Moving from the rotation to the bullpen might have saved Trevor May's season and cemented his status as a major league pitcher.
He hopes it never happens again.
May is not ungrateful for the opportunity, nor oblivious to the faith Twins manager Paul Molitor eventually placed in him, nor blind to the success he had as a setup man. His velocity rose, his strikeouts climbed, too, and the relief version of May found a consistency the starting version never had.
Yet the 26-year-old also believes Molitor when the manager says the conversion was temporary, that May will enter spring training projected as a starter, not a one-inning man.
"I have no control over the decisions they make, but I know that given a chance to start, I can be not [just] one of the five, but one of the go-to guys," May said after wrapping up his second major league season. "I think my really strong, good starts are all ahead of me."
At least he is used to changing plans in a hurry. May was sent to Class AAA Rochester the final week of spring training, then quickly summoned back when Ervin Santana was suspended for 80 games. He spent the entire season in the majors, achieving his biggest goal of the season, and he shut out the Red Sox on two hits over seven innings in Fenway Park in his most memorable start.
When Santana returned at midseason, however, May lost his spot in the rotation once more, having gone 4-8 with a 4.43 ERA. He was used sparingly in relief at first, but Molitor soon realized the former fourth-round draft pick was throwing harder out of the bullpen and learning to work out of trouble. He wound up making 32 relief appearances, and his 2.87 ERA was reflective of the success he was finding.
May acknowledges the improvement he made once he arrived in the bullpen. But he is also pretty sure it would have happened anyway.
"Given 15 more starts this year, I think I would have seen some good things. I would have been able to solidify myself as a starter," he said. "With another year under my belt, with the experience of using my pitches and getting people out, I think I've showed I can handle some important situations."
Spots in the rotation could be just as scarce next year as this one, however. Highly paid free-agent signees Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes remain under contract; Tommy Milone and Tyler Duffey have earned front-of-the-line status in competing for next year's rotation, and as May says, "we've got a guy who a lot of people are really super excited about at Triple-A." He's talking about Jose Berrios, the Twins' top pitching prospect, who likely will get a shot, too. Alex Meyer also remains in the mix, though his rotation-vs.-bullpen debate is even more unclear than May's.
"I know it's crowded," May said. "I think I can be a starter and a very good starter."
Molitor said he is thankful May grew into such a handy weapon this season, a strikeout pitcher who served as an effective bridge to Glen Perkins and Kevin Jepsen. But Molitor also is aware that 180 effective innings from a young arm, in outings spaced five days apart, is far more valuable than 75 innings from a reliever, no matter how effective.
"I've said all along that our intention is for this to be a temporary solution to what we hope and anticipate was a temporary problem," Molitor said.
Health could be an issue, too. May's back flared up in September, partly because of his new role, he believes.
"It took a toll a little bit, but I started figuring out how to manage it better the last couple weeks," May said. "It had always been manageable before, with four days to recover between starts. The good thing is, there's no real injury, it's just a wear thing."