Bullpen lives, dies and learns on the job

Some reconstruction was expected, but the Twins relievers are enduring painful lessons.

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The Twins had scored two runs in the ninth inning Sunday. They had two runners on base and Michael Cuddyer was at the plate.

Cuddyer got good wood on a Jordan Walden pitch, but center fielder Peter Bourjos ran under the fly ball to make the game-ending catch in a 6-5 loss.

At that moment, one thought went through righthander Jim Hoey's mind.

"I wish I could have that pitch back,'' he said.

The pitch Hoey lamented came in the ninth inning, after he entered the game in relief of starter Carl Pavano. Somehow, the Angels' Mark Trumbo got hold of a 95-miles-per-hour fastball that was letter-high and inside and crushed it an estimated 436 feet into the second deck in left at Target Field. That was the margin of victory for the Angels, who took two of three games from the Twins.

The Twins are reeling, but no area of the team is worse than their bullpen which, at times, has been a playpen. The club has tried 13 relievers so far this season.

"We are searching for anyone [to help]," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said.

The Twins bullpen has a 5.59 ERA, which would be the highest for a season in team history. The 1986 Twins relief corps, which featured Ron Davis (9.08 ERA) and Juan Agosto (8.85), is the worst for a full season, with a 5.44 ERA. This bullpen, however, has a chance to beat that and also finish among the franchise's worst five in most walks and highest batting average against.

It was understood at the beginning of the season that the bullpen would be a work in progress. Since the Twins were expected to compete this season, the front office was expected to deal for reliable arms to help the cause, as it did when it added Brian Fuentes and Matt Capps last season.

With the Twins on pace to win -- oh boy -- 54 games, many deserve blame for this mess. But the front office whiffed on how it constructed the bullpen.

Many teams don't believe in three-year contracts for relievers. That's fine. But the replacements haven't done the job.

Dusty Hughes, whom they claimed off waivers, has a 9.95 ERA and as of Sunday is headed to Class AAA Rochester for a second time.

Hoey has a powerful arm but still is learning. He recently picked up a split-fingered fastball and now he's trying to develop a slider -- while in the majors.

The Twins think highly of Alex Burnett, but he has been thrown into the fire. They had to add Phil Dumatrait and Chuck James to the 40-man roster to give them looks. Glen Perkins was a revelation, before he was injured just more than a week ago. It's been tough on the group.

"The only thing you can do in this game is have a short memory," Hoey said, "or you are going to beat yourself into the ground."

Here's the classic second guess: Kevin Slowey should have been dealt for relief help during the offseason, and the $2.7 million the Twins wouldn't have had to pay him could have gone to bullpen help.

Chad Qualls, in whom they've been interested in the past, would have fit in nicely.

For now, the Twins have to try to win with the bullpen they have, full of guys learning to forget moments like Sunday's.

"It just stinks," Hoey said.

La Velle E. Neal III • lneal@startribune.com

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