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July Fire and Ice: Bullpen Holds Together During Rough Month

During the month of July the Minnesota Twins offense was abysmal. The starting rotation’s 4.75 ERA ranked 25th in baseball and was a half run worse than any other AL Central team. The team’s 9-17 record during the month was no accident and it could have been much worse. The bright spot, and strength of the team during July was without question the collective work of the team’s relief corps.

Fien and the rest of the Twins bullpen have done their part for most of the 2013 season, unfortunately the offense and rotation have faltered all too often. (Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

Nine players pitched in relief during the month and as a unit they did their best to keep the team afloat with a 3.31 ERA (12th in MLB) during the month. That number is all the more impressive considering they have been and were overworked. The Twins bullpen threw 89.2 innings in July, which trailed only the New York Mets (94.1 IP) and San Francisco Giants (96.2 IP). Their 1.2 WAR for the month was tied for 7th best in baseball. That 1.2 WAR was four times better than the 0.3 WAR Minnesota’s rotation “accumulated” in 144.0 July innings pitched of their own.

On Fire:

Michael Tonkin (1 G, 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO) only faced four batters in his major league debut on July 11th and he retired all of them. It was the only chance he was given to make a statement before he was sent back to Rochester and he made the most of it. The 23-year old righty has also done his best to impress while pitching in the minors with a 2.42 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 55-13 SO-to-BB in 48.1 innings between New Britain and Rochester. Tonkin appears ready for a longer major league addition and is a logical September call-up if it doesn’t happen sooner.

Casey Fien (13 G, 12.0 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 13 SO, 5 HLD) has been superb since he signed with the Twins prior to the 2012 season. In fact, his major league numbers in two seasons with Minnesota are better than his best years in the minor leagues. His 2.70 ERA is actually up from last season’s 2.06, but his WHIP, H/9, BB/9 and SO/9 have all improved. He didn’t allow a baserunner in six of his 13 July appearances and allowed multiple baserunners just three times. The 29-year old RHP won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2016 making Fien a viable and cost effective long term piece of the team’s bullpen puzzle.

Caleb Thielbar (11 G, 10.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 12 SO) has had a fantastic rookie season and, like Fien, appears to have pitched his way into the long term relief picture for Minnesota. His 0.63 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in 28.2 innings speaks volumes. Thielbar, still only 26 years old, has given up fewer hits (10) than walks issued (11) on the season. The two earned runs that scored off him in July were the first two of the season and both came by way of solo home runs.

Glen Perkins (10 G, 10.1 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 8 SO, 5 SV) has been outstanding since he was moved to the bullpen full time and his 2013 season is shaping up to be a memorable one. His 6.3 H/9, 2.0 BB/9, 11.0 SO/9 and 5.40 SO/BB this season are all career bests. The 30-year old lefty blew his third save of the year last month but he wound up with the win in that game (July 23rd) against the Angels. Perkins could have brought the Twins a hefty return at the trade deadline but in the end they were probably wise to hang on to him.

Jared Burton (13 G, 10.2 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 10 SO, 2 HLD) seems to draw the ire of the fan base more than his peers in the pen but he’s been a well above average reliever in every year but one since he made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds back in 2007. So far the 32-year old RHP has provided nice return on the 2-year $5.25 million contract he signed prior to this season and the $3.6 million team option in 2015 is looking rather appealing as well. Burton gave up 3 runs on 3 hits in 0.1 IP back on July 1st and he hasn’t been scored on since. A streak that now stands at 14 games including his two August appearances.

Tepid:

Josh Roenicke (10 G, 8.1 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 9 SO) took a while to get his career in the majors on solid ground but seems to be settling in. After two years in Colorado with a 3.33 ERA and 138 ERA+ in 105.1 innings he was a shrewd waiver claim this past offseason giving Minnesota a 3.11 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 46.1 innings of work. Unlike most of the other members of the Twins bullpen, Roenicke’s peripherals (4.5 BB/9 and 6.4 SO/9 are not all that strong but he continues to get the job done on most days. He allowed runs in just two of his July outings. It should be noted that 10 of the 23 walks he’s allowed in 2013 came during the month of May and outside that month his walk rate has been much better than the overall numbers suggest.

Chilly:

Anthony Swarzak (8 G, 12.0 IP, 14 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO) made his major league debut in 2009 but this is the first season he’s pitched exclusively out of the bullpen for the Twins. While July was a little rough – especially at the outset – he’s responded to the role with career best numbers across the board: 3.06 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.7 H/9, 1.7 BB/9, 6.4 SO/9 and 3.85 SO/BB in 70.2 IP. Swarzak has served as the team’s long relief option and he’s excelled with an average of nearly 2.1 innings per appearance. He allowed 6 hits, 5 runs and both walks in his first two appearances of the month before righting the ship the rest of the month.

Ryan Pressly (8 G, 13.0 IP, 11 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 10 SO) had a 1.20 ERA on June 14th, but the 24-year old rookie hit a wall shortly thereafter giving up runs in each of his final four appearances in June. His struggles continued into July. Pressly was scored on in five of his eight appearances last month but still had a relatively solid 3.20 ERA on July 31st. That number has since become bloated after taking one for the team against the Royals on Monday (1.1 IP, 7 H, 7 ER).

Ice Cold:

Brian Duensing (11 G, 11.1 IP, 20 H, 9 ER, 7 BB, 9 SO, 1 HLD) had the worst stat line out of the bullpen but the bulk of his struggles were isolated to the beginning of the month – a common theme with this group. In his first three July appearances (3.2 IP) he allowed 8 hits and 6 ER. After that rough stretch he ripped off seven straight outings where he didn’t allow a run before getting tagged for another four hits and three runs on July 30th. Over the course of the 11 games, opposing batters hit 0.392/.475/.627 which significantly damaged his value on the trade market. Still he’s a lefty and remains a reasonably valuable commodity, despite the up and down nature of his season.

Topics: Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing, Caleb Thielbar, Casey Fien, Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Josh Roenicke, Michael Tonkin, Minnesota Twins, Ryan Pressly

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