One of Minnesota Twins general managerTerry Ryan's major projects this spring was the bullpen, which checked in dead last in the majors last season, 30th of 30 teams in ERA (4.51) and 29th in walks-plus-hits-per-inning-pitched ratio (1.46). It was a major reason the team did a swan dive in the AL Central, going from first to last while losing 99 games.
Though much has gone wrong for Minnesota, which enters Tuesday's game at Pittsburgh last in the Central, the bullpen has been one of the few bright spots, and never was it brighter than while pitching nine scoreless innings in a 5-4, 15-inning victory over the Brewers on Sunday at Target Field.
After starter Nick Blackburn gave up four earned runs in six innings, Alex Burnett, Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, Jeff Gray, Glen Perkins and Anthony Swarzak held the Brewers scoreless on six hits and three walks.
That raised the bullpen's collective workload to 236 2/3 innings pitched this season, second only to Kansas City's 254 in all of baseball. The bullpen's WHIP of 1.18 ranks fifth, with only 69 walks all season. And though the ERA is 3.61, technically among the bottom half of the majors at No. 16, it's light years beyond the starters' 6.06, second worst among the 30 teams.
"It's awesome," left-hander Glen Perkins said of the bullpen's improvement. Perkins emerged as the team's setup man in 2011, one of the season's few bright spots. He pitched two innings Sunday and lowered his ERA to 3.14. In 28 2/3 innings, Perkins has fanned 36.
"We struggled last year, and we saw going into this year that it was one of our weaknesses," Perkins said. "We talked in spring training and early this season about guys stepping up, that (management will) throw guys at the wall and see who sticks, and we talked about last year, how not a lot of guys stuck. There are some guys sticking this year, and it's good to see."
Perkins, 29, hadn't thrown two full innings in more than a year, since April 28, 2011. He gave up two hits but stranded the go-ahead run at third.
"It wasn't pretty," he said, "but I got through it."