Well… that was painful. A look at the ‘Pen.

The bullpen needs help. There, I said it. We have seen, over the past few weeks, the decline of a few of the former studs of our bullpen, ending in the release of Juan Rincon, who was considered by some to be the best setup guy in baseball a few years ago. Now we are seeing Jesse Crain, Craig Breslow, and Matt Guerrier start to have some real struggles. This comes from overuse more than anything else.

Why has this season been so hard on the good pitchers in our bullpen? Because the long relief and mop-up roles have been handled so poorly. A lot of this comes down to poor bullpen management by Gardy. Last night, in the seventh, he brought in Bass after Perkins had scuttled a five-run lead; the Twins led by only one. When he failed, like everyone knew he would, Gardy had to use two other relievers to end the inning, neither of which did well. “Where is CRAIN?!” I was shouting (he pitched Sunday, but I thought that he had the fastball that would be able to shut the M’s down). I would have said to put Slowey in for an inning if necessary (it was his day for a bullpen session, I’m pretty sure). By the way, I think my neighbors hate me for screaming at the game at about 1am (EST). It’s okay, screw them, I’m moving later this month anyway. At least I didn’t wake up the wife. That would have been less than good.

Now, I like Brian Bass. He seems like a nice enough guy, and he had that whole “Good at Baseball” thing going his way at the beginning of the season. But then again, at the beginning of the season, the Twins were a rebuilding team with no hope of getting to the postseason. A long reliever with mediocre (at best) stuff is right at home on a rebuilding team. However, once the Twins started contending, it was like flipping a switch… Bass became “Kerosene Boy,” sidekick to “Gas Can Rincon.” Bass would be brought into an inappropriately high-leverage situation and would promptly give up two or three runs. Wait. Didn’t he do that last night, too?

By David Joles, Star Tribune

By David Joles, Star Tribune (what this picture doesn't show is the ball flying over the fence immediately afterward)

It’s time to cut bait on Bass as a major league reliever, at least for this season. If the Twins put him on waivers, he will clear easily; he has done a fine job of lowering his value so far that no other team will likely take him. Then, he can go back to Rochester for a couple months, then mayble play in the Arizona Fall League or something like that to try to get some of his stuff back.

But who takes over for Bass? There are a few options in AAA: Humber, Mulvey, and Korecky (at least at this point). Korecky was up earlier this season and performed admirably, including being the first pitcher to get a hit at the Dome since the DH came to be. His stuff likely isn’t major league quality, unfortunately. He likely will not have a long or storied career in the majors. However, he would be an improvement over Bass, whose sinker doesn’t sink anymore and whose change-up has essentially become batting practice, if only in that most teams haven’t seen him. I would like to see Mulvey or Humber up here, but they need to stay stretched out in case of an injury to one of our young starters. We’ll see them in September when the rosters expand (for sure Humber, maybe on Mulvey, since he isn’t on the 40-man right now).

So that’s Bass. What about the rest of the Bullpen? “Twitch” Nathan’s ninth-inning role is, for some reason, sacrosanct and can’t pitch more than the one inning. Irritating.

Dennys Reyes has put up some good numbers this year, while allowing over 50% of inherited runners to score, which isn’t really what a lefty specialist should do. For some reason, he has generally been unable to pitch a whole inning without giving up a run or two, so he needs to stay the loogy specialist. Big Sweat was sick last night, and was not available to pitch. He is day-to-day for tonight’s game. He likely won’t be re-signed at the end of this season, when he becomes a free agent. It is possible that the Twins will pick up a supplementary draft pick for him, but no one will know until Elias ranks the pitchers. Don’t hold your breath.

Craig Breslow has been stellar for the greatest part of the summer, but he has been battling back stiffness, and wouldn’t have pitched at all yesterday had Reyes not been sent back to the hotel with food poisoning. But he has a relatively deceptive, yet minimalistic, and JD Drew said, back in spring training, that “I don’t want to face Breslow. He doesn’t look like he has much, but you don’t even see his pitches coming.” For a look at his mechanics (a few years ago at the futures game, Fenway Park):

Jesse Crain has simply been overused his first year after coming back from injury. Once I mentioned Crain’s injuries (torn labrum and rotator cuff) to my physical therapist without mentioning his name, and he looked at me with a knowing stare and asked how long he had been retired. When I told him that Crain was back for spring training only 9 months after surgery, he didn’t believe me until I showed him some websites. A torn labrum is the hardest injury to come back from. A torn ulnar ligament is succesfully replaced 80% of the time with Tommy John surgery (ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery), but a torn labrum still ends careers almost 40% of the time. The fact that he goes up there and throws 96-97 is incredible, but Gardy has been overusing him, and he needs to work less in order to preserve his shoulder. Next year he will probably be able to take on a full workload, but this year he needs a break. Once (and if) Crain gets his control back, he will be the most prototypical 7th-inning/setup guy the Twins will have.

