Twins have stability at back of bullpen

This is the second in a five-part series previewing the Minnesota Twins by position heading into spring training, which starts Tuesday with pitchers and catchers reporting.
Friday: Starting pitchers
Today: Relief pitchers
Sunday: Catchers
Monday: Infielders
Tuesday: Outfielders
ON THE ROSTER (alphabetical order): Alex Burnett (4-4, 3.52 ERA, 67 games), Jared Burton (3-2, 2.18 ERA, 64 games), Brian Duensing (4-12, 5.12 ERA, 55 games), Casey Fien (2-1, 2.06 ERA, 35 games), Glen Perkins (3-1, 2.56 ERA, 70 games), Ryan Pressly (7-5, 5.38 ERA in the minors), Tyler Robertson (2-2, 5.40 ERA, 40 games), Josh Roenicke (4-2, 3.25 ERA 63 games), Anthony Swarzak (3-6, 5.03 ERA, 44 games), Caleb Thielbar (6-2, 2.43 ERA in the minors), Tim Wood (6-6, 2.19 ERA, 54 games at Triple-A)

OFFSEASON CHANGES: The back end of the Twins’ bullpen was set heading into the offseason, as Perkins will assume the closer’s role while Burton will serve as the team’s setup man. The rest of the bullpen, however, was not quite as set. Minnesota still has several key contributors from last year’s bullpen, but the Twins added a few more this winter.
In early November, Minnesota claimed Roenicke off waivers from the Rockies. He made 63 relief appearances for Colorado in 2012 and has five years of major league experience with the Rockies, Blue Jays and Reds. Roenicke, who throws a fastball, slider, changeup and curveball, said he doesn’t have any expectations on what kind of role he might have in the Twins’ bullpen.
Wood signed as a free agent in November and also has major league experience. Though he didn’t pitch in the majors in 2012, he appeared in 57 games with Florida and Pittsburgh from 2009-11.
Minnesota took Pressly from the Boston Red Sox organization in the Rule 5 draft in early December. Pressly split his time last year at High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, making a combined 34 appearances. All 14 of his appearances with Portland came in relief. Players taken in the Rule 5 draft must remain on a team’s 25-man roster the entire season, otherwise they must be offered back to their original team.
After an impressive season in 2012, Burton signed a two-year contract extension worth a guaranteed $5.5 million. His deal also includes a club option for 2015, which has a $200,000 buyout.
The Twins also made a change to their coaching staff when bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek was not brought back for the 2013 season. He had spent 32 years in Minnesota’s organization. Bobby Cuellar, who spent the last four seasons as the pitching coach at Triple-A Rochester, will take over as the new bullpen coach.
STARTER SPOTLIGHT: In the case of the bullpen, the spotlight isn’t on who is starting but rather which relievers will begin the year on the 25-man roster.
After stellar seasons in 2012, Perkins and Burton are givens. Perkins moved into the closer’s role during the season last year when closer Matt Capps was injured. The left-handed Perkins finished the year with a team-high 16 saves and had a ratio of 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings, tops among all Twins pitchers. Burton, meanwhile, appeared in a career-high 64 games and 62 innings after battling injuries in Cincinnati the previous two seasons. He posted a WHIP of 0.92, best on the staff.
Along with those two, there are several others likely to make return from last year’s team. Duensing has spent time as both a starter and reliever during his career, but he had more success last year out of the bullpen. His ERA in relief was 3.47 while opponents batted .236 against the lefty out of the pen. When Duensing started, his ERA jumped to 6.92 with an opponents batting average of .336.
Aside from Perkins and Duensing, Robertson appears to be the only other left-handed option in the bullpen. Last year was his first season in the majors, and he appeared in 40 games with the Twins. He struck out 26 batters in 25 innings of relief.
Swarzak served as a long-relief option last year in the (all too frequent) scenario in which Minnesota’s starting pitchers didn’t last long. The right-handed Swarzak recently fractured two ribs in a non-baseball related activity and will be sidelined for a month, which means he’ll miss the beginning of spring training.
Burnett had his best season as a major leaguer in 2012, bouncing back from a rough 2011. In 67 relief appearances last year, Burnett posted a 3.52 ERA and allowed just four home runs in 71 2/3 innings.
Fien, who began the year in the minors, was another pleasant surprise in Minnesota’s bullpen in 2012. He made 35 appearances and had a 2.06 ERA, striking out 32 and walking nine in 35 innings. He previously appeared in 11 games with Detroit in 2009 and 2010 but spent all of 2011 in the minors.
SPRING TRAINING QUESTION: Where will the new guys fit in? The roles of several Twins relievers are not yet defined and may not be defined until well into the season.
Last year with Colorado, Roenicke was used mainly in the sixth and seventh innings. During his brief major league career, Wood has pitched mostly in the seventh or eighth innings. Pressly, meanwhile, has not pitched any higher than Double-A, so it remains to be seen how he will handle major league competition if the Rule 5 pick does indeed remain on the 25-man roster after camp.
Thielbar also has a chance to break camp with the Twins. The left-handed Minnesota native began the 2012 season at High-A Fort Myers and finished the year at Triple-A Rochester, where he made 25 appearances and posted a 3.57 ERA. 
While Twins fans may not recognize the names of some of the new pitchers, that was likely the case last year, too, before guys like Burton, Fien and Robertson emerged as contributing members of the bullpen. This spring will be important for manager Ron Gardenhire to determine not only which of the new relievers can contribute but in what situations.
CATCHER JOE MAUER SAYS: “(Perkins has) found his niche. It’s really nice to see. He’s got the right mentality for a closer. He’s a guy who has great stuff, for one. But he also has the ability where, if he gives up a couple runs, the next day he’ll quickly forget that. That’s what good closers do. They forget what happened yesterday, good or bad. To have him and then sign Burton, that’s a pretty nice back of the bullpen. Last year our bullpen was strong, but we’ve got to get our starters to go deeper into games and try not to tax them like we did last year.”

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