As the Curve Turns: Southpaw standouts

By Ted Cahill

The Twins have done it again.

The club I picked to run away with the AL Central has made it a race that appears ready to go down to the wire and is doing it on the backs of some unknown pitchers (and Joe Mauer of course).

26-year old rookie Brian Duensing has pitched outstanding ball since being handed Francisco Liriano’s rotation spot in August. In seven starts, Duensing is 5-0 with a 1.88 ERA. He’s struck out 28 batters in 43 innings and walked only 11.

And Duensing has done it mostly on short rest. He’s only averaging 4.3 days between starts, a tall order for a rookie in a playoff race.

He hasn’t faced an especially tough team, though he did shut down Texas before the Rangers shut themselves down.

If this left-hander is good enough for Minnesota, I’ll but in. Duensing is a player to watch both this week, when he makes starts against Detroit and Kansas City, but also in spring training next year.

Huff and stuff: It’s no secret Cleveland has struggled down the stretch. It’s been so bad that general manager Mark Shapiro will likely have no choice but to fire his friend Eric Wedge, considered untouchable earlier in the year.

But there have been some bright spots on the club over the past month. Left-hander David Huff overcame a midseason swoon to close out his rookie year in style and give the Indians a 10-game winner.

Huff will likely not make his final start as he sits at 167 2/3 innings between AAA and Cleveland this year. Wedge said in August the Indians hoped to hold him under 170 this year. If that was it for the rookie, he will finish at 11-8 with a 5.61 ERA. The 11 wins are the most for a Tribe rookie since CC Sabathia won 17 in 2001.

After throwing eight shutout innings Sunday, Huff is 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA in his final five starts of the year. That’s a far cry from the 24-year old’s previous five starts, when he went 2-3 with a 7.86 ERA.

Huff has also outperformed rotation mate Aaron Laffey, who has basically functioned as the team’s ace since Cliff Lee was dealt to Philadelphia. He has probably pitched his way into the 2010 rotation, though if new coaches are brought in this winter, open tryouts are likely to be held.

But it appears that Huff made the necessary adjustments to stay a major leaguer this year and show everyone why the Tribe picked him 39th overall in 2006.

Old reliable: In keeping with the theme of left-handers, Andy Pettitte won his 14th game of the year Sunday to clinch the AL East for New York.

It is the 12th time Pettitte has won 14 games in a year, tying him for fifth most all-time. 14 wins isn’t a nice, round number, but the names on the list are still impressive. The best southpaw ever, Warren Spahn, leads the way with 17 years of 14 wins, followed by Eddie Plank with 16. Steve Carlton and Tom Glavine have 13 and Pettitte joins Randy Johnson and Lefty Grove.

So Pettitte has been good this year; better than most expected. What does that mean for 2010? Well first Pettitte has to decide if he’s playing, which he obviously won’t know until after the Yankees’ season ends. Another ring might push him to retirement, but after such a good season, you can be sure Joe Girardi and Hank Steinbrenner won’t let him go without a fight.

Pettitte is worth watching over the winter, he might have another 14-win season left in him.

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Pitcher Pickup of the Week: Carl Pavano, Twins

With the AL Central title on the line in Comerica Park this week, the Twins will turn to Tiger-killer Carl Pavano. It’s a pretty good bet, given his track record against Detroit this year. Pavano is 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA in Comerica this year and 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA against the Tigers’ overall. He’s struck out 22 in five starts and walked just one batter.

Pavano also appears to be eating up the division race. In his last four starts, the right-hander is 2-0 with a 3.42 ERA and 18 strikeouts. You can bet this veteran will be ready for the pressure Wednesday as he tries to pitch his way into the playoffs for the first time since winning the 2003 World Series in Florida.