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Minnesota Twins pitcher Liam Hendriks warms before the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday 4/3/12 at Hammond Stadium in south Fort Myers.
Minnesota Twins pitcher Liam Hendriks warms before the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday 4/3/12 at Hammond Stadium in south Fort Myers. / Terry Allen Williams/The News-Press
Twins starting pitcher Kevin Correia warms up before the game with the Red Sox Thursday at Hammond Stadium. The Red Sox won 12-5. / Terry Allen Williams/The News-Press

Twins starting pitching candidates

With comments by pitching coach Rick Anderson
» Vance Worley: “Game on. Quick worker. Attacks strike zone.”
» Mike Pelfrey: “Boy, makeup through the roof. Works his butt off. Good guy. Excited to be out there and we’re excited to have him.”
» Scott Diamond: “He came into his own. He was one of the babies. He learned and progressed. Some develop more than others. With Diamond, it took about two years.”
» Kevin Correia: “Finds way to get hitters out. A veteran who uses all his pitches.”
» Liam Hendriks: “I’ve told him, ‘You’ve done a good job of beating up Triple-A. You don’t have anything to prove there. You’re healthy. Now it’s up to you. It’s time to get it done.”
» Kyle Gibson: “Great stuff. Real good makeup, he’s got it all. He’s coming off Tommy John so we have to keep an eye on him.”
» Samuel Deduno: “He’s been throwing it over this spring. In past, it’s been hit or miss. He’s always had great stuff. At the (World Baseball Classic), we told the Dominican people he can go as long as he starts.”
» Cole De Vries: “He was a pleasant surprise. He had some good starts.”

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It has become an ugly phrase in the Minnesota Twins training camp.

Sort of like Ponzi scheme, Mitt Romney’s 47 percent or YOLO.

“Pitch to contact.”

Since 2002, Minnesota’s 4.11 ERA ranks third in the American League while in the last three years, Twins’ pitchers rank No. 1 in fewest walks allowed.

However, with Minnesota a combined 66 games under .500 the past two years, pitching coach Rick Anderson’s pitch-to-contact philosophy — along with his pitchers — have taken a beating.

But a closer look at the Twins’ starting rotation reveals the execution —not the philosophy —that should be questioned.

Since 2010, the Twins have overturned their entire starting rotation. In 2012, they paraded out 12 starters. None of them threw more than 175 innings. One of them, lefty Scott Diamond, made more than 20 starts. Only three worked more than 100 innings.

“I think our entire Triple-A roster made a start at some point,” Diamond said.

The results were predictable. In going 66-96, the Twins had the second worst earned run average (4.77) and runs given up (5.14) in the AL. They also ranked among the worst in hits given up (1,536), home runs (198), shutouts (six), complete games (three) and strikeouts (943). Minnesota pitchers did give up a respectable number of walks — 465.

“I told (general manager) Terry (Ryan) if there were one or two spots, I could handle that because you know what you got from the other guys,” Anderson said. “Filling four or five spots, that’s a real challenge.

“It was what you expect from kids, ups and downs. You try to convey what we want, but also keep them positive, keep them upbeat.”

Words change, tactic won't

For this season, Ryan added Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey through trades and free agency. They’ll join Diamond, who’s expected to pitch on the side next week, and either Liam Hendriks, Kyle Gibson, Sam Deduno or Cole De Vries. Gibson, the team’s 2009 first-round pick coming off Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, appears to have the inside track on the No. 5 job.

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“It’ll be a dogfight,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s a good thing.”

Whoever he’s working with, Anderson is sticking to his principles. Since Anderson was named Twins pitching coach in 2002, Minnesota has won six Central Division titles. He understands there’s a learning curve and young guys are going to learn the hard way facing major-league sluggers.

But the terminology will change.

“Do I say every day, ‘Pitch to contact?’,” Anderson said. “No. Be aggressive. Attack the zone. Trust your stuff. Strike one. The key count is 1-1. It’s a 200-point difference (1-2 vs. 2-1). It is the execution.”

Pelfrey said pitching to contact is not throwing the ball down the middle. “You’re gonna get hit and not get outs,” he said. “Like the other day. I was middle to third over the plate. I got hit, it’s supposed to happen. You put the ball on the corners to get people out.

“If you end up falling behind 3-1 and pitch to contact, you’re giving in and getting shellacked. At 3-1, you don’t have to give in. You can throw the curve or change up and get guys guessing.

“And a walk is not always a bad thing.”

In his short time working with Anderson, Pelfrey has been impressed.

“He’s been absolutely great,” Pelfrey said.

Other pitchers have similar sentiments. “He’s good at keeping you one step ahead without complicating things,” Diamond said.

How times change

When the Twins celebrated their 50th season — and first at Target Field — in 2010 with a 94-68 record and Central Division championship, starters Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey all had between 26 and 32 starts. All had 10 or more wins.

How that has changed.

Anderson, who toiled in the minors from 1978-86 before he got his major-league shot, sees a benefit in guys earning their first chance to start.

“You know what, I loved to see those guys out there,” said Anderson, “Now we should be able to benefit from it. Say they don’t break with us this year, they’ve get more experience in Triple-A and they may not be in as much awe.

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“But I’d sure like a couple of veterans to lead the way and show the kids what it’s all about.”

Diamond ended up being the most pleasant surprise. He led the team in innings (173), starts (27), quality starts (16) and wins (12).

“That was neat to see with Diamond,” Anderson said.

In one of his first career starts against Cleveland, Diamond recalled seeing players like Travis Hafner and “those kinds of names you grew up watching and there was an awe factor. I think that was my weakness.”

Diamond said he’s progressing well in his recovery from surgery to remove a bone chip in his left elbow. “There’s been so setbacks,” he said. “The schedule is for me to get out there mid-March but things can change.”

With the added pitching depth, Anderson said Brian Duensing will work in the bullpen exclusively while the team is taking it slow with Rich Harden. “He won’t be ready for the season,” Anderson said. “We want to get the shoulder where it should be .”

The terminology may have changed, but the Twins will continue using the same philosophy.

“We’ve been very successful for years,” Anderson said. “The last few years with injuries and whatnot, all of a sudden it’s not good enough? I tell you, we’re not going to change because it’s been pretty good for a long time.”

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