After Twins reliever Casey Fien induced an inning-ending groundout Saturday against Houston, he walked off the mound toward Minnesota’s dugout. Before leaving the field, though, Fien pounded his glove with his fist — twice — and shouted “Let’s go!” as the Target Field faithful cheered on.
This emotion is something not often seen from the Twins’ bullpen, but it’s become somewhat of a trademark for Fien. After the winding path his career has taken, Fien has earned the right to celebrate a bit.
Originally drafted by Detroit in 2006, he was later claimed off waivers twice in three days in 2010. First the Red Sox claimed him from Detroit. That was March 1, 2010. On March 4, it was Toronto’s turn to claim the right-hander.
He was released two weeks later and landed back with Detroit as a free agent just before the 2010 season began. He appeared in just two major league games that year and was granted free agency following the season.
Fien’s path took another turn when he signed with Houston in November of 2010. He never pitched for the Astros, though, instead spending the year with Triple-A Oklahoma City. Once again, Fien was on the move. He was released by the Astros and eventually wound up pitching in Mexico during the winter of 2011 before Minnesota gave him a chance.
Two years later, Fien has developed into one of the Twins’ top relievers. Through Wednesday, the 29-year-old Fien has a 2.66 ERA with 53 appearances (47 1/3 innings) and can pitch in seemingly any situation Minnesota needs him to.
“We’ve used him in a lot of different roles. He has a rubber arm. He can take the ball and go just about any time you ask,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “He’s very competitive. We all know that. A fiery guy out there. I think he’s matured to the point with his pitches that he’s very confident with what he’s throwing and he locates the ball really well.”
That fire that Gardenhire talks about hasn’t always been there for Fien. In fact, it wasn’t until his stint in Mexico that Fien started to fully appreciate what it meant to be a major leaguer. The conditions weren’t great in Mexico, although the competition was still fierce. But playing there helped him realize what a privilege it is to put on a big league uniform.
“I know where I came from, I know where I’ve been and I don’t want to go back there again,” Fien said. “When I went to Mexico, I realized the opportunity that I have here. I get to pitch in a big league ballpark against major league players that are the best in the world, and I’m going to take full advantage of that.
“If my emotion shows, my emotion shows. I’ll wear it on my sleeve now because I’m just excited to be here and I want to win.”
Fien will often pump his fist or yell something when coming off the mound at the end of an inning, particularly if the game is close. But Fien acknowledges that he rarely takes these antics on the road, instead saving his emotional outbursts for home games with the raucous Twins fans helping fuel his emotions.
Minnesota closer Glen Perkins is the antithesis of Fien when it comes to on-field celebrations, but he can still appreciate the fiery nature that Fien brings to the Twins’ bullpen.
“He’s a pretty intense competitor,” Perkins said. “I think that’s great. If that’s what gets you through a game, than by all means do that. I think all anyone asks for here is you go out there and try as hard as you can, and you can see that he does based on how he pitches. He goes out there and gets the job done, and that’s all you really worry about.”
Fien has certainly been able to get his job done this season. Since the beginning of June, Fien has allowed just two runs in 25 innings while striking out 31 and walking only two batters. He was also used in higher-leverage situations, moving into the setup role ahead of Perkins for a handful of games.
When he looks back on his time in Detroit, Fien believes he put too much pressure on himself to do too much and perhaps impress his coaches. Now that he’s found his niche in Minnesota, Fien is able to be himself.
Sometimes, that means yelling and pumping his fist. More often than not, it also means getting opposing hitters out.
“Right now everything’s good. I’m healthy and I’m throwing strikes,” Fien said. “I feel confident in what I can do on the mound.”