Pitching will be the key to the Minnesota Twins' season. Last year's squad posted a team ERA of 4.77, which was the third worst in the league. So, the team worked to improve the rotation this offseason.
The team traded two proven players (center fielders Denard Span and Ben Revere) for a number of young arms who need developing. They signed veteran free agents, but injuries have hampered some progress there.
Unfortunately, during spring training, the starters struggled. Opening-day starter Vance Worley had an ERA of .573. Another main cog, Scott Diamond, is still rehabbing an injury and won't join the team until April 12.
Then the last week of camp, one of the starters the Twins were counting on all spring showed some promising signs. Kevin Correia, who was brought in to bolster the pitching staff, put together his best outing of the spring.
"It was a good one to end on," Correia told the Pioneer Press. "It was my most efficient outing so far in the spring probably. It's nice to have that as your last one before the season starts."
Correia took the ball against Boston on March 28 and pitched five strong innings, giving up one run on five hits and a walk with one strikeout.
Correia also pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth, picking up that strikeout to get the crucial second out.
"If that's a regular-season game, that's a pretty important inning when you've got a guy like (Red Sox pitcher Clay) Buchholz throwing as good as he was," Correia said. "You don't have room to give up many runs if you want to win the game. So to get out of that inning was huge."
The outing was huge for Correia, who came into the game with less than stellar spring training numbers: an 0-2 record with a 6.30 ERA, plus 27 hits in 20 innings of work. Still, a good outing can ease the memory of past performances.
"That was fun to watch Correia," Gardenhire said. "The ball was moving. He used his pitches well. What we're looking for is (the pitchers) to get their arm strength built up, their pitches built up, and at the end here finish up with a good performance. And he did all that. So it ended up being a nice spring for him. He did all that."
It was announced on March 28 that following opening day starter Worley, Correia will pitch the second game against defending AL champion Detroit Tigers. That is a tougher assignment than a spring training game against the Red Sox, who are picked by some to finish last in the AL East.
But for a Twins pitching staff that is really rebuilding from scratch, it was an outing that offers hope.