July 1st against the Yankees was the game Jared Burton lost his 8th inning setup job. After back-to-back crushing losses against the Royals and Yankees, Twins’ fans collectively could not boot him out of that setup spot fast enough. Burton saw his ERA rise to 4.29 and his record fall to 1-6 while having five blown saves. It was not just one outing or a few outings leading up to him losing his role; it was clear in the first half of the season Burton was not pitching like he was worth his new 2-year, $5.45 million contract signed in the offseason.
Burton had been lacking the same intensity, overpowering fastball, and self-confidence as we saw all of last season. The Jared Burton pitching in the 8th this year was only a shadow of the dominant setup man we had in 2012. Luckily for the Twins, the bullpen has been one of the few bright spots showing positive results and depth. With Burton struggling, the Twins had numerous choices as to who could end up replacing Burton in the setup role. Burton’s struggling velocity and inability to keep the ball down in the zone ultimately led to him giving up his spot to the hard throwing Casey Fien.
Fast forward to August 14th. Even on the heels of a crushing loss where the Twins saw a four run lead disappear in the matter of five batters in the 8th, one thing has been apparent for weeks now. Jared Burton is back.
He has regained confidence. He has increased his fastball velocity. He’s improved his location. And most importantly, he has improved effectively getting batters out. To put things in perspective, he’s been nearly unhittable. In 18 appearances since losing his setup role, Burton has pitched 16.1 innings giving up 5 hits, striking out 16, walking two batters, and laying a giant goose egg for runs allowed. He has watched his ERA go from being in the 4s at the beginning of July all the way down to 2.94. Lost in all of this, the fans have gained trust in him again. But is he worth of regaining back his setup role just yet?
Burton’s replacement, Fien, has struggled as of late as he has given up 3 home runs and 6 runs over his last 1.1 innings. This is guaranteed to strike up the setup role conversation amongst fans; especially when both appearances had Fien coming in with leads of 5 and 4 runs respectively. In Fien’s most recent outing, against the Indians, he entered the 8th with the Twins leading 7-3 and left with the game tied. He was replaced after giving up 4 runs, including a 3-run home run to the ageless Jason Giambi, and only retiring one of the five batters he faced. This blown lead kept the game alive where the Twins ended up losing in 12 innings. Heartbreaking losses happen over the course of a 162 game season, but a few bad outings in a row from Fien may very well allow Burton to regain his spot.
Manager Ron Gardenhire must now decide whether to stick with Fien in the setup role for another outing and risk the latest lackluster results or go back to Burton, who has proved he is back to his old form and on a nice hot streak out of the ‘pen. Even if Burton does not earn his setup role just yet, it is a much needed relief to see him bounce back from early struggles to regain his confidence out on the mound as he’s shutting down opposing batters.