Thursday, April 3, 2014

Deduno in the bullpen

It was an ugly way for the Twins to lose Wednesday: the stoppers at the back end of the bullpen combined to surrender a three-run lead, and the long reliever threw two wild pitches and committed a balk in the bottom of the 11th.

Ron Gardenhire grumped some after the game about the lengthy review in the top of the seventh, but I'm not buying the notion that had the game flowed at its usual pace that Kevin Correia was going to pitch into the eighth. Gardy would probably have gone to Jared Burton in the eighth, and certainly would have brought Glen Perkins in for the save in the ninth. It's what Gardy does. It didn't work Wednesday.

(MLB blamed the delay on two simultaneous challenges, but I sat through a couple of way-too-long replay review delays at Fort Myers last month. When the second one began, the fans started booing. I expect longer delays when an out call is overturned and the umps have to figure out where to put the baserunners.)

And then there was slingin' Sam Deduno unloading a couple of wild pitches in the bottom of the 11th. Deduno is wild. He's difficult to catch. That's who he is and what he does. Letting him pitch with the winning run on third base is a baseball version of Russian roulette; sooner or later the gun's going to fire.

In retrospect, I don't think the Twins were ever particularly serious about Deduno as a contender for the rotation this spring. As far as the public knew, Deduno was competing with Scott Diamond, Vance Worley and Kyle Gibson for the fifth starter job. Gibson won, as he should have -- he has the highest ceiling of the four -- but while Deduno pitched quite well during exhibition play, he never actually started, and frequently got his innings after the established hitters in the opposing lineup had been removed. The others all got multiple starts.

I now think the Twins -- quite aware that Deduno had had shoulder surgery at the end of the 2013 season and Tommy John surgery years before he came to the organization, and also mindful of the difficulty he has had going even six innings -- wanted him in the bullpen more than as a starter. Perhaps Deduno would have gotten the job had Gibson struggled as much as Diamond and Worley did, but it was only going to happen as a last resort.

The problem is that a reliever with his lack of command is likely to have trouble pitching out of other people's jams. I kept hearing the announcers this spring talking about Deduno being the guy brought in to get a strikeout, but the truth is (a) he doesn't have a good strikeout rate despite his movement and (b) he's a real risk for a wild pitch.

He wasn't asked to clean up somebody else's mess Wednesday. He created his own, and didn't get out of it cleanly. That's something a starter can get away with. A reliever, not so much.

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