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.
No surprise here: The Astros are headed back to the postseason to defend their title following a landslide 11-3 win over the Angels on Friday. This figures to be their third playoff run since 2015, though they have yet to wrap up the AL West with a division title.
First baseman Yuli Gurriel led the charge on Friday, smashing a grand slam in the first inning and tacking on a two-run homer in the second and RBI single in the fifth to help the Astros to a seven-run lead. The Angels eventually returned fire, first with Mike Trout‘s 418-foot homer in the sixth, then with an RBI hit from Francisco Arcia in the seventh, but they couldn’t close the gap in time to overtake the Astros.
On the mound, right-hander Gerrit Cole clinched his 15th win of the year after holding the Angels to seven innings of three-run, 12-strikeout ball. His sixth strikeout of the night — delivered on an 83.1-MPH knuckle curveball to Kaleb Cowart — also marked the 1,000th strikeout of his career to date. He was backed by flawless performances by lefty reliever Tony Sipp and rookie right-hander Dean Deetz, both of whom turned in scoreless innings as the offense barreled toward an 11-3 finish with Jake Marisnick‘s sac bunt and George Springer‘s three-run shot in the eighth.
Despite having qualified for the playoffs, the Astros still carry a magic number of 6 as they look to clinch a third straight division title. They’re currently up against the Athletics, who entered Friday’s contest against the Twins just four games back of first place in the AL West.