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Twins Bullpen Hobbling through the Gate

by Neil Witzig

While Twin’s fans swoon over Joe Mauer’s new contract, and salivate over the newly renovated lineup; it has been easy to forget about one of the biggest challenges the Twins will face this year—the bullpen.

Over the past decade, the Twin’s have consistently had one of the best bullpens in the majors. Last year, the Twins bullpen posted a respectable overall ERA of 3.87, 10th best in baseball, and 4th in the American league. But the Twins won’t have Joe Nathan this year, one of the game's best pitchers. Without Nathan, many teams will look at the later innings as an open door when playing the Twins, which puts more pressure on the bullpen. Let’s consider who is left to pick up the slack:

Matt Guerrier: Coming off a career season, I see no reason not to expect another solid season from this workhorse. I expect Guerrier to continue to prove himself as one of the elite bullpen pitchers in the league.

Pat Neshek: Neshek is returning after Tommy John’s surgery, so nothing is guaranteed. There are still doubts as to whether or not Liriano has fully recovered, and his surgery was more than three years ago. Neshek did put up good numbers this spring with a 1.86 ERA and 12 K’s in 9.2 innings pitched.

Jose Mijares: The latest of a series of chubby lefties to pitch for the Twins, he was surprisingly effective last year with a 2.34 ERA in 71 appearances and 61.2 innings pitched. But Mijares has been having problems with blurred vision, and the eye doc said he would need a procedure to fix the condition at some point. Mijares plans to play through this predicament this season. The Twins are investing a huge amount of confidence in him to get big outs late in the game. I hope he can see the strike zone.

Clay Condrey: Condrey’s status with his weakened shoulder remains questionable. He has been reliable for the Phillies for the past four years and he should be a good addition to the Twin’s bullpen if he can stay healthy. But with Neshek’s sensitive elbow and Mijares’s vision, the last thing the Twin’s need is another injury problem in the bullpen.

Jon Rauch: Rauch has the potential to be a pillar of consistency for the pen. He has never had major struggles with injuries, and his 6ft 11in body makes him good candidate for being a pillar. He’s pillar-like. But this year he faces one of the biggest challenges of his career--attempting to prove himself as a closer. A breakdown is unlikely because Rauch has already proved himself in 2008, saving 18 games. But Rauch doesn’t exactly have “closer stuff,” barely ever getting over the 90 mph mark. If he is one to lose his command and control under pressure, say goodbye to 9th inning leads.

Jesse Crain: After having a rocky start last year, Crain bounced back with a 2.91 second half ERA. Crain has the stuff to be a rock-solid setup man; it’s just a question of whether the command and control will consistently be there. Crain has always been an up and down kind of guy, plagued by injuries and other problems. But I am optimistic about Crain this year; he has had by far his best spring training of the past three years. This could be the year that Crain pulls together a full season of good pitching.

Brian Duensing: With Liriano most likely getting the job as the 5th starter, Duensing will be subjected to the bullpen. I expect Duensing to pitch with determination as he tries to prove himself to be worthy of a spot in the starting rotation. Duensing, although young and relatively unseasoned, provides a valuable lefty arm in a pen full of righties.

With Mijares’s eye problems, Nesheks’ sensitive elbow, Condrey’s weak shoulder, and Crain’s tendency to get injured, the Twins will need to be flexible. But this is nothing new for the Twins who have shown remarkable ability to fill spots with minor league call-ups. Pitchers such as Ron Mahay, Glen Perkins, and Jeff Manship will almost definitely see action this year even though they may not make the opening day roster.

Despite the injuries and the loss of Nathan, there is a lot of talent in the Twins bullpen. Have no fear, the Twins bullpen may suffer setbacks, but it will be solid. Guerrier, Rauch, and Condrey are reliable pitchers. Crain and Neshek both look promising this spring, although I wouldn’t say they are stable. Expect a lot of role swapping and alterations as Gardy and Rick Anderson get a feel for just how the 7th -9th innings will work this year.

So will the Twins bullpen regain its elite status as one of the best in the league? Probably not. But they do have the potential, and I encourage them to prove me wrong.


  1. I think the Twins bullpen will be good enough too, provided they can stay healthy...It's key that you mentioned the fact that Crain pitched pretty well the second half of the year. A lot of Twins fans seem to forget that, and they think Crain is terrible because of some of the rocky stretches he has had in recent years. It's important to remember that he has had some very good stretches as well...and his career numbers aren't bad (3.50 ERA; 32-20). The Twins will be counting on him big-time this season. Like you said, it's all about command with Crain because he has good stuff and a very live fastball.

  2. Crain is older and more experienced, I expect that we will see some of his inconsistency go away. The Twins always seem to develop pitching pretty well we probably have some guy most of us have never heard of at AA that can save the day if needed.