Notes: Guerrier excels as setup guy

Notes: Guerrier excels as setup guy

BOSTON -- Matt Guerrier headed into Spring Training this past February with the hope he might get a chance to compete for one of the open spots in the Twins' rotation.

Instead, the right-hander has become one of Minnesota's most reliable late-inning setup men this season.

It's not exactly what Guerrier had envisioned, but something he'll surely take.

"It's kind of ironic," Guerrier said. "I wanted the opportunity to start, and they told me they would give me one at the start of [Spring Training]. But I said only to do it if I really had the opportunity to earn the spot. I didn't want them to just do it to please me. I enjoy pitching in the bullpen with the guys we've got, so I had no problem staying there if that's what they wanted."

The Twins followed their plan and kept Guerrier in the 'pen. But after two seasons of being the primary long relief pitcher, Guerrier watched his role change when the injuries to the bullpen started piling up. First came Jesse Crain's season-ending shoulder surgery, and then Dennys Reyes and Glen Perkins missed time due to injuries.

Guerrier then was leaned on even more when other problems arose. Juan Rincon struggled to find consistency all season and saw his role reduced while Pat Neshek racked up a 5.49 ERA after Aug. 1 following an All-Star worthy first half.

Guerrier's emergence is a large reason why the bullpen has remained strong despite taking plenty of hits due to those injuries and inconsistent seasons. Guerrier's 2.21 ERA is more than a point lower than his two previous campaigns. He has pitched a career-high 85 2/3 innings in 2007, and his 64 strikeouts are nearly double what he recorded last year.

"He's been like our ace in the hole all year," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "He is so valuable because he can come in for the seventh or even the eighth to help get us to [closer Joe] Nathan."

Still, Guerrier hasn't eliminated the notion he could still be a starter. With four pitches and an ability to extend out, Guerrier says that he would like one day to get an opportunity at the job once again.

"It's still in the back of my mind, even with some success I've had here in kind of a short role," Guerrier said. "I'm up for anything."

That doesn't mean that Guerrier is looking to change his job description right now. Anderson said the club hasn't even begun to discuss what Guerrier's role for next season might be. With all the question marks that remain due to injuries to other players, it seems unlikely a change will be coming.

"There are still plenty of question marks with Jesse, Dennys and if Juanny can bounce back," Anderson said. "He's the one lock that you know of right now for us in that spot."

Power outage: One of the positions that the Twins will seek to fill this offseason is the designated hitter spot.

The DH position has been a bit of a merry-go-round for the Twins over the past few seasons. And Minnesota has used more than a few everyday players in the slot for a "day off" here and there.

But despite the fact Gardenhire has reiterated Joe Mauer will need days off to remain healthy as a catcher, the skipper said he's not looking to fill the DH spot as a rotational role next season.

"If we go out and find a run-producing DH, that's fine," Gardenhire said. "What Mauer needs on days he's not catching is to sit on the bench and relax. Everybody thinks he's hurting his legs squatting, but he's hurting his legs on the basepaths because no catcher hits .340 every year, or whatever he does."

The reason that Gardenhire has used Mauer as the DH over the past few seasons is to keep another strong bat in the lineup. If the club can fill the position with a steady bat, then Mauer's services might not be needed as much.

"All the fans are saying you have to keep his bat in the lineup," Gardenhire said of Mauer. "But if you get a really good DH, it would take away from some of that, I promise you."

Goodbye crown: Johan Santana's quest for a fourth consecutive strikeout crown came to an end Thursday night.

Scott Kazmir's 10 strikeouts in his six-inning start against the Yankees brought his season total to 237, bypassing Santana's 235. It's the first time since 2003 that Santana hasn't led the Majors in strikeouts.

The Twins ace recorded just four strikeouts in his final start of the season Wednesday night, which was shortened to just three innings due to a one-hour, 18-minute rain delay in Detroit.

Twins tidbits: Gardenhire reiterated Thursday that Mauer likely has seen his last game behind the plate this season. The catcher was sore after just three innings in Wednesday's rain-delayed game at Detroit, and the club doesn't want to push the issue. He might pinch-hit, but it's not expected that he will run the bases once he gets on. ... Scott Baker will not make another start, but he would like to pitch an inning in relief if possible. Gardenhire did not rule out the possibility, but said Baker might get his work in via a side session.

Coming up: The Twins and Red Sox will meet up for the second of four contest on Friday night in a 6:05 p.m. CT start. It will be a duel of two rookies as Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey (4-0, 4.57) and Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka (14-12, 4.48) each make their final regular-season start.

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