Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The search for five

The number from Monday's Blue Jays-Twins tilt that matters was five, and not just because the Jays scored five runs to win it. It's because the game from the Twins viewpoint was about the No. 5 starter and a fifth bullpen arm.

The starter

Martin Perez's line in his first start of 2019 was good. One run in six innings? Yeah, we'll take that. Two walks and five strikeouts is certainly acceptable. The velocity was good, and he even hit 97 in his final innings. He threw 86 pitches, less than one might wish for from a starter, but he's been trapped by the sporadic schedule for the first three weeks of the season in the bullpen with limited pitches.

On the bad side, there were a lot of hard-hit balls, not only among the seven hits but several of the outs. And the Jays helped him with a pair of base-running gaffes.

The reliever

Left-hander Aldaberto Mejia was handed a genuine test: A 3-1 eighth-inning lead to protect against a lineup heavy with right-handed hitters. He failed.

The thing is, he was ahead of all the hitters leading up to the Teoscar Hernandez three-run homer that put Toronto up for good. He couldn't put any of them away.

Mejia's background is as a starter, and as such he should have weapons to use against right-handers. He didn't get them out on Monday, at least not before giving up the lead. It was not an outing that encourages manager Rocco Baldelli to increase his role.

The Twins bullpen has four guys Baldelli trusts (Trevor Hildenberger, Trevor May, Blake Parker, Taylor Rogers) and three he's tried to avoid using in winnable games (Ryne Harper, Andrew Vasquez and Mejia).

Four trustworthy relievers are not enough if the starters are going to go six innings max. And I've never believed that the Twins were going to avoid going to an eight-man bullpen for long.

Baldelli used his big four pretty heavily against the Tigers Saturday and Sunday. He was clearly trying Monday to stay away from them in the seventh and eighth innings. What he would have done with the ninth and a lead, I don't know.

Harper made his first appearance in almost a week Monday, and he sliced through the 8-9-1 hitters in the Toronto order with two strikeouts in the seventh. He certainly brings a different approach than the rest of the righties in the Minnesota bullpen, and he's easy to root for. But no manager is going to be eager to lean on a 30-year-old rookie without velocity. If Harper is going to get a role, he'll have to earn it with more outings like Monday's.

Of note: Gabriel Moya and Matt Magill, two mainstays of the 2018 bullpen, are starting rehab assignments. Moya's probably the crucial one, as the Twins could really use a second reliable lefty in relief and neither Mejia nor Vasquez have been that so far.

My guess is that Vasquez and a position player are gone when Moya and Magill are ready to be activated.

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