Scoggins: A simple goal that's not easy to attain

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 13, 2012 - 5:33 AM

Carlos Gutierrez knows he must be consistent day in and day out if he is to get a look in the Twins bullpen.

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Righthander Carlos Gutierrez threw in front of minor league coach Eric Rasmussen on a practice field near Hammond Stadium last month. Gutierrez, 25, is hoping to demonstrate he has what it takes to earn a big-league job in 2012.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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FORT MYERS, FLA. - In his first outing of spring training, Carlos Gutierrez gave up two runs on one hit and three walks in a B game, creating such a mess of things that his only inning was stopped before he recorded three outs.

In his second appearance, he had two strikeouts and didn't give up any hits or walks in a scoreless inning.

"Consistency," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said.

Anderson gave that one-word answer when asked what Gutierrez needs to do to take that next step in his development and make his major league debut as a reliever this season. The 2008 first-round draft pick has a powerful arm and can look dominant at times. However, he also has instances when he struggles to locate pitches and labors on the mound.

"You'll see him go out one day and look like, 'Oh my, that's pretty good,' " Anderson said. "Then he'll go out the next day and be all over the place. It's about making adjustments from pitch to pitch and just consistency in what he's doing."

If he can do that, Gutierrez might fulfill the potential the Twins saw when they selected him 27th overall out of the University of Miami four years ago. His talent isn't a question. His fastball reached 97 miles per hour in two outings this spring and he's consistently in the mid-90s, according to several scouts. The Twins just want to see him throw strikes, work at a crisp pace and be consistent from hitter to hitter, inning to inning.

Whether that's good enough to make the Opening Day roster remains to be seen. Gutierrez spent the entire 2011 season in Class AAA Rochester. One gets the sense everyone involved will be disappointed if that happens again this season.

"There's a lot of talent in this [clubhouse]," Gutierrez said. "I feel like I'm just as solid as anybody in here. It's just about going out there and performing."

In order to advance, however, Gutierrez realized he needed to add a secondary pitch to complement his power sinker. His sinker is effective -- his ground ball rate in 2011 in Rochester was 60 percent, meaning 60 percent of batted balls were grounders, according to statcorner.com. The major league average is 43 percent.

One pitch isn't enough, though. Gutierrez saw his friend throw a cutter during a training session this winter and decided to give it a try.

"I was playing catch with him and asked him how he holds that thing," Gutierrez said. "Just messing around. It came out good a couple of times. Sometimes not so good. I just want to get a feel for it."

He's tried it at different times in games this spring with varying results. He threw his cutter twice in one inning of relief work against the Yankees on Sunday, but both pitches were high.

"It's still a work in progress," he said. "Just get back to the bullpen and get a feel for it. If I get that going along with the sinker, it will be nice."

The goal, he said, is to emerge from spring training comfortable and confident enough in that pitch to add it permanently to his repertoire. That would make him less predictable.

"Just have something else that you can put in hitters' minds, something going to the other side of the plate especially," he said.

Said Anderson: "He knows if he's going to pitch at the next level, you can't just throw one pitch the whole time. You've got to do something to slow them down."

Twins officials have noticed a difference in Gutierrez's demeanor this spring, too. It's his second year in big league camp, so he's more familiar with the routine. He knows what to expect. They're hopeful that comfort level extends to the mound.

"This is one of our top prospects, arm-wise, velocity-wise," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's a big, strong kid. We need him to stay in the zone and keep the pace of the game going. Just power it in there. Not screw around with hitters, and go get them."

Anderson preaches that point. Like many pitchers, Gutierrez works slowly at certain times and begins to think too much.

"The longer you have the ball in your hand, the longer you have to think," Anderson said. "The more you think, the more you get out of whack. Get it and go."

Gutierrez has done a better job of that in his past few outings. The key for him is control. If he can throw strikes and establish his cutter as a reliable option, there's no reason he shouldn't join the Twins bullpen at some point this season.

"He's got the stuff," Anderson said. "Now, it's just a matter of being consistent with it."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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