The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Ed Thoma

April 20, 2009

Finally, a power arm in the bullpen

Deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra supposedly said.

Or maybe not.

The Twins’ 2008 season ran aground on a mind-numbing series of multi-pitcher bullpen meltdowns — games in which Ron Gardenhire was unable to find anybody who could get a couple of outs in the middle innings. Eventually the rot infected even Joe Nathan.

The Twins were unable or unwilling (or both) to remake their middle relief corps on the fly after Pat Neshek got hurt and Juan Rincon washed out. The front office didn’t acquire a veteran arm; manager Ron Gardenhire refused to try Craig Breslow for multiple outs in winnable games. Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier burned out, and the division title slipped away.

Even during the offseason, the Twins took a conservative approach. Rather than aggressively seek out power arms, they replaced Dennys Reyes (free agent) and Boof Bonser (injury) with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and sinker-slider guy Luis Ayala.

And the middle relief meltdowns resumed last week. Thursday: Guerrier, Breslow, Dickey and Ayala combined to turn a 2-2 game into a 9-2 rout with an ugly seventh inning. Friday: Crain, Guerrier and Ayala allowed five runs in the seventh and eighth innings (and also surrendered an inherited runner charged to starter Nick Blackburn).

The Twins survived Friday’s arson because the Angels suffered a similar bullpen collapse. But it had become obvious that the Minnesota bullpen has too many long-relief guys and not enough fastballs.

Which makes the decision to dump Phillip Humber — one of those excess long men — and add Jose Morillo particularly welcome.

Morillo may not be the answer; he certainly is not proven. There are two germaine facts about this 25-year-old Dominican right-hander:

1) He has a rare arm (Baseball America says opposing scouts have timed his fast ball at as high as 104 mph); and

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