Friday, May 31, 2013

Ryan Pressly and bullpen roles

Jared Burton picked up the save Thursday night.
The Twins are now carrying 13 pitchers, eight relievers, on their 25-man roster, and unless the starting rotation suddenly discovers how to pitch seven innings consistently, that's probably going to be the rule the rest of the season.

We can divide the eight into two four-man groups, the guys who pitch in game situations and the guys who are there to eat innings. Then we can further break the groups down into more specific roles.

Group A has Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Casey Fien and Brian Duensing.

Closer Perkins and set-up man Burton are reserved for the late innings. They generally don't pitch when the Twins are behind — the exceptions coming when the Twins have so seldom held a late lead that they haven't had any work for a while — and generally start innings rather than come in with men on base.

Duensing and Fien are the inherited runner specialists. Fien has inherited 22 runners in his team-leading 26 appearances; only three have scored. Duensing has inherited 17 runners with four scoring. (Burton, in contrast, has inherited three runners, with two scoring, and Perkins has inherited two runners, both of whom scored.)

Group B consists of Josh Roenicke, Anthony Swarzak, Ryan Pressly and Caleb Thielbar. These four have worked a lot of long relief and mop-up — too much of each, really, which is why there are now eight relief pitchers.

Roenicke has straddled the boundary between the two groups — he's been the alternative to Fien as the middle-innings get-out-of-a-jam rightie, but he's also been used as a long-relief alternative to Swarzak and Pressly.

Rookie Ryan Pressly
may be easing into a
more prominent role
in the Twins bullpen.
Alternatives were needed Thursday. Perkins had pitched three straight days, so manager Ron Gardenhire had shelved him for the day. Fien had pitched three out of four days, so he was also on the do-not-use list. That led to a juggling of roles, which did not go universally cleanly.

When P.J. Walters, who had a big lead, needed help in the seventh inning, it was Roenicke who got the call, not Fien. Roenicke struggled with his command. Both the inherited runners scored.

Duensing was called on to start the eighth inning, which is usually Burton's role, but he retired only one of the three hitters he faced. Pressly came in to get the last two outs (allowing the inherited runner to score). Burton had a no-drama ninth to wrap up the win.

Pressly is an increasingly intriguing bullpen option. As a rookie claimed in the Rule 5 draft last December, he has not been used often in high-leverage situations, but he gave Gardenhire two shutout innings in the 14-inning win Tuesday night and snuffed out the Brewers threat in the eighth Thursday.

He has, with the exception of Perkins, the highest velocity arm in the Minnesota bullpen. He's younger than either Fien or Roenicke. I rather expect Gardenhire to increase Pressly's role — first by supplanting Roenicke as the marginal seventh-inning jam rightie, then perhaps by challenging for Fien's role.

More bullpen depth is always a plus.

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