Warne: Highly caffeinated Casey Fien epitomizes Twins' relief approach
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins haven't constructed their bullpen unlike many big-league teams in recent years.
Specifically, they've done it on the cheap.
And whether it was learning the lesson that came with trading for "proven closer" Matt Capps, an assessment of current trends or just typical business practices striking gold, the Twins have done a pretty good job finding relief help in the least conspicuous places.
Perhaps the most obvious evidence of this is Jared Burton, the Twins' eighth-inning setup man.
Despite being entirely new to Twins fans, Burton was an established reliever, with a 3.41 ERA over 169 innings in the National League. He spent five seasons in Cincinnati -- two were injury-marred -- before the Reds outrighted him off the 40-man roster in November 2011.
But the real diamond in the rough here has been a right-handed who is arguably the next arm down the depth chart from Glen Perkins and Burton.
Casey Fien was a 20th-round pick by the Tigers in 2006 out of California-Poly University, and debuted with the club in 2009. But he had limited opportunities and even less success, allowing 13 earned runs in 14 innings spread over two seasons in Detroit.
"We had seen him quite a bit with the Tigers, and he fell on some tough times, I think," general manager Terry Ryan said.
Fien declared minor league free agency from the Tigers after the 2010 season and signed with the Houston Astros. He didn't last the full season before getting cut loose from Triple-A Oklahoma City in late July.
It was in Mexico, oddly enough, where the Twins took note.
"He went to Mexico two winters ago and had a pretty good winter ball," Ryan said. "That's where we decided he was certainly worth an invite.
"Most of the time, any of those minor league guys come in, it's always a scout or two that recommend we give a guy a look. It's nothing more than that. If there's some evaluator that has a favorable report on a guy, then we bring him in. Josh Roenicke, Ryan Pressly, Fien -- all these guys came with some kind of scouting report that we had to pursue them."
How did the Twins decide Fien was worth a minor league deal?
"Yeah, we'll look at the stats," Ryan said. "We'll look at WHIP, innings to hits, and we'll look at strikeouts to innings and all that stuff. But more importantly, we'll see a guy visually and see if his line equates to what it tells you. But Jack (Goin, the Twins' manager of major league administration and baseball research) looks at different things than I do. It's a combination."
And how did Fien settle on the Twins?
"They were the first team that came to me," Fien said. "They showed interest in me and told me I had a chance to make this team, and I took it and ran with it."
Fien had a great spring training with the Twins and was the last pitcher cut, according to Ryan.
"He had a very impressive spring, and we sent him to Triple-A," Ryan said. "Once he settled himself in down there, he pretty much pitched himself up here."
Not only has Fien pitched himself into a role, he's performed admirably in that role.
In 51 2/3 big league innings the past two seasons, Fien has a 2.79 ERA, 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings and a 0.99 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched).
Manager Ron Gardenhire attributes Fien's performance to the 29-year-old finding a role and embracing it.
"First, it starts with performance," Gardenhire said. "He's thrown the ball very well for us. I think we've found him in a nice role where he knows he'll work sometime between the sixth and eighth innings. He has a pretty good feel for that."
How is Fien a different pitcher than those rough few days in Detroit? According to Gardenhire, there are some key, if a bit subtle differences.
"He's worked on refining his pitches," Gardenhire said. "Staying out of the middle of the plate a lot better than he did when he was younger. There's a number of factors in there, but he's found himself in a nice role here and he's comfortable. He's got a rubber arm -- he can throw a lot."
Fellow reliever Brian Duensing sees Fien the way a lot of fans do: as an intense competitor.
"To be honest with you, he's a guy who is super intense," Duensing said. "He comes in and really wants the ball, and he wants to do his job well. I think he thrives in big situations, like with runners on all that. I think he just says 'Here's what I've got, here it is. If you hit it fine, if not I get you out.' With that kind of mentality, I think he fits well into the bullpen. "
Duensing added, "With that intensity, and you add in three cups of coffee and the four Red Bulls he drinks a day, that's pretty intense."
In the end, Fien said his coming of age boiled down to him staying true to himself, rather than being someone else.
"I think just finding myself and how I can get people out the way I pitch (was key)," Fien said. "When you first come up to the big leagues, you think you have to somebody that you're not. I think I've come into my own, and found who I am as a pitcher. I'm just believing in my stuff and throwing strikes."
Fien concedes that he's every bit the high-intensity, wear-your-emotions-on-your-sleeves guy that fans see on the mound.
"I like my Red Bulls, and I go out there with a high intensity," Fien said. "I definitely show my emotions on my sleeve. Sometimes, it's a good thing. Sometimes, it's a bad thing."