Twins P Anthony Swarzak shines in long reliever role

Minnesota Twins reliever Anthony Swarzak leaves little doubt that he would some day like to see his role change.

“I would like to be a starter again some time in my career,” Swarzak said.

Knowing that decision isn’t his to make, though, the 27-year-old Swarzak is quick to follow up that statement.

“But that’s not up to me,” he added.

When Swarzak began his major league career with the Twins in 2009, he was exclusively a starter. As a 23-year-old rookie, Swarzak appeared in 12 games but was just 3-7 with a 6.25 ERA.

Swarzak was again a starter in 2010 — although he only pitched for Triple-A Rochester, failing to crack the Twins’ 25-man roster at all during the course of the season. His numbers weren’t great that year in Rochester, either. He was 5-12 with a 6.21 ERA and a WHIP of 1.621. That was the last season Swarzak was used solely in a starting role, as Minnesota transitioned him to a reliever in 2011. He was still used as a spot starter that year, though, making 11 starts and 16 relief appearances for the Twins in 2011.

It’s not uncommon for a struggling starter to be converted to a reliever, and the Twins have several examples of that on their current roster. Closer Glen Perkins couldn’t cut it as a starting pitcher and butted heads with the organization before finding his niche as a left-hander in the bullpen. Brian Duensing was also moved from the rotation to a relief role as a left-handed specialist.

Swarzak’s career took a similar path. A year ago, he appeared in 44 games for Minnesota but made five spot starts. He thrived as a long reliever, mopping up two or three innings at a time when the Twins’ starting pitchers couldn’t get deep into games — something that has happened all to often over the past few years. In a similar role this year, Swarzak has pitched 70 2/3 innings through Tuesday’s game in Kansas City. All 33 of his appearances have come in relief, meaning he has the chance to do something not often seen: a reliever achieving the 100-inning mark without making a start. A Twins pitcher hasn’t done that since Juan Berenguer pitched 100 1/3 innings without a start in 1990.

That’s a number Swarzak hasn’t yet been able to put into perspective.

“I don’t know what that means as a reliever,” he said of 100 innings. “This will be my first year really relieving the entire year. I don’t know what’s a good amount of innings to have. To be honest with you, I think 100 innings is a little fewer than what I’m used to throwing. One hundred innings sounds good to me. If I can get 100 innings out the bullpen, I feel that’s a pretty good job.”

In his 33 appearances this year, Swarzak has pitched more than one inning in all but six of them. He’s had 20 games of two or more innings and has topped three innings eight times. Used to a higher innings count as a starter, Swarzak said he hasn’t felt any fatigue, even as the season has rolled into August.

The Twins are thankful for that, as their starters have easily pitched the fewest innings this year of any rotation and have the worst ERA (5.26) of any starting staff in baseball. That means players like Swarzak have been called upon often to bridge the gap from the early innings to the late innings when Minnesota’s starters falter.

“I think it all gets down to accepting your role and understanding what you’re here for and what you have to do to prepare each day,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “He’s one of these guys that will never say he can’t go. … He’s a constant. So you have to be really careful with guys like that that you don’t kill them. You give them their days because they’re going to say, ‘I can pitch.'”

While Swarzak would like to one day start again, he hasn’t had any conversations with Gardenhire or pitching coach Rick Anderson about the issue. For now, he’s keeping his head down and minding his own business while taking the ball whenever the Twins ask him to.

“It’s not up to me, and I don’t want it to be up to me. I just would like to have a jersey next year in spring training and be able to continue to fight for a job,” Swarzak said. “As long as I have that opportunity, I’m confident that I’ll get it done.”

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