The ideal fifth starter, I suppose, would be Greg Maddux in his prime — but that would require four starters better than him, and that ain't happening.
The question arise because the Twins over the past couple of weeks have gotten an impressive string of outings from four of their starters (Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Martin Perez) and something a bit less from Michael Pineda.
Pineda, in his first major league season since having a ligament replaced in his throwing elbow — aka Tommy John surgery — made his eighth start of the season Saturday. It was, marginally, a quality start — three earned runs allowed in six innings, the bare minimum — and a no-decision in a game the Twins lost. He now has 40 innings pitched, 10 homers allowed, a 2-3 won-lost record and a 5.85 ERA.
These numbers wow no one. And with the Twins clearly positioned for contention, and with the season sufficiently advanced for teams to start pruning unproductive branches of the roster, the question arises: Is it time for an upgrade at that rotation spot?
The immediate answer is no. For one thing, the Twins signed Pineda before the 2018 season to a two-year deal knowing they would get little to nothing from him in year one. Pulling the plug on him less than two months into year two for anything other than an utter disaster contradicts the logic behind the signing.
And Pineda has not been an utter disaster, even with the unsightly ERA and the oversupply of gopher balls. He's throwing strikes (just nine walks on the season) and missing bats (35 strikeouts). And, crucially, he's getting deep enough into games that he's not killing the bullpen, although the Twins have won just three of his eight starts.
Yes, he could be better. The walk and strikeout rates suggest that he will get better. The home runs suggest that he makes too many hittable mistakes — the difference between control (throwing strikes) and command (putting the ball where he wants it). This is frequently an issue in the wake of Tommy John surgery.
Bottom line: While it would be nice to have somebody better, and an upgrade later in the summer may well be sought, there is no real urgency to replace Pineda in the rotation.
A lump of Kohl
The Twins have used just six starters so far — Berrios, Gibson, Odorizzi, Pineda, Perez and Kohl Stewart, who has come up from Triple A to pitch the second game of a pair of weather-induced doubleheaders, including Saturday's second game.
Both Pineda and Stewart allowed three runs in six innings Saturday. Whereas Pineda struck out five and walked none, Stewart fanned two, walked two and threw two wild pitches. But Stewart got run support and the W.
I don't view Stewart as a legitimate threat to Pineda's status.
The fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Stewart often struggled in the minors because he lacks a truly plus pitch. He has this year, however, sharply increased his strikeout rate at Triple A. It's not a lot of innings, but if the increase is sustainable, he's got a better chance to make it.
Stewart figures, at best, to be a back-of-the-rotation guy — what Pineda is right now. That isn't what the Twins were hoping for when they took him in that draft, but that is frequently what happens to high school right-handers taken in the first round.