Mackey: The unofficial Twins bullpen power rankings, version 3.0
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With one week remaining until the start of the regular season, the Minnesota Twins still technically have three open bullpen spots to fill.
Gardenhire loves the internet, in case you hadn't heard yet.
Wednesday's third round of cuts provided some clarity in the bullpen battle -- particularly the announcement that right-handers Kyle Waldrop and Carlos Gutierrez will be sent to minor-league camp after the Twins return from Atlanta on March 30.
But as it stands, the pool of hopefuls has dwindled down to five relievers, all playing musical chairs for a spot on the 25-man roster.
When will the music stop?
RHP Matt Capps: Capps hasn't allowed a run all spring. He looks phenomenal. End of story.
RHP Joe Nathan: Here's where things get a little tricky... Nathan is healthy, and he remains on schedule to complete his comeback from Tommy John surgery when the team opens its season in Toronto on April 1. But Nathan gave up three runs on Wednesday night, pushing his spring ERA over 11.00. Of course, spring numbers are relatively meaningless, but suggesting Nathan is better suited for closing duties than Capps is a bit of a stretch at this point. It will be interesting to see what Gardenhire does.
For the record, Capps said Tuesday that he has not had any recent discussions with pitching coach Rick Anderson, Gardenhire or Nathan about his role.
Gardenhire, when asked by a reporter on Thursday how he's weighing the decision, said, "I think Capps weighs a little bit more than Nathan. I think Nathan's taller."
LHP Jose Mijares: Nothing to see here. Mijares has looked fine in eight spring outings.
RHP Kevin Slowey: Gardenhire announced earlier in the week that Scott Baker will be the team's fifth starter, rendering Slowey to bullpen duties. It could easily be argued that Slowey has potential to be the Twins' third-best starting pitcher, but he won't have a chance to prove that out of the gate.
Fighting for final three spots:
From top to bottom -- most likely to earn a spot on the 25-man roster as of March 25
1. LHP Dusty Hughes: Earlier this week, Gardenhire said the Twins talked to left-handed hitters Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and others about potentially acquiring Hughes. The consensus was that Hughes is tricky to pick up, which has been the case this spring as well -- 10 innings, zero runs and only six hits allowed. Hughes has struck out five and also walked five, which is a few more free passes than the Twins would like to see (albeit, in an extremely small sample size). But Hughes has always been a guy with higher walk totals (4.1 BB/9), even in the minor leagues (4.2 BB/9 at Triple-A). That's not likely to change overnight, but the Twins feel like he will be effective enough as a situational lefty.
2. LHP Glen Perkins: The fact is, Perkins hasn't done anything this spring to suggest he doesn't deserve a spot on the 25-man roster, and his peers haven't necessarily impressed enough to bump him down the depth chart. Combine that with the fact that Perkins -- two earned runs, eight hits allowed, six strikeouts and three walks in nine spring innings -- is out of minor-league options and it only makes sense to give him a shot to head north and prove himself one last time.
3. RHP Jeff Manship: If spring stats were the only measuring stick -- and they do matter, to some extent, when 10 pitchers are competing for a limited number of roster spots -- Manship would be on a golf cart, riding toward minor-league camp. Manship has allowed seven earned runs off 11 hits and three walks in 12 innings, but he's been better in recent outings. Gardenhire and Anderson want to see him pitch more off his fastball, and he did so on Wednesday night, hurling two scoreless innings against the Orioles.
The Twins viewed Manship as having an inside track heading into spring training, and it appears that the organization will stick to the original plan.
4. RHP Jim Hoey: The knock on Hoey is his sporadic control of a mid-90's fastball, but the big right-hander hasn't walked anybody in his last four outings, and the field staff has praised his willingness and ability to spot the fastball at hitters' knees. It sounds as if Gardenhire would be comfortable having Hoey in his seven-man bullpen, but the likely scenario is for a brief stint at Triple-A Rochester.
5. LHP Scott Diamond: Battling some blister issues as of late, Diamond hasn't pitched in an "A" game since March 12. Any edge he once had in the bullpen battle -- being a Rule-5 draftee -- is likely gone, although the organization is still intrigued by his potential. But if Diamond doesn't crack the 25-man roster, that potential will likely travel back to Atlanta, or another team.
Sent packing, but still on radar
6. RHP Alex Burnett: Considering the major-league experience he obtained last year -- and his ability to pitch effectively early in 2010 -- Burnett could be the first pitcher called up if something goes awry above him. Burnett was among the second round of cuts last weekend. He allowed three runs in six innings, striking out five and walking one.
7. RHP Kyle Waldrop: Just hours after being told he would start the regular season at Class-AAA Rochester, Waldrop gave up a monster home run on Wednesday night to Vladimir Guerrero -- obviously not the first pitcher to do so, and certainly not the last. For the second consecutive spring, Waldrop impressed Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson with his command and sinking fastball. Waldrop is not currently on the 40-man roster, but if he continues to induce groundballs and retire hitters at Triple-A, the Twins will reward him with a promotion.
8. RHP Kyle Gibson: It's likely Gibson -- among the first round of cuts -- will remain in the minor leagues until at least mid-May, and perhaps much later, depending on various factors. Keeping Gibson at Triple-A until then will prevent him from earning "Super-Two" arbitration status, thus saving the Twins money in the long run. It will also allow Gibson to work on some of the things he learned during his brief stint at major-league camp.
9. RHP Carlos Gutierrez: When asked earlier in the week of Gutierrez, theoretically, could be major-league ready on April 1, Gardenhire smiled and said, "he's still here." Of course, two days later Gutierrez was told he'd start the season in the minor leagues, but the former first-round pick has impressed Twins decision-makers with the nasty movement on his pitches, and his ability to induce groundballs. He simply needs a little bit more seasoning.
Not cut yet, but...
RHP Anthony Slama: A stress reaction in his pitching elbow sidelined Slama near the beginning of March, and he hasn't pitched in a game all month. The Twins wanted him to work on being more aggressive in the strike zone and holding runners closer to first base, but for now Slama is just trying to get healthy. As of Monday, Slama was playing long toss as part of a throwing program.
LHP Chuck James: James pitched a scoreless inning on Wednesday night, and while he isn't really in the mix to land one of the final three bullpen spots, he has been competitive enough this spring to warrant consideration for a call-up at some point -- depending on the Twins' 40-man roster situation. James hasn't pitched in a big-league game since prior to undergoing major shoulder surgery in 2008.