Matt Guerrier has also just been overworked. His stuff is not overpowering; he has a good curveball, but the way he is able to be effective is to locate and mix his pitches, which he usually does very well. However, he isn’t a setup guy. If I had my way (and an injury-less Pat Neshek), Guerrier would take over Bass’ job; it is much more what he is suited for.

Boof Bonser is only a member of the bullpen at this point because he would be claimed if placed on waivers, and the Twins want to get something for him; they could not get a deal done before the trade deadline last week. It seems that the Twins might have asked too much. However, if the Twins make the postseason, I am willing to bet he won’t be on the roster. Boof pulled a Rincon before the trade deadline: he did his damnedest to try to lower his trade value so much that no one would take him. The Twins should put him in games when the Twins trail by seven runs or more and tell him to give up five or so runs. If he could do that a few times, they could get him down to Rochester through waivers.

Now that I’ve looked at the current bullpen, who is missing? Oh, yeah. “Sideshow” Pat Neshek. Neshek has been the team’s high-leverage situational guy for the last year and a half, excepting when he was shut down at the end of last season with shoulder weakness. Neshek had a rough start this year, but had righted the ship when he went down with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. The hope is that it will heal if he doesn’t use it for a few months, and he should be getting another MRI this month to check on its progress. There is a slight chance we could see him this year (or so the Twins brass says), but it is next to nothing. Had Neshek been in the ‘Pen last night, he would have been brought in after Perkins screwed up and asked to slam the door on the Mariners, something he likely would have been able to do.

*Tear.* I miss Sideshow Pat.

In all fairness, it wasn’t the Twins’ fault that they sucked the big one tonight. It is ESPN’s fault. Has anyone else noticed that whenever Baseball Tonight does a five-to-ten minute segment on a particular team that is even mildly complimentary, the team goes out there and gets absolutely clobbered? Well, last night, BBTN had a nice seven-minute section on the Twins, in which they raved about the Twins doing everything right and then they all confidently predicted that the Twins would win the division. Well, it wouldn’t do to try to prove them right, since the Twins are actually pretty bashful. Hence, Ka-BOOM!! The explosion in the seventh followed. By the way, the second time they showed BBTN was just before the sixth inning, when the Mariners scored their first run.

Boo on them.

New on my List:

  • The Mariners announcers. Not for anything they did, but because the play-by-play guy’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard to my sensitive psyche. It was a painful night even before the seventh inning.
  • Mike Lamb’s beard. Whenever I see it, a little evil voice inside my head goes “SHAVE IT OFF SHAVE IT OFF SHAVE IT OFF.” However, it might be jealousy, because he sort of makes it look good, whereas my beard… not so much.

2 Responses

  1. The bullpen has become a concern. There is no question about it. Outside of Joe Nathan, who do you trust? Guerrier and Crain have been shaky, and now the workload is effecting them. The loss of Neshek is clearly starting to show. Bass, Breslow and Boof are not the answer, and quite frankly, they need to go away. Reyes is good for two batters at best. So just who do you trust?

    How bad is the pen when the Twins were actually interested in Latroy Hawkins?

    Right now, the Twins need to be creative. Here’s what they should do. Send Bass down and release Boof. Insert Duensing and Humber, and see what they can do. They can’t be worse, right?

    The Twins got three issues to worry about. They go on a long road trip at the end of August, and you know how bad they are. The starters have been shaky lately, and you have to be concerned if they are equipped enough to go deep in games as we head to the final stretch. Now, the bullpen is simply unreliable. Add those three factors, and you got an epic fail.

    I don’t see this team being a playoff team. I think they have really overachieved when you look at the issues they got.

  2. Honestly, the one person in the bullpen right now that I trust (outside of Nathan), is Breslow. I think he has been pitching through an injury for a month because there is nothing else the Twins could do… they needed a lefty that could be able to not let inherited runs score (that was a TERRIBLE sentence, so sorry about that), and he did that up until recently. I keep getting rumblings that he has back stiffness, but I still like him. He had a not-so-hot series, I’ll admit, but… gross.

    I would probably say that Crain is my next most trusted. Why? Honestly, he gets the most rest between starts and seems to do the best when brought in in the middle of innings, although Gardy’s inability to let him go more than 1 batter on some days irks me to no end.

    Reyes I refuse to trust any farther than I can throw/roll him. I don’t want him to go away, but I think it is a good thing he will after this season. I think Breslow is being groomed for being Reyes part deux, and I think he will fill in admirably once he has a role and his manager’s trust.

    Now that I got all rambly, with no real conclusion, I am going to say that I do agree that I don’t see them being a playoff team at this point. Maybe when Cuddy gets back or if the bullpen can get its poop in a group… but not now.

    I want to see Humber as soon as possible. I am nervous about putting him in the ‘Pen, though, since he was wretched out of the ‘Pen in Rochester. Duensing won’t be back from Beijing until the 26th or so, and then he will need a few days to get over the ridiculous jet lag. The next game he pitches in after the Olympics will probably be the Twins.

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