Mijares excels as bullpen steps up
Rookie could make Twins' potential postseason roster
MINNEAPOLIS -- One day after the Twins used a quartet of relievers to pitch four scoreless innings against the White Sox, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said that each member of his bullpen was available to pitch in Thursday's game.
"Every one of them are Game 7s now," Gardenhire said.
With a sufficient playoff atmosphere surrounding Thursday's tilt -- the Twins entered a half-game behind the White Sox for first place in the AL Central -- the club is taking an "all hands on deck" approach.
Four innings were needed from the bullpen on Wednesday after starter Nick Blackburn exited after the fifth frame. Craig Breslow, Boof Bonser, Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan, in order, responded by throwing a scoreless inning each.
Each will be ready to return without a day of rest.
"It's that time of year where everybody bounces back. I think we can go to anybody that we need to," Gardenhire said.
The rookie Mijares was particularly impressive, entering in the eighth inning with the Twins cradling a one-run lead and tasked with retiring three sluggers with prestigious track records -- Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Ken Griffey Jr. Gardenhire won't hesitate to use him on consecutive days.
"He's throwing the ball good," Gardenhire said. "I don't want to put all the pressure in the world on that young man. But he's throwing the ball very well. He's come in, and other than the first three balls to Thome, he hasn't really shown too much effects of not being able to throw it over. He went back at him there, and we like what we are seeing."
Is Mijares the new eighth-inning setup man?
"We were looking for something there, and seeing what happened, and he's taking it and running with it right now," Gardenhire said. "I don't think you can overload him, but I'm not afraid to put him out there."
The team's confidence in the young lefty seems to be growing daily, particularly after his showing in the high-leverage situation of Wednesday.
"He didn't even walk off the field yesterday, he was on a carpet," Gardenhire joked. "He said things in this dugout yesterday that I didn't understand. And I understand most forms of [Spanish], but I didn't understand some of the things he was saying."
Mijares has been stellar since joining the team, sporting a 1.29 ERA and 0.29 WHIP in seven innings, and he's eligible to be included on the playoff roster, if the Twins qualify, even though he wasn't called up until Sept. 4.
Normally, a player must be on the team's Major League roster by Aug. 31 to play in the postseason. But the Twins have some flexibility with their roster because Pat Neshek is currently on the disabled list, allowing the team to swap a pitcher in his absence. Because Mijares was on one of the Twins' Minor League rosters prior to Aug. 31, he is eligible to do just that. The most famous similar case was in 2002 when the Angels were able to use Francisco Rodriguez on their playoff roster with highly beneficial results.
"It's pretty impressive what [Mijares has] done, obviously getting thrust into a pretty big situation," Breslow said. "He's pretty fearless, and he has the stuff to get those guys out. He's thrown strikes and gone right after hitters."
Gardenhire is going to base his bullpen usage strictly on matchups against the opposition's lineup. That can lead to some strange-looking bridges to the closer Nathan, including Wednesday's Breslow-Bonser-Mijares combo that no one could have predicted even two weeks ago.
"At this point in the season, everyone needs to be used in any role," Breslow said. "You can kind of throw an orthodox approach out the window. Obviously, we have four games left and we are going to do what we can to win them all. If that means doing some things unusual, than that's what's going to happen.
"If you were to ask any one of us, we'd all believe that we are capable of getting the job done. If that ever wavers, we are in serious trouble."
Thor Nystrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.