Thirteen months ago today, the Twins announced that they were demoting Pedro Hernandez to Triple-A and calling up Caleb Thielbar. Thielbar had had a very good month of May, and the front office rewarded a player whose hard work and dedication to the game had become something of a trademark.
Thielbar spent the rest of 2013 with the big league club, posting a 1.76 ERA in 49 appearances (46 innings). It was a better earned run average than his talent level indicated, but he was still highly effective - something reflected in his 3.40 FIP and 0.83 WHIP.
Still a player with options, though, even though Thielbar would be heading into his age-27 season in 2014 he was considered one of the "bubble" players in spring training this season. The Twins had three pitchers who were out of options (Samuel Deduno, Scott Diamond, and Vance Worley), and taking advantage of players with options was sound reasoning if the team wanted to hoard those three players on the Major League roster.
Seeing Thielbar make the roster was one of the surprises coming out of spring training, especially since the bullpen already had a pair of lefties in Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing. But Thielbar, in spite of a rough few games in May, has proven that he belongs.
To date, Thielbar has logged 24 innings in 27 appearances, striking out one of every five batters and issuing a walk in just 6.4% of plate appearances. His ERA (3.38) is nearly identical to his FIP (3.34), and he's still allowing just one base runner per inning pitched. Batters have been making more contact this season - see the 89% contact rate this season versus the 77% mark from last season, but in spite of a swinging strike rate that's essentially been cut in half (5.6%, down from 11.4% last year) it hasn't really affected his strikeout numbers or his ability to pitch effectively.
In a stretch of four appearances between May 14 and May 23, Thielbar hit the worst patch of his 2014 season so far. He allowed six runs in five innings off of six hits. But outside of that admittedly ugly few days, Theilbar has surrendered just four runs (three earned) off of 12 hits in 19 innings. That's a 1.42 ERA. I don't mean to cherry-pick, but it certainly puts the season as a whole into context.
In his last appearance, Theilbar bossed the Red Sox by striking out the side.
Thielbar is the feel-good story that has actually worked out. His place in the bullpen is secure, as it should be, and it's worth remembering how far he's come in his journey towards being a Major League pitcher. The fact that he's a Minnesota boy is just the icing on the cake.