Kintzler hoping to expand repertoire in '17

Twins reliever looks to incorporate more offspeed pitches

Kintzler hoping to expand repertoire in '17

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- In 2016, only three pitchers threw their fastball more often than Twins reliever Brandon Kintzler,whose repertoire is heavily dependent on his two-seam fastball.

Yet despite throwing his sinker 88 percent of the time, it was one of the most effective pitches in baseball, helping lead to his 61.9 percent ground-ball rate, the eighth-highest mark in the Majors last season. It allowed Kintzler to have a breakout season with the Twins, posting a 3.15 ERA in 54 appearances while registering 17 saves in 20 chances with Glen Perkins out with shoulder surgery.

But Kintzler, speaking while attending the annual Twins Winter Caravan this week, said he plans to potentially utilize more offspeed stuff next season. He's had his first healthy offseason in several years, which has allowed him to work on his slider. Kintzler was coming off knee surgery when he signed a Minor League deal with the Twins last year, and pitched with the slight tear in his patellar tendon with the Brewers for two seasons prior to the surgery.

"Last year was my first year ever healthy in the Major Leagues," said Kintzler, a seven-year veteran with Milwaukee and Minnesota. "I've had some success but I never felt like I showed what I could do. And I could never practice much in the offseason, even offspeed. But now that I have that chance with a normal offseason, I feel like I have weapons instead of just my fastball."

Kintzler, who recently avoided arbitration with a $2.925 million deal, threw his slider 7.3 percent of the time and his changeup 4.7 percent last year, but has mixed them in more throughout his career at 14.3 percent and eight percent, respectively. He proved he can succeed with mostly his fastball last year, but giving hitters something else to think about with his slider could help keep them off-balance.

"It would be a nice weapon to have," Kintzler said. "As closer, I didn't want to get beat with my second-best pitch. I felt like if I could throw my fastball wherever I want, I'd rather you beat me on that."

At six feet, Kintzler also has to work extra hard to get the downward plane on his fastball to generate ground balls. He used to essentially jump off the mound to get that downward action as a Minor Leaguer in the Padres organization, but it led to shoulder surgery in '06, forcing him to refine his delivery along the way with stops at two different independent league teams before signing with the Brewers in '09.

"I try to create an angle, especially as a shorter guy," Kintzler said. "I try to drive the ball down into the zone instead of just throwing it. Some guys try to just throw a two-seamer instead of driving it, and there's a big difference."

Kintzler, 32, gives the Twins much-needed insurance if Perkins can't come back from labrum surgery, which is considered one of the riskier operations for pitchers. Kintzler, though, said he's hoping the three-time All-Star can return because it would only help the team, but that he'll be ready to close, if needed.

"If we get Perk that would be great," Kintzler said. "Getting an All-Star closer back like that is like a big free-agent signing. But if I have to do the same job, I'm excited to do it and I enjoyed it a lot."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.