Exching

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Following an Opening Day loss to the Oakland Athletics where Minnesota Twins starter Kevin Correia gave up six runs in 5.2 innings, the Twins' revamped rotation only had one quality start in their last seven tries..

Sportswriter John Lowe coined the term quality start while writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1985. He described it as a situation where a pitcher completes at least six innings and gives up only three runs. While it is not an all-encompassing statistic by any means, and it is not rooted in advanced metrics, when a rotation only produces one quality start in seven tries, it is enough to indicate that a team is having issues with its starting pitching.

Minnesota spent $49 million on Ricky Nolasco, $24 million on Phil Hughes and $11 million on Mike Pelfrey in the off-season. Through two starts, Nolasco is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA. Hughes and Pelfrey have only made one start, but the former owns a 7.20 ERA and the latter is sitting at 5.06 with a loss.

So the $84 million question becomes: How much stock do you place on what has happened this season?

Correia, the lone man with a quality start, which came in a 7-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox on April 2, feels that people should not be quick to judge. "The starters were supposed to be a big improvement and hopefully get off to a good start," he says. "We haven't been bad, we haven't pitched great, but it's so early. At this point in the year there's no trends, there's no way you can look ahead and see what's going to happen. It's just early."

Kyle Gibson, a second-year player who is a year removed from Tommy John surgery, owns a 1.80 ERA and got the win in Cleveland on April 5, but did not get a quality start because he only pitched 5.0 innings against the Indians.

Pelfrey, who is also a year removed from Tommy John, coasted through five innings against the Indians the day before, retiring 15 of the 16 batters he faced, but got hammered in the sixth inning and was removed after only getting one out.

"[We're] thinking [he can go] seven, eight, nine innings here, maybe save our bullpen,' manager Ron Gardenhire told Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "But once the next inning started, he wasn't the same pitcher."

"I was efficient. But the way it unraveled, who cares?" Pelfrey told Miller. "It kind of ruined the whole day."

"Gibby had a great start when he pitched and Pelfrey was really close and I think my last start was a good one and this one wasn't," said Correia. "We're not going out there and getting beat up, I don't think, but we're just a few pitches away here and there from getting deep into games. It's so early. It's hard to judge. We're not even through the rotation twice so it's impossible to predict what's going to happen."

Correia got hit around early in his start, giving up two runs in the second and three in the third, but then appeared to settle in. He retired eight straight batters before giving up a solo shot in the sixth that kept him from completing the inning.

"I started pitching in a little more," he said. "They got almost all their hits on off-speed pitches that were down and away so I made the adjustment and I just threw a hanging breaking ball on the first pitch."

Admittedly, the adjustment came too late, but the Twins scored a run in the second and two in the third, so they were only down 5-3 when Correia got the first two outs in the second inning. Derek Norris' homer in the sixth didn't help Minnesota's cause, but it was the two runs in the seventh, given up by reliever Samuel Deduno, that put the game out of reach.

"I would have liked to get that guy out. There were two outs, nobody on, and the first pitch he just jumped on it," says Correia of Norris. "You learn every time you face a guy like that you've never faced before and you see what his tendencies are. They had a different sort of game plan against me the last time I faced them."

While he says that it is too early to judge the pitching staff, Correia's underlying message is that things will get better. "You've got to get a couple starts under your belt and what I've noticed about a pitching staff is that they kind of get on a roll together," says Correia. "Once you start going, everyone feeds off each other and hopefully that's going to happen here real soon."
Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.
With the way that the Minnesota Twins drafted this year, it looks like they are moving away from pitch to contact -- at least when it comes to relievers..

Take away Nick Gordon, a shortstop with major league bloodlines that fills a need in the infield, and local guy Max Murphy, and eight of the Twins top ten draft picks this year were hard-throwing relief pitchers. Second-round pick Nick Burdi reportedly hit 103 mph on the radar gun while pitching at Louisville and Michael Cederoth came close to 100 mph at San Diego State. Both players are well built -- Burdi is 6 foot 4, 220 pounds; Cederoth is 6 foot 6, 220 pounds -- and many of the other players are of similar stature. All eight of them pitched in college, all eight are expected to sign and there may be one or two that get fast-tracked to the majors.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said before the draft that he could care less who the team takes; he just wants players that are close to the majors, and his wish may be granted this year.

"You always hope for something like that," says assistant general manager Rob Antony when asked if any of these pitchers could join the bullpen this season. "You don't want to count on it or expect it. It would be great, but at the same time you want to be realistic, and it doesn’t happen all that often."

Burdi, for his part, says he's ready to join the Twins any time they are ready. "I've always been a confident player, and I believe in myself and that I'm just as good as anyone in this draft," he said immediately after being drafted. "If they make the decision to put me in the major leagues at some point in the next year or this summer, it would just be an honor."

Of course Burdi wants to play in the majors, and yes, he will have to prove himself before he joins an already stocked bullpen, but a major change in philosophy is taking place at 1 Twins Way. For years, scouts simply saw pitchers as starters. Now Minnesota's scouts have started targeting relievers in an effort to get a hard-throwing player that should be more major league ready and have a fit as soon as he joins the team. "We were always taught as scouts that in the past that most big league relievers were former starters," says Twins scouting director Deron Johnson. "Things have changed a little bit now. Most bullpens, guys are throwing gas. That’s kind of the way it's trending."

The Twins say that their approach with the draft is to take the best player on the board, and arguably they did that with Gordon, but the fact that they took so many hard-throwing relievers is no coincidence. "Are you guys excited about the velocity? No more pitch to contact?" Johnson asked the media with a wide smile on his face. "They got out pitches. They all pretty much have...pretty good out pitches."

Fast-tracking players through the minors? Not forcing relievers to start? No more pitch to contact? What the hell is going on here?

Change is taking place at Target Field. Although the back-of-the-rotation starters will likely continue to practice pitch to contact -- which makes sense for a player without ace stuff that’s expected to throw 100 pitches once a week -- relievers will no longer be asked to rely solely on location.

What this means is that for the incoming draft class, it becomes a war of attrition. Pitchers are going to get hurt -- a couple of these guys already have had Tommy John surgery -- and it's hard to know how many will actually make it to the majors. But that’s the thing about the draft: It's all about finding a couple stars. There are 40 selections, and not all will sign. For the pitchers, it comes down to who can stay healthy. "You can never, ever have too many [pitchers]," says Antony. "You know there’s going to be injuries. We're going through it right now with some of our guys in the minor leagues, and hopefully they'll be back here, if not this year, then some guys next year."

Those that survive will make it to the Show, and they'll be expected to miss bats when they get there. Progress is being made at Target Field; embrace it.

Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.