The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 18, 2009

Finally, a power arm

Jason Kubel's heroics Friday night barley covered up the burgeoning disaster that is the Twins middle relief corps in the season's first two weeks.

Jesse Crain faced six batters Friday. Five of them reached base, four of them scored. Crain's ERA is now 7.50.

Matt Guerrier relieved Crain, allowed two inherited runners to score and allowed one of his own — and got the win anyway. Guerrier's ERA is now 8.10.

Craig Breslow: 16.20. Luis Ayala: 7.36. And so on.

Sure, it's early. But we saw this happening last August and well into September as well, until Jose Mijares finally emerged. Mijares is back in the minors trying to find his waistline and his command, and Ron Gardenhire is trying, again, to find somebody who can bridge the gap between his starters and Joe Nathan.

So it really wasn't much of a surprise Friday when the Twins pulled the plug on Phil Humber. What was surprising was who they added: Jose Morillo, whose fast ball velocity is reputed to range between 95 mph and 100 mph. That's not an arm one gives up on easily, but the Colorado Rockies decided at the end of spring training that they'd grown weary of waiting for him to discover the strike zone. He's spent the past 10 days in that limbo known as designated for assignment — waiting to be traded or released or claimed on waivers. (The latter is what happened,)

Last year, Morillo, pitching for the Rockies' Triple A affiliate in Colorado Springs, walked 56 (and struck out 55) in 59.1 innings. If the prototype Twins pitcher is somebody along the lines of Nick Blackburn and Guerrier — mediocre fastballs but good command — Morillo is the anti-type.

Possibly the Twins have a scouting report on Morillo that says he can be fixed. (if so, it certainly didn't come from anybody in the Twins minor league system, as the Rockies and Twins have no full-season affliates in the same leagues.) Possibly the Twins are convinced that they can fix anybody's command. Most likely they hope that just getting out of thin-air environments will prompt Morillo to throw more strikes.

Whatever the rationale, I'm happy to see the Twins acquire a relief pitcher who is a legitimate power arm. Alaya isn't; Guerrier isn't; Breslow isn't; R.A. Dickey sure as heck isn't. And neither was Humber. The point was made last fall, and dwelt on during the winter here: The Twins need to think fastballs in their bullpen.

Morillo has a fastball. Whether he knows where it's going is another matter.

e-mail Edward Thoma