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Who Goes When J.J. Hardy Returns?

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Because you can't go with a two-man bench. Well...three-man bench, but Jim Thome can't play the field.

On Tuesday the Twins sent Matt Tolbert a-packin', back to Rochester. This is his last year with options, and clearly the Twins will make the most of it. In exchange they brought back Jeff Manship, he of the one-start-and-back-you-go variety, which brings the pitching staff to a rotund baker's dozen. On most days, your bench now consists of Thome, Drew Butera and, on alternating days, Brendan Harris or Alexi Casilla.

The Strib's Joe C had this to say on the move:

With shortstop J.J. Hardy expected to be activated from the disabled list on Friday, the Twins will likely will trim a pitcher again in a couple days. But with the bullpen taxed, Manship gives them an extra reliever for the next two games against the Red Sox, at least.

The question is: which pitcher? Yesterday, Nick discussed the problems Jesse Crain has encountered increasingly over the last couple of seasons, primarily the lack of movement in his arsenal. Jose Mijares was a punching bag early in the season, but has looked a bit better in his last couple of appearances (particularly picking up six swinging strikes against the Jays). Of course, the new guy on the block Manship might be up for just a couple of games to give the bullpen a blow before the Twins go back to regularly scheduled programming.

Minnesota's bullpen has pitched pretty well over the course of the first month and a half of the season, holding a 3.33 ERA which is good enough for third in the American League. More telling, opponent on-base percentage against the Twins 'pen is just .303, and they're slugging just .376 (good for 50 points better than the league average in OPS).

And all that without Joe Nathan. I'm shocked! Wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

The impression however, whether that's from Twins fans or from outsiders, is that the Minnesota bullpen is one of the weak links for the club. Getting Pat Neshek back will help, but which pitchers give the Twins the best bullpen going forward? There certainly seems to be some depth, and there are options in Rochester (including Anthony Slama), so changes are coming.

It sounds like Hardy will be back with the Twins tomorrow. Crain may be the popular option, as he's making the most money and a move now would save a decision when he becomes a free agent at season's end, but both Mijares and Manship have options. Who says goodbye?