Ron Gardenhire says Brian Duensing will “absolutely” be in Twins’ rotation

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Brian Duensing tossed two scoreless innings against the Pirates this afternoon, but the bigger news came just before he took the mound when Ron Gardenhire replied “absolutely” when asked if Duensing would be in the Opening Day rotation.

After re-signing Carl Pavano the Twins have six starters for five rotation spots and Duensing has the most relief experience of the bunch, so there was some thought that he’d be the odd man out as the Twins try to strengthen their rebuilt bullpen.

Duensing has made 55 of his 77 career appearances as a reliever, posting a 3.18 ERA in 76 innings, but he’s also 12-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 22 starts and Gardenhire is apparently committed to giving him an opportunity to stick in the rotation.

Assuming the Twins don’t trade Francisco Liriano, that means there are three “locks” for the rotation and Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn are competing for the final two spots. Baker bouncing to the bullpen seems unlikely considering he was the team’s Opening Day starter last season and has made 138 career starts with a 4.32 ERA, but his offseason elbow surgery to remove bone chips could complicate things.

Tigers sign Edwin Espinal to minor league deal

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Free agent first baseman Edwin Espinal has signed a minor league deal with the Tigers, the infielder announced Saturday. The move has yet to be confirmed by the team.

Espinal, 23, capped a seven-year run with the Pirates’ minor league affiliates in 2017. He split his season between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, batting a cumulative .294/.327/.447 with 15 home runs and 31 doubles in 532 plate appearances. While he’s raked at nearly every level so far, he also profiles well on defense, and rounded off his 2017 performance with a perfect fielding percentage, 208 putouts and a Gold Glove award.

Espinal is untested at the major league level and it’s not yet clear if he’ll make the jump in 2018. He showed some positional versatility during his time in the minors, however, and could take reps at third base or DH if necessary. The Tigers are reportedly on the lookout for pitching depth and left-handed bats — two bills the right-handed Espinal doesn’t fit — and presumably have a lot of moves left to make this winter.