FORT MYERS, FLA. – Righthander Brandon Kintzler posted a career-low 3.15 ERA last season and racked up 17 saves in 20 chances. He stepped forward in the middle of the year when the Twins ran out of options for the ninth inning and excelled.
Despite all this evidence, he does not want to be called a closer.
“I don’t look at it like that. I’m just going to do whatever job they give me,” Kintzler said Wednesday, the first day of Twins spring training at the CenturyLink Sports Complex. “Even if I’m in that role all year, I’m not going to talk like that. If I go to free agency, no one is going to view me as that, so whatever job I have, I just do that job.”
Yet he’s in line to be the man for the ninth inning again. Three-time All-Star closer Glen Perkins is working his way back from a torn labrum, and it’s unknown when he will be ready to pitch in games. Even then, the Twins might opt to slowly work him in. And the Twins didn’t add any pitchers during the offseason with ninth-inning experience.
So the signs point to Kinztler, 32, to close out games again.
A year ago, Kintzler was looking to get his career back on track after battling injuries the previous two seasons.
“It’s exciting to come to spring training this year,” he said. “I don’t have to have anxiety and stay up till three o’clock in the morning or throw up before my outings. Your life is on the line every outing. Now, you can just come in and prepare to do your job and get ready for the season.”
Perkins appeared in two games before landing the disabled list, then the operating table. The Twins turned to Kevin Jepsen, who posted a 6.16 ERA and blew four saves in 11 opportunities before being released on July 11.
Kintzler, whose money pitch is a hard-sinking fastball that reached 96 miles per hour last season, notched his first save on June 8. He converted his first eight save opportunities, but none did more for his psyche than one at Fenway Park on July 22.
The Red Sox loaded the bases with nobody out through two singles and a walk, and Kintzler was staring at future Hall of Famer David Ortiz while struggling with his pitches.
“Everything was slipping out of my hand because it was so hot that day,” Kintzler said.
With his sinker the only pitch that worked, Kintzler got Ortiz to hit into a rare 4-2-3 double play. Hanley Ramirez lined out to right, and the Twins beat the Red Sox 2-1.
“That Boston thing with David Ortiz, I think I grew a lot as a pitcher,” he said. “Knowing that I can get an out in any situation against anybody regardless of the stuff you have that day. I basically had one pitch that day.”
That’s one plus for the Twins this spring training as they reconstruct a bullpen that threw the fourth-most innings and had the fourth-highest ERA in baseball last season.
“[Kintzler has] taken meaningful steps forward over the course of the last 12 months in terms of leadership and understanding who he is as a pitcher,” said Derek Falvey, the Twins chief baseball officer. It’s helpful to have a guy who has had experience in that role.”
Falvey also said there might be times during the season where Kintzler, who broke into the majors with the Brewers in 2010, might be needed earlier in the game. No problem for Kintzler, who spent a chunk of his career extinguishing fires in the seventh and eighth innings.
He is not going to be picky at this stage of his career.
“It’s a fun job to have,” Kintzler said of closing, “but it is not something that I have to have. Let’s be realistic. I was on a minor league deal last year. I realize what this business is.”