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Twins suffer a setback before they even start

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It looks like a bit of rain has fallen on the Minnesota Twins even before their 2010 opener at Target Field.

Joe Nathan, one of the best relievers to ever pitch for the Twins, has a muscle tear in his right elbow and the All-Star closer is in for a long, tough ordeal -- whether he plays or not.

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Nathan, 35, also happens to be the oldest pitcher on the staff this year so logic suggests that the Twins had better start looking for a new fireman -- even if he can come back and pitch somewhere down the road.

The Twins have more options than most teams because they happen to be in a year where they have a pile of starters who are fighting for a place on the roster.

Asking an inning or two out of a starter is not a bad way to go. Nathan was a spot starter for San Francisco when they picked him up in a deal for A.J. Pierzynski in 2003. Eddie Guardado started some games and pitched in long relief for the Twins before Nathan arrived. Rick Aguilera was considered a starter when the Twins landed him in a deal with the New York Mets in 1989.

Francisco Liriano, who came over from the Giants with Nathan, might get a chance to take over for the injured four-time All-Star. It would be ironic if this was the way the Twins decided to go. Liriano was dynamite in 2006 until he threw out his arm and had to undergo surgery. The poor guy even had to sit out a year. He was used as both a starter and a reliever last year but his slider is supposed to be back and if that is true he might get the job done.

Whatever the Twins decide it is a good time to throw the spotlight on their pitching staff. Sure, they added slugger Jim Thome and the new keystone combination Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy to their already formidable lineup in the off-season and they are going to score a lot of runs. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, the M and M Boys, were the American League MVPs in 2009 and 2008. This year's Minnesota club could hit more than 200 home runs if everyone swings the lumber the way they did last year. Their timing is good -- they have a new park and a lot of expensive seats to fill. We all know that a club that can score runs has a great chance to sell tickets, but some of us are wondering if they have the chops to play in the World Series.

Along with a trusted closer, the one item the Twins appear to lack at this time is a truly outstanding starting pitcher. A little checking shows that Minnesota's three World Series teams all had that one guy that got the job done. In 1965 it was Jim "Mudcat" Grant, in 1987 it was Frank Viola and in 1991 it was Jack Morris.

Baby-faced right-hander Scott Baker probably rated as the closest thing the Twins had to a stopper last year. He won 15 games. The Twins had all kinds of pitchers step up and contribute last year but when the playoffs arrived they could not stop those Yankees -- again. The boys in the pinstripes had the experience, talent and money to win a world championship.

The Twins are counting on virtually the same pitching staff to help them win the Series this year. Their starting pitchers are all doing a great job so far in spring training but no one has "20-Game Winner" stamped on his forehead. Who is the great one? Right now the only guy you might push for the 2010 American League All-Star staff is Nathan. If they have a starting pitcher like Grant, Viola or Morris, this would be a good time to show himself.

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