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Updated: April 29th, 2012 12:07pm
Deolis Guerra is making a strong case to join Twins bullpen

Deolis Guerra is making a strong case to join Twins bullpen

by Phil Mackey
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The lone remaining piece from the Johan Santana trade is knocking on the door.

Right-hander Deolis Guerra was the 18-year-old project acquired from the New York Mets in 2008, along with right-handers Kevin Mulvey and Phil Humber and outfielder Carlos Gomez.

Guerra, now 23, was promoted from Double-A New Britain to Triple-A Rochester late last week after posting a 0.71 ERA with 15 strikeouts and one walk in 12 2/3 innings for the Rock Cats.

"We liked him in the spring. When we sent him out we told him that I think you've found (it) here out of the bullpen," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's more confident. He lets it fly more. He was more confident with it. He actually said 'I really like this.'

"He comes to the park everyday knowing he might have a chance to go out there and play. He likes that part of it, rather than if you struggle you have to wait five days. So we talked to him in spring training about that and we told him now it's about getting your self into good position here."

Heading into spring training it appeared as if the Twins bullpen had more question marks than the starting rotation. But Twins starters owned a 7.01 ERA after Saturday's games, with the bullpen holding its own at 3.86. Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson currently feel comfortable with the back end of the bullpen -- Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Jared Burton and Brian Duensing. Alex Burnett has also thrown the ball well in April.

Guerra pitched three scoreless innings for Rochester on Saturday, striking out two while allowing two hits and a walk. Those three innings bring his season total to 15 2/3 in only eight appearances.

Despite Guerra being stretched out, the Twins currently have no plans to move him back to starter.

"We have to have these guys stretched out," Gardenhire said. "We've talked about that a lot with the relievers in Triple A. Rather than every one of them being a one inning guy you have to have guys who are stretched out. And it doesn't matter if you bring a guy up how you use him. He doesn't have to be a three, four inning guy. He can be a one inning guy if he's throwing quality innings.

"Pitchers, to develop, need innings, and it's hard to develop a guy on inning at a time. The only way for them to get better, when they get a little fatigued, get a little tired, still go out and perform is to stretch out. So we've talked a lot about that in Triple A - stretching guys out and getting more than one inning, throwing 30-40 pitches so when they come up here they've got innings under their belt rather than one inning at a time."

Guerra was added to the Twins 40-man roster in November of 2009, and he reached Triple-A in 2010 as a starter but spent all of 2011 in New Britain, where the Twins eventually converted him to the bullpen.

He has thrived ever since.

Along with high strikeout totals, Guerra has also been able to maintain an above-average groundball rate as a reliever (48%). Part of what makes him so effective is his 6-5 frame and high angle.

"He's went through a lot of different arm slots," Gardenhire said. "I think he's found something that is really comfortable with him, but more so than anything else the arm slot is great, and being able to maintain the fastball in the strike zone in-and-out has been really good. ...

"He's on top of his breaking ball. Rather than going side to side it's going down, which is huge. And that means he's staying up a little bit better. ... There were times when he was back over his head and that was straight as an arrow. Finally we got him to a slot that is pretty good. It's comfortable. He looked comfortable in spring ball and it's coming out."

It's worth noting that Guerra will be out of minor league options after 2012, which means the Twins have only five more months to call him up and send him back down without being forced to pass him through waivers.

Ideally, for the Twins, once Guerra is called up he'll be up to stay.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd