Twins look to fill lefty void in 'pen

Three Twins try to fill lefty void in bullpen

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Summing up the biggest question mark for the Twins this Spring Training was as simple as looking at one snapshot.

The picture: Left-handed pitchers Darrell May, Dennys Reyes and Gabe White huddled in their chairs, chatting in a corner of the Twins clubhouse at Hammond Stadium on Wednesday morning.

Three different men, three similar stories, all competing for one job.

With the departure of J.C. Romero this past offseason, the Twins are left with a gaping hole when it comes to lefties in the bullpen. It's the motivation that made all three veteran pitchers come to the Twins Spring Training camp on Minor League contracts.

"They are all here for a reason, because there is every opportunity here for a left-hander to win a job," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said.

While it's a competition between all three pitchers for a spot in the Twins bullpen, it is a friendly one at best. They know each other well from playing both together and against each other, and have shared the same frustrations over the past few seasons.

Hearing each player recount his story is almost like listening to a broken record. All three are veterans who spent the past few years being shuffled from team to team. Each has proven his ability to pitch at the Major League level while suffering through his own series of slumps that has brought him to his journeyman status.

It's a common bond that has brought the three pitchers together, even though they know it's likely only one will remain at the end of the process.

"When it comes down to it, it's not our decision as to who they go with," May said. "We all know what the other has gone through. All of us may pitch very well, but it's just the way they decide. No matter what, nothing changes as far as our friendship goes."

As similar as their struggles have been, exactly what each contender brings to the table is quite different.

The youngest of the three, and maybe the most natural fit for the spot, appears to be Reyes. The 28-year-old has made a career out of being a situational reliever. He went 5-2 with a 5.15 ERA with San Diego last season before being placed on waivers in July, but showed his ability to get lefties out by holding them to a .208 batting average.

Reyes said that tendinitis in his elbow factored into his struggles last season but with the time off, he was able to get healthy.

"Last year I got into a slump at a bad time because our team was desperate," Reyes said. "We were losing a lot of games and they made a lot of moves during that time, and I was one of them. Instead of going with another team, I chose to stay home and get healthy to be 100 percent for Spring Training this year."

Reyes also may have a bit of an advantage in that he will likely pitch for Mexico during next month's World Baseball Classic. Though it will require time away from the club to compete, his participation is something that Ryan viewed as a positive rather than a negative.

"Dennys Reyes has a grand opportunity this year to open some eyes up by going to pitch for his country," Ryan said. "I would rather have Reyes pitching for Mexico in big games than here in March to get a little better feel of what he's going to do."

Experience in the bullpen role may be on Reyes' side but May, 33, is the most well known to the Twins, thanks to his three seasons with the Royals. Success at the Metrodome has been a strength of May's with his 2-3 record and 3.12 ERA at the Metrodome. How he will fare as a reliever there is another question. Most of May's career has been spent as a starter. Despite the change to the bullpen, May thinks it's something he can do well at.

"My attitude coming in is more of a mental change than anything," May said. "A stronger mental attitude in that it's my job and I'm here to prove it's my job."

For White, it's about whether this is the end of the line or a new beginning. The Twins aren't sure exactly how much the 34-year-old has left as he approaches the 17th Spring Training of his career.

After pretty much forcing his way into camp last season with the Braves, White found himself the odd man out on the last day of Spring Training and was once again left to look elsewhere. He joined up with the Cardinals for six games, going 0-0 with a 2.16 ERA, but once another pitcher recovered from injury he again was shipped home, where he spent the rest of the season. The frustration may have built up, but the time away from the game proved to White that he wasn't quite ready to quit just yet.

"At the end of last year after sitting at home for so long, I was like, 'This isn't what I want to do,'" White said. "I'm ready to go play somewhere. So it's nice to be in Spring [Training] and get back to playing baseball."

"Everybody fails at some point," White said. "You have to learn how to deal with failure to deal with success. I've had ups and I've had downs. In this game, anyone will tell you that you are going to fail a lot more than you are going to succeed. I'm just hoping that this is another chance for me to succeed."

A chance it might be, but there are no guarantees -- even for the lefties -- that a spot will emerge. The Twins enter camp with two openings in the 'pen, but one won't necessarily be given to a lefty. The prospect of not having a left-hander in the bullpen isn't something that scares manager Ron Gardenhire.

"I don't have to have a lefty," Gardenhire said. "If one of these guys comes in and proves he can do the job, then good, that's a bonus."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.