Monday, September 14, 2009

31 innings (and no home runs)

Tragic number entering Monday: 15. Another day off the calendar.


I predicted in the Monday print column that Brian Duensing (above) will be Plan B for the Twins rotation in 2010. Sunday's start — seven shutout innings — doesn't change that assessment.

Yes, he sports a sparkling 2.00 ERA in the majors as a starter. If that were even close to a realistic gauge of his ability, he'd be at the top of the rotation. But ...

A) It's only 36 innings. Six starts, three of which were just 15 outs. Manager Ron Gardenhire has kept him on a short leash.

B) The results of those 36 innings as a starter are in stark contrast to his 30-plus innings out of the bullpen (relief ERA: 5.34).

C) They're also out of line with his results in the high minors. He has, in 2008 and '09, 214 innings pitched for Rochester, almost all as a starter. His ERA in Triple A: 4.46. Minor league stats for Duensing here.

Why is his starter ERA for the Twins so low? Home runs — or, more accurately, the lack of them. He allowed two solo shots in his first start, none since. Even if he were an extreme ground ball pitcher, that rate isn't sustainable — and he's actually gotten more fly outs than ground ball outs.

Another factor: He's averaging, in those starts, seven strikeouts per nine innings. In Triple A, he was a bit over 5 K/9.

Thirty-six innings isn't enough to establish a level of ability. And everything else in his record says those 36 innings are out of character.

That doesn't mean he's not capable of being a useful, even good, major league starter. It just means we shouldn't regard him as the second coming of Frank Viola. He's got more to prove.

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