Twins get what they paid for with bullpen

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 14, 2009 - 12:26 AM

Minnesota's bullpen was in need of more than just minor repairs, as was evident again.

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Twins' relief pitcher Matt Guerrier reacts after Tigers' Miguel Cabrera hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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The Twins went to spring training with the same five starters that did all the work after Livan Hernandez was dropped on July 31, 2008. As a group, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins have not reached an acceptable standard through this season's first 34 games.

On Wednesday night, Perkins blew leads of 3-0 and 4-2 and left trailing 5-4 in the sixth inning against Detroit. This raised the ERA of these five starters to 5.08 and left them at 14 of 34 in quality starts.

The overall ineffectiveness of the starters was being discussed with a former Twins player during what became an extra-inning marathon game won by the Twins 14-10.

"To this point, the starters haven't been what the Twins hoped, but they were the guys you had to go with," the ex-player said. "With the success they had as a group last season, you can't get on the Twins for not going out and spending money on a starter this winter."

He paused, smirked and said: "The bullpen ... now that's another issue."

Yes, it is. The Twins bullpen was inhaling fumes through the final two months of last season. It received a boost from rookie Jose Mijares in September, but it would be a very naive organization that used a total of 10 1/3 innings to look at him as a guaranteed problem solver.

Mark down the Twins as very naive.

They continued to convince themselves that Mijares could be a late-inning answer, even after he got into a feud with his manager in Venezuelan winter ball and left the team. He also was growing tubby in the process.

The Twins did not have the good taste to panic. They signed Joe Crede at a discount, then sat on a $63 million payroll and tried to convince themselves one veteran arm would be enough to shore up the bullpen.

On Feb. 9, they signed righthander Luis Ayala. He had lost a combined 10 games for the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets as a reliever. The last time the Twins had a reliever lose that many games it was Ron Davis in 1984.

Still, the Twins found him irresistible at $1.3 million. I mean, how often can you get a Nationals reject so cheaply?

On Wednesday, Ayala arrived after Perkins served up a two-run home run to put the Tigers in front 5-4. Ayala stumbled through the sixth, and the Twins promptly scored three runs to go back ahead 7-5.

Inspired by the lead, Ayala charged to the mound like an enraged rhino, gave up a walk and a double and was replaced by Matt Guerrier. Manager Ron Gardenhire got several decent efforts from Guerrier and vowed that he wasn't going to overuse him this season.

So much for managerial vows. This was Guerrier's 17th appearance, and there were strong indications that he's 2 1/2 months ahead of last season's pace for running out of gas.

Guerrier's first pitch was hammered by Miguel Cabrera for a three-run home run. He received a strikeout when plate umpire Paul Schreiber called out Magglio Ordonez on an ankle-high pitch.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland stormed out to tell Schreiber what a lousy job he was doing on balls-and-strikes. Leyland was ejected, even though "lousy" was a kind adjective for Schreiber's performance behind the plate.

Guerrier responded to the gift strikeout by giving up another home run, to Jeff Larish, to make it 9-7. Gardenhire hooked Guerrier and went with an act of desperation: knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

He was able to get the Tigers out in the eighth, perhaps because a dancing knuckleball fit perfectly with Schreiber's dancing strike zone.

Jason Kubel then put the Twins in a 9-9 tie with a two-run pinch-hit home run off Joel Zumaya. Gardenhire used Joe Nathan in the ninth, Zumaya stayed out for the Tigers, and soon the athletes were off to extra innings.

This was a better chance at victory than General Manager Bill Smith and his brain trust deserved. The idea that a cheap, worn-out veteran in Ayala could fill the gap in the Twins bullpen was the equivalent of Doug Risebrough bringing in Chris Simon at the trading deadline.

What happened to that Risebrough guy, by the way?

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30- 9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. preusse@startribune.com

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