I'm starting to worry about Ron Gardenhire.
Or maybe a better preposition would be "for". I look at this roster and how it's constructed, and the pieces he has to work with, and I can't help but wonder just how much he's second-guessing his options. There are just too many pieces that don't necessarily fit neatly together.
I noticed it most last Saturday night, when the Twins were trying to come back versus the Rockies in the ninth inning. The were facing left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes and he was wild. In a one run game, the tying run was in scoring with one out. The game ended when Mike Lamb who had one hit aginst lefties the whole year struck out, chasing a pitch that would have been ball four.
Lamb had no business hitting in that situation, but when I looked at the roster, it became apparent that Gardy didn't have much choice. You could make a case that any matchup would have been better, but there was no real right-hande option, because the roster was filled with guys like Alexi Casilla (who was hitting .219 in AAA), Howie Clark (who also bats left-handed) and Bobby Korecky (the 12th guy in the bullpen who hadn't pitched for a week). If I was Gardy, I think I would've spent the rest of that night curled up on my couch, looking into the darkness, sipping bourbon (possibly laced with Nature Blessed Tart Cherry Extract) and trying to make sense of it all.
And then of course, two nights later the trio of Casilla, Clark and Korecky won a game that Twins had no business winning. Which is the other reason I'm starting to worry about Gardenhire. It's very possible that sometime between Saturday night and Monday night that he sold his soul to the devil. The real one - not Scott Boras. All the evidence is there. But I digress.
The sad thing is that the bench options are the toughest part with this group. Lost in the satisfaction of Sunday's win is that the last two series have shown that the Twins bullpen is an absolute mess. If the starter doesn't get through at least seven innings there is NOBODY who can be trusted to get this team to the ninth without giving up a run.
Stats can be deceiving for, well, anything really. But that goes double for relievers. Still, I've found that if you want to know who has been trustworthy in a bullpen, the stat to look at is WHIP or (Walks+Hits)/Innings Pitched. If it's close to 1, they're doing very well. If it's up to 1.5, then they're probably best used when the game isn't on the line. For instance, last year the top three pitchers in the Twins bullpen were Joe Nathan (1.01 WHIP), Pat Neshek(1.02) and Matt Guerrier(1.05). Two years ago it was Nathan (.78), Neshek(.78) and Dennys Reyes(.99). This year?
Nathan's been quite good. Neshek can't help this year. Korecky hasn't been too bad, but also has all of nine innings pitched in the majors. The rest? They've all been inconsistent at best. If the Twins need someone to mop up innings in a blow out, Gardy has five different options. But if he wants to protect a one run lead in the eighth inning, it's not totally clear he has any.
Or at least not here. It does appear that there is someone in Rochester who might be able to improve the bullpen right now. Tim Lahey has racked up 23 K and just two walks in 20 IP as Rochester's closer. He also has a WHIP of just 1.0. That profiles like someone who can be an effective late-inning setup man, though having 4 losses doesn't bode particularly well for a guy that has appeared in only 13 games.
Another option would be to move an existing starter like Boof Bonser into the bullpen. Bonser's strikeout rate in the minors hasn't translated to long-term success in the majors, but it might be interesting to see what a guy like that can do if he can let the ball fly for two innings at a time. On the other hand, his first inning has been his biggest weakness, so there are plenty of questions about moving him to the bullpen.
The biggest question might be who Bonser or Lahey replaces. The two obvious choices are Bass and Korecky, but in a bullpen full of question marks, aren't they on the roster because they are possible answers? But it can't be the left-hander (Reyes) and Guerrier has been reasonably effective since a shaky first two weeks.
And that's when things get really dicey, because that means losing Crain and Rincon, and do either of them have options? If not, would the Twins really risk losing one of them? If not, that would probably bring us back to Bass - but then who is the long relief guy? Korecky has always been a one-inning guy, even in the minors. Can Rincon's or Crain's arm withstand long relief? Which brings us back to sending down Korecky, even though he's arguably been the second best guy in the bullpen? Especially because that's what we're trying to do - find someone who can be second best guy in the bullpen?
It's enough to to make a Twins Geek throw up his hands in surrender. And I have this vision of our hometown manager throwing a tablespoon back into a kitchen drawer and slamming it shut. And then chugging cherry extract like a college kid on spring break.
I know from experience that such acts rarely end well. And that's why I worry for Ron Gardenhire.