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Will Minnesota Twins' Pitcher Scott Baker Be Available On Opening Day?

There's been some changing of opinion on the healthy of Minnesota Twins pitcher Scott Baker over the last few days. Is he a sure thing for the disabled list, or not? It seems ... not.

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 28:  Scott Baker #30 of the Minnesota Twins throws against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on July 28, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 28: Scott Baker #30 of the Minnesota Twins throws against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on July 28, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Just a few days ago we discovered that Scott Baker had been experiencing discomfort as he threw. On Thursday over at Twinkie Town we noted that the Twins were using caution with Baker, based off the fact that he was unable to get loose during his start the previous weekend. They scratched him from his scheduled Thursday game and set up a couple of bullpen sessions for him to go through.

Considering Baker's injury history, it made sense to go with that strategy. He hit the disabled list twice in the second half of 2011 with right flexor issues, so when he was unable to get loose it made sense to take every precaution. Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune:

Pitching coach Rick Anderson said he wants Baker to get through a bullpen session with no trouble before scheduling his next start. Baker told the staff his arm felt good during workouts Wednesday, but this is an issue the Twins will monitor daily.

On Friday it appeared to be a bit more serious when Phil Mackey stated that Baker could start the year on the disabled list. That fact in itself wasn't too surprising - it's just taking the next logical step from the precautionary tactic Anderson spoke to Christensen about - but there were also quotes from Baker himself in Mackey's article. And it sounded like Baker was half resigned to his fate of hitting the disabled list, and half simply just being pragmatic.

"If that's what we need to do, that's what we need to do," Baker said Friday when asked about the possibility of starting the season on the disabled list. "I know I would love to make the home opener start, and as far as I know that's still the case. But you've got to do what's smart and wise, and do whatever it takes to get ready for a long season."

And then later...

"It's [tendinitis]," Baker said. "I've been there, done that. It's just a matter of getting it taken care of. But if it's not taken care of, it for sure can be a problem if it progresses into something that you definitely don't want to be dealing with."

Then, Saturday happened. Baker came out, after throwing long toss on Friday, threw his bullpen session...and felt fine. After 15 warm up tosses and then 52 pitches "with about 75-80 percent effort". Suffice it to say that, after the previous couple of days, that comes as a bit of a surprise. Considering all of the injury issues that the Twins ran into in 2011, and considering what we already know about Baker's past, hearing him come out of the weekend in better condition than when he went in constitutes something of a minor miracle.

Baker has another bullpen session scheduled for today. If that goes well he'll be back in Grapefruit League action later this week and, provided no more setbacks, he will be available for the Target Field opener on April 9th. If he needs a couple of extra days, Mackeyalso points out that, because of how the schedule over the first couple weeks of the season works, the Twins wouldn't need a fifth starter until April 15. If Baker needed just a little extra time to work through some kinks, then the team has a little flexibility to protect him without sending him to the disabled list.

If those two scenarios aren't enough, and Baker needs more time, the options for that fifth starter spot are few. Anthony Swarzak seems to be the obvious choice, while Brian Duensing might have the manager's blessing. After that probably comes Liam Hendriks, Scott Diamond, or Jeff Manship. The difference between what those players can give the Twins and what a healthy Baker can give the Twins is significant.

Mackey also pointed out near the end of his article that the Twins, at least publicly, weren't concerned about Baker. Right now it seems that faith is justified. Hopefully that's still the case in a few hours.

For more on the Minnesota Twins, check out Twinkie Town. You can also head over to SB Nation's main MLB hub at Baseball Nation.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.