Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Craig Breslow vs. Phil Dumatrait

Craig Breslow. In an at-bat Sunday that perhaps says
more about Jim Thome than about Breslow, Breslow
struck out Thome on nothing but fastballs. Three
swings, three misses.
Craig Breslow pitches at least once in every series the Twins play against Oakland, and even though it's been more than two years since the Twins gave him up it still bugs me that they so badly mishandled him.

To give you the quick summary: The Twins picked him up on waivers in 2008, and even though he was the most effective non-Joe Nathan reliever the Twins had that year (at least until Jose Mijares was called up), Ron Gardenhire refused to use him in game situations. Breslow got five holds and one save, but the save came in a three-inning stint in a game won 12-2. He coughed up only one lead all season, but of his 13 September appearances, nine came in games the Twins lost.

He had a 1.63 ERA in 2008, and the Twins lost out on the divisional title in a Game 163 -- a winnable division lost because of repeated multi-reliever meltdowns involving almost any arm in the pen except Breslow. Gardenhire viewed him strictly as a second LOOGY and mop-up man; he could have, should have, been more prominent.

He had a rough start in 2009, and the Twins waived him after just 14.1 innings. Oakland scooped him up, and he's been solid in their 'pen since -- 3.06 ERA in 181 appearances for the Green 'n' Gold.

Phil Dumatrait's line
against lefties:
.190/.271/.310
Move now to 2011 and Phil Dumatrait. Nothing in his numbers with the Twins suggests that he's nearly as capable as Breslow. His ERA entering today stands at 4.10. His walk rate is high, his strikeout rate is low, right-handers hammer him (.482 slugging percentage) -- yet he has already pitched in as many game situations as Breslow did in 2008.

Unlike Breslow, Gardenhire doesn't treat Dumatrait as a lefty specialist. The odd thing is that Breslow has, throughout his career, been at least as capable against righties as lefties, and Dumatrait this season has fared much better against lefties.

I don't want to overstate Gardenhire's reliance on Dumatrait. The Twins have three lefties in their bullpen, occasionally four, and there's no question that Glen Perkins is the big dog of that pack. I believe that, for all his struggles with the strike zone,  Mijares is still Gardenhire's primary LOOGY. Dumatrait is more likely to be used in long relief and mop-up roles than with games on the line.

But his workload is increasing — he had 14 innings in July, more than in May and June combined, and I do believe that Gardenhire is finding a faith in him that he never had in Breslow.

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