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Updated: April 28th, 2010 10:07pm
With Baker, early season struggles are par for the course

With Baker, early season struggles are par for the course

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
After an early offensive barrage that chased Tigers' right-hander Max Scherzer from the game, it appeared as if the Twins were well on their way to yet another series victory.


Unfortunately, Detroit's "who-in-the-world-are-these-guys?" lineup went "1997 Mariners" on Scott Baker and Jesse Crain, en route to a 11-6 victory, dropping the Twins to 14-7 on the season.

Baker, who has now given up 11 earned runs over his last two starts, is likely to be the whipping boy after this one. But how much of the inevitable criticism will come through an objective lens?

Baker was handed a 6-1 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth inning on Wednesday night, and he promptly served up a solo home run to Brandon Inge before walking Ryan Raburn on four pitches. After that, the inning completely fell apart, as Baker gave up a single to Ramon Santiago and then walked Austin Jackson to load the bases.

Johnny Damon drove in a run with a groundout to second, and Magglio Ordonez hit a sharp two-out single to right field, scoring two more runs to make it 6-5. Baker eventually struck out Miguel Cabrera to preserve the one-run lead, but after Brennan Boesch led off the fifth inning with a double, Ron Gardenhire decided to make a pitching change.

Let me rephrase that. Gardenhire marched angrily to the mound, muttering under his breath, with his head spinning around like Linda Blair in the Exorcist.

Normally managers would throw as much rope as possible to their starting pitcher before the fifth inning ends in an attempt to get him the "win." Gardenhire, however, wasn't in the rope-giving mood.

Baker finished the night allowing five earned runs on nine hits and three walks in four-plus innings. He struck out five.

Through five starts, Baker has a 5.72 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, with 36 hits allowed, eight walks issued, and 20 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings.

Business as usual.

That's right. Baker's struggles in April this season are simply par for the course. He's always been shaky in April, and Twins fans shouldn't be surprised if they see more gap shots and crooked numbers in May either.

Scott Baker career splits, month-by-month:

April: 5.17 ERA... 1.31 WHIP... 6.8 K per 9... 1.76 BB per 9... 1.66 HR per 9
May: 5.98 ERA... 1.36 WHIP... 6.8 K per 9... 1.61 BB per 9... 2.14 HR per 9
June: 3.73 ERA... 1.19 WHIP... 7.9 K per 9... 1.96 BB per 9... 0.88 HR per 9
July: 4.12 ERA... 1.15 WHIP... 7.7 K per 9... 1.85 BB per 9, ...1.10 HR per 9
Aug: 3.53 ERA... 1.22 WHIP... 6.0 K per 9... 1.94 BB per 9... 0.76 HR per 9
Sept/Oct: 3.95 ERA... 1.36 WHIP... 6.2 K per 9... 2.80 BB per 9... 0.91 HR per 9

If history is any indication -- and I'd be careful to read the above as gospel, because we're talking about only 90-to-140 innings of sample size each month -- Baker will find his form sometime in June.

And at age 28 (29 later this season), Baker has 667 innings of major league experience, so it's not out of the question that he could still improve and evolve as a pitcher. But, for the most part, Baker is what he is -- a flyball pitcher who throws more pitches over the plate than almost any starting pitcher in baseball.

He's going to get rocked from time to time.

The problem isn't so much with Baker's inconsistencies and early season struggles, but rather the unrealistic expectations of anyone who truly believes he is a number one starter. That simply isn't the case.

Maybe the re-emergence of Francisco Liriano as the staff "ace" will help take some of the pressure and spotlight off Baker.

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