MINNEAPOLIS -- With the Twins' bullpen enduring its share of injuries this season, the club has been forced to rely on some pitchers to step up and pick up the slack. That means guys had to pitch when things might not exactly be going well for themselves. Such has been the case for Juan Rincon. "Juan's had to pitch through a lot this year," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Even when he's not throwing great, he's had to go out there."
It's been a difficult 2007 season for Rincon, who has been plagued by inconsistency all year long. The right-hander came into the year still mentioned as the club's primary eighth-inning setup man. But that role didn't remain his for long due to some early-season struggles. Rincon's time on the mound decreased even more in the second half as his ERA began to rise. Rincon's ERA over his 56 innings is 5.46, nearly double what it was last season. He also has given up more home runs (9), issued more walks (28) and recorded fewer strikeouts (46) than he did last season. So what has been the difference in the right-hander this year? "His location just hasn't been good," Gardenhire said. "His velocity's been good. But his breaking ball just hasn't been very consistent. There have been nights where he's gone out there and the ball has been snapping out of his hand. It's just one of those things where he never really got a good feel for it on a consistent basis." With consistency being the problem, Rincon has talked about possibly pitching in winter ball to get himself back on track. It's something the Twins aren't objected to, as long as he doesn't try to pitch too much. "I would hate to see him go down there and throw 40 or 50 innings out of the bullpen," Gardenhire said. "But if he would like to stretch out and throw a few ballgames down there, I don't have a problem with it." And while Rincon heads into next season having not shown the same form that made him a late-inning pitcher, Gardenhire isn't about to rule Rincon out of the mix for the eighth-inning spot in '08 "If you're healthy and you have an arm like that, you have a chance," Gardenhire said. "He's healthy and he has a track record, so you have to rely on him. You have to give him a chance to get back to where he belongs next year." Weary and woeful: Pat Neshek is getting a few days of rest due to what Gardenhire deemed a bit of a "dead arm." And since Neshek admits that his strength hasn't been the same lately, fatigue may have been the culprit of most of his second-half problems. In his 25 appearances since July 24, Neshek has allowed 15 earned runs over his 21 1/3 innings for a 6.23 ERA. He also gave up 22 hits and allowed 11 walks over that span. But Gardenhire said there were other factors contributing to Neshek's inflated numbers. "His location wasn't very good, so he started throwing nothing but breaking balls," Gardenhire said. "He quit using his fastball and I think he got away from what he really does best, which is use both the breaking ball and the fastball. "But I think some of it was [fatigue]. His velocity has been down and his pitches haven't been as sharp. I just think he needs a couple of days, and that's what he's getting." Heart in Texas: With Torii Hunter on the verge of what may be his final few games as a Twin in the Metrodome with the Rangers in town, speculation has begun as to whether Texas might be Hunter's destination next season. Hunter's offseason home is near Dallas, and he spends most of his off-days during the season traveling back there to see his family. Texas is just one of the many clubs that are expected to court Hunter this offseason. But one stipulation for Hunter is that his future club must be intent on producing wins on the field. That's something the Rangers haven't done over the past seven seasons. The Rangers have recorded just one winning season in that span, going 89-73 in 2004. It as also the only time that Texas has recorded over 80 wins since it last won the American League West in 1999. But Hunter is not ruling out the club just yet. He said he's waiting to see how the Rangers approach filling their holes this offseason. "If [their moves] are good, then I'm going to do it," Hunter said of going to Texas. "They really do have a better chance than anybody. My family is so important, and I'm hoping the Texas Rangers make some moves and I'll be right there." Baseball 101: Terry Ryan might be in his final days as the Twins' general manager, but there continue to be signs of how much he's respected around the league. Sports Illustrated conducted a survey of 469 Major League Players to see who they considered to be the "Smartest Person in Baseball." Terry finished sixth in the poll, earning three percent of the vote. Only one other general manager finished higher in the poll, as A's GM Billy Beane finished second (nine percent). Padres pitcher Greg Maddux was the winner, receiving 10 percent of the vote. Twins tidbits: Carmen Cali has been out of action since Sunday with a bruised left thumb. Cali jammed the thumb while trying to barehand a ball. Cali said the thumb was slowly getting better, but he was still not available to pitch in Wednesday's finale against the Rangers. ... Mike Redmond received an MRI on his left middle finger Tuesday, but he was waiting for the team doctors to read it. Redmond said it's unlikely he will play at all the rest of the year, as it would just re-injure the finger and put him back at square one. ... Justin Morneau snapped an 0-for-16 streak in the first inning Wednesday with a single to center. Coming up: The Twins will enjoy their final off-day of the '07 season on Thursday before starting a three-game series with the White Sox on Friday night. Johan Santana (15-12, 3.14) will get the start in the 7:10 p.m. CT contest as he faces off against Chicago southpaw Mark Buehrle (9-9, 3.55).
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.