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Updated: June 16th, 2013 9:02pm
Warne: With new faces, Twins' rotation has turned it around in June

Warne: With new faces, Twins' rotation has turned it around in June

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by Brandon Warne
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The common thread among preseason pundits regarding this year's Minnesota Twins team was that there'd be a good amount of offense to go around, but the starting pitching would sabotage it.

While that was more the case in April and May, it's been quite the contrary in June.

In April, the rotation had a 4.88 earned-run average, which ranked 24th in baseball. In May, the wheels came off with a 6.26 mark (29th).

But in June, the rotation has taken its game to a whole new level, with a 3.46 ERA that ranked 11th in baseball entering Sunday's games.

The Twins have done it their way in June. With a 53.7% groundball rate, the Twins' starters ranked second in all of baseball entering Sunday in that time frame (14 games).

This was the expectation from the get-go, as Scott Diamond, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and even the since-demoted Vance Worley were all expected to be prolific worm killers.

If one thing is a bit odd about the Twins' starters making hay in June, it's that two-fifths of the rotation is filled with guys who weren't considered Opening Day rotation candidates: Samuel Deduno and P.J. Walters.

Some might be quick to point out Deduno was a rotation candidate based solely off his World Baseball Classic performance. But keep in mind neither he nor Walters were even on the 40-man roster out of spring training.

In fact, Cole De Vries probably would have been in the rotation if he hadn't come down with a forearm strain in late March. Instead, De Vries went to the minor leagues and currently has an ERA north of 10.00.

The two newcomers have come up and pitched well, joining the trio of veteran starters led by Correia, who at 5-4 with a 3.97 ERA has pitched better than most non-Twins staffers would have expected.

Even Pelfrey has been better of late. Despite still being the owner of a 6.12 ERA, each of his last three starts has resulted in three earned runs (4.34 ERA), and he has allowed a passable opposing batter's line of .265/.329/.338 in those starts.

Pelfrey has pitched better than the raw numbers would indicate this season. His FIPs -- ERAs normalized to account for peripheral statistics -- are 4.21 and 4.96.

In other words, he has some underlying traits which, when normalized, should be beneficial for his overall line. This includes a .353 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and a strand rate of 61.5%. The league averages on those figures are .292 and 73.1%.

In other words, regression should be nice to Pelfrey.

"I think obviously one of the biggest parts we lacked was going deep into games," Pelfrey said of the rotation as a whole. "That all starts with strike one. We've done a better job of getting ahead of guys and getting quicker outs. When you do that, you put hitters on the defensive."

Pelfrey has been impressed with what newcomers Walters and Deduno have brought to the table.

"They mixed it up a bit with Walters and Deduno," Pelfrey said. "Those guys have been great. Hopefully that can continue."

On his own evolution as the season has worn on, Pelfrey said it's largely due to getting a feel for his secondary stuff.

"For myself, I feel I'm getting better," Pelfrey said. "Obviously, I've struggled most of the first two months. The feel for my curveball and slider is what I was lacking. And especially last time out, I've started to get a feel for that. I threw a good bullpen the other day and still had that feel. That was maybe the last thing I was missing. Hopefully, it'll continue to get better."

With Kyle Gibson pitching well down in Rochester and Worley still likely to make a return appearance, it will be important for Pelfrey to continue his recent string of success, as rotation spots could be at a premium in the very near future.

"They're working ahead, and they're working quick," backup catcher Ryan Doumit said. "When you get ahead of hitters, it makes it easier to set them up. They aren't falling behind in counts. They're strike one, strike two. That makes for effective pitch-calling."

"We've had some guys step up," Doumit continued before he singled out one pitcher in particular. "Deduno's stuff is unlike anybody I've caught. He's got so much movement."

Doumit noted that concentration is paramount when catching the 29-year-old Dominican.

"You don't ever take pitches off, but your concentration level has to be on top of your game when you catch Deduno," Doumit said. "He's got such good movement, and it's so late that after catching nine innings with him you're more mentally exhausted than you are physically."

Even if the Twins don't continue this strong run with this current incarnation of starters, there's a decent complement of guys at Triple-A who may merit a shot, including Gibson, Worley and Andrew Albers.

In a game in which you can never have too much pitching, competition is a good thing.

Brandon Warne covers the Minnesota Twins for 1500ESPN.com. He has also contributed as a baseball analyst for Fangraphs.com and BaseballProspectus.com
Email Brandon | @Brandon_Warne
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