Friday, April 29, 2011

The continuing pitching staff shuffle

... to Alex Burnett
From Eric Hacker ...
.. to Anthony Swarzak ...

After playing just two games in five days, the Twins bullpen figured to be well rested. After playing three games in two days -- three games in which the three starters pitched about 12 of the 27 innings -- the bullpen is shot.

Eric Hacker was supposed to start the second game Thursday, but he had to pick up the mess left Wednesday by Francisco Liriano. He got shipped back to Rochester so that Anthony Swarzak could make that Thursday start, which seems harsh, but Hacker was probably going back to Triple A when Kevin Slowey came off the DL soon anyway.

Swarzak was probably still wet from his post-game shower when the Twins sent him back to Rochester and recalled Alex Burnett to get a fresher arm in the bullpen. Which raised the question in my mind: Why not Slowey?

The answer came today from Ron Gardenhire: The leash on Liriano is pretty short. He said on Reusse and Mackey today that he and pitching coach Rick Anderson are examining their options with Liriano. The preferred one, of course, is to straighten Liriano out. But Slowey is being stretched out now with an eye to returning him to the rotation in Liriano's stead, and Gardenhire implied that would happen if Liriano flounders in his next start.

Let's examine that notion. Somebody gets sent to Rochester when Slowey is activated, probably either Burnett or Dusty Hughes (7.84 ERA so far, with 19 baserunners in 10.1 innings). Moving Liriano to the bullpen suggests the demotee should be Hughes, since the Twins appear reluctant to devote the majority of the bullpen jobs to lefties.

Here's the problem: This would devote two of the seven bullpen slots to recovery projects (Liriano and Joe Nathan) and another to Burnett, who has not earned a key role in his previous major league stints.

That''s a lot of arms for the manager to try to avoid using in game situations. Nathan's been effective in his two most recent outings, but is he really ready for key outs? I have my doubts.

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