One of the Twins biggest issues in 2011 was its bullpen. In fact, it was really ugly most of the year. In the offseason, the Twins lost Joe Nathan to free agency. They brought back Matt Capps and hope that the toughness he has exhibited by wanting to come back after a brutal 2011 will translate into improved performance in 2012. Glen Perkins went from the guy most fans wanted released last spring training, to one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball. The Twins locked him up through the 2015 season with his recent contract extension. Anthony Swarzak is out of options this year and showed in 2011 that he can and will pitch in long relief, spot start or whatever role he is asked. Brian Duensing moves back to the bullpen where his ability to get left-handed hitters out should again thrive.
Those four (Capps, Perkins, Swarzak and Duensing) went into spring training as givens to make the Twins Opening Day roster. After that, there are three remaining spots in the bullpen to fill, and three question marks.
I’m the first one to say that spring training statistics mean very little. However, that is only true for the “givens.” When there are potentially three open positions in a bullpen, spring statistics tend to be pretty important. So for the vast multitude of bullpen arms that the Twins brought in to camp, they are trying their best to make a good impression.
Just 12 days into spring training games, it is far too early to generate any certainties. However, for the most part, the Twins relief pitching has been pretty solid. There are a couple of guys whose position may have dropped a little bit in the eyes of the Twins decision-makers, but even they will likely get another two weeks to turn things around. There have been a lot of pitchers who have made an early impression for the Twins in camp.
– Fellow TwinsCentrician Parker Hageman tweeted
last night something that jumped out at me. He wrote that Waldrop releases the ball at 6’8” and it hits the plate at just 2’2”. That is some incredible sink, and that is why he has had a 60% ground ball rate. So far in camp, he has given up no runs on two hits in three innings. He has walked none and struck out three.
Matt Maloney – When Bill Smith claimed the lefty after the Reds had released him, he was roundly criticized. Most who criticized the move now believe that he should be the Twins third left-hander in the bullpen. And they’re probably right. In 5.1 innings, he has not given up a run. He has given up three hits, walked one and struck out eight.
Jared Burton – The Twins quickly signed Burton to a minor league contract. He was hurt most of the last two years, but he was a very good set up many for a couple of years before that thanks to a terrific cutter. In four innings this spring, he is yet to give up a hit. He’s walked one and struck out four.
Jeff Manship – Many forget that Manship made the opening day roster a year ago, but just five outings into the season, it was clear that he wasn’t right. He was sent to Rochester and went on the Disabled List for most of the season with a couple of separate injuries. He has made an adjustment to his slider which should mean more strikeouts. In camp, he gave up a home run to David Ortiz in his first inning, but that is the only run he has given up in 4.1 innings. In fact, he’s given up just one other hit, walked none and struck out six.
Casey Fien – Another minor league free agent signed by the Twins with big league experience (2009-2010 with Tigers), Fien has been good this spring. In 3.1 innings, he is yet to give up a hit or a run. He’s walked one and struck out three.
Brendan Wise – Another minor league free agent from the Tigers, Wise has ERAs of 1.87 and 2.83 in AAA. The Australian gets a ton of movement by throwing from a three-quarter arm slot. In three innings, he has given up one hit, walked none and struck out none.
Carlos Gutierrez – The former 1st round pick had a bad outing in the team’s very first scrimmage. The manager called him out. Since then, he has been terrific, aggressively going after opposing hitters. In three innings, he’s given up only an unearned run on two hits and a walk. He has struck out four.
Those seven pitchers are off to a good start and making a strong impression. However, if any of them have a game in which they give up three runs in one inning (something relievers tend to do a time or three a year), their spring ERAs jump up to around 5.00. That’s why any time you’re looking at such a small sample size, you have to take it for what it is worth.
Those seven pitchers are not the only pitchers in the equation though. Here are a few more who have pitched quite as well in their early spring innings.
Terry Doyle - The Twins Rule 5 draft pick has certainly had ups and downs in his few spring outings. He has been good, and he had a start last week in which he got hit very hard. The 26 year old would need to be offered back to the White Sox. It’s far too early to tell which direction the Twins are leaning with him.
Jeff Gray – He is on the 40 man roster, and yet he has only pitched in two innings over two games so far. He has given up two unearned runs on two hits and two walks without striking anyone out.
Alex Burnett – Gardy and Rick Anderson really believe in Burnett, and for good reason. There is no questioning his stuff. Simply, he was not given time to develop in Rochester, and I think it would be great for Burnett (and Lester Oliveros who has given up one run on four hits in three innings while striking out four and walking none) to spend a couple of months improving themselves in Rochester. Burnett has thrown 2.2 innings this spring and given up five runs on eight hits and two walks. It isn’t as if it is just one bad outing; he has struggled each time he has taken the mound.
Jason Bulger – It’s been a rough spring for Bulger. In his first outing, he walked four before throwing a strike that Lars Anderson hit for a grand slam. He struggled again in his second outing but had a good third outing. The 33 year old has spent parts of the last six seasons with the Angels, so it isn’t as it he has just completely forgotten to pitch. But nine runs on six hits and five walks in just two innings is cause for alarm.
There are three open spots, it appears, in the Twins bullpen. There is one spot (Joel Zumaya’s) on the 40 man roster. Fortunately Ron Gardenhire, Rick Anderson and Terry Ryan have two more weeks to determine who will head north to start the season. A lot can change. Some of these pitchers may start getting into game situations against starters rather than against hitters wearing numbers set aside for wide receivers or offensive tackles.
The bullpen remains the most intriguing part of Twins spring training. How will it play out?
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