It's been a roller-coaster of a week for the Twins. During the weekend, they pulled off an impressive sweep over the high-powered Tigers at the Metrodome, extending a win streak to five games and launching themselves into first place in the division. Then, on Tuesday, they played their worst game of the season in Chicago, coming within two outs of being no-hit by Gavin Floyd and falling 7-1. They came back the next night with a phenomenal effort -- a 13-1 victory over the White Sox highlighted by a Carlos Gomez cycle and nine unexpectedly wonderful innings from Livan Hernandez. Last week, the Twins-coaster took a violent dive. The 6-2 Twins loss was tough to take, but it was nothing compared to the cringing pain undoubtedly felt by each fan when Pat Neshek walked off the field in the eighth inning with an elbow injury.
I wasn't watching the game when Neshek's injury occurred (you know, last week of classes), but reports indicate that he felt a pop, and while chatting later in the evening with Aaron Gleeman, he mentioned to me that Neshek's expression was "more like disgust than pain." Those signs all point to Neshek likely being out for a very long time, which is bad news for this baseball team. After a rough start to the season, Neshek was settling in and starting to look more like the dominant force he has been for most of the past two seasons; he was almost certainly the team's best reliever behind Joe Nathan.
As much as I'm a huge fan of Neshek, I've always viewed him as something of a ticking time bomb. His delivery just seemed so dangerous to me -- he throws almost completely with his arm and really snaps his elbow. This is interesting, because he actually started throwing in this style as a result of another injury suffered in his high school days. He's gotten by just fine on his new delivery up until now, but yesterday's sickening "pop" has the unfortunate makings of a career changer. Whether the elbow injury came about as a result of his mechanics or was simply a freak injury is awfully difficult to say, but for the time being I'll just cross my fingers and hope that his season isn't over.
Neshek is almost assuredly headed for the disabled list, so it will be interesting to see who the Twins bring up. There are a few options in Rochester, ranging from Ricky Barrett to Carmen Cali to Mariano Gomez. Cali is far from exciting, but Barrett and Gomez are both pitching well this year, and either one would potentially provide the Twins with a solid additional lefty out of the pen to complement Dennys Reyes. It's also possible that Glen Perkins could wind up in the bullpen upon Scott Baker's return from the DL, in the event that Perkins has some success during his upcoming stint in the Twins rotation.
Neshek's absence will mean that another right-handed reliever is going to need to step up and become a contributor in the late innings. Matt Guerrier, who has brought his ERA down from 9.53 to 3.44 over his past eight appearances, is certainly the most likely candidate considering his success last year in the late-innings role. But it would sure be nice if a guy like Juan Rincon or Jesse Crain could raise their game and become a reliable option.
The Twins bullpen suffered a major blow yesterday. Neshek's injury hits hard because I know him to be a really nice guy, and of course he is a member of the blogosphere. I hope that the injury is less serious than it first appeared and that he's able to rejoin the team at some point this summer. And while he's gone, I hope the bullpen can hang together, because from the looks of it, late leads for the Twins just became a lot less safe.