Friday, May 20, 2011

Alex Burnett's opportunity

Alex Burnett is  0-2,
6.52 so far this season,
and the Twins have
not won any game
in which he has
First, a note: Harmon Killebrew's funeral at noon CDT today will be carried by Fox Sports North, both on TV and on its website.
(Update: It appears that all the metro TV stations will carry the funeral, and I assume they'll all stream it on their websites as well.)

Between the suddenly lively Twins lineup and a solid outing from Nick Blackburn, the Twins had no need to call Thursday on any reliever in a game situation. Phil Dumatrait and Anthony Swarzak pitched, but both were just getting some work in in a game already decided. The two-to-three guys Ron Gardenhire trusts in the late innings (Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Joe Nathan) all got the day off, and Kevin Slowey now has had a starter's rest.

But it remains true that the Twins are short at least one reliable arm. Their bullpen revamp counted on Nathan's return to form, and that hasn't fully happened. It counted on Jose Mijares at least remaining a competent LOOGY, if not more; instead, he's gone backwards. Even Perkins's emergence was part of the plan -- not necessarily that Perkins would emerge, but that SOMEBODY would.

The Mijares/Nathan struggles mean that there's a need for a second emergence. Capps has had more one-plus inning save opportunities already this season than Eddie Guardado had in two years as closer.

The most likely candidate on the current 25-man roster is Alex Burnett. Gardenhire has repeatedly tried to wedge Burnett into a four-to-six outs role, and I doubt that kind of use fits him. I think Burnett could thrive if used for one to three outs at a time. But given the use restrictions on the post-surgical Nathan and the apparent difficulties Slowey has had bouncing back from relief outings, it's difficult to limit Burnett to "optimal" use. Having Swarzak on the roster gives the Twins two long men, so that might help.

I said it before the season started, and it remains true: The bullpen is a work in progress. That's no great insight. Bullpens are always works in progress. This one is merely more obviously so than most. I fully expect that at some point we're going to see Kyle Waldrop and/or Carlos Gutierrez, but right now neither is even on the 40-man roster.

Burnett has the opportunity to make the Greg McMichael rule work for him. Get outs, and they'll find a job for you. So far, he hasn't taken advantage of it.

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