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Updated: February 26th, 2012 2:56pm
Notebook: With Zumaya out, Anthony Swarzak's role might be magnified

Notebook: With Zumaya out, Anthony Swarzak's role might be magnified

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Every morning, prior to the start of full-group workouts, Minnesota Twins right-hander Anthony Swarzak stands alone on the Hammond Stadium bullpen mound working on his pitching motion.

No ball, no catcher -- just a tube sock Swarzak uses, like many pitchers, to add some resistance on his follow-through.

"It's my way of just touching the mound more," Swarzak said. "I feel like this time of year you can't touch the mound enough, for me. Obviously as pitchers we can't throw and throw and throw and throw, so I just grab a sock and I go out there and I go through my delivery on the mound and try to get a feel for it every day. ...

"It's something I started doing two years ago in spring training with (pitching coach) Rick Anderson, and it really helped me. And then last year I kept doing it. I started getting better, I started to become a better pitcher, so I just wanted to keep doing it."

The benefit of these early-morning exercises, Swarzak says, is to find the ability to consistently arrive at his balance point, to slow down his delivery, and to get a better feel for where his glove, head and arm are at all times.

Last year was a breakout year for the 26-year-old Swarzak, who was called up as an emergency starter on April 28 to pitch Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Swarzak gave up five runs in five innings in what was his first major league appearance since 2009, and he was immediately sent back down for three weeks before a second -- and permanent -- call-up in May.

In 26 appearances from that point forward, Swarzak posted a 4.10 ERA with 54 strikeouts and only 25 walks in 96 2/3 innings, including a near no-hitter on May 28 against the Los Angeles Angels.

Of his 27 total appearances, 11 were starts, and 24 lasted multiple innings or carried from one inning to another. And that's how Swarzak is preparing this spring -- as a starter, or at least as a guy who can throw multiple innings, even though the Twins might eventually wind up using him as part of the bridge to Matt Capps.

"For me, I only know how to prepare as a starter," Swarzak said. "That's all I've ever done is start, so I prepare myself to be able to throw 100 pitches a game."

But here's where the swerve might come in -- on Saturday, when asked who might step up in the event Joel Zumaya's MRI result came back unfavorably, as it did, general manager Terry Ryan mentioned Swarzak's name without hesitation.

"That's great to hear," Swarzak said. "It's a terrible situation for Zumaya. I think our team is better with him on it, honestly. Anytime you've got a hard-throwing righty like that..."

Swarzak didn't finish that thought. He sort of shook his head, then looked back up.

"I want the ball. I don't care where it is or when it is. I have full confidence in myself that I can get people out, lefties and righties. Hopefully the coaching staff feels the same way and we can take it from there."

Swarzak's peripheral numbers aren't eye-popping. Hitters made contact off 88% of the pitches they swung at last year, and only 38% of those batted balls were grounders. Swarzak will need to improve on those trends.

But he has yet to be placed in a one-inning role, much like the one Glen Perkins found last year.

And it's hard to find the type of attitude Swarzak possesses.

Numbers game

35: Pounds lost by Swarzak between 2010 and 2011. But he looks even more toned this year. "Last year I dropped the weight," he said, "and this offseason I worked on actually getting a little more muscular and leaning out a little bit, and trying to become stronger and more athletic."

6: Significant arm surgeries for Zumaya since 2007 if he elects to undergo the Tommy John procedure.

60: Career games in the outfield for catcher Ryan Doumit, who went through outfield drills on Sunday for the first time this spring.

38: Pitches thrown by Francisco Liriano in a 10-minute live session against Joe Mauer, Brian Dinkelman, Aaron Bates and Sean Burroughs.

Health report

• Zumaya will reportedly meet with Dr. James Andrews to discuss possible Tommy John surgery, although GM Ryan said the right-hander's decision looms larger than surgery.

• INF Luke Hughes (shoulder) has done some light swinging, per Ryan, but he still isn't able to throw or face live pitching. Hughes hopes to add more activities as the week progresses.

Overheard

"Frankie, no!"
-- Tony Oliva and Rick Anderson, in harmony, as Liriano reached up with his bare hand to knock down a hard one-hopper on Sunday.

On deck

Full-squad workouts continue Monday as the Twins count down the days until a 'B' squad game against the Red Sox on Thursday.

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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