A better headline to this column might be something like, “Do the Twins really need 13 pitchers right now?”
Minnesota’s brain trust surprised some people this spring when they chose to start the season with 13 pitchers and just a 3-man bench. It’s not a totally crazy roster decision, but it’s fairly unconventional to begin the season. And there’s an argument to be made that the Twins don’t really need all 8 relievers they currently have crowding into their bullpen.
Wednesday’s rainout could actually benefit the team in several ways. One of those ways is by alleviating the need for an “extra” reliever.
Here’s a look at the recent workload for the team’s relief corps.
Saturday: Ervin Santana pitched 9 innings in his one-hit gem. No relievers necessary.
Sunday: Matt Belisle (21 pitches), Ryan Pressly (14 pitches), Brandon Kintzler (9 pitches).
Monday: Tyler Duffey (32 pitches), Taylor Rogers (7 pitches)
Tuesday: Justin Haley (59 pitches), Michael Tonkin (15 pitches), Craig Breslow (13 pitches).
Wednesday: Postponed for rain
So, yeah, all 8 relievers were used in the past four games, but the Twins have a very fresh bullpen headed into Thursday’s series finale with the Indians, which Santana is scheduled to start. Haley might be the only one unavailable for that game, although that’s just speculation on my part.
Now, I’m not trying to oversimplify things here. There is more to track than the number of pitches thrown per outing. Some people feel the relative stress of the 9th or 10th inning mean those pitches take a greater toll than the mop-up bullets fired in the 4th inning of a blowout. And isn’t it fair to say that a reliever who warms up at full intensity to prepare to enter a game – even if he doesn’t enter – did some real work that day? His arm and body wouldn’t feel like he had a day off, even if his name never made it to the box score.
So with those things in mind, I still think the Twins are in great shape in terms of bullpen need.
On average, the Twins have gotten just more than 5 1/3 innings out of their starters this season. On average, they’ve needed just more than 10 outs per game from the bullpen.
Here’s the important math in their slate of upcoming games. Minnesota plays 10 games in the next 12 days. If you suspect they can get an average of 6 innings a night from the starting staff – and that has to be the hope – then they’ll need roughly 30 relief innings in the next 12 days. That averages out to fewer than 4 innings per reliever spread across 12 days. I know it’s never that simple in practice, but I think there’s a decent chance that 7 relievers could handle that workload without the added crutch of an extra bullpen arm. And don’t forget the off day Wednesday gave everybody in that bullpen an extra day of rest.
Could the Twins, instead of carrying a pitcher that may not be necessary, look to add a position player? Paul Molitor currently has three position players at his disposal each night, and one of them is a backup catcher. That doesn’t leave a lot of flexibility to leverage matchups late in games, or to cover positions in case of substation or injury.
Here are a couple of thoughts on players they could add if they wanted to:
Utility infielder Ehire Adrianza is working his way back from an oblique injury suffered in spring training. He’s playing in games again in the minors, but could be a little ways off from returning from the disabled list.
If the Twins wanted a center fielder to replace Byron Buxton, the speedy Zack Granite would have made sense, but he’s on the disabled list in Triple-A Rochester with an oblique injury.
First baseman Matt Hague and catcher Mitch Garver have been the Red Wings’ best hitters so far this season, statistically. Byung Ho Park is on the disabled list after he had 6 hits and 3 doubles in his first 4 games with the Red Wings. And power prospect Daniel Palka is off to a strong start at the plate, where the right fielder is mashing .375/.370/.619 with 4 homers among his 13 hits against Triple-A pitching.
Kennys Vargas is batting .263/.364/.500 with 10 hits (2 home runs and a near-miss that turned into a triple) and 10 RBIs. He could make sense as a complement to Joe Mauer at first base, occasional DH, or a switch-hitting bench bat for Molitor to call on late in games.
Garver, Palka and Vargas all are on the Twins’ 40-man roster, which makes the transaction easier than, say, calling up Paulsen. He would needed to be added to the roster, which requires some juggling on the Twins’ end.
I’m not sure the Twins are looking to break up their chosen catching tandem after just two weeks, so maybe Garver needs to wait. Palka doesn’t have big league experience yet but he certainly has the early numbers at the plate to get a look. Vargas seemed like the favorite to be the DH early in spring training, but then he mostly sat on the bench for Puerto Rico in the WBC and fouled a ball off his foot late in camp.
You know who else would make sense to see in a Twins uniform soon? Starting pitcher J.O. Berrios. He’s off to a great start to the season. But I would imagine his addition would be at the expense of another starting pitcher currently on the roster, either by trading places and sending the other guy to Rochester, or transitioning to the bullpen like Tyler Duffey has done. I think Berrios is way too young and way too promising to consider making him a reliever at this stage.