Remember the other day, when I speculated that outrighting Doug Bernier was just some roster maintenance in advance of the July trade deadline? I was wrong. Ryan O'Rourke was added to the 40-man roster and called up to replace the departed Aaron Thompson yesterday.
The Twins have needed help in the bullpen for a little while, but only in the last few days has the situation started to come to a head. Left-handers in particular had been struggling. Both Thompson and Brian Duensing had been the subject of debate for a couple of weeks, and for good reason.
Duensing's status as a veteran with a Major League track record probably played in his favor, as those players tend to get longer leashes when their performance suffers. It's paid off to an extent, as Duensing hasn't allowed a run in his last six appearances (8.0 IP). His ERA has dropped to 6.30 from 10.50 in that span, although as a lefty his reverse splits continue to be a little baffling. Left-handed hitters are still hitting .324 off of Duensing this year; right-handers are hitting .250.
Thompson's campaign ran in opposition to Brian's. His 41 appearances actually lead the league, which tells you all you need to know about the opportunities he was given but also about how much faith Paul Molitor had in him in the early going. Through May 13 he'd already appeared in 17 games, holding opponents to a .181 batting average and owning a 2.11 ERA with 11 strikeouts and six walks. In his subsequent 24 games opponents hit an incredible .388 with a 10.64 ERA and just four strikeouts versus five walks. With an ERA hovering just over 5.00 on the season, it was time for Minnesota to try something else.
That answer comes in the name of Ryan O'Rourke, a 27-year old southpaw out of Worcester, Massachusetts. The Twins selected him in the 13th round of the 2010 draft, and while they tried him in the rotation in the early going he's come out of the bullpen almost exclusively since 2012.
O'Rourke's numbers this year haven't been terribly impressive (5.40 ERA in 15 innings), but he's also struck out 25. It's the control that's haunted him on occasion, no so much because of the walks (which have only stung him once) but because he can catch too much of the plate. O'Rourke offers a changeup, a two-seam fastball, a cutter, and a plus slider - all pitches he'll throw in nearly any count regardless of which side of the box the hitter is in. What makes him an effective LOOGY is his delivery, which makes it exceptionally difficult for left-handed hitters to pick him up.
|Split||FIP||K%||BB%||OPS vs||ISO||Contact %||Swinging Strike %|
Stats courtesy of Minor League Central
Granted it was the minor leagues, but O'Rourke has been as shut-down as it gets versus left-handed hitters. Against righties, sadly, the story isn't nearly as incredible.
As good as O'Rourke has the potential to be as a LOOGY, fellow left-hander Caleb Thielbar was already on the 40-man roster, healthy, and a 2.74 ERA in 98.2 Major League innings with the Twins going back to 2013. While this move doesn't necessarily threaten Thielbar's place in the organization's bullpen hierarchy, it does illustrate how willing the front office is to try and find not just a passable arm for the bullpen but one that can be highly effective. It, perhaps, also speaks to Molitor's willingness to pay attention to splits. O'Rourke could turn into a valuable strategic weapon if his splits hold.
It's good to see the Twins taking a chance on a relatively unknown entity in an effort to find a pitcher that's a true weapon. Hopefully it works out. If not, that trade market is really starting to heat up.