Bullpen, utility jobs get filled by Twins

Several new relievers will try to maintain the same high standard; Joe Nathan appears set to resume his closer's role.

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Twins closer Joe Nathan

Photo: Charles Krupa, Associated Press

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FORT MYERS, FLA. - Twins relievers have heard the talk and fielded the questions about turnover in the bullpen since the end of last season.

It has simplified their goal for 2011: To prove that change can be good. Or, in the Twins' case, that new faces can at least produce similar results.

"I think that bullpens aren't bought, they are made," Twins lefthander Glen Perkins said. "You put a group of guys together and it's almost like a team within a team.

"The feeling I've gotten in a limited amount of time is you got your small group of guys -- you all are pulling for the team but you are pulling for each other as well -- and I think the guys we're going to have down there ... I think we'll all mesh together really well."

The Twins on Sunday essentially settled on their 25-man Opening Day roster when they sent three players to Class AAA Rochester: righthander Jim Hoey, infielder Luke Hughes and righthander Anthony Slama.

The bullpen will consist of lefthanders Perkins, Jose Mijares and Dusty Hughes and righthanders Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Jeff Manship and Kevin Slowey. Matt Tolbert will be the utility player off the bench.

On his Sunday morning radio show, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Nathan will open the season as closer and Capps, the setup guy, will be used in that role when needed to make sure Nathan isn't overworked in his first year back after Tommy John surgery. Gardenhire, after Sunday's game, wouldn't go so far as to identify Nathan as the closer, but he appears to have retaken the job.

Lefthander Scott Diamond, a Rule 5 draftee from Atlanta, is still in camp but won't head north with the team. Instead of offering him back to the Braves, as is customary if a Rule 5 player does not make the major league club, the Twins are talking to Atlanta about a deal that would enabled them to keep Diamond and send him to the minors. Indications are that Diamond already has cleared waivers, which needed to happen before he could be sent to Rochester.

For the pitchers who made the team, the standards are high. Twins relievers have finished lower than fifth in the American League in bullpen ERA only once since 2002. All eyes have been on the Twins bullpen this spring because of the free-agent departures of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes.

"Five years ago, it was, 'Who is Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain?'" Perkins said. "Five years later, it's, 'Oh my gosh, what are we going to do without them?'"

Dusty Hughes, who Twins officials believe can get lefties and righties out, comes over from Kansas City. Jeff Manship, who has pitched in 24 major league games, will experience his first major league Opening Day. Kevin Slowey, 39-21 in his young career, should be a starter but is the odd man out in the rotation. And Perkins, another former starter, spent most of 2010 at Rochester.

"We almost need to go out there with a little attitude, with a little chip on the shoulder," Nathan said. "Use that as a tool and take it on the field. ... Get out there and get after it."

The Twins believe they have talented righthanders and lefthanders. They think they have a good arm for any situation. But it's hard to test the remodeled parts of their bullpen in March.

They are only a few days away from the real test.

"Once we get into the first part of the season and we start having [game] situations arise, we'll have a way better feel for how we are going to work things out," Gardenhire said.

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