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Updated: January 29th, 2012 9:06pm
Zulgad's Roundup: Twins GM expects big things from starting rotation

Zulgad's Roundup: Twins GM expects big things from starting rotation

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Terry Ryan has said since the November day he moved into the general manager's office at Target Field that he doesn't feel he is overseeing a rebuilding project with the Minnesota Twins.

The Twins, however, are coming off a 99-loss season and seem to have done little this offseason that points to an immediate turnaround.

But Ryan reiterated during a recent appearance on "Judd & Phunn" on 1500 ESPN that he is confident 2012 can be a success.

"If we're healthy, we're going to be able to turn this thing around rather quickly," Ryan said. "Just because the (starting) rotation should give us an opportunity. We've got veterans out there that have won a lot of games for us historically and we're not all that far away from 2010 when we did win a lot of games."

The Twins' rotation will have a familiar look with Carl Pavano, Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano expected to hold the top three spots. Jason Marquis, the only free-agent addition to the rotation, and Nick Blackburn should end up in the Nos. 4 and 5 slots.

Pavano was 9-13 with a 4.30 ERA in 33 starts last season; Baker was 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 21 starts; and Blackburn was 7-10 with a 4.49 ERA in 26 starts.

Marquis, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract in December, was 8-6 with a 4.43 ERA in 23 starts with Washington and Arizona before an injury ended his year.

One guy Ryan is expecting big improvement from is Liriano, who is coming off a season in which he went 9-10 with a 5.09 ERA in 24 starts. The veteran will have plenty to prove pitching on a one-year, $5.5 million deal.

"My expectations for him are just like they have been in recent years," Ryan said. "He's probably got the most talent on that staff. He's got pitches that he can strike people out with. He's got pitches to handle right-handed hitters with. He can be dominant when he pitches ahead in the count.

"He's in the prime of his life and he's pitching for a lot this year. He's going into a contract year once again, and there's no reason that this guy shouldn't be one of the guys that can get us out of the problems we experienced last year.

"He is pitching in the Dominican Winter League right now, which is probably a good thing. So I think once again it's up to him. He pitches ahead, he's probably going to be successful."

Accountability is key

Reading between the lines of what Ryan had to say, it's clear he's either talked to some players, or at the least the message has been conveyed, that a repeat of 2011 is not going to happen when it comes to guys missing games.

In other words, having an ache or pain will not be a reason to go missing from the lineup.

"I haven't been around here for four years, and I've always been of the opinion that accountability is huge," said Ryan, who resigned as Twins GM in 2007. "And players know how to get themselves ready for a 162-game schedule.

"We don't really care about statistics or what they look like on March 5. I do care what they look like on April 5. Let's get ready for the season and make sure we can get through the grueling times that ultimately are August, September and, hopefully, October. That's what players need to prepare themselves for.

"... Accountability for our players and our staff is going to be the main issue here and I think last year may have been a wakeup call."

Ryan doesn't buy into the theory that if Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau aren't healthy that the Twins are completely sunk. Mauer battled a variety of ailments last season. Morneau's biggest concern is his issue with concussions.

"I don't look at it like that," Ryan said. "Frankly, if they can't play, then we've got to find somebody else to take their spot. And we did a little bit of that with (the signing of Ryan) Doumit to make sure we can give Joe ample opportunity to keep those legs strong.

"Justin, we've got a lot of faith that he's going to come back, and if he can't we've got to be ready for somebody else to take that spot. You don't want to let the other people down. If somebody gets hurt, you don't want to be in a position where you're decimated to the point you can't compete."

Optimistic outlook

Ryan continued to work for the Twins after he left the GM job and spent plenty of time the past four years observing the team's minor-league teams.

He doesn't believe things are as bleak in that area as some believe.

"I'm very familiar with what we've got all the way from rookie ball right up through Rochester," he said. "There's no doubt we've struggled at Triple-A for the last couple years. We need to fortify that club to allow us to have insurance and the depth to be able to replace guys when they get hurt or underperform.

"We are a little thin, but we aren't barren down there by any stretch. We have some quality, so when we need we can reach in and get those guys."

Ryan said the Twins have outfield depth, as well as some pitchers at the upper levels who could contribute soon.

"Our strongest area is going to be around that Beloit club this summer," in the Class A Midwest League, Ryan said. "We've got (outfielder Miguel) Sano, (outfielder Eddie) Rosario and guys like that that are going to play there. ... So it's OK. It's not great. We've been better but we've been worse."

Shortstop Levi Michael, the Twins' first-round pick last year from North Carolina, also is slated to start the season at Beloit.

Working on his arm

The big knock against Twins outfielder Ben Revere last season was his lack of arm strength.

Revere, who played mainly left and center field in 2011, has spent time this offseason working to improve his throwing by playing long toss with a football. That came at the advice of his brother.

"He was a quarterback in high school and college," Revere said. "I was talking to him and he was like, 'Man, what you've got to do is just throw the long toss every day.' That really helped him out a lot.

