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Happy 28th Birthday to the catcher of the Minnesota Twins, Joe Mauer!
Following last night's 5-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Twins continued their bullpen transition by optioning Alex Burnett and recalling Eric Hacker. With the demotion of Jeff Manship to Rochester and the injury status of Kevin Slowey, the Twins were left without anyone in their bullpen that could pitch several innings. Hacker can do that.
Many Twins fans, myself included, were confused when the Twins decided to sign Hacker last November and add him to the 40 man roster. Last year for the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affliate of the San Francisco Giants, he went 16-8. Terrific, but his ERA was a middling 4.51 and his WHIP was 1.47. Factor in that he pitched in the very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League and those numbers were just slightly below league average. But was that worth a 40 man roster spot? Or was this just part of the offseason plan to bring in veterans for Rochester?
Probably a little of both. Did they need to give him a 40 man roster spot, as opposed to just signing him to a minor league deal? Apparently, otherwise they would have signed him to a minor league deal. The Twins scouts really like Hacker and thought he could contribute to the big league team. Of course, that wasn't going to be out of spring training, and frankly, his numbers last year in the Pacific Coast League still would have been better than anyone else that the Rochester Red Wings threw out there.
My assumption would be that the Twins would not want to bring up Kyle Gibson early in the season, to allow him to continue to develop and to keep him from Super-2 status. If there was a need in the starting rotation, Hacker could be a possible call up to make a few starts early in the season.
And then came spring training. As a member of the 40 man roster, Hacker reported to big league camp with the pitchers and catchers. His performance in big league games wasn't exactly awe-inspiring. In six innings (5 games), he posted a robust 13.50 ERA. In those six innings, he gave up 13 hits and two walks for a solid 2.50 WHIP. He was demoted with the first group of players to minor league camp.
But that saying about spring training stats meaning nothing, ironically, is true so often. Hacker went to minor league camp and worked hard to prepare for a starting role for the Red Wings to start the season. As I wrote in this space yesterday, he has been tremendous as a starter for the team. In his two starts, he is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and a 0.36 WHIP. In 11 innings, he has given up just four hits, walked none and struck out ten.
Although he was brought in somewhat as a veteran, he just turned 28 years old last month. He is younger than all five members of the Twins current starting rotation. He's one month younger than Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins and almost a month older than Joe Mauer. In other words, it's not like he's old.
Now, he will come to the Twins as a long-reliever. That means his job is most likely going to be when the starting pitcher has to leave the game early. Generally, that only happens under negative situations, either the starter got hurt or he has pitched really badly. Hacker's job will be to eat innings. If the starter leaves in the third or fourth inning, he will be asked to get the team to the 7th inning, preferably without giving up any too many more runs.
In recent days, when Steve Holm and Jim Hoey were called up, not all Twins fans realized that they were not young players. Both of them had some big league experience. Holm with the Giants. Hoey with the Orioles. Likewise, Eric Hacker does have big league service time. He spent 27 days for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009. He pitched in just three games. In three innings, he gave up two runs on four hits and two walks.
Both runs and three of the hits came in his big league debut on September 22, 2009, against the Cincinnati Reds. Paul Janish flew out to left to lead off that inning. Then Joey Votto doubled. Hacker got Brandon Phillips to ground back to him for the second out. Then Scott Rolen doubled in Votto, and Jay Bruce singled in Rolen before Hacker got Laynce Nix to fly out to right field.
Eric Hacker was the 23rd round draft pick of the New York Yankees in 2002 out of Duncanville High School in Texas. Former Twins outfielder Chad Allen went to the same high school. In 1990, the Twins drafted RHP Todd Ritchie out of that same high school.
He missed the 2004 season because of Tommy John surgery, and he missed the 2006 season because of a torn labrum. The Yankees added him to their 40 man roster following the 2008 season. In April of 2009, he was designated for assignment and traded to the Pirates. The Giants signed him after the 2009 season.
And now Hacker gets another big league opportunity with the Twins. After all he has gone through to this point, regarding the injuries, the releases and such, it's a great story. Hopefully he can contribute for the Twins.
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