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Updated: February 18th, 2014 4:00pm
Former Twins reliever Matt Guerrier gunning for a spot in the bullpen

Former Twins reliever Matt Guerrier gunning for a spot in the bullpen

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by Derek Wetmore
1500ESPN.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Former Twins reliever Matt Guerrier knows it will be tough to work his way back into the Twins' bullpen plans.

Guerrier, 35, celebrated on Monday the six-month anniversary since he had surgery to repair his right flexor mass.

Well, "celebrated" might be an exaggeration.

Instead of drinking champagne from flutes, Guerrier threw a bullpen from one of the five mounds nestled beneath an overhang down the third-base line in Hammond Stadium. He stuck to fastballs Monday but said he intended to throw breaking pitches from flat ground Tuesday.

That's just the latest and perhaps most exciting step to date in a tedious rehabilitation regiment.

But that minor, although tangible progress hardly means anything to the Twins, who are trying to field a team that can avoid losing 90-plus games for this first time since 2010. They're trying to assemble the best team possible, and Guerrier said he thinks he can be one of the 25 members to head north.

"A lot of places, I feel like if I'm healthy I can compete and win a job," Guerrier said before his workout Tuesday. "I don't know if that's true but that's how I feel."

The Twins plan to take it slow with Guerrier, since he's coming off the surgery and still is in the estimated recovery time window of 6-8 months.

"We'll take our time with him. We'll pace him a little bit and not jump right into it and slowly work him into it," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's going through all the drills and everything. We've just asked him to be slow here."

The Twins signed Guerrier this offseason to a low-risk minor league deal. If he proves healthy and impresses as one of the six or seven best relievers, he can make the team. If not, it won't cost them much.

But for Guerrier, this could be the first time in years he'll pitch pain-free. He said he's pitched through pain in recent years and he says he was still effective, although not as much as he'd like to be.

He was hurt in 2012 and missed most of the season - he pitched just 14 innings in the Majors for the Dodgers. He reached a date when he had to decide if he'd keep pitching or get surgery, he chose to keep pitching.

Then he pitched 42 2/3 innings between the Dodgers and Cubs in 2013 before getting badly hurt. (Before the injury, he was reasonably effective, with a 4.01 ERA but a 3.82 FIP. He faced 131 batters and struck out 30 against 17 walks, with a 1.41 WHIP.)

"When I went to the Cubs, actually around that date, I ended up tearing it completely," Guerrier said. "It worked out and I did the math and saw that it could be close to the start of spring training and thought, as bad as it was, it was a good time [to have surgery]."

Now that he may be through the pain, he thinks that he can regain a semblance of the form that made him a mostly solid reliever for the Twins in 2005-10.

I'll spare the technical details of the procedure, but it shelved him for three or four months before he could start any kind of throwing program. He rehabbed in Birmingham, Ala., with a rehab specialist who works with shoulders and elbows.

The program went something like this: first, focus on the shoulder strength and begin plyometric ball tosses, two-handed chest passes. Gradually, move to a smaller ball, bouncing it off the wall. Begin bouncing it further and further and then throw it into a trampoline. All of this over the course of months.

Then, throw a fastball-only bullpen session in Twins spring training.

After that, you can throw breaking balls from flat ground.

If all goes well, continue to ramp it up through spring, as your teammates all join and you begin pitching in games.

The next chapter in Guerrier's rehab story? That's yet to be written.

He hopes it concludes with a ticket to Minneapolis as a member of the Twins' bullpen. Given how good the unit was a season ago, it likely will take a strong spring for Guerrier to earn his spot.

Derek Wetmore is the senior editor for 1500ESPN.com. His previous stops include MLB.com and the Minnesota Daily.
Email Derek | @DerekWetmore
In this story: Ron Gardenhire, Matt Guerrier
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