Veteran Mahay joins fray of bullpen battle
Gardenhire unsure of which pitchers will be in relief corps
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Standing in front of his locker at Hammond Stadium on Thursday morning, left-hander Ron Mahay smiled and spoke about how happy he was to be back with the Twins and see his teammates again."This is where my heart was," Mahay said. "Playing here last year, finishing up strong and having a good season, this is the place where I wanted to come back." Mahay was in the clubhouse speaking to reporters one day after the club signed him to a Minor League contract, and he joined the club in Major League camp as he competes for an opportunity at a second stint with the club. But whether that chance will come at the start of the season or not might depend on whether Mahay is ready. Right now the goal is to try to get Mahay ready to pitch as he has been at home in Arizona, throwing to high schoolers since Spring Training started. "We signed him for a job, a role," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I know he isn't ready to pitch right now. He's got some outings to go here and we talked about starting him off in the Minors. Who knows? But we signed him for a reason and that's to give us another lefty out of the bullpen if we need it. Now we've got to get him ready to pitch and then we'll decide what we need to do to get him on our staff." Mahay said he will throw a bullpen session on Thursday and he'll pitch in his first game on Saturday. The Twins had stayed in contact with Mahay throughout the winter. It appeared the veteran left-hander was searching for a Major League contract, but he was unable to find one. He said that having to wait so long to sign surprised him a bit.
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"I honestly couldn't put a finger on what was going on," Mahay said. "That's not my job to do. It's the business part of it. I don't know anything about it. But I'm very happy that we got this done and I'm able to come here and help this team win a championship."Mahay is prepared to start the year in the Minors if the coaching staff determines that he'd not be ready to break camp with the club. He said the next few days will be like "trying out" again, and he hopes to show that he's ready, although he knows the coaches won't allow him to rush anything. "If I'm not ready I'll probably end up staying back," Mahay said. "It's already been talked about. The little kid in me says I'm going to do my best for the next 9-10 days and see what happens." The Twins could already have two lefties in the bullpen at the start of the year if Francisco Liriano is their fifth starter. Gardenhire said Thursday that if Brian Duensing isn't in the rotation, he will have a spot in the bullpen and give them a second lefty along with Jose Mijares. But the Twins might be searching for some depth and a second lefty in the bullpen if Francisco Liriano gets a tryout in the closer role and Duensing fills the fifth starter spot. Glen Perkins is also considered to be a left-handed candidate for the bullpen, but his health is a concern as he's coming back from a strained lower back which he suffered Monday. Perkins said his back was feeling much better on Thursday and he was planning to play catch. But with a little over a week remaining of Spring Training, Gardenhire said that Perkins would have to show that he can pitch on back-to-back days before he'll be considered to break camp with the team in what could be one or two open bullpen spots. "He's another guy coming off the injury with his arm last year, and with what he went though if he can't bounce back on a day-to-day basis, it's hard to keep guys like that in the bullpen," Gardenhire said. "It's the same with [Pat] Neshek right now. You can't have all these guys out here that need 2-3 days off after you throw. You can't have it, especially not early in the season. We're waiting to see where everybody is at." Neshek, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, has had at least two days between appearances this spring as the Twins have tried to protect him. But he's scheduled to have just one day of rest this weekend. The right-hander will pitch Friday and then again on Sunday to see if he can handle that scenario of pitching every other day. "He throws and then feels a little sore," Gardenhire said of Neshek. "It's just a slow process. To be in the bullpen, you have to be ready to crank it up every night and he's definitely not ready to do that yet. "[The] best thing [to do] now is get him to go every other day and see how he responds to it. Then maybe if we've got enough time here, back-to-back. If not, we'll see what happens."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.