 batting line with 56 extra-base hits in 466 plate appearances. Lefties are hitting just .219/.242/.285 against Duensing.

Blackburn has struggled against almost everybody, posting a 7.20 ERA with 82 hits allowed and 23 walks issued in 50 innings since June 27, and he left Sunday's game after only 1 1/3 innings with forearm soreness.

If the Twins were to shuffle the rotation heading into next year, the three obvious in-house options to slide in are Kevin Slowey, Anthony Swarzak and Kyle Gibson, who may still wind up needing Tommy John surgery.

"That kid that got hurt was probably on of the guys we would look at, Gibson," Gardenhire said. "But that's not going to be an option. ...

"I like Swarzak. I like the way he throws the ball. He's been very valuable in his role right now, and I like what he does, and I'm not afraid to put him in, give him starts. He's learned a lot, he spins the ball, he's got some deception with his fastball. His mechanics have stayed solid, so I like him. I like him a lot. He's definitely another guy that will be in that mix in spring training. But he's been very valuable in the role he's in right now."

As for the notion of moving Duensing or Blackburn to the bullpen, Gardenhire added, "what (the front office) is going to do over the winter will tell me what I'm going to do with my rotation."

What is Plouffe's future at shortstop

Currently tabbed as a super-utility man, Trevor Plouffe has been taking more groundballs at his natural position, shortstop, over the past few days. Gardenhire said he has worked with Plouffe on tweaking his throwing mechanics.

"His arm was down in here (three-quarters) a lot," the manager said, "and I asked him about throwing up top, and he said when he was playing shortstop early that he caught one in the hole and got on top and threw the ball way into the stands, and he said he got nervous about that. So he started dropping down here, because he thought he could be more accurate. I told him I'd like to see him up here; Just aim for the feet, because he's got a very strong arm. ...

"We're going to get him out at short a little bit more and do some adjustments. He's definitely going to have to play out there.

With the Tsuyoshi Nishioka experiment not going as planned this season, it's not unreasonable to suggest that Plouffe still has a shot to insert himself into the mix for 2012.

"That's kind of what we've got to find out," Gardenhire said. "Not so much whether he's a shortstop; we just have to find the right position for him and go from there. You'd like to think if he can swing the bat like that you'll find a place for him. It could be in the outfield. Everything depends on what we do this winter. That's going to dictate where I have to fill holes. I'll get him in the lineup the best I can."

Oliveros up soon?

Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson are hoping to get a look at newly-acquired right-handed reliever Lester Oliveros sometime before the season ends. Oliveros has thrown three innings for Triple-A Rochester since being acquired in the Delmon Young trade, allowing one earned run on two hits to go along with four strikeouts.

"We haven't talked to Billy (Smith) about it, but Andy and I have been talking and he's definitely a guy we'd like to see up here, in September at least, to see what we have," Gardenhire said. "If he's going to be one of these guys that comes into camp with a chance to be in our bullpen, then I would like to see him here in September, if not before. ...

"We have to get with Billy and figure out what their thoughts are. We haven't had a lot of time to talk about that. We've had to deal with all the injuries and stuff like that lately, so we haven't had a chance to walk about September. Actually, we were going to do that here real soon."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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