COMMENTARY | Jared Burton has been one of the best setup men in baseball since signing with the Minnesota Twins prior to the 2012 season. However, he has struggled over his last five outings and has allowed eight runs in those five games.
While five games isn't usually enough to worry about, Burton has a history of shoulder problems, which is why the Twins were able to sign him to a minor league contract before the 2012 season. For Burton to suddenly be very hittable is not a good sign for his health.
Burton did admit to feeling a little something in his groin while pitching to the Washington Nationals on June 8. Burton told MLB.com that he felt fine the next day, but the Twins were concerned enough to give him the next four days off.
Jared Burton Hasn't Had a Scoreless Outing Since 'Tweaking' His Groin
Since then, he's allowed at least one run in all three outings and has allowed three walks and struck out just two batters. On the season he's averaging almost a strikeout an inning.
If his groin is still bothering him, the Twins need to shut Burton down until it is all better. When a pitcher tries to play through injury, he tends to change his mechanics to compensate for it. That will usually put more pressure on the shoulder and elbow, which can lead to far more serious injuries, especially for a pitcher with Burton's history.
While he's not as dominant in his last five games, he's also not had much luck when the ball is put in play. When batters put the ball in play, they normally bat around .300. In his last five games, hitters are batting .421 on balls put in play.
Hopefully, this isn't related to Burton's health and is just one of those periods of ineffectiveness even good pitchers will go through. The good pitchers tend to keep these struggles to a minimum, so the next few outings will be important to see how Burton does.
Minnesota Twins Need a Dominant Bullpen to Compensate for Weaker Areas
With a lackluster offense and a weak rotation, the Twins need Burton to be at his best to make sure the Twins win when they take a lead into the eighth inning. When he is on his game, Burton forms one of the best right-left bullpen combos with closer Glen Perkins.
Since he has joined the Twins, Burton has a 2.70 ERA in 93 1/3 innings with a 1.06 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning pitched) and an 86/29 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Since Perkins took over the closer role during the middle of last season, Burton has been given the eighth inning.
Manager Ron Gardenhire hasn't bothered with pitching matchups with Burton. He's been given the eighth inning regardless of how many left-handers are due up as long as Burton is healthy and rested.
If Burton is not healthy, then that would put more pressure on the rest of the bullpen. Even if Burton can continue to pitch, he will probably continue to struggle. In that case, Gardenhire might opt to look at pitching matchups and could start using left-handed relievers in the eighth inning when needed.
This will most likely mean more crucial situations being handed to Brian Duensing, who has not been as nearly effective against left-handers this year as he has in the past. Caleb Thielbar should get more of those important outings, but Gardenhire has yet to show much trust in him despite him not allowing a run this year while striking out 11 batters in 11 2/3 innings.
If this were the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers, the Twins could compensate for an injury by trading for an expensive replacement. As it is, the Twins will most likely have to find a replacement for Burton from somewhere in the organization.
Hopefully, it won't come down to that.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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