THOMA COLUMN | Twins bullpen turns into a disaster

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

May 17—Flop, flop. Fizz, fizz. Oh what a relief it isn't.

No major league team is ever really done tinkering with its bullpen. Relievers are too volatile, their effectiveness too dependent on the right mix of use, luck and rest. The statistical record is littered with seasons of brilliance followed by seasons of collapse.

Collapsed is the word for the Minnesota Twins bullpen corps at the quarter-pole of the season — a point at which organizations generally begin to discard plans that aren't working. And there's no question that this bullpen plan isn't working.

The Twins bullpen turned into a genuine strength in the second half of 2019. Taylor Rogers and Trevor May were joined by Sergio Romo via trade, and Tyler Duffey and Zack Littell emerged from the minors. Minor league free agent Ryne Harper got big outs all season, and Cody Stashak popped up late.

The 'pen was also a strong suit in the brief 2020 season. Harper was discarded and Littell faded away early, but Rogers, May, Duffey and Romo served as the core, and Stashak, Matt Wisler, Jorge Acala, Tyler Clippard and the resurrected Caleb Thielbar were all arguably better.

But this year — this year's bullpen shuffle has not worked.

Gone are May, Romo, Wisler and Clippard. The Twins imported Alex Colome and Hansel Robles via free agency and ticketed Acala, Stashak and Thielbar for more important roles.

It made sense in theory. It has failed on the field.

The four departed bullpenners probably wouldn't have made any difference. Only May, who got a market-blowing deal from the Mets, has been effective. Clippard is injured and has not pitched yet. Wisler has a 6.75 ERA for San Francisco. Romo has a 7.30 ERA with Oakland.

But none of the holdovers are pitching to last season's standards, and the bullpen has allowed more than 60 percent of inherited runners to score, an atrocious figure. Rogers and Robles have been better than the rest, but they haven't been brilliant either.

This front office remade the bullpen on the fly in 2019, but the challenge this year is greater because Plan A failed so utterly.

At one point the bullpen issues were so sore that Rocco Baldelli was talking about shifting Randy Dobnak to a late-inning role — and a couple days later Dobnak was shipped to Triple-A to start. (My guess is that Matt Shoemaker and his 6.62 ERA might not be long for the roster.)

The figure to watch in the relief corps is Colome. He hasn't allowed a run in his five May appearances (entering Sunday's play). This hasn't gotten him restored to a high-leverage role yet, but my sense is that is coming soon (but probably in a road game).

A Colome pitching to his accustomed level would be a big help.

I'm less optimistic about Duffey, whose stuff appears to be diminished from 2019 and 2020. And Baldelli has been reluctant to give Alcala much of an opportunity in winnable games — not that the 2021 Alcala has merited much of an opportunity, but there is a higher ceiling with him than with some of the other retreads.

It may well be that even a successful reshaping of the bullpen this year will be too little, too late. There's a lot of season left, but it's a mighty deep hole.

Edward Thoma is at ethoma@mankatofreepress.com. Twitter: @bboutsider.