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When the Twins signed Jared Burton to a minor league contract last November almost nobody noticed. Over the past two seasons, the injury-riddled reliever logged a total of 8 big league innings for Cincinnati and, at age 30, seemed to be headed out of baseball.
The Twins, desperate for competent arms in their bullpen, looked back at Burton’s production from 2007-09 when he went 10-3 with a 3.47 ERA in 154 appearances with the Reds and decided to take a flier on the righthander. Burton pitched his way onto the roster in spring training and has rewarded the Twins with a 2.70 ERA in 10 innings so far this year, striking out 9 and walking just 2.
The South Carolina native and I talked during last week’s homestand.
DZ: The team is struggling right now, but personally you are off to a pretty solid start, how’s it been going for you?
BURTON: We haven’t been getting the wins we’ve expected to, but I think the bullpen as a unit has been a strong suit for us this year. It’s just a matter of getting clicking as a whole. I had a good spring, feeling healthy, and that’s the No. 1 priority - staying on the field to allow myself to get into a groove.
DZ: When you come into a new team like this…how important is it to get off to a good start and kind of get your numbers positive right away?
BURTON: It’s very important. From a bullpen point of view, you always want to come in and get that first guy - that first out is usually the most important, it sets the tone of the inning….whether there is runners on or not.
DZ: Can you talk about your mindset coming into spring training?
BURTON: My mindset was to be confident actually. I knew that being a non-roster guy, I didn’t really worry about (making the team). I knew what I could do and how hard I worked. I’ve been here and I’ve had success here (the big leagues), it was a matter of getting through and showing them what I could do health wise and I was able to do that. It’s a great fit for me personally, mentality wise. It’s a team and staff full of great people and it’s been a real smooth transition from another organization.
DZ: You did have some success in Cincinnati from ‘07 through ‘09, was it injuries that stopped you from having more time there?
BURTON: Yeah, 2010 and 2011 were pretty much really wasted. I had shoulder surgery last year and in 2010 I had some thyroid conditions that kind of had my body all out of whack. It was frustrating, but I am not surprised by the success I am having because I know how hard I’ve worked to get back to this point and I’m just going to continue to keep being confident in my preparation and ability and continue to work hard.
DZ: You were a free agent last winter, what attracted you to the Twins; why did you decide to come here?
BURTON: Wayne Krivsky, who is the former GM of the Reds - he Rule V’d me with the Reds, saw what I could do (Krivsky was Terry Ryan’s assistant before going to Cincinnati in 2006, he returned to the Twins organization last winter). He actually knows my agent on somewhat of a personal level because my agent has Joe Nathan and he worked a couple of deals with the Twins through there. He talked to my agent as soon as I cleared waivers and expressed interest. I don’t think I waited very long, I just kind of felt like - I think the guys here would tell you the struggles they had last year - felt it was a good opportunity to come in here and help this team out. I think I’ve done well so far.
DZ: You mentioned earlier that the bullpen has done pretty well this year. (There are) a lot of new faces, how long does it take a bullpen to jell?
BURTON: I am sure it’s different for every team, but with this group we have in the bullpen now, it seemed like it was very natural for us all spring. We all kind of got along, there are a bunch of good guys down there - we all root for each other. That holds true for this whole team - everybody is rooting for each other there is no finger pointing whatsoever. We haven’t done well and we haven’t done well as a team - it’s no (one person’s) fault. We do a good job of picking each other up down there. Like I said, it’s very important to root for each other and to know that if you don’t have your stuff that day, somebody is coming in behind you to pick you up.
See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Twins players: