Rincon returns to Minnesota as foe

Rincon returns in unfamiliar dugout

MINNEAPOLIS -- Juan Rincon is spending this weekend in a familiar, yet unfamiliar, place.

The Cleveland reliever spent the first 12 years of his career in the Minnesota Twins organization, including eight years with the big league club.

But that ended June 13 when he refused the team's assignment to Triple-A Rochester.

He was pitching in the state of New York two weeks later, albeit with the Buffalo Bisons, Cleveland's Triple-A affiliate.

"It's baseball, it's a business. There's more to this than just a game, it's more than just throwing the ball," Rincon said from the visitors' locker room, down the hall from where he used to spend many days and nights. "It was hard. It was not the way I wanted to go."

Minnesota needed to add a position player at the time, and in doing so, the club reduced its pitching staff from 13 to 12.

Rincon harbors no ill will to the Minnesota organization, because the Twins gave him opportunity to become a premier setup man. He made 58 appearances in 2003, and 77, 75 and 75 the next three seasons. His combined ERA over those four years was 2.93. However, it jumped to 5.13 in 74 1/3 innings last season and was 6.11 in 28 innings this year before his release.

Since making his Tribe debut July 10, Rincon has allowed seven earned runs in 8 2/3 innings, including four earned runs in three innings in two games earlier this week against Detroit.

"I went five or six days without pitching and it affected me a little bit, but if I would have thrown a better pitch to [Gary] Sheffield [on Wednesday], I would have gotten out of the inning," he said. "I threw the pitch where it wasn't supposed to be."

The Detroit slugger hit a two-run double to deep center.

Rincon remains positive.

He said his fastball is up to 93 or 94 mph and he trusts more of his pitches. For example, he's not as worried about throwing his breaking ball in key situations. Rincon estimates that he's thrown more changeups in his Indians appearances than he did all of last season.

"I also feel better physically than I felt early in the year, maybe because I've been used more times and I'm throwing more pitches more consistently," he said. "The tips they gave me about my mechanics when I first got to Cleveland are paying off."

Manager Eric Wedge said those mechanical adjustments remain a work in progress with pitching coach Carl Willis.

"[Rincon's] velocity is back, and he has that out breaking ball, a hard slider that's his out pitch. He's still trying to clean up his delivery, still trying to be more consistent with his release point," Wedge said. "I'm impressed with his stuff. I think once he reels it in a little bit, we might have something."

Mike Cook is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.