Diamond hopes to win spot in Twins rotation

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FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - Just a year removed from a 12-win season, Scott Diamond finds himself in a battle for the fifth-starter’s spot on the Minnesota Twins.

The Canadian left-hander is hardly alone.

“Competition brings out the best nature in everybody,” Diamond said Monday before pitchers and catchers held the spring’s first workout. “I know from my own experience, when I’ve been put under a little pressure I’ve always performed my best. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.”

As many as seven pitchers appear to have a shot at claiming the final spot in a revamped Twins rotation.

Like Diamond, right-handers Vance Worley and Sam Deduno are out of minor-league options and spent good chunks of 2013 in baseball’s lowest-rated rotation. Worley was the Opening Day starter a year ago, while Deduno was surprisingly effective for several months before having season-ending shoulder surgery in September.

Former first-rounder Kyle Gibson is back after a disappointing 10-start audition left him with a 6.53 ERA last season. Triple-A left-hander Kris Johnson, acquired from Pittsburgh this offseason, is a potential sleeper after winning the equivalent of an International League ERA title (2.39) in 135 2-3 innings.

Don’t forget top-10 prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May. Both power right-handers are seeking to make the jump from Double-A after strong showings in the Arizona Fall League.

“I think all of them have got some experience,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’ve got some kids that are going to battle, too, which is a good thing. Whether they’re ready to do this or not, if they step up and blow it away down here . we really have to make the right decision whether it’s the right thing to do to start them here or start somebody else here.”

Gardenhire mentioned “roster issues,” a reference to the three starters that can’t be sent back to the minors without first being exposed to waivers. This would seem to work in their favor, but the manager, newly signed to a two-year extension this offseason, downplayed that factor.

“I think you take the best pitcher,” he said. “That’s what we have to do. We’ve lost enough.”

Diamond and Johnson would give Gardenhire a chance to break up an otherwise all-righty rotation, one bolstered by the combined $73 million committed to veterans Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes this winter.

Gibson, 26, could be a co-favorite with Diamond if he can dominate hitters the way he did in Triple-A during last year’s first half.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Gibson said. “Competition makes everybody better. There are a lot of good starting pitchers in here. I don’t want to say it’s going to be fierce, because I don’t think there’s going to be anybody wishing injury or wishing failures on anybody.”

So deep is the pool of candidates for that last starting spot, Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson are already working on lining up “B” games with nearby clubs such as the Red Sox, Rays and Pirates.

“They’re definitely not going to have time to give every one of those guys a chance to start because they have four other guys that are definitely in there,” Gibson said. “It will be interesting to see when they throw everybody.”

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