Less than one year after joining the team and bailing out the bullpen during a playoff push, righthander Kevin Jepsen’s time with the Twins is over.
The club on Sunday designated the righthander for assignment, giving it 10 days to trade or release the nine-year veteran, whose $5.3 million salary won't help his value in a potential trade, before exposing him to waivers.
Jepsen pitched a scoreless inning on Saturday during the Twins 17-5 victory against Texas, but his season has been a major disappointment. Asked to move into the closer’s role when Glen Perkins when down with an injury, Jepsen blew four save opportunities and was removed from ninth inning duties. His 6.16 ERA and career-high seven home runs given up reflect just how poorly he has pitched.
“I’d be more worried if my stuff wasn’t there, if I was hurting,” Jepsen said. “I’m just in a funk right now, but I’m going to be fine.”
Twins manager Paul Molitor and General Manager Terry Ryan each expressed confidence, almost certitude, Sunday that Jepsen will turn his season around and resume being the shutdown pitcher they saw last year.
What’s weird is, they said it just after telling Jepsen he’s no longer a Twin.
“I think he’s going to find a home somewhere and help somebody out in the second half,” Molitor said after his former closer was designated for assignment. “I believe that.”
Jepsen, 31, came over in a trade deadline deal with the Rays last season and sizzled, posting a 1.61 ERA in 29 games and saving 10 games when Perkins went down with another injury. The Twins’ closing situation looked strong coming into spring training but it has turned out to be one of the most unstable areas of the club with Jepsen struggling and Perkins out for the year because of shoulder surgery.
The Twins traded starting pitching prospects Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia for Jepsen. Hu is headed to the All-Star Futures Game next week after going 2-5 with a 2.26 ERA for Class AA Montgomery before being promoted to Class AAA Durham.
“That was the right trade to make. [Jepsen] saved us last year. He did everything and then some to save our season, frankly,” Ryan said. “He’ll probably land on his feet. I’m guessing at some point, he’s going to end up on a major league team, so he should be OK.”
Jepsen is healthy, after all, and still throwing 94 miles per hour. But Molitor said it had become too difficult to find ways to use him enough to get him back to form.
“I’ve always done well the second part of a season. So my the confidence is there that I’ll be fine,” Jepsen said. “Let’s be honest, I haven’t thrown the way I know I can. … I’ll just go somewhere else and do what I do.”
May ready to return
Eduardo Escobar’s hamstring injury Saturday was serious enough that the Twins summoned Eddie Rosario from Class AAA Rochester to take his place. Then Escobar apparently passed enough physical tests Sunday to convince the Twins he won’t need two weeks on the disabled list.
That’s what led to the sudden decision to cut ties with Jepsen, in order to activate Rosario anyway. Now the Twins must decide how to make room for reliever Trevor May, who also is healthy once more.
Rosario could simply be sent back to Rochester. Or Trevor Plouffe — scratched from the lineup about a half-hour before first pitch — could go on the DL because of sore ribs. “He was a little more sore today, which was a little concerning that he’s kind of going the wrong way,” Molitor said. “So we’re going to make sure there’s nothing going on there.”
No matter how it all works out, May and Rosario both said they have corrected their biggest flaws while at Rochester.
In May’s case, it was mechanical, he said; his stride had become too long, affecting both the effectiveness of his pitches — “My release point dropped, so they just flatten out,” he said — and his health. He compensated for the lack of movement by trying to throw harder, which made his back sore.
“It’s a classic example of building bad habits,” May said, but one that was discovered by studying video of his pitching motion. “I feel like we’ve found the problem.”
For Rosario, the problem is chasing bad pitches, a weakness that got worse as his numbers suffered.
“I realized I wasn’t confident enough up here. I think going down helped me get that back,” he said. At Rochester, “I was making more contact, and when you’re making contact, it’s easier to lay off bad pitches, and that was a key for me.”