Twins found a few reliable arms in bullpen

This is the second in a four-part series reviewing the Minnesota Twins’ 2012 season and looking ahead to 2013.

Monday: Starting pitchers
Tuesday: Relief pitchers
Wednesday: Outfielders
Thursday: Infielders and catchers

ON THE ROSTER (alphabetical order): Alex Burnett (4-4, 3.52 ERA), Jared Burton (3-2, 2.18 ERA), Matt Capps (1-4, 3.68 ERA), Brian Duensing (4-12, 5.12 ERA), Casey Fien (2-1, 2.06 ERA), Jeff Manship (0-0, 7.89 ERA), Lester Oliveros (0-0, 5.40 ERA), Luis Perdomo (0-0, 3.18 ERA), Glen Perkins (3-1, 2.56 ERA), Tyler Robertson (2-2, 5.40 ERA), Anthony Swarzak (3-6, 5.03 ERA), Kyle Waldrop (0-1, 2.53 ERA)

LOOKING BACK: The Twins entered 2012 with a group of relative unknowns in the bullpen, yet Minnesota saw a few relievers emerge as reliable options out of the pen.

Among them was left-hander Glen Perkins, who signed a three-year contract extension during spring training and went on to be Minnesota’s best reliever. He began the season as the set-up man to closer Matt Capps. But when Capps went down with a rotator cuff injury in mid-July, Perkins stepped into the closer’s role. Perkins finished the 2012 season with a team-high 16 saves. He also posted a 2.56 ERA and a WHIP of just 1.038.

One of the other pleasant surprises was right-hander Jared Burton, whom the Twins signed as a free agent last offseason. In his first year with Minnesota, Burton appeared in 64 games and had a 2.18 ERA with a team-low WHIP of 0.919. The key this year for Burton was health. The right-hander appeared in 164 games for the Cincinnati Reds from 2007-11, but just 10 combined games in 2010 and 2011 as a result of injuries. But he stayed healthy all year with the Twins and hit career highs in games pitched (64) and innings (62). Burton was filthy against right-handed batters, who hit just .154 against him.

While Perkins and Burton were solid in the back end of the bullpen, the rest of the relievers weren’t as consistent. Right-hander Alex Burnett appeared in 67 games, second only to Perkins’ 70 appearances. In 71 2/3 innings, Burnett had a 3.52 ERA — nearly two runs better from a year ago when he had a 5.51 ERA in 66 games.

Left-hander Tyler Robertson also made his major league debut in 2012 and pitched in 40 games (25 innings) for the Twins. Minnesota primarily used the 24-year-old Robertson as a left-handed specialist; he faced 72 left-handed batters and just 39 righties. Lefties hit just .190 against Robertson, while righties batted .290.

Minnesota had a few options for long relief in left-hander Brian Duensing and right-hander Anthony Swarzak. Both pitchers have started games for the Twins at various times throughout their careers, but both were used primarily in relief in 2012. Duensing’s splits were much better as a reliever — opponents hit .236 against him as a reliever, but .336 when he started. His ERA of 3.47 in 57 innings as a reliever jumped to 6.92 in 52 innings as a starter.

Swarzak made five starts but pitched in relief 39 times. His 96 2/3 innings were fifth-most among all Twins pitchers. Like Duensing, Swarzak’s numbers were much better as a reliever. His ERA out of the bullpen was 4.05, while he posted an 8.10 ERA as a starter. Similarly, opponents hit nearly 100 points better against him as a starter (.354 vs. 259 as a reliever).

OFFSEASON DECISIONS: The bullpen won’t need nearly as much retooling as the rotation this offseason. A few of the big decisions will be how to use some of the relievers already on the roster.

That includes Perkins, who took over the closer’s role for the second half of the season. While Perkins has insisted that it doesn’t matter what inning he pitches, he appears to be the likely choice for the Twins’ closer in 2013. Part of that decision hinges on the fact that Capps has a $6 million option on his contract for next season, which includes a $250,000 buyout. Minnesota will have to decide whether or not to pick up Capps’ option. If the Twins don’t, the closer’s job will likely be Perkins’ at the beginning of the year.

The Twins will also have to figure out how they want to use Duensing next year — as a starter in the rotation, or a left-handed option out of the bullpen. That will depend on what Minnesota does in free agency or the trade market as the Twins look to obtain starting pitching.

LOOKING AHEAD: With Burton and Perkins, the back of the Twins’ bullpen should be set for 2013. There are several other arms that impressed in 2012 and should factor into the mix next year. That includes a guy like Casey Fien, who had a 2.06 ERA in 35 appearances (35 innings). His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.56 was impressive.

Right-hander Kyle Waldrop is another reliever who should get his chance next year. Waldrop appeared in just 17 games with the Twins in 2012 due to an arm injury, but he had a 2.53 ERA in 21 1/3 innings.

It remains to be seen how (or if) relievers such as Luis Perdomo or Jeff Manship will play a part in next year’s rotation. Both right-handers saw time with Minnesota but combined for just 27 appearances at the major league level. One other name to watch for is Anthony Slama, who is not currently on the Twins’ 40-man roster but was lights-out at Triple-A (1.24 ERA, 56 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings). He appeared briefly with Minnesota in 2010 and 2011 but has only seven career appearances at the major league level.

MANAGER RON GARDENHIRE SAYS: “Closers, for the most part, take the ball three, four, five days in a row. Not too many of them bounce away if there’s normal saves. If there’s those tough saves, then you find somebody else to do it. Perk’s been pretty much able to go a lot. … Perk is set up to do whatever role you want him in. But I like seeing him close right now. He’s coming in and winging the ball pretty good. It’s going to happen quick. He’s not going to mess around too much, it doesn’t look like. That’s what you want as a closer.”

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