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  • Spring: Hope Blooms In The Bullpen

    It’s still early in spring training – early enough so that our eyes could be fooling us from this bright sun thing – but maybe there’s some hope for the Twins bullpen after all.

    The bullpen has been a sore spots for Twins fans for…wow…how long has it been? This offseason, obviously. Last season, for sure. 2010 was a bit of respite, though there was enough panic to trade away Ramos Wilson for Matt Capps. In 2009 it struggled beyond Joe Nathan and Matt Guerrier. 2008 was REALLY bad up until Jose Mijares was given a role for the last two weeks of September. In 2007…ok…I’ll let you decide where you want to draw the line, but it’s fair to say it’s been a sore spot several times recently.

    It looked to be so again this year, especially when free agent Joel Zumaya was injured which caused some bloggers to lose their cool. (Justifiably, I would argue.) It looked like the bullpen was going to be manned by - let’s make sure I quote this right – “either a member of last year's shaky corps or a waiver or minor-league pickup.”

    That’s still true. But some of those pickups are producing some surprising results, especially when it comes to some strikeouts. With three spots likely open in the bullpen, three guys – two right-handers and one left-hander – have shined in early contests.

    Jared Burton was scavenged from the Cincinnati Reds, courtesy of a shoulder injury and a hyperthyroid condition that cost him most of the last two years. That doesn’t change the fact that the 30-year-old right-hander has earned a 3.41 ERA in the majors over 169 innings. “Hits” are not a trustworthy stat in spring training, but the fact that Burton hasn’t given up any in his four relief outings, while striking out four and walking just one at least puts him on the right path.

    Left-hander Matt Maloney, statistically, looks like the most exciting option. Cincinnati was also kind enough to contribute Maloney to the roster this offseason, though at least it cost the Twins a 40-man roster spot this time. In the majors, Maloney has mostly been used as a starter, but in his relief appearances, he’s struck out 21 batters in 24 innings, with just six walks (albeit 28 hits). This spring he’s dominated, striking out eight in 5.1 innings, while walking just one and giving up just three hits. Those are numbers that can’t be ignored, no matter which inning one is pitching.

    Speaking of “which inning one is pitching,” Jeff Manship has steadily been working his way from the late innings to the early innings in spring training games – an indication that manager Ron Gardenhire wants him to face better competition. He’s earned it. In his four appearances, he’s struck out six, walked none and given up just two hits. Both times I’ve seen him, his strike outs came on a what Seth Stohs describes as a “spiked slider.’ I have no idea what that mean, but I love the name, and I love the way it ends up at a batters ankles as he swings.

    Manship has been with the Twins for years, making a few appearances with the big league club, looking mostly mediocre, both as a starter and a reliever. His biggest weakness has been that he just plain gave up a lot of hits. That wasn’t a weakness in the minors, and a strikeout rate in AAA nearing 7 per nine innings – mostly as a starter – indicates he could take a significant step up given the chance to relieve. For instance, Joe Nathan averaged 7.2 K/9 in AAA, also as a starter.

    Of course, Nathan had that nasty slider – but Manship also looks like he’s got his “spiked slider” and I’ve heard reports of a top shelf curveball, too. (Though, maybe they’re talking about the same thing. It’s hard to tell sometimes.) The point remains: if Manship can stay healthy – and the same goes for Maloney and Burton, knock, knock – the Twins bullpen, on the shoulders (literally) of some washouts and pickups, could look like a strength a month from now.
    This article was originally published in blog: Springtime Hope Blooms In The Bullpen started by John Bonnes
    Comments 14 Comments
    1. Fanatic Jack's Avatar
      Fanatic Jack -
      I believe Burton, Maloney, and Waldrop should make the bullpen. Hopefully, they send Alex Burnett packing and soon. A spot could also be filled by Carlos Gutierrez who could be a stud. My fear is they give it to Terry Doyle because he is a Rule 5 draft pick. Doyle is not very good and should be given back to Chicago.
    1. Han Joelo's Avatar
      Han Joelo -
      Ditto on Burnett. Doyle might be a little more intriguing if he had a cool nickname, like Pop-Up Doyle. Not sure if I made the right "connection" there. I'm already cringing as to what prospect they give up to keep in a AAA.
    1. dave_dw's Avatar
      dave_dw -
      Nice article. I like this optimism. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm sick of waiting for the season! There are so many question about the 2012 Twins, I want a few to start getting answered.
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      I agree with dave_dw, it is time to get this season going! I certainly hope Jack isn't suggesting that the Twins waive Burnett. The kid has a ton of talent and needs a year at Rochester. I expect he is pitching his way to upstate New York this spring.

