Tough Tear for the Twins

Tom DubberkeCorrespondent IMarch 9, 2010

It was reported today that Twins relief ace Joe Nathan has a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and may need Tommy John surgery.  If so, he will obviously miss the entire 2010 season.

In the meantime, he’s going to wait a few weeks and try to pitch with it then.  Either way, it sure doesn’t sound promising.

I hate to say it, but after six consecutive seasons as one of the three or four best closers in the AL and now age 35, Nathan was due for an arm injury.  He had shoulder surgery back in late 2000, which cost him at least a year of his development, but he pitched like gang-busters since becoming a full-time reliever in 2003.

Looking at the arms the Twins have available to them, it looks like they’ll try to find out whether youngster Jose Mijares is ready to close out ballgames.  He was a 24 year old rookie last year, and he pitched awfully well, becoming the Twins top set-up man (27 holds) in combination with Matt Guerrier (33 holds).

Mijares had a 2.34 ERA last season, compared to Guerrier’s 2.36 ERA.  Guerrier had better contol, but Mijares had a much better Ks per 9IP ratio (8.0 to 5.5).

Most likely, whichever of Mijares or Guerrier pitches better in Spring Training will start the season as the Twins’ closer.  In the long term, however, I think Mijares is the better man for the job.

Either way, it’s a huge loss to the Twins’ bullpen. With no Twins starter pitching more than 205.2 innings pitched last season (Nick Blackburn led the team), the Twins relied heavily on their bullpen.  They can be expected to do so again in 2010.

Speaking of Nick Blackburn, the Twins just gave him a four-year $14 million contract with a team option for a fifth season (2014) at $8 million.  Blackburn is not the kind of young pitcher to whom I would rush to give a four year contract.  He has pitched well the last two years, but his strikeout per nine innings rates are poor, and they weren’t good in the minors either.

Pitchers like Blackburn tend to be inconsistent and they tend to blow out their arms.  While $14 million over four years is not a lot to pay for a middle of the rotation starter like Blackburn, there’s a good chance that it will be money wasted in years three and four of this deal, especially since Blackburn is already 28 years old this season.