One of the nice things to come out of an otherwise forgettable 2012 season for the Twins was the emergence of a few key unexpected players. Near or at the top of that list was relief pitcher Jared Burton, a scrap heap injury refugee who was lights-out in the back part of the Twins' bullpen.
For much of this season, too, Burton has been a shutdown set-up guy -- part of the reason Minnesota's bullpen is probably its biggest strength, with a collective ERA under 3.00 to rank among the best in baseball.
As an example, though, of what can happen when one piece falters, we also unfortunately look at Burton, who is probably glad the calendar flipped over to July. In his last nine outings in June, Burton allowed at least one run five times -- including a key home run allowed yesterday as the Twins tried to come back against the Royals in an eventual 9-8 loss. Even when he has put zeroes on the scoreboard, it hasn't looked easy. Over those nine outings, he has allowed 14 hits, 6 walks and 8 earned runs in just 8.2 innings. His season ERA is up to 3.57.
We're not sure what exactly is going on. Is it workload catching up to him? He's on pace to pitch in 75 games, a year after the Twins were very protective of him because of his injury history and used him 62 times. Is he just going through a rough patch, from which he can recover? Much of it would seem to be a command/control problem, as Burton at his best throws strikes and Burton lately has been a walk machine.
Whatever it is, if it keeps up Ron Gardenhire and co. might have to consider swapping roles -- maybe, say, Casey Fien as the primary right-handed set-up guy and Burton an inning or two earlier. Fien has given up just one run total in his last 13 outings, with zero walks and 16 strikeouts.
The problem is the bullpen sets up so well as it is. When Burton is on -- and if he snaps out of this mini-funk -- it is, we dare say, one of the best in the game.