Slowey's sporadic availability has Gardenhire searching for answers
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Prior to Sunday, right-hander Kevin Slowey last pitched on May 7 in Boston, when he threw 4 1/3 innings in relief of Brian Duensing following a rain delay. After warming up on Wednesday and Friday, Slowey reported some soreness on Saturday and was unavailable to pitch in the 11-inning loss to Toronto.
Head athletic trainer Rick McWane said Slowey is not injured. He has "general soreness," but was able to pitch six innings in relief against the Blue Jays on Sunday, allowing four earned runs on five hits.
"It's an interesting situation," Gardenhire said of Slowey's migration to the bullpen. "We didn't even put him in a game, he was just warming up and got sore. So where do you go from there? I can't tell a guy how to warm up. And I know he's in a long role and we want to stretch him and there's a lot involved in that.
"You have to be able to get up and down several times and he needs to grow into that. Or we have to do something else."
With questions lingering about Slowey's current role and arm condition, the right-hander declined to comment after Sunday's game.
The Twins were initially optimistic Slowey could begin the season as a key late-inning reliever, but the right-hander landed on the disabled list in mid-April with shoulder bursitis after he pitched three times in four days for the first time in his major league career.
Has the manager ever encountered a starting pitcher who couldn't physically make the transition to a bullpen role?
"Not really," Gardenhire said. "I think everybody can do it. In this business you just do it. It is what it is."
If Slowey is unable to pitch frequently out of the bullpen, another option is to reinsert the right-hander back into the starting rotation. But Carl Pavano is one of the team's highest-paid players, Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn both have sub-4.00 ERAs, Duensing has arguably been the team's best starter, and Francisco Liriano -- with his control problems and frequent mental lapses -- would be nothing more than a long-relief man.
In theory, Duensing would be able to make the smoothest bullpen transition, simply because he's been there recently and could pitch in late-inning, high-leverage situations. And the Twins, quite frankly, are desperate for a bullpen boost right now.
"I think he can handle this routine a lot easier than most, because he's been in the bullpen and all those different things out there," Gardenhire said when asked about Duensing's versatility. "He actually comes to us a lot of days and says, 'you guys want me in the 'pen today?' in between starts. He kind of has a good feel for the ballgame."
"If it's something we have to do we would talk to (Duensing) about it before anybody else, and if it's something we think that becomes absolutely necessary, yeah. But again, I want to reiterate that I really like him in the rotation. I like what he does, I like the way he handles himself,. he's another lefty, which is a good thing, and like I said, we're going to see what we have to do to try to make things better."
But Gardenhire has no immediate plans to swap Slowey for Duensing, or anybody else for that matter. Gardenhire wants Slowey to play an important role out of the 'pen.
"We really like Duensing in the rotation but nothing's out of the question. We're not afraid to try anything right now at this point."