MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins got some much-needed help for their beleaguered bullpen on Friday, acquiring right-handed reliever Kevin Jepsen from the Tampa Bay Rays for a pair of minor league pitching prospects.
The teams completed the deal about two hours before the deadline to make trades without waivers. Jepsen gives the Twins a hard-throwing veteran to step in to help in a setup role for All-Star closer Glen Perkins.
Jepsen went 2-5 with a 2.81 ERA in 46 appearances for the Rays this season, striking out 34 in 41 2/3 innings. The 31-year-old spent his first seven years with the Los Angeles Angels.
Minnesota sent right-handers Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia to Tampa Bay.
Twins GM Terry Ryan said on Thursday that after watching his team surprisingly emerge as a playoff contender this year — the Twins were in position for the second wild card spot entering play on Friday — he felt compelled to make a move or two to help them try to chase down a postseason bid for the first time in five years.
But a team that was at one point 10 games over .500 had lost 10 of its previous 12 before a victory over the Mariners on Thursday night. One of the big issues during the recent struggles was in the bullpen, where Blaine Boyer, Casey Fien, Aaron Thompson, Brian Duensing and several others are having a hard time getting people out.
Add to that a four-game hiccup for Perkins, who had blown two saves and given up six earned runs since the All-Star break, and the Twins’ bullpen was in rough shape.
Perkins rebounded with a scoreless ninth in a 9-5 win over Seattle on Thursday night, but the concerns about a lack of a reliable setup man remained. Boyer and Thompson started the year strong before leveling off. Thompson was sent down to Triple-A at the beginning of July and the Twins moved promising young starter Trevor May into a relief role in hopes he could fortify the bullpen.
Right-handers are hitting .192 against Jepsen this season, but he has a 4.60 ERA over his last 18 outings dating to June 11.
The Twins started the day with a two-game lead for the final AL wild-card spot, ahead of the Orioles and Blue Jays, who have been aggressive in upgrading their roster during the last week.
“I know they’ve done a hell of a job of getting to this point and we’re in a good position and now it’s my responsibility to help the cause,” Ryan said on Thursday. “We’ve struggled here. The last 12 games have been a battle. We have not played good baseball and I’m aware of that. I’m also aware that one correct move by me could help the cause immensely because it could change the attitude in the clubhouse.”
Ryan said he wasn’t against acquiring a “rent-a-player” — a player whose contract was up at the end of the season. After four straight years of at least 90 losses, there is a sense of urgency for the Twins to return to the playoffs.
But at the same time, Ryan said he wanted to be careful not to break up a young core that the Twins believe will soon have them in contention for years to come.
The Twins also had needs at shortstop and catcher, two positions that figured to be harder to fill without parting with some of their highly thought of prospects.
The 21-year-old Hu was signed as a free agent in 2012. The Taiwan native was 6-3 with a 2.38 ERA in 16 starts for Class A Fort Myers and Triple-A Rochester.
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