For the most part, the Twins bullpen has been outstanding this year. The one exception is Jose Mijares, whose struggles from late last season and spring training have carried into the start of the 2010 campaign. Mijares has made five appearances thus far, facing 16 batters and getting only nine outs while surrendering six hits (two of them homers) and two walks. He's struck out only two batters. In his most recent outing against the Red Sox, Mijares threw just 10 of his 21 pitches for strikes, laboring through a low-leverage inning in a blowout.
One wonders how much further into the doghouse Mijares will dig. He already angered his teammates and coaches late last season when he became frustrated during a game in Detroit and beaned a Tigers hitter, leading to a retaliation strike against Delmon Young. This came during a month of September in which Mijares looked increasingly hittable. The southpaw followed up his inauspicious finish to the '09 campaign by showing up to spring training late and out of shape, and proceeding to post a 6.75 ERA in nine Grapefruit League appearances. Now, his sophomore big-league campaign has gotten off to a rather dreadful start.
That the Twins recently called up Ron Mahay, a 39-year-old reliever who went unclaimed in free agency this past offseason before signing a minor-league deal in late March, would seem to reflect their current lack of faith in Mijares. The team already had a backup lefty in the bullpen in Brian Duensing, but the youthful Duensing can hardly be called upon to face tough lefties in high-leverage late-game situations, and now it seems the Twins may be hesitant to call upon Mijares in those same situations. Mahay missed nearly all of spring training and got just four tune-up appearances in Ft. Myers before his promotion. He replaces a promising young reliever in Alex Burnett, who'd performed admirably in his first couple appearances with the Twins, and bypasses the organization's top relief prospect, Anthony Slama.
Given how unreliable Mijares has been thus far, some fans are calling for his demotion to Triple-A, particularly now that Mahay is present as a second lefty specialist. Personally, I don't think it's time for that yet. Yes, Mijares is struggling, but a bad spring training and a handful of ugly April outings do not trump his outstanding performance throughout the minors and his dominance over left-handers throughout last season (.155 BAA vs. LH hitters). That Mijares is struggling with his control should come as no big surprise, given that he averaged five walks per nine innings as a prospect, but he managed to battle through that to post a 3.31 ERA in 270 minor-league innings and can overcome those issues at the big-league level as well.
For Mijares, it's all about confidence. Sending him down to Triple-A after just five appearances would send the wrong message. But at some point, if the hefty lefty doesn't shape up, the Twins will have a decision to make. That time might come when Clay Condrey is ready to return from the disabled list.