When your team's starters rank dead last in Major League Baseball (ERA of 6.48, I doubt I need to reflect on how bad that is), the bullpen production becomes that much more important. Leaning on the relievers was not something the Twins were hoping to do this year, have the worst statistical bullpen in 2011. The Twins needed to find some inning eaters that could keep them (reasonably) competitive.
A huge piece to the late inning puzzle has been the insertion of Brian Duensing into the back end of the staff.
Duensing was fantastic for Minnesota in spot-starting duties coming down the stretch in both 2009 and 2010, earning himself the ball for playoff starts in both years.
This lead to high expectations for Duensing in 2011, finally getting the chance to come into the season in the starting rotation. Unfortunately, as was the story went for almost all Twinkies last year, he failed miserably. The lefty went 9-14 with a 5.23 ERA in 28 starts, a full two points higher than his career ERA coming into the campaign.
Duensing was demoted back to the bullpen at the beginning of this season, a group that was much maligned and had expectations of once again being among the league's worst with a host of new faces.
However, the late (and sometimes far too early) inning men have been a pleasant surprise, ranking in the middle of the pack and keeping most Twins games this season within reach when fans have been ready to rip their hair out.
Brian Duensing has been vital in that resurgence. With a 1.71 ERA and a WHIP under one, Duensing has been the man manager Ron Gardenhire has often turned to when the Twins have had that elusive lead late in games to get to closer Matt Capps.
The fourth-year man out of the University of Nebraska has responded to the role about as well as anyone possibly could. He has yet to allow a run in the month of May and has relinquished just five hits in 12 1/3 innings of work during that span.
Duensing's success has taken some pressure off of the rest of the pen. Last year's eight-inning man Glen Perkins has settled down from his awful start to the season with Duensing taking on a larger amount of the work load. Perkins has followed suit with his teammate's May success, giving up just one total hit in his last four appearances.
With the struggles of the starters early on this season, naturally there have been questions about a possible return to the rotation for Duensing, something the Twins do not appear ready to jump the gun on.
"He can pitch, and he can get people out," Gardenhire told John Shipley of the Pioneer Press, "He's really good in the pen; we love him there. I love him right where he's at. But if we can't get to the bullpen, then what good does it do out there? So we're trying to figure some things out."
For the rest of Shipley's article, click here.
If youthful starters can continue to turn things around and Duensing, Perkins, and Capps can simply keep that bullpen ERA around 3.50 (currently at 3.61), the Minnesota Twins may soon be able to once again call themselves contenders.