I can't make it to spring training this year, which is KILLING me. Instead I'm left taking a look at box scores, occasionally listening to games and reviewing rosters to try and figure out what it going on from 1718 miles away.
I'm missing some drama this year. The 7th bullpen spot had become interesting in sort of a car crash kind of way. The top six spots seem to be pretty well taken....
RH Middle Relievers - Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Pat Neshek
LH Middle Reliever - Jose Mijares
Mop Up Guy - Clay Condrey
Condrey has had a miserable spring, giving up another three hits in an inning yesterday, which is a cause for concern. The fact that he's out of options virtually guarantees him a roster spot, especially because there don't seem to be any candidates to replace him. In fact, there don't even seem to be any candidates to JOIN him, let alone replace him, which brings us back to that seventh spot.
I think the top guy on the wish list was Brian Duensing, mostly because he was left-handed, but partly because he really should be rewarded for being one of the best starting pitchers over the last couple months last year. But he's given up 12 hits in seven innings, including four more in three innings on Sunday. If he's healthy, he'll probably get another chance tomorrow, but there aren't a lot of chances left.
Glen Perkins is also left-handed, and was also in camp to supposedly compete for a spot. But his ERA is 9.00 and that's because he's given up 14 hits in seven innings. And now he's hurt with a back strain from working out. That's funny because I think I just read that an important deadline just passed. The reason the Twins sent Danny Valencia out of camp this weekend was because any player on the 40-man roster who is injured in Spring Training and still injured on Opening Day must be put on the DL.
Perkins is on the 40-man roster too. And if he goes on the DL, he gains service time. Coincidentally, Perkins missed being arbitration eligible (and thus probably an extra million dollars in salary) by about three days of service time last year, and was pissed enough about it to file a case against the Twins. And now he has a back injury that could be worth a dozen or so days of service time. Huh. Isn't that a happy little coincidence?
There are a bunch of other former right-handed starters that could have taken this place too, like Anthony Swarzak and Jeff Manship, but they also have had terrible springs. Which brings us to the final candidates:
The one everyone is talking about it Anthony Slama, because we've followed him so long. It doesn't hurt that he has put up such filthy numbers in the lower levels of the minors and has struck out nine guys in five innings this spring. But he's right-handed, and hasn't seen much in the way of major league batters yet.
The guy that nobody seems to be talking about is Mike Maroth, who is left-handed, a veteran, and has a 3.38 ERA this spring. Of course, he's also trying to restart a major league career and has struck out just on guy the entire spring. But he did precede Slama in yesterday's game and get through a scoreless inning. Maroth and Slama look like the two top candidates to me.
(Ron Mahay, the left-handed reliever who the Twins signed yesterday, is not. But he might be ready by the end of April as an insurance policy.)
The name that won't go away is Francisco Liriano, who has been silly good this spring, striking out 16 and walking just one in 10 innings pitched. It sounds like manager Ron Gardenhire keeps bringing up his name as a closer option and I wonder if we aren't seen a little stand-off between him and GM Bill Smith.
Gardenhire wants a closer, and wants Smith to get him one. The talk about Liriano closing might be nothing more than a vague threat in case Gardy doesn't get his way. He may not get to choose exactly who is on his 25-man roster, but he sure as hell gets to decide what to do with them when they're there. And if he needs to lose an ace starter to prove his point about wanting a closer, he just might be that crazy....
I don't think he is that crazy, and I think he has plenty of other options. Liriano will stay in the rotation even though Bill Smith stands pat. Duensing will get the last spot if he finds himself on Friday or next Wednesday. In the meantime, Slama and Maroth will be pitted in a competition to take the spot if Duensing can't pull it together.
Or at least that's how things look from 1718 miles away.