BRADENTON—When Terry Mulholland was nearing the end of his career and shuttling between the rotation and bullpen, the wily left-hander dubbed himself a "utility pitcher."
In the old days, back when you would be reading this missive on paper, pitchers such as Mulholland were called swingmen. They swung between starting and relieving, depending on need.
Left-hander Brian Duensing has been the epitome of a utility pitcher/swingman for the Twins in the last two seasons. He has show great utility in each role, making 22 and 55 relief appearances, posting a 2.93 ERA and allowing a .688 OPS when pitching in the rotation and 3.18 and .665 numbers when working out of the bullpen.
However, Duensing won't be the king of swing this season. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Wednesday that Duensing will begin the season in the starting rotation.
Gardenhire gave reporters the news before the Twins beat the Pirates 4-2 in a Grapefruit League game at McKechnie Field. Duensing followed with two scoreless innings in his first outing of the spring to get the win.
"I think he deserves to be in there and be in that rotation," Gardenhire said. "He's come up (from Triple-A) the last two seasons and done a really good job. He believes in himself and he's proven he can be a major-league starter."
Duensing had an indication he might be in the rotation when Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson ask him last weekend if he got tired last September. Still, Duensing was glad to get official confirmation.
"That's good to know," Duensing said. "It's going to be the same approach. Get the arm moving, get the body feeling comfortable again. The only thing that's going to be different is I'm going to know exactly when I'll throw and how many innings, as opposed to being a 'just-in-case' guy this spring."
The Twins could use help in the bullpen as Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain and left-hander Ron Mahay all left as free agents during the offseason. Despite the need and Duensing's previous success in relief, Gardenhire says there is no doubt in his mind he has made the right decision.
"You've got to get through the first seven or eight innings first before you worry about the bullpen," Gardenhire said. "I think Duensing is more valuable pitching those first seven or eight innings for us."
The Twins entered spring training with six starters for five rotation slots. So, now right-handers Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn are competing for two jobs behind Carl Pavano, left-hander Francisco Liriano and Duensing. Whoever loses out in the competition will need to get used to being a reliever as Baker has made 138 starts in 140 major-league appearances while Slowey has started in 82 of his 86 games and Blackburn has started 92 of 100 times.