OAKLAND, Calif. – During a road trip to Texas in late August, Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson called a meeting to deliver a stern message.
“We’re at the point of the season, boys, where I know you are tired,” he told them, “ but I don’t want to hear about you being tired. Once you start talking about being tired you are going to be tired. We have a month to go. We can play the spoiler. You guys get the energy, we are playing for pride. Don’t let your energy down.”
Anderson had a right to worry about a late-season letdown. He has gone to the same pitchers time and time again this season and, for the most part, they have responded.
The Twins entered Thursday with 533 ⅔ innings thrown by their relievers — the most in the majors by 19 innings. That workload can mean trouble for a bullpen, but it has posted a 3.32 ERA that is seventh in baseball and third in the American League. Impressive numbers for a bullpen that, other than closer Glen Perkins, doesn’t have a mid-90s fastball in it.
Righthanders Jared Burton and Casey Fien are tied for third in the league with 70 appearances. Brian Duensing is tied for eighth with 68. With two more appearances by Duensing, the Twins will have three relievers with 70 appearances for the first time since 2009, when Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan did so. Perkins was the only pitcher to appear in at least 70 games last season, and the Twins had no one reach the mark in 2011.
That’s why Anderson has watched their workloads carefully.
“I know they are beat up and tired but I want them to finish strong,” Anderson said. “and if I can give them an extra day to keep them strong that will help.”
The have put up numbers and, for the most part, have stayed healthy. The only real issue was a sore shoulder that limited righthander Josh Roenicke to seven innings in June but has since worked through it.
“That’s the one constant on this ballclub,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. “The bullpen has been the most positive thing we’ve got.”
Unfortunately for the Twins, there haven’t been enough meaningful games for the unit to show what it can do. When the Twins have a lead to protect they have been efficient. After losing the first two games of the series against Chicago this week, Fien, Burton and Perkins combined to throw the final 2 ⅔ innings on Wednesday in a 4-3 victory over the White Sox. Perkins earned his 36th save — his second appearance since Sept. 10.
Some more interesting things about the bullpen:
Rookies have contributed. Caleb Thielbar debuted in May and he began his career with a club-record 17 appearances without an earned run. He later went 31 at-bats without giving up a hit.
“He settled in pretty well,” Perkins said. “With his delivery, he hides the ball well and has gotten the job done.”
Ryan Pressly was a Rule 5 draft pick but pitched like he belonged, posting a 3.56 ERA in 73 ⅓ innings.
And Anthony Swarzak has been an innings-eating horse, leading the majors with 92 ⅔ relief innings while posting a 2.82 ERA. Swarzak and Pressly have entered games when starters have been knocked out early, saving the other arms in the bullpen.
The mix has clicked for the Twins this season, as Anderson has had an arm for almost every occasion.
“They have been there for us all year,” Anderson said. “I respect every one of them. They have not turned down the ball. And there are times when I have thrown them three days in a row. For me, they have been my heroes. They are all gamers and they have picked each other up.”