Friday, April 24, 2015

Figures from bullpens past

The sour news Thursday morning for former Twins closer Joe Nathan -- a second round of Tommy John surgery -- made me realize that as difficult as this year has been for the current Twins bullpen, it's been rougher for a lot of former Twins relievers.

A quick accounting:

Nathan has faced one batter, Torii Hunter in the season opener. He struck Hunter out on a disputed call, then went on the disabled. list. On Wednesday Nathan was to throw 30 pitches on a rehab assignment. He got through 10 and walked off the mound holding his elbow. The diagnosis the next day: tears of his ulnar collateral ligament and flexor pronator. He vows to return, but ... this will be his second ligament replacement, and the track record on repeat TJ surgeries is not good. Plus, face it, he's 40.
LaTroy Hawkins is even older (42), and had said this would be his final season. He opened as the closer for Colorado, but was stripped of the job last week. On Thursday he went on the disabled list.

Jose Mijares was released in spring training by Cincinnati. He was released the previous spring by Boston and hasn't pitched in the majors since 2013. And after he was cut by the Reds, he got hit with a 50-game suspension for a "drug of abuse." Mijares is only 30, he's left-handed, and he has a career ERA of 3.23 and a lifetime BA allowed to left-handers of .223, but he's wearing out his welcome very quickly.

Jesse Crain left the Twins after 2010, signed with the White Sox, had a big year by throwing his slider far more often, made the All-Star team in 2013 -- and got hurt before the game was played. He's since bounced from the White Sox to Tampa Bay to Houston and back to the White Sox, where he's in extended spring training.

Matt Capps was in spring training with the Braves, was released, then re-signed by the Braves. If he's still in their organization, he isn't pitching. He has just 12 professional innings in the past  two years. He's only 31, but it's not looking good.

Jared Burton, let go by the Twins, signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees, who released him during spring training, then re-signed him to another minor-league deal. This avoided paying him a retention bonus (which may have been part of the Braves' maneuvering with Capps as well). Still, we're several weeks into the season and Burton hasn't appeared in a game, majors or minors.

That's a full bullpen of former Twins mainstays who are now injured or just hanging on.

It's not all bleak for the ex-Twins. Anthony Swarzak landed with Cleveland; signed to a minor-legue contract after the Twins cut him loose, he made the major league team without benefit of an opt-out clause. But he's been the exception.

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