Bullpen Gives Up Lead and Game in Minnesota Twins’ Defeat

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

One of the strengths of the Minnesota Twins so far in 2013 has been the play of their bullpen which, up until Friday night, had pitched extremely well. Usually, the bullpen could be counted on to hold and finish off a lead when a Twins’ starter turned over the ball in the late innings; however, Friday night wasn’t a usual night for the Twins’ bullpen.

The Twins received a strong performance from the struggling Mike Pelfrey on Friday, as the right-hander went six innings surrendering nine hits and three runs to earn the quality start and no decision. Pelfrey’s quality start and the continued strong play of the Twins’ lineup were definitely highlights of the game, but the bullpen definitely deflated the optimism once they took over late in the game.

First Josh Roenicke gave up the lead by allowing four hits and three runs, while only recording one out, when the Twins were leading 6-3. Luckily Casey Fien worked out of Roenicke’s mess and kept the Twins’ tied when everything was over with; but then in extra-innings, Anthony Swarzak couldn’t do much of anything right. Swarzak mirrored Roenicke’s performance by giving up four hits and three runs, but did complete the inning; however, the damage was already done and the Twins were unable to overcome the deficit.

It is hard for me to get upset with Swarzak and the bullpen over blowing the lead on Friday simply because they have been so good during the early part of this season. Granted I am frustrated by Swarzak and Roenicke’s performances, but these type of days happen during the course of the season and it is important that they are dealt with right away and left in the past so they do not continue into a trend.

In Roenicke’s case, I have not been sold on his pitching ability at this point in the season. From what I have seen, I don’t think Roenicke has good enough command of his pitches to dominate hitters during the late innings. He definitely has some good pitches like his slider; but if he cannot control where these pitches land, it doesn’t matter how great they can break. He simply looks like a pitcher who has good stuff, but can’t seem to get hitters out with it more than one time.

In Swarzak’s case, I tend to chalk this outing up to one of the many outings that Swarzak has over the season where fans are left wondering how he can ever retain a job as a big-league pitcher. Swarzak is best suited for the long-reliever role out of the bullpen, which he has thrived in over his career. However when he is put into a pressure-filled position when the game is tied late in the game or extra-innings, I feel that Swarzak tends to struggle. Usually Swarzak enters the game when the team is way ahead or way behind, so the pressure level that he normally works at is relatively low. Could it be a case of Swarzak being unable to handle the pressure? Maybe, but I think it is more of the case of Swarzak not being able to pitch well and hold a lead when he doesn’t have a sizeable lead to work with.

Some pitchers are cut out for specific roles and the Twins certainly have many pitchers who fit that mold and during most games, that works out just fine. Unfortunately, Friday night was one of those nights that it didn’t seem to work out like they had planned. The important thing for the Twins now will be how they decide to alter their bullpen usage for the remaining two games of the series. As of now, it looks like the Twins will be leaning heavily on Vance Worley to go deep into tomorrow night’s ballgame. That’s the plan anyway; we’ll see how it works out.

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