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Steady Correia shores up improving Twins rotation

Veteran right-hander fulfills club's expectations, brings stabilizing presence

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins knew what they were getting in Kevin Correia when they signed the right-hander to a two-year, $10 million deal before last season.

Correia has never been confused with a frontline starter but the Twins were looking for a stable and durable presence for their rotation after an injury-plagued 2012 season.

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Correia was as advertised, and ended up posting a 4.18 ERA in 31 starts totaling 185 1/3 innings. It was the best such marks for him since 2009, when he had a 3.91 ERA in a career-high 198 innings with the Padres.

It led to Correia being the unlikely staff anchor for the Twins last season as part of a rotation that otherwise struggled and ranked last in the Majors in ERA and innings pitched.

"I think he did exactly what we had hoped," Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "He gave us innings, kept us in games. He's not going to strike a bunch of guys out, and he's going to give up some hits, but he competes and keeps you in games. He was one of the few guys who did what we hoped last season."

The rotation was a mess for the Twins in 2013, as Correia was the only pitcher to make at least 30 starts or throw 160 innings. The only other pitchers who reached the 130-inning plateau were Mike Pelfrey and Scott Diamond, but they posted ERAs of 5.19 and 5.43, respectively.

The Twins believe the rotation will be better this season after the additions of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, but they have a long way to climb, as the staff's combined ERA was nearly half a run worse than the second-worst mark in the Majors.

Last year, Correia was the lone bright spot for the rotation, and one of only a few for the team, which finished with at least 96 losses for a third straight season.

"I thought I threw the ball pretty well," Correia said. "I started off pretty strong, and I was able to finish strong. I just had a little lull for like three or four starts I'd like to get rid of. Besides that, I think I was pretty consistent. But there's always room for improvement."

Correia made his latest start on Wednesday against the Pirates, and had his first rough outing of the spring, as he gave up four runs on seven hits over three innings.

But Correia was still pleased with his pitch location, and was able to mix in more breaking balls this outing, especially in non-traditional counts.

"Today was really the first day I had an inning where I was laboring," Correia said. "It's never fun, but it is beneficial in the long run. You want to be able to throw some pitches when you're tired, which is what I was able to do this spring. So I think it'll make me stronger."

One ball that Correia would like back was a two-run blast from his former teammate and good friend Pedro Alvarez, but Correia took it in stride, and made the point that he wouldn't have thrown a hittable fastball to Alvarez in that situation during the regular season.

"With a runner at second and two outs and Pedro Alvarez up, I think in a normal season situation he wouldn't get a fastball he could hit," Correia said. "So it's just one of those Spring Training deals."

Correia is dealing with some uncertainty this season, as he's in the final year of his contract and could be traded if the Twins feel like they have more depth in their rotation with prospects such as Alex Meyer, Kyle Gibson and Trevor May on the way.

But Correia is doing his best to focus on what he can control, and is simply only thinking about his pitching progression leading up to the regular season. Based on the way the rotation is lining up this spring, Correia could get the second start of the season in Chicago on April 2, which would put him in line to start the home opener against the A's on April 7.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire hasn't officially named the order of the rotation this season but offered high praise for Correia.

"I don't worry about Kevin, I just let him go about his business," Gardenhire said. "We saw last year, he's a very professional baseball player. He takes a lot of pride in what he's doing. I don't think he really worries about where he's at in the rotation, he just wants the ball every fifth day or whatever and go from that. He does his work out there, people don't run on him, he's quick to home. He knows how to pitch."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger.

Minnesota Twins, Kevin Correia