Bullpen worries dissipating as spring continues

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 15, 2011 - 12:24 PM

Jose Mijares has found a new pitch, and front-runners have emerged for the openings.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson had finished watching a bullpen session from Carl Pavano. They talked for a couple of minutes before Anderson gave his Opening Day starter the traditional slap on the back and began taking the enclosed route from the bullpen to the clubhouse.

Jose Mijares was walking behind the batting cage and toward a back field in order to do some running. Anderson stopped for a quick chat with his lefty reliever, then said to a reporter:

"See here. Jose's headed off for a 20-minute run. Hey, Jose, I was telling him about that two-seamer you're now throwing. What do you think of that pitch?"

Mijares smiled widely and made a gesture with a hand that indicated the downward movement of an imaginary baseball.

Anderson had been discussing his bullpen earlier Monday morning and said, "I would be a lot more concerned if we didn't have those three guys at the end."

He was referring to righthanders Matt Capps and Joe Nathan, and to Mijares, the lefty. Capps was the closer for the stretch drive in 2010. Nathan was closer from 2004 to '09 before missing last season after Tommy John surgery. Mijares has been prominent in the Twins' plans since he showed up from Class AA New Britain in September 2008 and became the setup man for Nathan.

Anderson's mention of his "three guys at the end" led to this question: "Do Mijares' pitches have as much life as they did a couple of years ago?"

Said the pitching coach: "More life. He's added the two-seamer. It's going to be a great pitch for him."

The four bullpen jobs in front of Capps, Nathan and Mijares remain in competition. Anderson wouldn't state it flatly, but the indications are that he and manager Ron Gardenhire -- entering their 10th season in partnership -- are looking at lefthander Dusty Hughes and righthander Jeff Manship for two of those spots.

Hughes was claimed off waivers from Kansas City on Jan. 26. On Monday, he had his sixth scoreless one-inning outing of the spring.

"What we like about Dusty is he's not just a lefty specialist," Anderson said. "He showed us last season, with Kansas City, that he can get out righthanders."

Manship's numbers haven't been impressive as he's moved back and forth between Class AAA Rochester and Minnesota the past two seasons. Yet, the Twins feel as though he has kept improving and see him as a Matt Guerrier type:

A pitcher who can get five outs one night and come back to pitch another inning the next.

So, that would be five of the seven. And if it goes that way, the front office would have to choose between one of two lefthanders for a sixth spot: Glen Perkins or Scott Diamond.

Perkins is out of options. Diamond comes out of the winter draft and has to make the team or go back to Atlanta.

"We don't want to give away Perky, and they [the front office] like Diamond a lot," Anderson said. "Tough decision."

Keeping both Perkins and Diamond and leaving the bullpen with four lefties isn't an option that appeals to Gardenhire or Anderson.

"What we're missing in this bullpen right now is a righthander with good stuff that can get us to Mijares, Capps and Nathan," Anderson said. "We need another Jesse Crain."

The candidates (perhaps in this order) are Kyle Waldrop, Pat Neshek, Jim Hoey, Alex Burnett and Anthony Slama. Waldrop arrived as a nonroster longshot, but Anderson and Gardenhire have been impressed with his stuff for a second spring in a row.

"And what about the starter that doesn't make the rotation?" Anderson said. "Where's he go?"

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.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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