FORT MYERS, Fla. – It’s a crazy question to ask an All-Star closer in a stat-obsessed game, but Paul Molitor gave it a try anyway. What would you think, he asked Glen Perkins, if you didn’t get all the saves?
Turns out, Perkins had been thinking the same thing.
“He wanted to see what I thought about pitching the ninth inning of a tie game on the road,” Perkins said, a move that would likely cost him a handful of saves per season. “I told him, I think it’s a good idea. I don’t care about the saves. I want to help us win.”
So does Molitor, and along with pitching coach Neil Allen, the new manager appears willing to challenge — or at least, reconsider — some of the game’s most common managerial habits. He’s trying to develop his own logic about batting orders, he’s researching how dramatically to invest in radical defensive positioning.
And he’s mulling how best to use his bullpen.
“I want to get them out of a one-inning mentality,” Molitor said Wednesday. “Not that they all have it, or don’t want to pitch more. But we’ve talked a lot about some of those guys, trying to get two innings out of them here, if we can.”
The idea, he said, is more flexibility, more ways to react as situations come up. Molitor doesn’t know yet how he will use the bullpen once the season begins, and he figures that a lot of games might indeed fall into an inning-at-a-time pattern. But he wants his relievers to be ready for more than three outs. “Yesterday we said, ‘OK, get through an inning and then get two more outs for us,’ ” he said. “We’re trying to get those guys to throw closer to 30 pitches in their outings now,” far more than most throw in an inning.
Allen supports that notion, “because if you pitch one inning consistently, you begin to think of yourself as a three-out guy. We’d like to get a little bit more distance out of the guys, instead of a one-and-done habit.”
The benefits will be more than a mind-set, Allen said. “I’m just trying to build up a little more endurance in them, and in doing so, you build up more confidence,” he said.
First, the Twins have to determine who will be in that bullpen. There are 13 pitchers in camp vying for seven relief roles, with Perkins, Casey Fien and lefthander Brian Duensing considered relatively safe. The other four spots? “There are still a lot of questions out there,” Molitor said.
Mark Hamburger has pitched well, Molitor said, despite a “hiccup” that resulted in four runs Tuesday. And veteran Blaine Boyer has impressed him as well. “But we just haven’t decided how that’s going to play out,” he said.
The pitchers have been receptive to new ideas, Allen said, even as they battle for roster spots. And while Molitor has said that Perkins is unlikely to be asked to break out of the traditional closer’s role of getting three outs in the ninth — “He’s been an All-Star closer, I don’t know if you’re going to start massaging that,” agreed General Manager Terry Ryan — he is considering doing so in the bottom of the ninth of tie games.
Most managers are reluctant to call upon the closer in that instance, preferring to wait until there is a lead to protect — even though it means asking less-effective pitchers to throw in high-pressure situations in the ninth or extra innings.
Molitor, though, might prefer “to find a way to get through the ninth inning, and hopefully you can put something on the board and find a way to close it out. I wanted to see how he felt about it. I wanted to get his opinion.”
That’s easy, Perkins said. “I don’t like sitting there in the bullpen, waiting for a save situation that might not come,” said Perkins, who has saved 70 games the past two seasons. “Let me help get the game to extra innings.”
It means sacrificing some saves, probably, but Perkins has a long-term contract and he’s already been to two All-Star Games. “I don’t care about the numbers,” he said. “Whatever it takes to win.”