Waldrop has look of a keeper in bullpen

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 21, 2011 - 11:18 PM

The 25-year-old is back with the Twins this spring despite having a chance to move on, and his trust could pay off with a job in the majors.

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Kyle Waldrop, who got a chance to pitch at Target Field during an exhibition game against the Cardinals last year, would like a shot at the real thing for the Twins this year.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune file

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BRADENTON, FLA. - Kyle Waldrop has this spring training stuff mastered. Now the Twins righthander is hoping for a chance to shine in the regular season, too.

Waldrop quietly posted a 0.87 ERA last year in 10 spring training appearances for the Twins. This year, he has pitched five scoreless innings, with no walks and seven strikeouts.

"We liked him last year coming out of spring, and we like him again this year," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said Monday.

It would make a nice story: Former first-round draft pick overcomes shoulder surgery, converts from starter to reliever, re-signs after becoming a minor league free agent, and finally tastes the big leagues at age 25.

Trouble is, Waldrop isn't on the 40-man roster. It looked like that could work against him until Sunday, when the Padres claimed Pat Neshek on waivers, opening a roster spot for the Twins.

It's sounding more and more like six of the Twins' seven bullpen jobs will go to Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Jose Mijares, Kevin Slowey, Dusty Hughes and Glen Perkins.

If they keep three lefthanded relievers -- Mijares, Hughes and Perkins -- they almost certainly would give the seventh spot to a righthander.

Waldrop, Jeff Manship and Jim Hoey are the leading candidates. Theoretically, the Twins could promote 2008 first-round draft choice Carlos Gutierrez, another non-roster candidate, but the team believes he needs more minor league seasoning.

Hoey and Gutierrez have power arms, and manager Ron Gardenhire complimented them both Monday. But each is seen as a project. When the Twins were stacked with veteran relievers -- Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and company -- they might have had room in the bullpen for one project.

But this year, they are trying to fill big holes. When the bullpen phone rings, Gardenhire and Anderson will be looking for a polished pitcher, whether he is overpowering or not.

Yes, this team has filled bullpen holes before, but as Gardenhire said, "I don't think we've ever had to deal with that many people leaving one area. So is it worrisome? Absolutely. Can we fill it, absolutely, but when you lose that many quality pitchers in one area, it does make it a little more entertaining."

The 6-5 Waldrop doesn't overpower hitters with velocity. His fastball sits at about 91 miles per hour, but everything he throws moves.

He was a workhorse for Class AAA Rochester last year, posting a 2.04 ERA in 57 innings before the All-Star break. He tired down the stretch, then posted a 16.05 ERA in the Arizona Fall League. That showing in Arizona gave the Twins confidence they wouldn't lose Waldrop last winter, even if they didn't place him on the 40-man roster.

Waldrop, who signed with the Twins out of Farragut (Tenn.) High School in 2004, could have gone elsewhere but decided to return. He is committed to staying, even if the Twins send him back to Rochester.

"They're the team that initially put their trust in me, and I wanted to stay loyal," he said. "There's a comfort level here. I like the way the Twins do things. They're not afraid to promote from within."

Gardenhire said the major league staff asked about Waldrop several times last year, but to promote him, the Twins would have had to take someone else off the 40-man roster, exposing them to waivers. With Neshek gone, that wouldn't be an issue this time.

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