Twins tab Rauch as Nathan's replacement
Gardenhire opts for righty instead of closer-by-committee
MINNEAPOLIS -- Less than a week after Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said his club would use a closer-by-committee to replace Joe Nathan at the start of the season, he switched things up and announced on Friday that Jon Rauch will be the Twins' closer.
"We're going with Rauch as our closer," Gardenhire said before the club's first exhibition game at Target Field. "This way we kind of let everybody else know where they are at. We've always had a good setup [in the bullpen] where everybody knows their roles. ... If guys know their roles out there, the system works. "Gardenhire had mentioned Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares and Jesse Crain as options to close when he originally spoke about the closer-by-committee idea last Sunday. He said that after talking with all the pitchers, the club decided to go with the most experienced option -- Rauch. Rauch, 31, has 26 career saves. That includes 17 saves with Washington in 2008, the only time he was used in the closer role. Rauch got the closing job for the Nationals that season when Chad Cordero was sidelined with a shoulder injury. "You lose a closer, you have to ad lib a little bit," Gardenhire said. "We all know that." "Rauch has got saves. He's been a closer. He has the most experience at it. So we'll let him go do it. The rest of them will set him up and we'll go from there. He wanted the ball. He definitely wants this shot. He's excited about it." Gardenhire informed Rauch of his decision to have him close on the plane ride back to Minnesota. The pitcher thought it might be an April Fools' joke and said he wasn't going to believe it was official until the manager announced the decision. "It's an honor to be thought of it in that job, and that they have the confidence in me to do that," said Rauch, who acknowledged being happy, nervous and excited when learning the news. "Hopefully I can just try to do somewhat of the same job that Joe did for the past few years and just keep this team on a winning streak and get 'em to the postseason." While no reliever lobbied for the job, Gardenhire said that Rauch told him "about 10 times" that he'd do whatever the club needed him to do. "I think every reliever wants to be the guy to stop the game at the end, and obviously I felt like I did the job before and felt like I could do it here," Rauch said. "I felt like we had a bunch of capable arms that could definitely do it. That's why it's such an honor for me to get that." Guerrier, Mijares and Crain will now serve as the main setup men for the Twins. Pat Neshek, Clay Condrey and Brian Duensing are also options in the bullpen. The move to shift Rauch into the closer's role should allow the rest of the relievers to stay in similar roles to what they've had in the past. And Rauch said he believes that the defined roles will not only help him, but the rest of the bullpen as well. "I think it's tough for relievers to just kind of be up in the air, as far as where they're going to be and what role they're going to pitch," Rauch said. "I think it's a big mental part to kind of know where you're going to be at in a game." Having spent a short time in the closer's role in Washington, Rauch said he learned a lot from his experience. The biggest thing, he said, is not to try to make too much of the job. "It's no different than pitching the seventh or the eighth," Rauch said. "It's still three outs. It just happens to be a little bit later in the game. I'm going to approach it that same way and try to keep a level head about it." Rauch also said that he expects to go to Nathan for advice on the job since the four-time All-Star closer, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on March 26, will do his rehab in Minnesota. Nathan certainly has experience to share, having saved no fewer than 36 games, blown no more than six saves and posted an ERA no higher than 2.70 each year since joining the Twins at the start of the 2004 season. "He's got a lot to offer, and I've got a lot to learn about it," Rauch said. "He's done it a lot longer than I have, a lot more experience, and he knows a lot of these hitters in and out. We have similar styles of pitching, as far as the angle, and the quality of pitches, I think he's got a little edge on me. As I said, I can only try to fill in and do my best and try to help the team win games." Rauch isn't a prototypical closer in that he isn't a classic strikeout pitcher with overpowering stuff. But Rauch said with the strong defense behind him, he won't be afraid to pitch to contact even in the ninth. And Gardenhire said that he believes Rauch has the mentality for the role. "I know this about him -- last year, good outing or bad outing, he was the same person," Gardenhire said. "He didn't change, and you need that mentality. You're going to have a few downers. Hopefully not very many, but you know what? You have to be able to handle it and he can handle it." Gardenhire said that he initially announced a closer-by-committee to give the club's front office some time to explore trade options. "Rather than naming something and then have to change again, [we said we'd] go as far as we can, but now it's time," Gardenhire said. "We're getting ready to start a season in a couple days and it's time to get our team in place and get it set up." When asked if there is still a possibility the club could trade for a closer, Gardenhire said he's focused on what he has right now. "This is our ballclub," Gardenhire said. "The organization is doing what they can and other people are all interested in our players. So we'll see. ... But we're excited about this."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.