Patrick Reusse
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The idea of injuries being the large hurdle for the Twins will be mentioned as long as Royce Lewis is missing from the lineup, and yet the outcome of this season will be determined by the same issue that was obvious from reporting day at spring training:

The depth and quality of starting pitching.

The difference between the failed 2022 Twins and the 2023 team that ended the 18-season void in postseason victories was the effectiveness and total innings worked by the starters.

The Twins responded to the good vibe from last October by allowing Sonny Gray to walk as a free agent, leaving a hole as wide in the rotation as when Jack Morris was one-and-done three decades ago.

The Twins started this season with Pablo López as an ace; with Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan as assets; with Chris Paddack pushing for a memorable comeback; and Louie Varland as the less-experienced live arm.

The 2023 Twins had the five-arm rotation make 139 starts, with three pitchers making 21, and two openers used.

The 2022 Twins, in comparison, had five pitchers make 115 starts, and nine others make 47 starts.

More vitally, the 2023 Twins starters were fourth in MLB in innings pitched with 895 and the 2022 Twins were 27th with 782⅔.

Varland lost his place in the rotation a couple of weeks ago. His replacement, Simeon Woods Richardson, was good in a spot start and then as Varland's replacement, and then came April 30 in Chicago.

He wasn't going after the lowly White Sox and lasted only 3⅔ innings. If this was going to be the 23-year-old's idea of handling pressure, he would not last long in the rotation.

The fact there's a very good chance that game was an outlier could be the most important revelation of the Twins' excellent week at home that wound up Thursday.

They went 5-2 and the top overall effort came Thursday, when the Twins managed five first-inning runs and eight runs total vs. extraordinary Seattle righthander Logan Gilbert. His ERA went from 1.69 to 2.94 over four innings.

It was such a grand display that Manny Margot, the spring training acquisition batting .164, delivered a three-run double in the first and finished with five RBI in the 11-1 victory.

Amazing, but I'll take Woods Richardson's turnaround Monday as the homestand highlight.

He went six innings, giving up one hit, with one walk and eight strikeouts. He was unrecognizable from the young starter working the previous week.

This was mentioned to manager Rocco Baldelli and his response was: "I think he possesses real ability to pitch. And the understanding of how to pitch is coming together for him.

"It's the definition of the maturation process of a pitcher. Sim made his major league debut for us as a 21-year-old. Most guys are battling their rear ends off in college or Class A ball at that age."

Meantime, Paddack was outstanding twice on the homestand, with two wins and 16 strikeouts in 11⅔ innings. Coming back from a second Tommy John elbow surgery, he seems fully willing to push that right arm as close to the 140-150 innings area as possible.

For now, the rotation is López (10 strikeouts, one run allowed in Thursday's victory), Ryan, Woods Richardson, Ober and Paddack — all righthanded, as was the case with the front five in 2023.

In addition, Louie Varland made two excellent starts for the Saints before taking a 5-1 loss at Toledo on Thursday night. He gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks in 4⅔ innings, though he did strike out eight.

"It's a different challenge there, we have to acknowledge that, but Louie has been throwing the ball very well,'' Baldelli said Thursday. "We're going to need him eventually … Louie, and maybe a couple more."

A week ago, Woods Richardson's clunker caused me to make an emergency check on prospect David Festa's progress in St. Paul.

Festa is another righthander, 6-6 and a few months older than Woods Richardson. He had strikeout numbers but a low number of innings pitched.

Festa went five innings with 10 strikeouts on the same night Woods Richardson was having his bad night vs. the White Sox. And then he had a clunker Sunday vs. Louisville (five runs allowed in 3⅓ innings).

Not ready yet, but get Festa going past five innings with some consistency and he'll be seen on the west side of the river before summer's over.

Great homestand for starting pitchers or not, the next one is always on the way in today's baseball.