Twins pitchers hold meet and greet

The Twins have a whopping 27 pitchers in camp, including 10 who weren't in camp last year.

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FORT MYERS, FLA. — Twins bench coach Scott Ullger looked along the pitchers' side of the clubhouse and began reading nameplates. James ... Hughes ... Diamond ... Hacker.

"There are a lot of new faces in here,'' Ullger said.

Eric Hacker's stall actually is on the position players' side of the clubhouse, which is a rarity. It reflects the unusually large number of pitchers in camp this year.

There are 27 pitchers here, including 10 who weren't here last year. Perhaps that was the reason why there was a noticeable cacophony around the clubhouse before the first workout Friday. Players were getting to know one another.

Of course, the best way to get manager Ron Gardenhire and the coaching staff to remember your name is to pitch well. With the starting rotation expected to form out of a group of six returners, it's the bullpen that will have a different look this season.

The Twins watched Jesse Crain sign with the White Sox, Matt Guerrier sign with the Dodgers, Jon Rauch go with the Blue Jays and Brian Fuentes join Oakland. Four experienced and successful relievers gone.

Some of their replacements don't have much of a track record. But the Twins sat in the clubhouse and talked about why they can continue the tradition of strong bullpens under Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson.

Joe Nathan was focused as he got in some conditioning work before the first workout. Jose Mijares' weight always is a concern, but Gardenhire approved of the lefthander's shape on Thursday.

"He looks like he might have lost a little weight,'' righthander Scott Baker said about Mijares.

Nathan is coming back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow but has had no setbacks and intends to open the season as the closer. Mijares is as nasty as any lefty reliever. They are two big keys to a Twins bullpen whose ERA has been in the top five in the American League in eight of nine seasons since Gardenhire took over from Tom Kelly in 2002.

"We feel like that's almost like a slap in the face to us.'' Nathan said about concerns about a dropoff in the bullpen. "We feel like we have done some pretty good things in this game. We have things to prove. We lost some good faces down there, and we're going to miss them.

"But we also know we have guys who are going to step up like we always have had guys step up in this organization.''

Lefthander Glen Perkins spent most of 2010 at Class AAA Rochester but spoke optimistically that this is the first camp since 2006 that he's entering without any injury concerns from the year before. Two seats down sat Neshek, who used to frustrate hitters but is still searching for his old form after Tommy John surgery in 2008. They could be two factors in the bullpen thriving in 2011.

"I think there's a lot of us who are going to have to step up,'' Neshek said. "I don't think we appreciated Matty Guerrier enough. He really held it all together.''

Perkins said he believes that the Twins wouldn't have brought him and others in if they didn't have confidence they could be reliable.

"They are a pretty smart front office, and if they didn't think the guys who are going to be here could get it done they would have brought guys back,'' Perkins said. "They would have done something. They brought a group of guys here that will filter itself out and will do a fine job.''

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