Extended saves on Twins' docket

Extended saves on Twins' docket

SEATTLE -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has been hesitant to ask his closer to record more than three outs in a contest this season. But after trying to use Joe Nathan for five outs in Tuesday's loss to the Mariners, Gardenhire acknowledged it could be a role Nathan finds himself in more often.

"I'll take my chances with Nathan," Gardenhire said after the loss. "We're going to have to be able to do those things. If we're struggling, Nathan is going to have to get some outs in the eighth. That's just the way it's going to be."

The move did not work in Minnesota's favor Tuesday. With the Twins holding a 7-6 lead, Nathan allowed a two-run double that put the Mariners ahead for good.

But the decision to use Nathan in the eighth inning came as a result of the current bullpen situation. Left-hander Dennys Reyes was not available due to a lingering case of food poisoning, so Matt Guerrier started the eighth -- marking the fifth time in six days he's pitched.

With so much work being placed upon his bullpen -- especially Guerrier -- Gardenhire knows he can't continue at this pace without it taking a toll on his relievers. That's why Gardenhire was willing to go against his preference of keeping Nathan only for the ninth.

"Where we have been the last few days, we pretty much had to do it last night," Gardenhire said. "Our bullpen is overtaxed, and we've been kind of scuffling a little bit. So you have to take your shot. ... I don't think that is something we need to do all the time if our bullpen is going as normal."

Nathan said he has no problem being used for extra outs. But like Gardenhire, his feeling is it's best if he doesn't have to do that.

"I think we all prefer to just go the way it's been going," Nathan said of the bullpen roles. "We've been successful in previous years and earlier this year, too."

But lately, the club has seen its share of turmoil in the late innings -- especially on the road. The bullpen's 6.32 ERA on the road is currently the worst in the Majors.

Minnesota was seeking relief help prior to the July 31 Trade Deadline, but was unable to find a fit. Getting another arm to join the relief corps now seems unlikely, so the Twins will have to stick with what they currently possess.

To prevent some of his pitchers -- like Guerrier -- from being worn out, Gardenhire knows he may have to turn to Nathan for more than three outs. But that doesn't mean he's necessarily a supporter of the move. His stance continues to be that he would prefer to use his closer in just the ninth inning. Only in specific cases -- like the one on Tuesday -- will he turn to Nathan earlier in the game.

"You use your closer two innings last night, then what do you think about today?" Gardenhire said. "You want your closer available for every save opportunity. When you start pitching him in the eighth and ninth, you will not have that. And somebody else will have to close. And who will that be?

"You can [use your closer in the eighth] every once in a while and get away with it. You do it consistently, and you will burn him out eventually. He'll be toast. ... That's why it's important for the seventh and eighth guys to get it done and get the ball to him. Our guys have been able to get the ball to Nathan over the last however many years, and that's why he's been so successful in saves -- because we haven't killed him."

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