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The Twins' usually-dominant closer Joe Nathan missed the year, and his substitutes did a great job.
Having Joe Nathan back will be huge as he has been one of the best closers in baseball over the past seven years, but that doesn’t relieve concerns over losing their three most used relievers of the 2010 season. Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain and Jon Rauch formed a very dependable trio. In fact, if the Twins had retained at least two of the three, one could make an argument for them having the best bullpen in the game. Instead, the Twins will rely on some younger, cheaper guys to try to step in and make innings six and seven a more comfortable affair for Ron Gardenhire.
Matt Capps returns to set up for Joe Nathan, and the setup role is where he belongs. He doesn’t have the lights-out stuff you want in a closer, despite his fine 2010 season. He throws about as hard as Nathan, but relies heavily on his fastball, which he threw 78.4 percent of the time last year. His secondary pitches are subpar in terms of runs above average, but he counters that with good control. His 17 walks last year tied a career-high, and that includes five seasons of 50 IP or more.
Twenty-three year old Alex Burnett was fourth on the Twins in innings pitched last year with 47.2. His 5.29 ERA was ugly and his walk rate (4.34) was high for a guy with moderate strikeout stuff. He’s one of the few relievers I’ve ever seen throw from a full windup, probably because he was a starter in the minors until 2009. Jeff Manship, 26, has thrown a grand total of 60.2 innings over parts of two seasons. His career ERA is 5.49, but his walk rate plummeted in his 29 innings pitched in 2010. It could just be luck, as he didn’t throw many more pitches in the zone, just got a lot of swings and misses.
Lefty-specialist Jose Mijares has held lefty hitters to a .188 average through the first 104.2 innings of his career. Scott Diamond is a 24-year-old reliever who was a rule-5 draft pick from Atlanta. He’s been very good at every level in the minors, though he has been a starter.
Pat Neshek has a chance to make good on all the praise he got after his first two seasons in the majors. He has thrown nine innings since 2008, and will get a chance in the Twins bullpen. His funky submarine delivery had something to do with his arm problems, but he probably wont change it as a previous injury caused him to resort to that delivery in the first place. There have been too many injuries with him to be especially confident in him, but given what he’s done in the past, he deserves a chance.
Glen Perkins remains in the mix and could be used in long relief. His paltry strikeout rate as well as some rotten luck may be partly to blame, but he has been hit to the tune of .292 in his career. Anthony Slama spent his minor league career collecting strike outs. He will get a shot at the pen. Eric Hacker will as well, though he has been inconsistent throughout his minor league career.
There are a few minor-league invites worth mentioning. Yorman Bazardo has struggled in short stints with three teams. Allegedly, the Tigers were so impressed with what he had done in the minors a few years ago that they felt comfortable trading Jair Jurrjens. It was a silly move, as Bazardo is a low-strikeout guy with unimpressive stuff. Chuck James, once a heralded young starter with the Braves, will try to reemerge with the Twins. He never had anything more than average stuff, just an 87 mph fastball without a good secondary pitch. Phil Dumatrait has had poor stuff since he came up with the Reds in the mid 2000s. Kyle Waldrop is 25, without big league experience, but just spun a 2.67 ERA in 87.2 innings pitched in AAA. He should get a chance.
Scouting reports indicate that Carlos Gutierrez could be the closer of the future in Minnesota. His fastball tops out at 98 mph, but he is said to be a year away or so.