The blame for yesterday's game can once again be placed on the struggles of the Twins' relievers, as Jesse Crain, Craig Breslow, and even the latest bullpen savior Jose Mijares combined to surrender 5 runs over 2 innings to rob Nick Blackburn of a win after his best start of the season. Blackburn, who came into the game with a K:BB ratio of 13:10, struck out 6 and walked only 1 over 7 shutout innings. In order to pitch more games like this one and fewer like his previous disastrous start against the Tigers, he's going to have to continue to improve his strikeout rate and especially his walk rate, which even after yesterday is up 30% from last season. On the other side of the walk coin, the Twins drew another 9 walks in this game, bringing their total to 21 in the series. For an organization that has never taken many walks, this was a huge series in that department. Of all the players who played this weekend, only Carlos Gomez and Mike Redmond, who each only started one game, did not draw a walk; even Delmon Young took a free pass to first. And they managed to do this against a pitching staff that, even after this weekend, is ranked in the top half of the majors in BB/9. Is this a trend? Of course not. But it was still fun to watch for 3 games (oh yeah, the 7 home runs were good too).
Now, back to your regularly scheduled topic: the struggles of the bullpen. Of all the pitchers the Twins have tried in the bullpen this year, only Joe Nathan and Jose Mijares have an xFIP under 4.50, and they have combined to throw only 17 innings thus far this season. Nathan of course is a proven relief ace, but Mijares, despite his great xFIP, is likely due for a regression based on his minor league numbers, the start of which we may have seen last night. I went over the bullpen options in the minors a couple weeks ago (one of which was Mijares), and now it seems it's time to start thinking about it again. I still don't understand why R.A. Dickey is still around. Supposedly it's because of his rubber arm that allows him to save the bullpen, but that isn't really how he's been used. He hasn't pitched since Tuesday, and that includes not getting into an 11-0 blowout. Also, I just don't see the great value in being able to pitch lots of innings while also giving up lots of runs. Joe Crede could do that while simultaneously resting his sore hamstring. Unfortunately, though, I'm not really sure who the answer is at this point. The Twins could give Anthony Swarzak a chance, he hasn't pitched out of the bullpen. Sean Henn is doing well at Rochester, but he's had his chance in the majors before and hasn't done well. Anthony Slama has struggled with his control at New Britain lately. The Twins have been scouting New Britain lately, and I think Rob Delaney may be poised for a Mijares-esque AA-MLB call up sometime soon, as he has continued to maintain an excellent 24:3 K:BB ratio in AA.