"I've been doing that for about a month-and-a-half, and I can tell just throwing now that I was getting a lot more backspin. ... I feel like my arm strength has gotten a lot (better). Hopefully, it works out for the best."

Revere, who has fantastic speed, also is working on improving his bunting with former Twins great Rod Carew.

Mr. Versatility

Doumit, who signed a one-year, $3 million free-agent deal with the Twins this offseason after seven years in Pittsburgh, isn't certain what position he will end up playing the most this year but is planning to bring "about four different gloves" to spring training to prepare himself.

Doumit is a catcher but also could end up spending time at first base, right field and as the Twins' designated hitter. Doumit's expectation is that he will catch and DH quite a bit.

"Maybe I can spell a few games here at first, maybe a few games in the outfield," Doumit said during an appearance on "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from TwinsFest. "But I would think, primarily early on at least, it would be catching and DHing."

Doumit, 30, said he has played about 20 games at first base but admits he isn't all that comfortable at the spot. "I've got about 70 or 80 (appearances) in right field," Doumit said, "and if I had my choice between outfielder or first base, I would probably feel more comfortable in the outfield."

The tricky thing playing first base, Doumit said, is the footwork required around the bag.

"It seems like such an easy position if you don't play it," he said. "It's like, 'How hard can it be? Just stand there and catch the ball and worry about hitting home runs.' But there's a little more than meets the eye with that position."

Leave it alone

There was plenty of talk around baseball last season about home-plate collisions after San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey tore ligaments in his ankle and fractured a bone in his lower leg in a May 25 play against the Marlins' Scott Cousins.

The injury ended Posey's season.

Around the same time, Doumit was lost for two months when he fractured his left ankle in a home-plate collision with the Cubs' Carlos Pena at Wrigley Field.

"He slid into me and my cleat kind of stuck and I rolled over and fractured my ankle," Doumit said. "(I was) just blocking the plate. My cleat just stuck wrong. Carlos Pena's a big guy, slid right in."

Doumit said he is feeling no effects from the injury and that his ankle feels fine. He also made it clear he does not want to see baseball do anything to eliminate collisions at the plate.

"As far as I'm concerned, us catchers we know what we signed up for," Doumit said. "It's all part of the game. Stuff like that happens. It's unfortunate, yes, but we knew that coming into it and that's half the fun for us. I think if they took that away it would be a shame.

"As long as it's not deliberate and the runner isn't going out of his way to hurt you. If it's a bang-bang play and it's clean, that's all part of it."

The Twins, obviously, don't want to see Doumit in many collisions. He has spent time on the disabled list each of the past six years.

Will listen to offers

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said last week at the Senior Bowl that he would entertain offers for the third-overall pick in the April draft.

This should have come as a surprise to no one. In fact, Spielman has to say he will listen to offers no matter what his intentions are. It would make no sense not to consider every scenario, especially given the Vikings many, many needs.

"We're going to keep all of our options open, as we head into this draft," Spielman said. "We'll evaluate the players at the top of the draft, but we also want to keep our options open because if there is depth in the draft, or depth at a certain position where you can accumulate more picks and go get a quality player, we will definitely look at that."

Spielman said the Vikings' personnel department started meetings to discuss the 53-man roster before the Senior Bowl and will finish those discussions this week.

The next move will be for the Vikings to stack their roster against all the unrestricted free agents who will hit the market in March.

"We'll have our UFA meetings in February and you'll kind of see where the picture is," Spielman explained. "Then our college scouts will come in February as well, and we'll actually go through our initial draft meetings just with myself, George Paton, Scott Studwell and the college scouts and stack that board. Before we go to the combine, we'll have a pretty good picture of where we're at and what direction we want to go."

Paton is the Vikings' director of player personnel and Studwell is the director of college scouting.

Cautious with Peterson

The Vikings and Adrian Peterson have expressed hope that the running back will be able to return from surgery to repair his torn anterior cruciate ligament for the start of the 2012 regular season.

While that might be the goal, Spielman said the Vikings will be smart with their star player.

"We're almost going to have to pull him back because he's so determined to prove to everybody that he's even going to be a better back coming off this surgery," Spielman said. "It's going to be a situation where we're not going to put him out there until we know he's 100 percent and ready to go because he is our franchise player.

"But I know the way Adrian's attacked this and the way he's been rehabbing and how far he is ahead of schedule. Where he is at, we're going to have to watch so he doesn't overdue it himself."

Odds and ends

• Doumit on his first visit to Target Field: "I thought we had it pretty good in Pittsburgh with the stadium there, but this park here is beautiful. I'm hoping that the rumors are false that it's a hitter's worst enemy. I'm hoping that's not the case."

• Doumit, who is a switch-hitter, said he is a dead-pull hitter: "The only time I go the other way is if a fastball beats me."

• With TwinsFest back at the Metrodome after a one-year absence caused by the collapse of stadium's roof, attendance was around 30,000 for the three-day event.

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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