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As Christina Kahrl noted yesterday, the Twins have decided on their Opening Day rotation, and it does not include Kevin Slowey. Instead, Nick Blackburn will bump Slowey into the bullpen or as trade bait for another reliever before the season begins. The Twins’ search for more bullpen help further confuses their decision to designate Pat Neshek for assignment rather than optioning him to Triple-A.

Slowey is not the most durable of pitchers in the league, as he has missed more than 180 days due to various injuries since 2008. Last season, he suffered right elbow soreness and a right elbow sprain, continuing a trend of throwing arm issues. As a result, Slowey’s CHIPPER ratings suggest he’s a moderate risk to miss 15-29 days this season. The Twins know Slowey’s medical records better than anyone else, so perhaps the decision to part with the former Winthrop attendee is more about health than performance. It almost has to be about more than performance, because there is no argument as to whether Slowey is one of the Twins’ five best starting pitchers:

Pitcher

2010 ERA

Projected ERA

Francisco Liriano

3.62

3.75

Carl Pavano

3.75

4.22

Brian Duensing

2.62

4.37

Nick Blackburn

5.42

4.64

Scott Baker

4.49

3.88

Kevin Slowey

4.45

4.00

The giant elephant in the room is Blackburn’s contract. The Twins signed him to an extension worth $14 million over four years prior to the start of the 2010 season. Blackburn responded with a career worst ERA of 5.42, but his SIERA remained nearly static from his previous seasons (4.83 instead of 4.68 and 4.69). Minnesota is no longer working with a severely restricted budget, but few teams, regardless of budget, will take the hit of a possibly poor move within 13 months of signing the documents in the first place.

The truth is, the Twins probably want to upgrade their bullpen while keeping Blackburn in the rotation and moving on from Slowey before a season-ending injury occurs. Otherwise, shifting Duensing to the bullpen and allowing Slowey and Blackburn to work in the rotation seems like the optimal choice, but not the one the Twins are likely to make.