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Updated: July 24th, 2011 3:05pm
Notebook: Twins still eyeing bullpen help; Casilla quietly consistent

Notebook: Twins still eyeing bullpen help; Casilla quietly consistent

by Phil Mackey
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MINNEAPOLIS -- With the July 31 trade deadline looming next Sunday, the Minnesota Twins have one week to decide whether they are buyers or sellers.

For contenders looking to upgrade, the Twins have several intriguing trade candidates, starting with outfielder Michael Cuddyer, who came into Sunday hitting .299/.372/.473 with 14 home runs and 48 RBIs. Cuddyer's contract is set to expire following the season, and the same goes for Jason Kubel, Matt Capps and Joe Nathan.

Depending on the quality of offers on the table -- and reports have indicated that multiple teams are interested in Cuddyer -- the Twins could acquire a key piece or two to help bolster their chances beyond 2011.

But despite sitting six games back and staring at a difficult four-game series with the AL West-leading Texas Rangers this week, all indications are that general manager Bill Smith and company are pushing full speed ahead.

The current feeling within the organization is that acquiring bullpen help is the top priority. Twins executives acknowledge that the plan to have an open bullpen competition during spring training has failed, with the exception of Glen Perkins.

Even with Perkins' efforts and the recent resurgence of closer Joe Nathan, the Twins bullpen ranks last in the major leagues with a 4.75 ERA. The bullpen's 6.23 strikeouts per nine innings rank 29th.

In fact, Perkins is the only Twins reliever with at least 10 innings who owns a sub-4.00 ERA.

Assistant general manager Rob Antony told 1500 ESPN last week, "I'm not sure we're looking for a closer. I think we're fine there. I think we're looking for maybe a middle guy and some guys to help bridge the gap and come in in that sixth, seventh inning."

The Baltimore Sun reported Saturday that the Twins have shown interest in Orioles right-hander Koji Uehara, who owns a 1.84 ERA with 59 strikeouts and only eight walks in 45 innings. Uehara is due $1 million plus performance bonuses for the rest of this season with a $4 million vesting option for 2012.

Asked on Sunday if adding salary would be a problem at the trade deadline, team president Dave St. Peter told 1500 ESPN, "I can assure you there really are no handcuffs on that," adding that general manager Smith has been working the phones from Cooperstown this week.

The Twins haven't ruled out acquiring an extra bench bat, but with Denard Span and Justin Morneau on the mend, offense isn't nearly as much of a priority as bullpen.

Casilla quietly among team's most consistent

His presence has gone mostly unnoticed lately, but second baseman Alexi Casilla remains one of the key catalysts for the Twins' renewed AL Central relevance.

Casilla has reached base five times in 12 plate appearances against the Tigers this series, and he owns a .290/.351/.411 batting line in 254 plate appearances since May 15.

Pretty good timing, considering he was hitting .173 just a week earlier after being removed as the every-day shortstop.

"Patience comes and goes," Gardenhire said Saturday when asked about his tolerance level for Casilla's struggles early in the year. "It goes with the way your team is going, really. You can say, 'He's a really patient person.' I may be patient on the outside, but patient on the inside's not the same.

"I was frustrated watching him (play) sloppy. We had to move him. But as I said before, I've seen him play, and you just hope you get that player. And I think we've seen a lot of it. I think he's really been pretty good. One of our most consistent."

That goes for his defense too, as Casilla has committed only five errors in 430 2/3 innings at second base. Range metrics show him as above average at the position this season as well.

"The kid can play when he sets his mind to it and maintains, and not try to do all the wacky stuff -- the fake bunt, fake swing," Gardenhire said. "That (Carlos) Gomez stuff. Then we're good."

Quick hits

• The Twins will keep 13 pitchers heading into Texas on Monday. "How long we go with that, I don't know," Gardenhire said. "It depends on how the health of the position players remains."

• After throwing 82 pitches in his return from the disabled list on Saturday, right-hander Scott Baker came in Sunday and "felt pretty good," according to manager Ron Gardenhire. "He says he feels good today. He'll throw a bullpen in a couple days and we'll know, but we should be back up there (pitch-wise) ... We'll keep a close eye on him."

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