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Updated: June 1st, 2011 11:52am
Notebook: Swarzak open to set-up role; mechanical tweak helps Casilla

Notebook: Swarzak open to set-up role; mechanical tweak helps Casilla

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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Amidst an historically bad start to the season and yet another series loss in Detroit, the Minnesota Twins haven't been blessed with much positive news so far this season.

So the fact that Alexi Casilla is currently the team's hottest hitter can either be considered a silver lining, or a sign of the apocalypse.

"I feel great," Casilla said earlier in the week. "I made a couple adjustments with Joe (Vavra, the hitting coach), working in the cage every day. I think I'm hitting .800 in the cage right now."

After hitting just .167/.227/.200 in April and being moved out of the starting shortstop job, the only thing that kept Casilla in the lineup on a regular basis was a lack of backup options.

But as April turned to May, Casilla seemingly flipped a switch, and that .800 batting average in the cage has translated to a .288/.351/.424 batting line for the month of May.

Casilla, who went 0-for-3 with a walk and an RBI against the Tigers on Tuesday night, credits the turnaround to a mechanical adjustment.

"I was one day in the cage, hitting against the machine, and my stance was kind of tall," he said. "I went a little bit lower, and I was hitting the ball very good. I said, 'I should bring this to the game now.' So I feel a lot better."

Because of the sluggish start to the season, Casilla is still hitting just .230/.293/.317.

Swarzak open to set-up role, if asked

With Francisco Liriano sidelined until at least June 7 with shoulder inflammation, right-hander Anthony Swarzak will make at least one more fill-in start on Thursday, and possibly more.

Beyond that, Swarzak's role with the Twins remains up in the air.

Despite taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning of an emergency start on Saturday against the Angels, Swarzak knows when Liriano comes back he'll likely be forced to transition to the bullpen if he wants to remain in the major leagues -- a role unfamiliar to a guy who has made only five relief appearances in 168 career professional outings.

But he doesn't mind.

"I'm just going to try to handle it as professionally as possible and go about my business every day," Swarzak said. "Early in my career like I'm at right now, I don't get the opportunity to choose when I pitch. So if they want me to throw the ball, I'll throw the ball. I don't care what inning it is."

The Twins bullpen has been in complete disarray almost the entire season, posting a 5.58 collective ERA heading into Tuesday that ranked last in the major leagues. And the 19 pitchers used so far this season is just five shy of the club record with four months to go.

If an eighth-inning lead needed preservation sometime this week, it's likely that Phil Dumatrait -- with his 6.83 ERA with 69 strikeouts and 68 walks in 114 2/3 career major league innings -- would be summoned first.

In other words, all spots are up for grabs.

"I've never been in a game in that kind of situation," Swarzak said about possibly becoming a set-up man at some point. "Just the thought of it gets my adrenaline flowing a little bit. And everybody wants to be that guy, that go-to guy, whether it's a starter or a reliever -- a four-hitter or a three-hitter, or whatever it is. Yeah, if that opportunity arises in my career, whenever that is, I would love to take the ball."

Swarzak added, "I don't really know what spots are up for grabs or not. I'm happy to be here. I've spent a lot of time in Rochester over the past three, four years, and whatever I can do to help the team. If they want me to start, I'll start. If they want me to pitch in the fifth inning, the ninth inning, I don't give a crap. I just want to pitch."

Needless to say, Ron Gardenhire loves Swarzak's "I just want to pitch" attitude, especially after seeing Kevin Slowey waver and suffer through minor injuries when asked to transition from starter to reliever.

"I don't want people backing away, and that's what we like about (Swarzak)," the manager said. "He told me out there (Sunday) morning (one day after throwing 105 pitches), 'If you need me, I'm good.' I don't know about that, but ... But I like that. And he's sincere about it.

"So I think he likes the idea of staying in the big leagues, and has a good sense of where we've been scuffling, and he knows that if he takes the ball and pitches he'll get his chance."

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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