Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Ricky Shuffle, And Minnesota's Next Moves

The day has come and gone, Tyler Duffey and Ricky Nolasco had their show down as spring training draws to a close, and the rotation has been all but set. With Nolasco not seeming a likely rotation option coming into the season, Duffey opened the door with his tough spring, and the veteran capitalized. Now with the rotation looking set, a few other dominoes will fall into place.

Despite getting a vote of confidence from manager Paul Molitor out of the gate, Duffey did the one thing he couldn't afford to do this spring, be mediocre. As a candidate for regression after a very solid final 9 starts in 2015, the former Rice closer needed to hold serve and the rotation spot was his. While he was looking to add a third pitch to his repertoire, a changeup, it was his command that alluded him most down in Florida.

Although Ricky Nolasco was far from a lights out option this spring, he took the door Duffey left cracked open, and kicked it in. Turning in multiple solid performances on the major league side, the man Minnesota owes $24 million over the next two years forced his way back into the team's plans. Now penciled in to be the club's fifth starter, we can begin to wonder what happens next.

First for Nolasco.

I looked at what needs to go right for the former Marlins ace back in February. He is signed on an over-extended contract given his track record in the lesser national league, and he's coming off two poor seasons for the Twins. First and foremost, he needs to be able to find his confidence once again. Falling behind hitters far too often in his tenure with the Twins, he's generally given the guy at the plate the advantage from the get go. From there, his breaking pitches need to return to what they once were. His curveball has looked sharp this spring, and his slider needs to again be an out pitch. If he can make those tweaks happen, Minnesota may get some use out of their big 2014 expense after all.

The dominoes behind Nolasco are the ones that seem almost more intriguing however. It has often been an uttered sentiment that the Twins best case scenario would be for a brief period of positivity causing teams around the big leagues to check in on Nolasco. In reality, he still has a significant chunk of change tied to his name, and Minnesota would have a tough time swallowing the majority of it. Nolasco going well wouldn't be all bad however.

Considering the shape of the AL Central starting rotations, the Twins would have to figure in no worse than third among the grouping. With a solid front three, the inclusion of Tommy Milone and Nolasco as 4th and 5th options is far from a bad thing. As the season gets underway, the back end of the rotation could then serve as somewhat of a revolving door for Molitor.

Despite being sent down, Duffey is going to resurface with the Twins at some point in 2016. My opinion would be that it's after the debut of Jose Berrios, who I believe is the first man up sometime in early may. Berrios got his feet wet this spring, and while he wasn't lights out, he was always going to be held back for service time reasons regardless.

Considering that injuries and shuffles will take place, there's little reason to bank and the starting five staying in tact for the duration of the season. What Nolasco has done in securing a rotation spot however, should be beneficial down the road to the Twins. In terms of Berrios, he presents a realistic roadblock for the immediate future, and in turn allows Duffey to hone in on his newly developing changeup.

Whether Berrios and/or Duffey are called upon due to necessity, or by pushing for their inclusion at the highest level, the Twins will have an extended evaluation period first. Both Milone and Nolasco should be capable of giving the Twins quality starts to open the season, and in grabbing a rotation spot, Nolasco helps to let the chips fall where they may.

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