MINNEAPOLIS -- 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 help in a setup role for All-Star closer Glen Perkins.
Jepsen, 31, went 2-5 with a 2.81 ERA in 46 appearances for the Rays this season, striking out 34 in 41 2/3 innings. He spent his first seven years with the Los Angeles Angels.
Minnesota sent right-handers Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia to Tampa Bay. Minor league left-hander Caleb Thielbar was designated for assignment to make room for Jepsen on the 40-man roster.
"We were concentrating mostly on bullpen and the back end of that bullpen because we've put ourselves in a pretty good position in this season," Twins GM Terry Ryan said. "We've got some areas of concern. We've had a number of opportunities to maybe put some things away. We tried to make ourselves better, so when we are in a situation where we can win a game, we'd like to certainly finish it off."
Ryan said on Thursday that after watching his team surprisingly emerge as a playoff contender -- the Twins were a game up on the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays for the second wild-card spot after Friday's games -- he felt compelled to make a move or two to help them try to chase down a postseason berth for the first time in five years.
Two weeks ago, the Twins were 10 games over .500, but they went on to lose eight of their next 10 before a victory over Seattle on Thursday night. One of the 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.
Minnesota's relievers had allowed 23 earned runs in its last 33 innings, with 12 extra-base hits spanning 11 games.
"I don't expect him to be the potion here to get us over the hump," Ryan said. "We've got 24 other guys that are going to have to take up some of this responsibility as well. This is something we like."
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 strongly before leveling off. Thompson was sent 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.
"We have options," manager Paul Molitor said. "My message has been only, because of the lack of fluidity to our situation, that you just got to be ready."
The Twins lost 6-1 to the Mariners on Friday but still lead for the final AL wild-card spot. They are trying to hold off the Orioles and Blue Jays, who have been aggressive in upgrading their roster during the last week.
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.
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.
Hu, 21, was signed as a free agent in 2012. A native of Taiwan, he was 6-3 with a 2.38 ERA in 16 starts for Class A Fort Myers and Triple-A Rochester.
"You certainly have to put something into the package," Ryan said. "You aren't just going to grab guys without giving up people. We've got some depth in our system. I think that's a safe assessment that our system's pretty healthy, and we should be able to afford a couple young pitchers."
On the day they lost Jepsen, the Rays' middle relief faltered.
Jake McGee, one of several pitchers picked by manager Kevin Cash to fill in for Jepsen, gave up a go-ahead, two-run home run to Mike Napoli in the seventh inning as the Rays lost to the Boston Red Sox 7-5 Friday night.
Tampa Bay committed three errors in the game, two in Boston's three-run first.
"This game appeared to be decided the way it was going early on," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We're not good enough, and I don't know of any teams that are, to give up extra outs, and that's what we did tonight.''