Experience counts as roster is built
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Incumbents have a big head start toward keeping their jobs, and not just in Congress. In the bullpen, too.
The Twins still have 12 pitchers in camp vying for seven relief roles, and it might actually be just six jobs if an out-of-options starting pitcher is converted into a long reliever. The looming decisions won't be easy, particularly since the relievers who have had the messiest springs are the ones who are most assured of claiming a job.
"It's become a good battle because the guys who haven't thrown the ball as well are kind of inked in. They've done it, they have a track record," said assistant general manager Rob Antony. "We don't question them making the team."
Antony wasn't mentioning names, but Glen Perkins (a 5.40 ERA this spring), Jared Burton (5.79), Brian Duensing (7.36) and Anthony Swarzak (6.35) are considered the safest bets to come north in 10 days, though none has been at his best so far. Casey Fien (3.00) has pitched much better and is another all-but-guaranteed member of the pen; Caleb Thielbar (1.59) likely falls into that category as well.
"When you already know about somebody, they're going to get the nod over somebody trying to beat them out," Antony said. "If they haven't clearly beaten them out, or you don't say, 'Wow, this is what we need,' then it's a little tougher for them."
In other words, though Matt Hoffman had not allowed an earned run before Thursday, Aaron Thompson has given up just one run in five appearances, and Michael Tonkin (6⅓ innings) hasn't been scored upon at all, there obviously won't be vacancies for all — or perhaps any — of them. Throw in holdover Ryan Pressly, plus veteran Matt Guerrier, who impressed manager Ron Gardenhire in his two appearances (though shaky defense led to three runs and his 13.50 ERA), and it's not going to be easy to explain to some relievers why they're headed to Class AAA Rochester.
"Sometimes they've got to just take it, go down, and be ready to go. Be the first guy up," Antony said. "Because there will be injuries, there will be guys who struggle."
• Byron Buxton was held out of Thursday's minor league games and won't play Friday, according to Brad Steil, Twins director of minor leagues, because his right elbow is still sore. The injury is minor, Steil said, but the Twins want to wait until there's no soreness.
•Catcher Kurt Suzuki batted second on Thursday, something he did regularly with Oakland in 2008 and 2008 (when he had a .336 on-base percentage in the spot) but not since. Might he bat there during the regular season? "He had a .290 on-base last year — that in the two hole probably isn't going to work," Antony said. "But he's taken some good at-bats, shown some bat control in spring training, so that it's a possibility. These are some things that [Gardenhire] is going to have a look at."
Ricky Nolasco makes his next-to-last start of the spring on Friday when the Mets visit Hammond Stadium, in a game that will be televised by FSN.