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Updated: March 14th, 2012 3:43pm
Kyle Waldrop gaining 'serious consideration' in Twins' bullpen battle

Kyle Waldrop gaining 'serious consideration' in Twins' bullpen battle

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins decision-makers aren't ready to make any bullpen declarations this early in spring training, but right-hander Kyle Waldrop might have the most eyeballs on him.

Waldrop, 26, stands 6-5 and throws a "heavy" sinker, as players have described it. And through his first three outings this spring he has struck out three in three innings without walking anybody or allowing a run.

"He's getting serious consideration for a job here," general manager Terry Ryan said Tuesday.

"Every outing for him will be viewed extremely importantly, I should say. He's got the type of sinker that everybody views as a very valuable pitch. He certainly pounds groundballs, which we like, and throws a lot of strikes."

Waldrop was drafted as a starter by the Twins with the 25th overall pick in 2004, but shoulder surgery sidelined him for all of 2008 and forced a move to the bullpen.

In 166 2/3 innings at Triple-A over the past two seasons, Waldrop owns a 3.19 ERA with 104 strikeouts and only 31 unintentional walks. And perhaps most importantly, 63% of batted balls hit off Waldrop over that stretch were grounders -- a rate that would put him in the top 10 of major league relievers if he could sustain it.

The Twins' bullpen induced only 41% groundballs last year, ranking them 27th.

Gardenhire openly vouched for Waldrop as far back as last spring, and on Tuesday he added, "I like Kyle Waldrop again today."

"I just think he just gets outs. He works quick, he gets outs with a good angle."

Asked if Waldrop was ready to pitch in some important innings for the Twins right out of the gate, Gardenhire said, "You're going to get a lot of different opinions. If you're asking mine, I say yes. ...

"Just keep getting them out this spring and we'll hope he doesn't have to prove anything. Just keep running him out there and getting outs."

Waldrop did get a taste of the big leagues last year, throwing 11 innings after his call-up in early September. He struck out five, walked six and allowed seven earned runs (5.73 ERA), but 30 of the 41 batted balls hit off him were grounders (71%).

"It's just a matter of him pitching ahead and figuring out how he's going to get left-handers out," Ryan said. "It's no secret -- any of those guys in the bullpen, if they throw strikes, and Waldrop does that, they've got a good chance to pitch in the big leagues. ...

"He's a good athlete, he's got good angle to his pitches. He's got that fastball that is tough to handle for any left- or right-handed hitter, just because it moves so much. He's one of those guys that's interesting for us."

The Twins will likely keep seven relievers. Behind Matt Capps, Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing, the other four bullpen spots are completely up for grabs.

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