MINNEAPOLIS -- Anthony Swarzak has been one of the Twins' most valuable pitchers in 2013, though he is currently holding down a role long relegated to the 25th man on the roster.
In traditional baseball terms, the "long reliever" is the least valuable pitcher on the team. It is a role often held by struggling veteran starters trying to regain their confidence, or wet-behind-the-ears rookies getting their first taste of Major League action.
But Swarzak has used that spot in the bullpen to give the Twins more than 70 innings of valuable relief. Saturday night's 6-4 win over Houston was made possible in large part by Swarzak's three no-hit innings that kept the Astros at bay after Kyle Gibson was knocked out after the third.
With a 3.06 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, Swarzak has kept the Twins in numerous ballgames that might otherwise have gotten out of hand in a hurry, giving the offense time to rally for a come-from-behind victory. But even though a successful long reliever often "graduates" to the starting rotation, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after Saturday's game that Swarzak was pitching too well to give him that chance.
"He's so valuable at what he's doing right now that we're going to probably try to leave him right there," Gardenhire said. "That guy's really throwing the ball well for us. A lot of times when a guy is doing that you leave him right where he's at because he's eating up huge innings for us. And he's just as valuable there because we can use him two or three times a week and eat up those innings just like [if he were] starting."
Swarzak has made 28 career starts since his debut with the Twins in 2009, going 6-17 with a 5.79 ERA. But although he said he embraces his role in the bullpen, he has not given up on his dream of being a Major League starting pitcher.
"I would love the opportunity to start -- I will never let that go," Swarzak said after Saturday's game. "Maybe I should for my own good, but as of right now I would love the opportunity to grab the ball every five days and give my team a chance to win. I'm confident in my stuff right now that I could be an effective starter at the Major League level. Absolutely."
For now, however, he will remain in the bullpen, with lefty Andrew Albers set to make his Major League debut in Kansas City on Tuesday. Even with a doubleheader scheduled for Friday in Chicago, Gardenhire said the team would call up a pitcher to start one of the games and keep Swarzak in his current role.
Twins patient as Gibson adjusts to big leagues
MINNEAPOLIS -- Kyle Gibson is a smart guy. During his coursework at the University of Missouri, it is possible the former communications major came across the Greek myth of Sisyphus, the king sentenced to push a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back to the bottom, over and over again, for the rest of eternity.
That story strikes a familiar tone with the Twins' rookie right-hander these days, as his brief Major League career has featured numerous positive signs, followed closely by apparent regression. One step forward, two steps back ... lather, rinse, repeat.
Saturday night's game against the Astros represented another of those steps back. Gibson allowed four runs on nine hits in just three innings, needing 81 pitches to get nine outs. The Twins' bats and bullpen saved him from taking his fourth loss in seven starts, but following three decent outings, Gibson has given up a combined 16 hits and nine earned runs over eight innings in his last two starts.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the team would remain patient with Gibson, its first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. The Twins know Gibson had Tommy John surgery in November 2011 and threw just 28 1/3 innings in the Minor Leagues last year, meaning this year is more about putting in the work than worrying about the results.
In fact, Gardenhire told Gibson as much after Saturday's disappointing start.
"You just can't step into the big leagues and dominate -- not too many people have ever been able to do that," Gardenhire said. "It's a process here. It's a learning process for him; he's been through a lot with his arm. We just have to keep giving him the ball, and we'll see how he goes from here. We like this young man. He's got a great arm. It's just got to translate out onto the field. He's done it a few times, pitched pretty decent, and we'll just keep giving him the ball."
Gibson said he appreciated the team's patience with him, even as he tries to remain patient with his own performance.
"It's always good when a player knows that the front office has confidence in him, and I still have confidence in myself," Gibson said. "I've struggled and haven't been pitching the way I want to, but you have to be process-based rather than results-based in baseball, because it's a game based so much on failure.
"By all means I want to win, and I want to win every time I go out there. I want to go seven, eight, nine innings every time I go out there. But I have to make sure that I stay focused on the work I want to do and the fact that I've made seven starts. That's not an excuse to be bad -- there's no doubt about it -- but I am still getting used to things, and I just have to try to speed up that learning curve a little big and try to make adjustments a little better."
Gardenhire said he and pitching coach Rick Anderson had Gibson pay close attention to reliever Anthony Swarzak, who took over for Gibson on Saturday night and threw three no-hit innings. The manager lauded Swarzak for his pace and penchant for attacking the strike zone, and after the game Swarzak reminded Gibson that he was in a similar position not too long ago.
"When I got called up in '09 I kind of did the same thing he's doing now -- just trying too hard, forcing the issue a little bit," Swarzak said. "You want to do good so bad that it kind of works against you sometimes. I was just telling him to get his head out of his way a little bit and let his stuff take over. Relax, embrace being in the big leagues and embrace the opportunity he has to show the world what he can do with the baseball."
Antony updates status of several injured Twins
MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony met with reporters Sunday and provided a handful of injury updates on current Twins and prospects playing in the Minor Leagues:
• Outfielder Josh Willingham (left knee) was flying to Raleigh, N.C., on Sunday and was scheduled to start his rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester there Monday. He is expected to serve as the designated hitter and get a couple of at-bats in his first game and eventually work his way up to playing nine innings in the outfield by the time the four-game series ends Thursday. If all goes well, he should rejoin the Twins for Friday's game in Chicago.
• Outfielder Darin Mastroianni (left ankle) went 3-for-5 with two doubles and scored three runs Saturday in his second rehab game with Class A Advanced Fort Myers. He is likely to join Rochester on Tuesday as he works his way back to the Major Leagues.
• Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez (concussion) was scheduled to bat second as the DH for Double-A New Britain on Sunday, his first game with the Rock Cats after three rehab games in Fort Myers.
• Third baseman Miguel Sano will miss his third straight game at New Britain on Sunday with a right hamstring injury. Antony said Sano was running out a ground ball and felt something pull as he lunged for first base. The initial timetable for his return was three to four days.
• Outfielder Byron Buxton returned to the lineup at Fort Myers on Sunday after missing six games with an injury to his big toe. Rated the Twins' No. 1 prospect by MLB.com, Buxton fouled a ball off his foot, and the toenail on his big toe had to be removed.
• Pitcher Nick Blackburn experienced a setback in his recovery from a forearm injury. He is now battling tendinitis in his right knee, and Antony said he had not improved much even after receiving a cortisone shot. He has made one start for Rochester, throwing five innings on July 23, and is currently limited to playing catch from about 60 feet, Antony said.
• Pitcher Vance Worley (shoulder) is feeling better while working on an arm-strengthening program in Fort Myers, Antony said. He still has not begun a throwing program but the Twins think there is time for him to work up to throwing in a game before the Minor League season ends in early September.
• Pitcher Kohl Stewart, the Twins' first-round Draft pick this year, is expected to miss another 10 to 12 days after cutting his foot on a shell while walking on the beach in Fort Myers. The organization's No. 5 prospect is currently assigned to the Rookie-level GCL Twins.
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.