With Zumaya out, Twins seek to fill bullpen void
Swarzak, Duensing and Burnett will get long looks in camp
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With the offseason signing of hard-throwing reliever Joel Zumaya, the Twins were hoping they had found a right-handed complement to top setup man Glen Perkins.
But with the oft-injured Zumaya out for the season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, the Twins must now find a replacement to hand the ball off to Perkins and closer Matt Capps.
The Twins, who now have 32 healthy pitchers in camp, are expected to find that solution in-house. General manager Terry Ryan said he wouldn't rule out a trade, but said he's currently not looking to sign another reliever.
"If I'm one of those guys down in that clubhouse, there's some innings there to be had," Ryan said. "You want to make the team? Let's go. I'm not saying anybody wishes a guy to get hurt, but you have to take advantage of the opportunities. Here's one, right now."
Ryan pointed to pitchers such as right-handers Alex Burnett and Anthony Swarzak and left-hander Brian Duensing as possibilities to fill that role, while also mentioning non-roster invite, and former Reds reliever, Jared Burton.
The Twins have no shortage of relievers with big league experience in camp, but only Duensing, Swarzak, Burton and non-roster invites Jason Bulger, Phil Dumatrait and Esmerling Vasquez have tallied more than 100 career innings in the Majors.
"I would like to think that Duensing, Swarzak and Burnett are capable," Ryan said. "We brought in a number of non-roster guys who have Major League experience. I'm not so sure it's an eighth-inning area, but it could be the seventh. Burton's got some of that experience."
Swarzak, who posted a 4.32 ERA in 102 innings last year as a long reliever and spot starter, could be the prime candidate, but he's never had a chance to flourish in a setup role.
The Twins like his makeup -- he's not afraid to challenge hitters and has consistently been the first pitcher out on the field performing his workouts during camp -- and think he is ready to take a step forward.
And Swarzak, who has lost 30 pounds since the 2010 season, said he's ready to embrace whatever role the Twins decide for him this season.
"I'm comfortable pitching, whether it's the first inning, second inning, seventh, eighth or ninth," Swarzak said. "I don't care. I really don't. This game is very cut and dry: if you [get] guys out, you stick around. And if you don't, you don't."
Duensing, who has a career 3.97 ERA, including a 3.31 mark in 81 2/3 innings as a reliever, should bolster the bullpen, but like Perkins, is a left-hander, and might be better served as a middle or long reliever.
The Twins are hoping a right-hander can step up and fill Zumaya's void, and will take a long look at Burnett, who has pitched a combined 98 1/3 innings with the Twins over the last two seasons.
But the Twins are looking for more consistency from Burnett, as they like his stuff, but it hasn't translated to results yet, considering he has a career 5.40 ERA.
"It's a natural progression," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "His arm strength is there, the ball comes out of his hand great. Now he's got to become a little bit more consistent, and he's been working his way through that. He's gotten better and better."
The Twins also have some intriguing right-handers on their 40-man roster, including Kyle Waldrop, Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gutierrez, Jeff Manship, Lester Oliveros, Jeff Gray and Rule 5 Draft pick Terry Doyle.
But they also lack experience and might not be ready for a setup role, as they're all just fighting for spots on the roster, according to Ryan.
"A lot of these guys have good arms," Ryan said. "It's just a matter of if they step up and throw strikes and dominate innings down here. You are going to have to do some things to make this ballclub."
The Twins also have a slew of non-roster invitees with big league experience, such as Burton, Bulger and Vasquez.
Burton and Bulger are interesting options because they've served as setup relievers in the past, with the Reds and Angels, but have dealt with injuries the last few seasons.
"Sometimes you get a guy that's coming back off an injury that surprises everybody and had great stuff, kind of lost it for a year and then all of a sudden fires it and has it again," Gardenhire said. "That's what everybody's looking for, the diamonds in the rough, the guys that once were pretty good at one point and then had an injury or backed off and now are coming back."
So while the Twins are certainly disappointed that Zumaya is out for the season, they know they don't lack options as they try to build their bullpen in his absence.
"There are opportunities," Ryan said. "Somebody's going to have a better chance to make this ball club, and that's the way it's going to be. There's no gray area here. He's not going to be with us. So now somebody's going to have to ultimately step up, and it's a chance for God knows who's going to end up in that position."