Twins starters aiding bullpen by going deeper into games
MAY 23, 2014 11:40a ET
No bullpen threw more innings in 2013 than the Minnesota Twins. That's because no starting rotation struggled more last year more than Minnesota's.
Despite adding a few pieces to the rotation this offseason, that trend appeared as if it would continue early on in 2014. Several of the starters failed to get deep into games, and manager Ron Gardenhire had to dip into his bullpen earlier than he would have liked.
Yet as things have started to stabilize among the Twins' five starting pitchers, the relievers are reaping the benefits of a slightly lessened workload.
"We don't feel as taxed, I don't think," said reliever Brian Duensing, who threw 61 innings of relief last season. "The last few years, we'd get down to the bullpen and kind of have to be on edge right away, getting ready to be in the game. Now it seems like we get down to the bullpen and we have three, four, five innings to kind of sit back and watch the game progress a little bit.
"I think that helps both physically and mentally, to not have to be immediately stressed from the get-go."
Minnesota's bullpen led the majors last year with a league-high 579 1/3 innings in 161 games. That was far and away the most of any relief corps, as Colorado's bullpen came in second with 555 2/3 innings. As the Twins enter this weekend's series against San Francisco, they do so without holding the title of the most overworked bullpen in baseball. That distinction falls to the Tampa Bay Rays, whose relievers have tossed 166 1/3 innings. Minnesota's bullpen has worked 151 innings, the eighth-most in the majors.
That number is still too high in the minds of the Twins' starting rotation, as several of the starters have had a few rough outings along the way. Right-hander Kyle Gibson has had two starts of three innings or less, putting early stress on the bullpen in those outings. On three different occasions, Kevin Correia has failed to get through five innings. And before Mike Pelfrey landed on the disabled list with a groin injury, his longest outing in the five starts he made this year was just 5 1/3 innings.
"For the most part we've done better," Correia said. "I haven't done a great job of it, but I think last year was kind of the other way around. I was getting deep and a lot of the other guys weren't. We still need to do a little better. They're still pitching too many innings. Once I get on a little bit of a roll, I think we'll be right where we need to be."
Slowly but surely, the rotation has started to go deeper into games. Right-hander Phil Hughes, who has not walked a batter in over a month, has gone seven innings in three of his last five trips to the mound. Nolasco pitched a complete game back on May 2, giving the entire bullpen a complete night off. Gibson, meanwhile, went seven innings twice in his last three starts, but a two-inning clunker was sandwiched in between those two outings.
Also helping keep the bullpen fresh is a number of off days through the first two months. That includes a pair of open dates this week -- one before and one after Minnesota's series in San Diego. That should help keep Gardenhire's bullpen even fresher and allow him to use relievers two or sometimes even three days in a row.
"We're still always going to be ready to come into games depending on the situation," said setup man Casey Fien. "Early on, we have all these off days so technically our bullpen will be healthy for the first half. Everybody's healthy. Everybody's throwing the ball well. And now it's going to start getting warmer, so velocities are going to go up and I think the walks are going to go down."
The bullpen was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing 2013 season for the Twins. Even though the relievers were overworked and constantly entered games early, they held their own through the end of the season.
In order for that to be the case again in 2014, Minnesota's rotation knows it needs to continue to get deeper into games.
"They were probably the most consistent part of the team last year. They were huge," Gibson said of the bullpen. "I think if you talk to all of us, we still want to go deeper into the game. . . . I think we're starting to click a little bit. We're starting to really kind of get in a groove."
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