Heading into the 2011 season, Twins fans were preparing for the worst when the late innings rolled around in games. After letting Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, and Brian Fuentes all test the free agent market, the Twins were in for a rude awaking. Not knowing how Joe Nathan would recover from Tommy John surgery the year before, or just having a good idea of who works better in certain situations and innings, it has made for some interesting decisions.
After having combined earned run average of 3.49 for the 2010 season, many people thought at least two of the four named above would be back with the club in 2011 and would be named as one of the best bullpens in baseball. The Twins thought differently. They decided to let them test the market and would rebuild the bullpen from within, primarily Triple-A Rochester.
Heading into Spring Training, there were a few spots up for battle, but as we reach mid-May, it really didn’t matter who won the battles. The Twins have used 12 different relief pitchers, which only four have made more than 15 appearances. Some have found themselves on the disabled list, but the fact the Twins have already called and sent down several relief pitchers is not a good way to start the season.
So, whether the Twins go out and sign a relief pitcher or trade for one, they need to get into a routine instead of calling up a new reliever every week. There has also been talk of moving Kevin Slowey into the rotation if Francisco Liriano or Brian Duensing continue to struggle.
Despite all the struggles in the bullpen this year, there has been a very pleasant surprise in the way of Glen Perkins. After transitioning back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, the Twins decided to make him a long-relief pitcher and sometimes the lefty specialist. Despite his 0-1 record, he has an uncharacteristic 0.82 ERA after 20 appearances. He had a scoreless streak that spanned 19 2/3 innings prior to allowing his first earned run in the May 14th game. The thing that has helped him the most this year is the fact that he knew he was only going to be used in the bullpen this year, so he was able to mentally prepare for that role.
So as the season progresses more and more, it will be interesting to see if the Twins stick with the bullpen they have or if they will make any moves outside of the organization. I personally think they should stay within the organization at this point, but if they make a miraculous 2nd half come back, which isn’t a totally crazy thought, I could see them trade for a bullpen arm or two.