Thursday, May 21, 2015

J.R. Graham and the immediate future of the bullpen

J.R. Graham threw 33
pitches Wednesday
night, 20 for strikes.
There was no hiding J.R. Graham Wednesday night. The Rule 5 power arm had to pitch in a game situation, and he did very well: three innings, one single, no walks, two strikeouts.

Paul Molitor has avoided Graham in important innings for more than a month. Wednesday was his first outing since April 13 (the home opener) that wasn't mopping up. His previous eight appearances finished games with a margin of five or more runs.

Graham has, probably, the best stuff on the staff. He also is better fit right now for the minors. But as a Rule 5 guy, he's got to stay on the 25-man roster or the Twins will likely lose his rights. I expect him to stick, but if the Twins are indeed going to contend this year, he'll have to contribute some meaningful innings.

Which he did on Wednesday.

It was an interesting win in terms of the bullpen. Aaron Thompson and Blaine Boyer, who have emerged as Molitor's favored set-up options, were something less than stellar (three hits and a run combined for three total outs). Graham and beleaguered veteran Brian Duensing combined for four scoreless frames.

And some roster decisions loom. Tim Stauffer is on a rehab assignment. Casey Fien is about to begin his. My opinion: I'd rather have any of the roster's current seven bullpen guys (Boyer, Duensing, Graham, Glen Perkins, Ryan Pressly, Thompson and Michael Tonkin) than Stauffer, and were it up to me the transaction when Stauffer's rehab time is done will read: Activated from the disabled list and designated for assignment.

Fien is another matter. I don't regard him as an outstanding eighth-inning guy, but he's earned a continued opportunity to perform. The guys on the bubble are probably Pressly and Duensing. But Fien's not ready yet, and that decision doesn't have to be made now.

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