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March 24, 2013

Thoma: A pitching paradox: Too little means too many

— Seven pitchers are too many, and 12 aren’t enough.

That bit of apparently contradictory wisdom — attributed to the late great Earl Weaver — is worth considering this week as the Twins set their Opening Day roster.

What Weaver meant with that line: When the starting rotation is going good, there was only enough work for the starters and two relievers (Weaver was an adherent of the four-man rotation). And if the starters are awful, there’s too much work for the deepest bullpen.

The Twins spent most of 2012 carrying 13 pitchers because the starters were awful. They’ll have to do that again this year.

While a good bit of spring training chatter out of Fort Myers has been about whether the Twins will carry a third catcher or a pinch-hitter, that debate has hinged on the team dropping back to 12 pitchers.

And I can’t see it happening. Oh, they may start the season with 12 — but very soon they’ll go back to 13.

What have we seen this month to suggest that the Twins starters are any more capable of going seven innings than they were last season?

Many of the names have changed, but the logical outlook hasn’t.

Scott Diamond, the Twins’ one competent innings-eater of 2012, won’t pitch an inning in the Grapefruit League and will open the season on the disabled list.

Mike Pelfrey, signed as a free agent, is less than a year removed from ligament-replacement surgery.

Vance Worley, acquired from Philadelphia in the Ben Revere trade, has struggled this spring after having his elbow scoped last autumn. The Vanimal has two 130-inning seasons on his resume in the DH-less National League; he’s hardly established himself as a durable starter.

Kevin Correia, whose record I dissected last week, averaged less than six innings a start last season. But at least he’s not a surgical rehab project.

The various contenders to fill out the rotation — Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries, Liam Hendriks, P.J. Walters — are all members of the 2012 five-and-fly club.

It’s a mess. Again.

And if the starters don’t find a new level of competence quickly, the bullpen will be filled with janitors mopping up that mess — and the bench won’t have either the pinch-hit specialist or the third catcher.

Who gets the ball?

The season opens a week from today, and at this point the Twins starter for that day remains a mystery.

Worley had been lined up for it, but his ineffective outing Friday had Ron Gardenhire fuming and talking about how he had other options.

Also on Friday, Deduno — who was far more effective in the World Baseball Classic than any of the sure-bet starters were in Grapefruit League play — was scratched from his Sunday start without immediate explanation.

Which made me, and others, wonder if Deduno — a non-roster invitee — might wind up with the honor of working the opener.

As it turned out, Deduno is nursing a strained groin, so that unlikely scenario is even more unlikely. But boy, that such a move seems plausible says volumes about the rotation issues this spring.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.

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