DETROIT – While Fernando Rodney’s imaginary arrow has landed in Oakland, the Twins are, once again, looking for someone to throw darts in the ninth inning.
The trade of Rodney to the A’s has thrown the Twins bullpen, for now, into an all-hands-on-deck mode when manager Paul Molitor picks the last man standing for the remainder of the season. And it also brings a long-term issue into light: Do the Twins currently have their closer of the future in house, or will that role have to be added to their offseason shopping list?
The final 47 games should be opportunities for relievers to show they have the mettle to be trusted in the ninth inning.
“Now is the time for some of that young group to take a step forward and solidify themselves as a trustworthy option for Paul late in games,” said Derek Falvey, Twins chief baseball officer.
The Twins rode with Rodney, 41, until they dealt him on Sunday. He saved 25 games to give him 325 for his career — second to Craig Kimbrel among active players and four shy of Francisco Cordero’s record for a Dominican-born pitcher.
Veteran righthander Addison Reed was signed to a two-year deal during the offseason to set up for Rodney — or possibly close if Rodney faltered. That never happened, but Reed has struggled and landed on the disabled list because of triceps tightness. He’s healthy but trying to find his form, or he probably would have been handed the role Friday.
“Addison hasn’t yet achieved what we know he is capable of,” Falvey said, “but we know how hard he works to get there.”
Of the remaining relievers, Tyler Duffey, Trevor Hildenberger and Gabriel Moya have saved a game in the majors — one each. Hildenberger has saved 52 games in the minors, Moya 35 and Duffey one.
It might be time for the Twins to see if a couple of them can relive their minor league closing experiences in the majors. Molitor pointed out that most relievers have had late-inning experience.
“I would be excited, if I was one of those guys, to get a chance to do something that’s a little bit different than what I have been doing,” Molitor said.
In 2015, it appeared that the Twins had several relief prospects who could end up in a closing role J.T. Chargois, Jake Reed, Zack Jones and Nick Burdi were described by then-General Manager Terry Ryan as, “a flock of hard-throwing, righthanded relievers” who were close to the majors.
As it turned out:
The Twins put Chargois on waivers this spring and he was claimed by the Dodgers. And he has a 3.14 ERA while averaging 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
Reed is still at Rochester, with a 2.17 ERA but 16 walks in 37⅓ innings.
Jones was taken by Milwaukee in the Rule 5 draft in December 2015, returned to the Twins in 2016, battled injures and was released in June.
Burdi, who has reached 100 mph with his fastball, needed Tommy John surgery last year but was still selected by Pittsburgh in the Rule 5 draft. He’s nearing the end of his rehabilitation stint and has to be placed on Pittsburgh’s major league roster later this month or he could be offered back to the Twins.
The Twins could use another flock now. Alan Busenitz and John Curtiss, both at Rochester, can throw above 95 but haven’t stuck in big league tryouts.
There’s always the chance the closer of the future is a starter in the minors. Fernando Romero, who touches 98 mph with his fastball, is a starter now, but some Twins officials thought he could have made the 2017 team as a reliever. Jorge Alcala, recently acquired from Houston in the Ryan Pressly trade, and Brudsar Graterol both have hit 101 with fastballs and could be converted if starting doesn’t work out.
As the Twins examine options in the post-Rodney era, anything is possible.
“I wouldn’t rule out guys presently starting who could fit into our pen,” Falvey said. “We have all seen that track before, so we are open-minded to anything.”