Friday, June 22, 2018

On the bullpen

It would be inaccurate to blame the Twins loss Thursday on the bullpen. The lineup contributed zero runs to the cause until the ninth inning against one of Boston's lower leverage pitchers.

But the bullpen -- specifically Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle -- did turn a close game into a rout, and there were big-picture choices involved that made that outcome more likely than not.

Choice One: The heavy use of Pressly.

Thursday was the 71st game the Twins have played this year. It was the 37th appearance for Pressly, who has now appeared in 52.1 percent of the Twins games. At that usage rate, he would pitch in 84 games. This would not be a record -- 1970s relief legend Mike Marshall pitched had three seasons, with three different clubs, of at least 90 appearances (the last being the Twins in 1979).

But using Pressly at the frequency of Iron Mike is beginning to backfire. He has surrendered multiple runs in four of his last six outings, and his ERA, which entered the month at 2.22, is now at 4.15.

Of course, somebody has to pitch. And the Twins have four other relievers (Zach Duke, Trevor Hildenberger, Addison Reed and Taylor Rodgers) with at least 30 appearances apiece, and Hildenberger, has pitched more innings than Pressly.

Which brings us to the second choice.

Choice Two: The presence of Matt Belisle on the roster.

The Twins have eight relievers on their roster -- the above mentioned five hard-worked middle/setup men, closer Fernando Rodney, Matt Magill and Belisle.

Magill has pitched well (1.46 ERA after Thursday's mopup inning), but Paul Molitor seems reluctant to use him in game situations.

And Belisle -- well, we saw him quite a bit last season, and what we saw then remains true now. He's not a guy you can use with frequency, and he's prone to outings that just get away from him. One of them was Thursday: one inning, four hits, three runs.

Between the Twins and Cleveland, Belisle has made 12 major league appearances this season. He wasn't charged with a run in eight of them, and he allowed just one run in another. But he's now had three multiple-run outings, and they have ballooned his ERA to 5.93. (He showed a similar tendency in Triple A after Cleveland outrighted him earlier in the season.)

The Twins apparently love Belisle as a mentor, but the first job is getting outs. If the Twins are going to carry that extra reliever, it has to be somebody who can lighten the burden on guys like Pressly and Reed, who are showing signs of fatigue. That's not Belisle.

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