Kintzler is key for Twins bullpen success

Kintzler is key for Twins bullpen success

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Twins manager Paul Molitor should have plenty of solid options out of the bullpen this season. If 2016 was any indication, he is going to need them.

The 567 2/3 innings worked by Twins relievers were the most in the American League last season. And while there weren't too many bright spots on a staff that compiled an AL-worst 5.08 ERA, the bullpen had several notable performances, most of which return to form the core of this year's squad.

Brandon Kintzler will likely anchor the backend again this season after a breakout 2016 in which he notched 17 saves and a 3.15 ERA in 54 games after assuming the closer's role mid-season.

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Also returning will be left-hander Taylor Rogers, and righties Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin, who averaged 10 Ks per nine innings last season.

"It definitely could be one of our strengths this season," Rogers said.

The Twins also added veterans Matt Belisle and Craig Breslow in the offseason. Hard-throwing righty J.T. Chargois also figures to be a part of the late-inning mix as well.

"It's the whole thing and not just three or four guys," Molitor said. "You want to try and find as complete of a bullpen as you can. There are still decisions to be made, but I think we are going to be fine and we'll have a chance to close games out and have guys to give us a chance in those in-between games and hold the fort."

While the bullpen's 4.63 ERA last season as a group was certainly lackluster, much of those struggles can be attributed to inexperience and simple exhaustion.

"It's all going to depend on the starting rotation," Pressly said. "They are going need to go five, six innings and if they don't do that it is going to hurt us a little bit but I think, for the most part, we are going to have a really solid bullpen. We've got a lot of guys who are ready to take the ball whenever that phone rings."

Last season, Ervin Santana was the only Twins pitcher with 12 or more starts to average over six innings per outing. After offseason shoulder surgery, former All-Star closer Glen Perkins will likely start the season on the disabled list. A healthy return, however, would give Molitor multiple options -- including Breslow, Buddy Boshers and Ryan O'Rourke -- when it comes to left-handers out of the pen, something the club hasn't had a surplus of in recent years.

Molitor said that he would like to break camp with at least one other southpaw in addition to Rogers.

"We've got three guys out there competing to find their way onto the team," Molitor said. "I'd be surprised if two of them make it, but I would like to find another one out of that trio."

So far this spring, the relievers have been a big reason the Twins have a team 3.75 ERA. The overall success as a group is creating some difficult decisions for Molitor and the rest of the coaching staff.

"We haven't really eliminated a lot of people yet," Molitor said. "If nothing else, we're finding out that we might have some pretty good depth."

Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Twins on Friday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.