Posted on February 7, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
Even before the start of spring training, the Minnesota Twins have been hit by the injury bug. The Twins announced Tuesday that ace Ervin Santana will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks following surgery on his right middle finger. Thus, Santana may not be able to return until May, which is a tough blow to a team that was going to lean heavily on Santana to lead their rotation this season.
Santana began to experience discomfort in his middle finger while throwing last week in preparation for spring training. He has had discomfort in the finger before, but scans taken at the end of last season were clean. With the problem resurfacing, doctors decided it was best for Santana to undergo surgery.
“The injury is a result of repeated cumulative stress from pitching, not one acute event, and did not present again until this past week,” the Twins said in a statement.
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The 35-year old Santana is coming off arguably the best season of his career. In 33 starts last year, Santana was 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA. He tossed five complete games, including three shutouts. His efforts were a big reason why the Twins reached the postseason for the first time since 2010.
With Santana out, the Twins will need other starters to step up. Jose Berrios may be the best candidate to be Minnesota’s de facto ace. The 23-year old has the stuff to be an ace and showed flashes of that while winning 14 games and posting a 3.89 ERA last season. However, it remains to be seen whether he’s ready to lead a rotation.
Aside from Berrios, a lot will also be asked of veteran Kyle Gibson and young lefty Adalberto Mejia. Of course, Gibson has had an ERA over 5 each of the past two seasons. At this point, he’s little more than an innings eater unless he can regain the form he had in 2014 and 2015. Mejia, meanwhile, flashed his promise last season. But he only has 21 big league starts under his belt.
Prospects like Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero may be forced into the rotation early in the season. Phil Hughes could be an option, but he’s questionable at best after undergoing surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome a second time. Trevor May and Michael Pineda could both be rotation options, but not until later in the season. Both are making their way back from Tommy John surgery.
The loss of Santana makes it all the more important for the Twins to sign one of the remaining free agents. Minnesota has been closely connected to Yu Darvish. But they may not have the money to sign him. Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn also remain unsigned. It’s critical that the Twins find a way to sign at least one of them with Santana out for at least a month.
In a way, it’s better for Santana to undergo the surgery now rather than during the season. However, even losing him for a month is a significant setback for the Twins. Without Santana, Minnesota’s rotation is lacking in both depth and experience. Surviving without him for the first month of the season figures to be an uphill battle.