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Updated: July 7th, 2011 5:53pm
Notebook: Twins' closer situation up in the air until further notice

Notebook: Twins' closer situation up in the air until further notice

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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CHICAGO -- So what happens if the Twins enter the ninth inning with a lead of three runs or less?

"As that gate opens, you'll know who's going to close," manager Ron Gardenhire said Thursday in Chicago.

With Matt Capps struggling mightily in three consecutive outings, Gardenhire has elected to give his closer a breather, saying Wednesday that if a save situation arose against the Rays -- which it didn't -- Joe Nathan was likely to be the man.

On Thursday, Gardenhire said, "I'm not going to name anybody. I'm going to do what's best right now. I'm going to try to get Cappy in a (low-leverage) situation, and if we have to go through everybody to get to Cappy and he ends up in the ninth, then he'll end up in the ninth.

"But we're going to work it out the best we can, see how the situations arise. And we've got numbers -- more numbers than you can shake a stick at."

Capps owns a 4.79 ERA in 35 2/3 innings this season, with 21 strikeouts, five walks and six home runs allowed. He has blown six saves and has allowed 10 baserunners in his last three outings combined.

Not exactly the return on investment the Twins were hoping for after trading Wilson Ramos and paying Capps $7.15 million this offseason.

"(Pitching coach Rick Anderson) been talking with him," Gardenhire said. "Andy's had him out, he did a bullpen out there, wanted to get back on the mound. And more than anything else, we all believe he's just overthrowing the ball, which is flattening it out. ...

"Throw it 92-93 (mph), not try to throw it 98. You flatten the ball out, you lose the spin. And I think more than anything else he's kind of frustrated and he's overthrowing the ball and it flattens the ball out, and it goes side to side rather than down. When he's going good he's locating and throwing the ball down."

Meanwhile, Nathan looks like a completely different pitcher after spending a month on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. His fastball regularly sits at 93 mph as opposed to 91 mph earlier in the year, and his slider appears to have more bite.

Over his last four outings, Nathan has allowed only one baserunner while striking out five and throwing 40 of his 58 pitches for strikes.

The other closer candidate is left-hander Glen Perkins, who earned saves against the Brewers and Rays by cleaning up Capps' messes.

Perkins owns a 1.78 ERA with 32 strikeouts, 11 walks and zero home runs allowed in 30 1/3 innings, and left-handers have just a .521 OPS against him, which is far better than the .800+ mark lefties owned heading into the season.

But Perkins' versatility and ability to record crucial outs in the seventh and eighth inning is almost too valuable to move him into a ninth-inning role where he would frequently pitch in two- and three-run games.

Plus, the Twins would need to find a new lefty for those set-up innings.

For now, however, Gardenhire simply hopes to get Capps back on track.

"He's a really good pitcher with really good stuff," the manager said. "He has a good track record, so we'll get him back to where we need him to. Just a little bump in the road."

Quick hits

• OF Jason Kubel (sprained left foot) will continue to do light work until the All-Star break, and "we'll see where he is after that," head athletic trainer Rick McWane said. Kubel has been sidelined for five weeks and returned home earlier this week after suffering a setback during his rehab assignment with Single-A Fort Myers.

• 1B Justin Morneau (wrist, neck) will continue undergoing light neck and wrist therapy until the break, but will "start ramping it up," McWane said, beginning next week.

• OF Denard Span (concussion) "had a good day," per McWane, taking early batting practice and running around U.S. Cellular Field. "He's doing really good, so we're happy with how he feels ... He's had about three good days in a row."

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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