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Roster Manipulations; Slama Ks Two in Debut

By Derek Wetmore

The Twins avoided a sweep in yesterday afternoon's final game against the Cleveland Indians, but yesterday's game was significant for several other reasons.


--Fransisco Liriano continued his development with seven strong innings in an eight strikeout performance and is legitimately one of the better pitchers in the American League again. This isn't 2006, but don't be shocked if Franchise is starting game one, should we reach an ALDS. 


--The Twins recalled Alexi Casilla, who was running out of his alotted rehab time of 20 games in the minor leagues. To clear space on the 25-man roster, the team sent down recently recalled Jeff Manship. No complaints. We get another bench guy who would have had to clear waivers to go to Rochester after his rehab stint, and we trim one man off pitching staff. I'll talk later about some of the depth in the bullpen, and even if it's not elite depth, having arms is always nice.


--Jesse Crain came in with a big lead in the eighth. He's in form right now and with a big lead, it was no surprise. It's still worth noting that Crain has pitched well, and - as always - has the good mix of big fastball and hard slider. Don't get your hopes up that Crain can take on larger duties and greater responsibilities, but he is a nice depth option to have.


--The bigger story out of the bullpen was the debut of Anthony Slama. After allowing the lead off runner to reach base, Slama struck out two and induced a ground out to close the game. Slama's debut at age 26 was probably a bit late, but he should be a contributor in the bullpen down the stretch. If we're going to have an 11-man pitching staff down the stretch (and we should), it shakes out to look something like this:

Rauch
Guerrier
Crain
Slama
Waldrop/Blackburn/Burnett
Mijares/Deunsing/Mahay

If Slama's minor league strikeouts are for real and Big John continues to be a somewhat shaky closer, don't be surprised to see some things move around. My guess is that the manager won't put a rookie in that situation, but really, Slama is 5 years older than Alex Burnett and "Ali" was put in some crucial spots. There will no doubt be some more shuffling for the rest of the season, and it would be nice if the top guys weren't burned out September. Kyle Waldrop actually has better number than Slama, and should get a chance at some point this year. Glen Perkins is knocking on the door, and if Pat Neshek can regain the velocity and deception that made him a stalwart out of the bullpen in years past - a big 'if' - he could get a shot this year. Jeff Manship and Anthony Swarzak are two names that also remain somewhat relevant. Point being, there is some more shuffling to be done and it's always nice to get guys some rest when possible. Bullpen management can be very frustrating around these parts, but at least there is some moderate depth to look forward to in the future.


--As long as we're on the topic of resting guys and bullpen usage. Let's talk Nick Blackburn. There were some people who thought that when the impending roster move which would see Alexi Casilla recalled was made that the odd-man out should be a pitcher. That's logical because they were carrying seven and the starters have lasted more than 1 2/3 recently. Manship had recently been recalled and threw a couple innings, while Blackburn had just been demoted to the bullpen. The thought was that Blackburn should be sent down in order to straighten things out instead of Jeff "cup of coffee" Manship. I disagreed with these sentiments though because Blackburn doesn't need to "figure anything out", he just needs to pitch better. Blackburn knows how to get hitters out. He knows what it takes to be a big league pitcher. More importantly, he knows he's not getting it done right now. Perhaps what Blackburn needs is some rest, and being the mop-up guy in the bullpen would allow just that. He won't have to throw as often, and perhaps with that, he stops pressing and the sinker returns. All of a sudden, you've got a replacement level pitcher with a relatively fresh arm for the stretch drive, instead of having a pitcher who spent a month or so at Triple-A, getting inferior hitters out. If Blackburn were a rookie, the logic could be solid, but he's been here before. He pitched excessively well in game 163 two years ago.  That is, until Jim Thome got him.

 


Derek Wetmore is a sports reporter for the Minnesota Daily. He also runs the blog WetSocks where one can find general Twins musings and stay in tune with the Minnesota sports scene.

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