2014 Relief Pitchers

In this last segment of my five-part review of the Twins’ roster, I look at the bullpen. Last year it was the strength of the Twins. Going into spring training it looks like it will again be the strength with competition keen and enough quality pitchers to consider trading one or two to fill other needs before the season begins.

Glen Perkins is the leader of the pen. He has established himself as an effective closer and will continue in that role again in 2014.

Jared Burton has performed well the last couple of years even if wearing down by late season each year, and if he remains healthy, he will again be one of the set-up men.

Brian Duensing was less consistent last year, but still was effect in key spots. His salary, now over a million dollars, probably dictates that he will be on the roster opening day, but he may be used as trade bait.

Anthony Swarzak has established himself as a reliable long relief man, a position that can be important to help save the rest of the bullpen. At times he has been a spot starter, and if the circumstances are right, he could serve in that role again. He also may be a valuable piece in a trade, but I expect him to be the long man with the Twins when the season begins.

Casey Fien has also established himself as a valuable late inning reliever, so if he is not in a trade package, he will be a fixture again this year.

Ryan Pressly, Caleb Thielbar and Michael Tonkin were all in the bullpen the last month of the 2013 season and they will again be competing for a spot, but will have some other competition as well. Two other members of the 40-man roster, Kris Johnson and Edgar Ibarra, will make strong cases to be included when the team goes north to open the season. One other note on Pressly, who was a Rule V pick last year and therefore had to be on the active roster all year, may see a role shift. Although the Twins’ management have not said much about it, he might find himself at New Britain or Rochester in the starting rotation in hopes he would develop into a viable major league starter. The clue as to whether or not this is in the offing will be if he is stretched out during spring training.

Matt Guerrier, recently signed to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, is recovering from elbow surgery, but if he is healthy, he also could be a strong contender.

And, finally, one or more losers of the rotation competition may end up in the bullpen so as not to lose them completely.

Unless something goes greatly awry this year, the relief corps should be solid again. If they are not overworked, they should help the Twins win more games this year.

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First Series Success

Surprise is always fun. Today, the Twins surprised me by winning their second game in a row and the first three-game series of the season. Compounding the surprise: it was against the prohibitive favorite of the AL Central Division and a pre-season favorite to win the World Series.

Today the bats broke out of their mini slumps and the Twins put 8 runs on the board. It was only a matter of time before the hits started coming in greater numbers than they produced in the first two games. It was particularly nice to see Chris Parmelee and Aaron Hicks come through in the eighth inning with run-producing hits, the first of the season for each of them. Every position player now has a hit, except Darin Mastroianni, who has played in two games, but has not yet made a plate appearance.

The most pleasant surprise has been the Twins’ starting pitching. Two quality starts in the first two games and 5 1/3 innings with no earned runs given up by Mike Pelfrey today. Two errors leading to runs extending the number of pitches enough that he was well into the 90’s in pitch count when he was relieved in the sixth. The bullpen managed to close out the game without giving up any runs, and that included the major league debut of Ryan Pressly in the 9th. Glen Perkins was warmed and ready but the Twins five-run spurt in the bottom of the eighth allowed him to be saved for appearance on the weekend.

Only Josh Roenicke was shaky out of the bullpen today, giving up a hit and walking two in 1/3 inning before being pulled for Robertson who got a strike out if Prince Fielder and Casey Fien who retired the final batter of the nerve-wracking seventh inning.

The pleasant surprise of this series demolished my prediction the Twins would start 0-3. I’ll take it! (And probably should refrain from too many bold predictions in the future.)