Inexperienced Bullpen Gaining Valuable Experience
Image courtesy of Daniel Mick (photo of Alan Busenitz)Trevor Hildenberger was the Twins Daily choice for Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year in both 2015 and 2016. He was called up to the big leagues and debuted on June 23rd in Cleveland. That was just six days after another 26-year-old reliever, Alan Busenitz, made his debut for the Twins at Target Field against Cleveland.
Hildenberger has stayed with the Twins since that debut and has gradually earned higher leverage opportunities.
"It's great to pitch in high-pressure situations but it's confidence you have to earn every outing. You gotta keep building on good outings and keep improving."
photo by Daniel Mick (of Trevor Hildenberger)
In his first 13 outings, he pitched in six games when there was a four (or more) run differential, and he pitched before the seventh inning six times. In his next 13 appearances, Hildenberger has been terrific. Three times he has pitched in a blowout situation, but only when things started getting a bit hairy, and he has not pitched before the seventh inning in a game.
Overall, he has posted a 2.59 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP over 31.1 innings. He’s shown the skills that he showed throughout his minor league career. He walks very few (1.1 BB/9), and despite not being overpowering, he misses bats often (9.8 K/9).
Since August 2nd, he has worked 14 innings over 14 games. He’s got a 1.93 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP in that time frame. In one stretch, he worked in six out of seven Twins games. He has become a trusted, reliable member of Molitor’s bullpen.
As Molitor said after a recent Twins game, “Of course, Hildenberger has been invaluable to us.”
And Busenitz? “Busenitz has been very good.”
Alan Busenitz has been up and back to AAA Rochester a couple of time since his debut, but since returning on August 2nd, he has been fantastic. In 10 games and 13 innings, he has a 0.69 ERA (one earned run in his most recent game), and has a 0.46 WHIP. Opponents have hit just .077 against him in that time.
In 18 games overall for the Twins, Busenitz has worked 23.2 innings and can boast an ERA of 1.90 and a WHIP of 0.93.
The hard-throwing Busenitz generally sits between 95 and 96 and has touched 97 and even 98. He’s also gained much more confidence in his breaking ball since he’s been back, and that’s been a big pitch for him.
For Busenitz, it’s been great to earn the respect and trust of his manager. Like Hildenberger, Busenitz has been used in higher leverage situations. Of his first 11 outings in the big leagues, they all came with the Twins having a very large lead or a large deficit, or before the seventh inning.
He told Twins Daily recently, “It’s a great feeling. I try not to look at the innings any differently. They’re all important. They’re all important to me, and they’re all important to the team. I’m just glad to help out wherever I can.”
Busenitz was kind of a throw-in in the trade (at least for many on the outside) last August 1st between the Twins and the Angels. The Twins sent right-handers Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer to the Angels in exchange for left-hander Hector Santiago along with Busenitz.
For the manager, it has obviously been important to ease the relievers into the big leagues with lower-leverage situations. However, he says that it’s been very important to get this kind of production from these youngsters.
Molitor said, “Absolutely, as a whole, the guys we have out there, there’s not a ton of experience. We have to roll the dice a little bit with the fact that these guys are learning on the fly here. But the results instill a lot of confidence in Neil (Allen), Eddie (Guardado) and myself, and the guys playing behind them. These guys are coming in there and pitching effectively, and sometimes in big spots. We’re still mixing it up fairly well, but roles are kind of changing. It’s fluid.”
A week ago, the Twins called up another hard-throwing reliever from Rochester’s roster, John Curtiss. Curtiss has dominated minor league ball season, both at AA And AAA. He has now appeared in four games, and three of them have been in low-leverage situations. While we like to think that it’s OK to throw these young, talented guys into those tougher situations, that isn’t always what is best. It’s more ideal to bring them along more slowly, in lower leverage spots, and (as Hildenberger and Busenitz have done) start giving him more high leverage spots when it is earned. While Busenitz and Hildenberger are already 26, Curtiss is still just 24.
This time in the big leagues has to be invaluable for these inexperienced pitchers, and the young hitters too. They are gaining valuable service time and opportunities when they play, and they should learn from it. The same can be said for the Twins young hitters as well, from Byron Buxton to Mitch Garver. The experience will be great for this season, but equally important, for years to come.
Busenitz’s added in a discussion with Twins Daily. “It’s unbelievable (being in the big leagues). Being on a winning team, I’m sure, makes it all that much better. My only experience has been this one, and it’s been fantastic.”
According to Hildenberger, the playoff race has been fun. "Being in a playoff race has been eye opening so far and been so much fun playing meaningful games this late in the year. We're all pulling in the same direction and that's a wonderful thing to be a part of."
It’s been a pretty fantastic ride for the Twins, and their fans, as well. As Hildenberger said, "Now we enter a September playoff race, which is amazing, and I can't wait."
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