Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The post-Kintzler bullpen

Alan Busenitz got the call for the eighth inning Tuesday night and got dinged for a two-run homer that expanded a 1-0 deficit to 3-0.

At least it wasn't one of the usual suspects.

I quit playing fantasy baseball years ago, so I'm not overly wrapped up in saves and the identity of the closer. I'm less concerned about who gets the ninth inning with a three-run lead than with who gets the ball late and close. For the first four months of the Twins season, that's been Brandon Kintzler and Taylor Rogers, with others sprinkled in on a only-as-needed basis.

But Kintzler was traded Monday and Rogers has been charged with at least one run in each of his last five outings, with his ERA expanding from 1.93 after July 22 to 3.79 entering play today. And as I said in the previous post, I don't know now how the Twins will get their outs when the game is late and close.

It's quite possible that Rogers will inherit Kintzler's ninth-inning duties despite his current struggles. If he does, it opens the eight-inning chores, since Paul Molitor is unlikely to try to have Rogers set up and close.

Molitor at one point referred to Tyler Duffey, Rogers and Kintzler as his "triumph trio," the idea being that a parade of those three from the middle innings on was the route to victory.

Duffey has entered three games in the eighth inning, none in the ninth and twice in extra innings, and he's averaging more than an inning per appearance. He's gotten four or more outs in 18 of his 39 appearances. He has been used on consecutive days only twice. All of which describes an old-school middle reliever, and I think the role suits him.

Busenitz and Ryan Pressly have the stereotypical power arms of late-inning relievers. But Pressly has not been effective this year (seven homers in 33.2 innings and an ERA of 6.68) despite an impressive strikeout rate (40 Ks). Busenitz has allowed now three homers in 10.2 major league innings, an even worse home run rate.

Matt Belisle hasn't been charged with a run, earned or unearned, since June. But he has fared poorly when called upon to pitch in back-to-back games, which is pretty much part of the job description for closers and primary set-up men. And he's 37 and a free agent at year's end; giving him a late-inning role doesn't compute for an organization that has signaled that it's looking to future seasons more than the current one.

Of the pitchers in the current bullpen, the one I'd most like to see moved to a late-inning role (closer or primary set-up) is Trevor Hildenberger, the rookie sidearming righty. So far Molitor has largely avoided him in close games; half of his 12 appearances have come with the Twins either trailing by more than four runs or leading by more than four runs, and Molitor has yet not used him to protect a lead of four runs or fewer.

I hope that's about to change.

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