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Updated: March 23rd, 2012 4:36pm
Notebook: 'About two decisions' remain in Twins' bullpen competition

Notebook: 'About two decisions' remain in Twins' bullpen competition

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The bullpen battle appears to have narrowed down even further.

In an interview with 1500 ESPN on Thursday, Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan said the team has "about two decisions" remaining for constructing what will likely be a seven-man bullpen.

Right-hander Matt Capps and left-handers Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing appear to be locks.

Behind them, according to team sources, right-hander Anthony Swarzak and left-hander Matt Maloney are considered front-runners because of their versatility and ability to pitch multiple innings.

That would leave two open slots for right-handers Alex Burnett, Kyle Waldrop, Jared Burton, Jeff Manship, Brendan Wise, Jeff Gray and Casey Fien.

Front office members liked the way Manship was pitching this spring (0 walks), but on Friday the Yankees scored all six of their runs (four earned) off him -- one in the sixth inning on a home run by Ramiro Pena, and five more in the seventh. Manship had previously coasted through spring training with only one run allowed.

Waldrop and Wise are both sinkerballers, with Waldrop held in higher regard in the eyes of most within the organization.

Burton, a non-roster invite, pitched another scoreless inning Friday, lowering his ERA to 1.29. He has allowed three hits and four walks in seven innings while striking out seven. Burnett was a front-runner heading into spring, but he has allowed five runs on nine hits in five innings.

Maloney focusing on strikeouts

The Twins claimed Maloney off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds in late-October last year, and in 9 1/3 scoreless innings this spring he has struck out 13 while allowing only seven baserunners.

Maloney, 28, was a third-round pick by the Phillies in 2005. Of his 173 career professional outings, only 14 have come out of the bullpen.

Maloney broke camp on the Reds' 25-man roster last year as the long man -- "Pretty much just the extended innings when the starter got hit around, or when we had some mop-up innings toward the end of the game," he said. "That's pretty much the extent of my bullpen experience."

He has shown promising signs this spring in a shorter role, although the Twins could use him in long-relief scenarios too.

"I've kind of given myself that mindset, that that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to focus on getting all the lefties out that I could. I think that's something I can be good at. ...

"My mindset is pretty much, unless I get a guy on base, I'm going to try and strike somebody out. I want to be aggressive, and I want to go after the guys."

As a starter in the minor leagues, Maloney struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings overall and 7.6 per nine at Triple-A. If given the chance to pitch fewer innings, those strikeout totals could rise. He also rarely walks anyone.

Maloney has thrown mostly fastballs (upper-80's) and sliders this spring, because he has faced a large amount of left-handed batters. Against righties, Maloney said his changeup (upper-70's) is actually his best pitch.

As for the final 10 days of this bullpen competition ...

"I honestly haven't even thought about it," Maloney said. "I've spent the last three years worrying about that kind of stuff and not pitching well in camp, so I've put it out of my head and just going out and pitching. I'm over trying to think about it."

Today's result

Yankees 6, Twins 4 in Tampa

Twins' spring record: 12-10

Francisco Liriano was fantastic again, shutting out the Yankees over five innings on just four hits. He struck out five, walked one and lowered his spring training ERA to 2.00.

• DH Justin Morneau went 1-for-4 with a double to deep center field -- his first extra-base hit of spring.

• Playing left field for the first time this spring -- his natural position -- Josh Willingham blasted a two-run homer and also doubled. Sean Burroughs went 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Ryan Doumit singled in three trips as the first baseman.

Numbers game

10: Days since Morneau has played first base. Things could change over the next two weeks, but signs point to Morneau primarily DHing when the season begins.

Health report

• OF Trevor Plouffe ran sprints in the outfield under the watch of trainer Dave Pruemer on Friday. He's still considered day-to-day.

Overheard

"Ghost town, bro."
-- Anthony Swarzak, describing the Twins' clubhouse, which is down to 39 players from 67 at the beginning of camp.

On deck

Saturday: vs. Rays, 2:05 p.m. RHP Jason Marquis vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
Sunday: @ Cardinals, 12:05 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn vs. RHP Kyle Lohse

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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