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06/07/08 8:49 PM ET
Twins plan to trim pitcher from roster
Struggling reliever Rincon could be put on waivers
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Twins right-hander Juan Rincon is fully aware of his current situation. He's heard all the talk about the Twins needing to reduce their pitching staff from 13 to 12 in the next week. He also knows that due to his recent struggles, he's one of the pitchers being mentioned as a possibility to go. Following another difficult outing on Friday in which he gave up two runs, both on homers, Rincon has now posted an 8.68 ERA over his last eight appearances (9 1/3 innings). And Rincon knows that his recent performance is not helping at a time when he's pitching for his job. "I wish I could make a better case [to stay] by pitching better, but if that's what it's going to be, it's what it's going to be," Rincon said. "It's not like I don't care. I do care. We have very good chemistry in this clubhouse and I never have been in that situation before. But that's a part of the game. It's just a business." Watching Rincon go through this recent stretch hasn't been easy for manager Ron Gardenhire or his coaching staff. "Juanny has been with me for a long time here and he's had a lot of success," Gardenhire said. "It's hard to see him struggle, especially a guy as classy as Juan taking the ball and not complaining about anything ... It's not fun to watch. I feel bad for him. "All we can do is keep running him out there until some other decision is made where we can't." Out of options, Rincon would have to be put through waivers if he is sent down. They are irrevocable waivers, so if the pitcher is taken, he will be lost to the organization. Signed by the Twins in November of 1996, Rincon is currently the longest tenured Twin. He's spent time on the club's Major League roster every season since 2001. But while he once was considered to be one of the best setup men in the league, Rincon has seen his share of problems over the last three seasons. It began in May of '05 when the right-hander was suspended for violating Major League Baseball's substance abuse policy by using performance-enhancing drugs. Then in '06, Rincon saw right-hander Jesse Crain usurp him for the primary eighth-inning spot. The problems only worsened for Rincon in 2007. Even with Crain injured, Pat Neshek emerged as the leading candidate for the setup role due to Rincon's struggles. The right-hander's strikeout numbers decreased for the third straight season, opponents' batting average against him rose to .273 and his ERA rocketed to 5.13, the first time since 2003 he finished a season with an ERA over 3.00. And after the Twins did not move Rincon in the offseason, the hope was that he could turn things around this season and the two sides agreed to a $2.475 million contract for '08. During the offseason, Rincon thought he had found the fix when he discovered a slight mechanical flaw in his delivery. But so far, it hasn't showed in the results. Exactly what is causing the problems now, Rincon can't pinpoint. He said he doesn't feel it's anything specific mechanically, and he admits that he's frustrated by the problems continuing. "You try not to, but you think about it, even if you try to be as positive as you can," Rincon said. "I think every day is going to be a better day. That's what I thought yesterday. ... You just have to take it like a man and keep going out there and trying to do the best you can. It's the only thing you can do." Gardenhire said that no decision has been made yet on the pitching staff. His hope is to have something resolved before the club heads to Milwaukee on Friday for the start of its second stint of Interleague Play, so he can have an additional position player off the bench for that series. "Who knows which way we're going to go with anything," Gardenhire said. "We're trying to figure out a few things here and trying to get out of a rough stretch. We know we've got to do something here within a week." If Rincon is not traded or designated for assignment, then the Twins will have to move one of their other pitchers. Brian Bass is also currently out of options. He's had problems recently too, watching his ERA rise from 3.90 on May 22 to 5.26 after his outing on Friday night. Still, Gardenhire seems to like what Bass has brought to the table "He's thrown the ball good," Gardenhire said. "The last couple outings he's gotten some balls up that have been hit out of the ballpark. He has a good sinker and a good slider. He's had to make some adjustments, but he's a guy that can go just about every day."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.