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Humber may relieve stress on 'pen

Humber may relieve stress on 'pen

TORONTO -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has had his hands full this year in guiding a young Minnesota team towards contending status in the American League Central.

One of the skipper's biggest challenges, especially during the club's recent road trip, has been managing a bullpen that lacks clearly defined roles, aside from closer Joe Nathan.

"It hasn't been a situation where you can say this is this and this is that," Gardenhire said of his bullpen. "We've had to really kind of mix and match as best as we possibly can with those guys out there. It's been a little more difficult than we had to deal with around here in the past."

Last year, the club had the luxury of using Pat Neshek in the bullpen. The right hander, whose seven wins led all Twins' relievers in 2007, had been a consistent presence all year long. This year though, Neshek has been sidelined for much of the season with a right elbow injury. Gardenhire said his absence has impacted the Minnesota bullpen.

"It's been a little bit of a transition as to what we're used to," said the manager. "We're used to having everything identified as this guy is this and this guy is this. We've had to really try to mix and match. Try to figure out who's hot and who's not. Especially lately, a lot more than usual."

The Twins' bullpen has not looked particularly strong during the team's current road trip. Entering Thursday, the bullpen had posted a 4.81 ERA over 13 games on the trip, which began on Aug. 21 in Los Angeles.

One hurler who Gardenhire said he may have to use to relieve stress in the bullpen is right-hander Philip Humber. Acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade, the 25-year-old Humber joined the Twins as a September callup earlier this week.

Pitching for Triple-A Rochester this season, Humber did spend time in the bullpen, but he was predominantly a starter. He struggled mightily at the start of the season, before excelling towards the latter half of the year. Over his past eight starts, Humber was 6-1 with 2.60 ERA.

"He pitched rather than [just] throwing," Gardenhire said of Humber's strong second half. "I think a big part of it was that he started pitching -- locating his fastball and using his breaking ball for strikes -- rather than just winging it up there and letting it fly."

Humber said that bringing a different approach to the mound during the second half played a critical role in his success.

"Just a different focus," Humber said. "Focusing on making different pitches. Getting all three pitches over the plate and not worrying about how hard you're throwing.

"It doesn't matter what the radar gun says," he continued, "if it's in the middle of the plate, these guys are going to hit it. So it's a matter of focusing on commanding your pitches down in the zone, inside and outside."

Gardenhire has said that he is not sure how Humber will react to pitching out of the bullpen for Minnesota, after having such recent success as a starter in the Minors. Humber, though, does not believe that should pose a problem.

"It's all the same," he said. "It's a matter of making pitches, no matter if you're starting the game or coming out of the 'pen. The only difference is it's a little less time to get loose. I've done it before, so it's not really a whole lot different."

Humber also added that he has not felt any extra pressure to make an impression with the club during his callup.

"What I'm focused on now is just doing what I can to help the team," he said. "We're in a pennant race, so it's not about individuals right now. Whatever I can do to help them, I'm going to do my best."

David Singh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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