The favorite activity of a Twins fan this past season season seemed to be griping about how pitiful the bullpen was. In fact, I don’t know anyone who was all satisfied with the way Minnesota relievers were pitching. At the time, 2009 was looked to with longing eyes because of the much-anticipated return of Pat Neshek.
As 2009 approaches, is Neshek really the savior of this bullpen? Will he alone restore this aspect of Minnesota baseball to its former glory? No, not alone.
There was one reliever in particular who was brought onto the team in September and had a profound impact on the performance of the bullpen. Jose Mijares reduced the scornful comments directed at the bullpen into little more than occasional mumbles. Mijares pitched in ten games this past year for a total of 10.1 innings. He surrendered just three hits and one earned run, which makes his ERA 0.87. Here is a look at his complete 2008 statistics:
Team 2008 W L ERA G IP SO BB WHIPGCL Twins 2 1 2.45 7 11 16 1 1.00Fort Myers 0 0 2.61 5 10.1 8 3 0.97New Britain 1 1 2.93 11 15.1 17 7 1.50Twins 0 1 0.87 10 10.1 5 0 0.29
He obviously won’t have that same success as a full-time reliever, but you couldn’t ask for a better performance from the 23-year old.
There have been many debates as to why the bullpen was so ineffective in 2008, but it can be narrowed down into a three simple reasons; the loss of Pat Neshek, the presence of Boof Bonser and Eddie Guardado, and the struggling of Matt Guerrier. If at least two of those problems can be fixed going into 2009, the Twins will find themselves in great shape.
Pat Neshek is going to pitch next year, but the only question is how dominant he will be. If he can return to his 2006 or 2007 form everything will be great. If he has trouble recovering, though, the Twins might have some struggles.
Boof Bonser will most likely be back, while Eddie Guardado will probably be looking for another team soon. Filling his place is another name that is rarely mentioned among Twins fans. Craig Breslow was picked off waivers earlier this year, and went quietly through 2008 putting up great numbers and keeping a low profile. He pitched just under 40 innings and sported a 1.63 ERA to go with a sub-1 WHIP. He will likely be back in 2009, with good reason.
Guerrier will be a fun storyline to follow this year. His poor performance in 2008 will force the Twins to deal with some tough decisions. His contract is up, so the Twins can either let him walk, offer him arbitration, or re-sign him.
Assuming he isn’t on the roster in 2009, the relieving corps looks something like this:
Craig Breslow, LHP
Boof Bonser, RHP
Jesse Crain, RHP
Pat Neshek, RHP
Joe Nathan, RHP
This list is assuming a lot of thing, and this bullpen is not the one I want to see. I would prefer to see Mijares win a job outright in Spring Training, but that is up to him and his left arm. I would also like to see Bonser traded somewhere, anywhere. His place on the team is almost to the point of being a curse. Philip Humber should also draw a thought or two when planning this out.
When totalling everything up, the 2009 bullpen should be much more solid and less pourous than the 2008 version. Neshek will be back and there will not be a gaping hole in the set-up position. The other pitchers can assume their prefered roles where they can pitch more effectively.
Although I wouldn’t say the 2009 bullpen will be one of the best in the league, I will say that it will be much better than usual. After witnessing the 2008 bullpen debacle, Twins fans should all be excited.