FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -- The signing of starters Brad Radke and Eric Milton to long-term contracts over the past year has helped publicize the Twins' promising pitching staff. It's also continued the cover-up of the team's hidden strength.
Radke, Milton and Mark Redman -- all of whom won at least 12 games last year -- anchor a respectable rotation, but there's a solid bullpen behind them, too.
The four core members of last year's pen -- Eddie Guardado, LaTroy Hawkins, Travis Miller and Bob Wells -- all posted ERAs under 4.00 and combined for 34 saves. Twins relievers were seventh in the American League with a 4.39 mark.
"We're going to be in a lot of ballgames," Guardado said. "You give us six innings, and our bullpen's going to come in and do the job."
No one will mistake Minnesota's staff for the Atlanta's. But if Joe Mays and Matt Kinney can fill out the rotation and a few arms among a group including Jack Cressend, Brandon Knight, J.C. Romero and Johan Santana emerge as dependable long relievers, the Twins should definitely stay competitive.
Manager Tom Kelly has long been lauded for effective management of his bullpen, bringing in relievers at the right times and making it clear to them what their roles are.
"He's going to try to put you in a position for you to succeed," Miller said. "That's all you can ask for."
Last season was Kelly's first in 14 without a full-time closer, which for him meant more managing -- like bringing in the left-handed Guardado to get a lefty out leading off the ninth and using righties Hawkins and Wells to finish off the inning.
This year, there's no committee. Hawkins is the guy.
"You just want to go with the closer and let him start the inning. That's his job. That's all there is to it," Kelly said.
Guardado, the Twins' longest-tenured pitcher, seems to be more valuable as a setup man. He's fine with that.
"You do need a man in the ninth," Guardado said. "And I think LaTroy's going to do a heck of a job. He's a competitor. He don't give a darn. He's like, 'Let's go."'
Hawkins, who struggled as a starter until becoming a full-time reliever last year, was more than happy to receive the manager's endorsement. But a little surprised, too.
"My grandfather always told me I was going to be a closer," Hawkins said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think that."
Notes: Umpire Jim Reynolds will visit the Twins' camp Tuesday to give players a presentation on the planned changes in calling the strike zone. Kelly said he'd see if he could talk Reynolds into staying an extra day. ... Twins coach Jim Dwyer, who suffered dizziness and a lacerated ear after being struck by a batted ball in practice Sunday, took Monday off to rest. Dwyer, who had six stitches, will return to practice at his own discretion. ... Radke will start the Twins' exhibition opener Thursday against Boston. He'll be followed by Knight, Wells and Miller.
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