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Monday (Kevin Slowey edition) Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand under Twins fans Updated: May 23, 2011 - 9:29 AM

The Kevin Slowey-to-the-bullpen experiment is a lesson that proves sometimes a move isn't one-sided -- sometimes it can be botched from all possible angles.

Slowey is a decent and still fairly young (27) pitcher. He had double-digit victories in each of 2008-2010. He has very good control, but it oddly has rarely translated into an ability to go deep in ballgames (he went six full innings or more in just 12 of 28 starts last season). If we had to write down a classic Kevin Slowey starting pitching line, it would be this: 5.2 IP, 7 hits, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks. He would leave with a lead a lot, and the pretty solid Twins bullpens of the past few years would typically nail it down for him -- helping Slowey compile a 39-21 lifetime record.

His skill set does not seem well-suited for the bullpen. In long relief, his talents would be wasted on huge deficits. In short spurts, he lacks the finishing pitches and/or burst of a good set-up man. But that's exactly where Slowey -- making $2.7 million this year and arbitration-eligible in 2012 -- wound up. Here is a blow-by-blow:

In early March, Slowey seemed to indicate pitching out of the 'pen was OK by him. He was probably just attempting to be a team guy, but here is what La Velle wrote:

Twins righthander Kevin Slowey, who pitched three shutout innings during the Twins' 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay on Friday, understands that, based on manager Ron Gardenhire's comments, he, Scott Baker or Nick Blackburn could end up in the bullpen. "Who are we to say we can be contributors only as starters?'' Slowey said.

But as we said, it hardly seemed the best fit. Baker, in fact, would have had way more upside as a set-up man had they asked him to make the transition. Still, neither seemed perfectly suited for it. With six potential starters and Kyle Gibson waiting in the minors, a trade for bullpen help during spring training should have been imminent. Patrick Reusse absolutely nailed it during a mid-march column that hinted at future bullpen woes.

The Twins don't need a Kevin Slowey or Scott Baker as a long reliever. They need a version of Crain -- three outs today, two outs tomorrow, in the seventh inning. That's why there remains a good chance the Twins will trade Slowey for a righthanded reliever that fits the description. Why Slowey? Because he's younger and lower-paid and thus easier to trade than Baker. The Twins' behind-the-scenes answer to those of us who consider trading a starter as a big risk is this: If something happens with the five guys who open the season, 23-year-old Kyle Gibson will be starting at Rochester, and the pitching brain trust sees him as a No. 1 starter in the making.

Still, Baker and Slowey were battling for the final rotation spot at that point. Later in march, this story announced Baker had won the final rotation spot over Slowey and included this interesting passage:

Slowey was unavailable for comment. "We are going to get him ready to come out of the bullpen,'' Gardenhire said. The Twins decided that they wanted righthander Slowey to begin walking, talking, breathing and thinking like a reliever. So they informed him now so he can get used to the role before the regular season begins. "We talked about it yesterday,'' Anderson said. "And he says, 'We'll I would like to get started right now.' I said, 'That's why I told you this quickly, because we can get you in tomorrow night for an inning and warm you up quick and give you time to talk to [Joe] Nathan and [Matt] Capps about how do you do it.' That's giving him plenty of time to do that and that is a good thing.''

That story hinted again at a possible trade. Nothing, of course, happened. The season started, the Twins' bullpen turned into a mess -- one of several messes, but a mess still unless you consider a 5.34 bullpen ERA to be a solved problem -- Slowey was hurt, came back and now we're here, per LEN:

Twins righthander Kevin Slowey, who has struggled as a reliever, looks headed to Class AAA Rochester to stretch out as a starter -- but there are indications a different change of scenery is possible. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson met with Slowey over the weekend about his role on the club and said Sunday on his weekly radio show on 1500ESPN that he believes the best thing is to find Slowey a place to start. "I honestly think the right thing [is to let Slowey start somewhere], and that's what we're trying to talk about now," Gardenhire said on the show. "We talked with Kevin, we're going to talk with Billy [Smith, Twins general manager] when we get home and try to figure out the right thing for Kevin to make sure he keeps his arm in good shape and all those things." Slowey said in a text message late Sunday that he believes there's a possibility he'll be traded. He told Gardenhire during their meeting that working out of the bullpen is tough for him.

Speaking after Sunday's loss to Arizona, Slowey suggested he might be better off elsewhere. "I understand our situation here," he said. "I understand the starters we have here, and I understand that, even given past successes as a starter, this might not be the right fit for me anymore." ... Gardenhire has been trying to set roles in the bullpen but has been unable to determine when he can count on Slowey because of the time he needs to warm up and recover. Gardenhire said it has hampered the bullpen. "I can't adapt," Gardenhire said. "He has to adapt as a player. I can't say [someone] is going to get knocked out in the third, so you start throwing in the third so I can have you ready for the fifth because you need that much time. I can't manage like that. "And he told me [Saturday] he is having a hard time and doesn't think he can do it."

So what you had was a player who said he would give the bullpen a try but seems to have given up on it pretty quickly. You have a manager frustrated with the pitcher's inability to adapt to the new role, but perhaps unwilling to put his foot down and say, "Just do what you're told." And we have a GM who was either unwilling to part with Slowey in March or unwilling to find a suitable trade partner willing to give up a young live arm from the bullpen for a rent-controlled starter with a track record of winning double-digit games. We're not saying that one potential arm from a trade would have solved all the Twins' woes, but it's amazing how many problems are masked by a functional bullpen.

As it stands now, we have Slowey either heading to Rochester -- which helps nobody -- or finally getting getting traded, perhaps with slightly diminished value because of his additional injury problems, 45 games into a season that already appears to be lost.

Hindsight is 20-20, but it might not have taken perfect vision to see this coming.

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