      With Capps, Perkins, Duensing and Swarzak locks for the pen, it should be fun seeing who gets the last three spots. It looks to me as a battle between Manship, Waldrop, Maloney and Burton. Both Manship and Waldrop have options remaining which may play into the decision, although Ryan has said it doesn't.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      "Ramos Wilson"?
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Manship's calling card has always been a big curveball, and I'm guessing it's the same pitch as Seth's "spiked slider". Manship (and that pitch in particular) was actually very highly regarded when he was in high school and if not for his iron-clad commitment to play ball for Notre Dame, would have been a very high draft pick after his senior year. He's one guy who definitely hurt his stock by going to college where he ended up having Tommy John surgery.
    1. 2wins87's Avatar
      2wins87 -
      Nice article. I've been feeling the same way that there have been a good number of promising relief performances this spring. I think it shows that while dominating relievers aren't easy to come by, serviceable ones are a dime a dozen. A lot of fans had been clamoring for the Twins to sign one of the free agent relievers; while it would have been nice to have a little more depth at the top of the bullpen, I'm not convinced that any of them would have significantly better than these replacement level options. They maybe would have been worth 2 wins through bullpen, but I don't think 2 wins does it for the Twins this year.

      I agree with previous commenters on Burnett. I've seen enough, it's time for someone else to take his spot. I'm not very bullish on Gutierrez turning into a stud. He's had 4 years in the minors to develop some command, and has shown no signs that he's going to do it. Averaging a walk every other inning isn't going to cut it (especially with the Twins). When his strikeouts drop off a bit and homeruns tick up a bit against mlb hitters, he's not going to look good.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      I talked to Manship the other day and asked him about the slider. He changed his grip on the pitch and has found it to be much more sharp and it's been good so far. He's excited about that pitch.
    1. Fanatic Jack's Avatar
      Fanatic Jack -

      Your banter about Alex Burnett being talented has really grown old. I could careless the guy is 24 years old and did not spend much time in Rochester, he clearly can't make the adjustments at the M.L. level. Your not Gardy, so please stop protecting this guy. He has been given more chances than Waldrop, Slama, Delaney, and many others ever will. Here is all you need to know.

      2010. He had a 5.29 ERA in 47.2 IP. (7.0 K/9 ratio).

      2011. He had a 5.51 ERA in 50.2 IP. (5.9 K/9 ratio).

      2012. He has a 16.87 ERA in 2.2 IP. (By guys who will be unemployed in two weeks).

      The guy has not improved at all, in fact he has got much worse. I would straight up release him and give his 40-man roster spot to someone who deserves it. I thought you were all about giving opportunities to guys who deserve it. This guy had his chance and his 15 minutes of fame are up.
    1. Mr. Ed's Avatar
      Mr. Ed -
      One good season in the minors in the bullpen at FM and NB.

      And that's it.

      For an organization that is slow to promote guys, Burnett at AAA first would have made more sense.
    1. Fanatic Jack's Avatar
      Fanatic Jack -
      Mr. Ed,

      Alex Burnett is the Twins new Nick Punto. I believe he must have something on these guys because nothing else makes sense. Why are they so enamored with this guy.
    1. TCBurgerGuy's Avatar
      TCBurgerGuy -
      Nice article, John. I agree with your assessments. It's always nice to see some positivity, especially in regards to the 'pen.

      If I remember correctly, Burnett still has options left. Why not start him in Rochester and give some of the new acquisitions a shot? Sometimes shaking things up a bit works wonders. Look at the Rays last year, they had an almost all new bullpen and they ended up in great shape.
    1. Han Joelo's Avatar
      Han Joelo -
      Just want to clarify: I don't advocate waiving Burnett, just giving him some AAA time. He was the best of a lot of lousy options last year, but is being outperformed so far.

      I know its SSS but if spring training ended today there would be some guys with great numbers who didn't make the team. I looked yesterday and Maloney was 11th (Liriano 2nd) in spring training SO's.

      As for Doyle, I wonder if the Twins didn't tell him, "Hey, if you like it here, go out there and get shelled, we'll offer you back to the White Sox for the $25 grand, they'll decline, and you'll be set."
    1. raykinsella's Avatar
      raykinsella -
      Will Maloney or Swarzak be moved to the rotation if Baker can't pitch?
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