An injury in spring training, however, kept that from working out.
This week, Helling told the Twins he was leaving the organization because he had enough of pitching in the minor leagues. Hit by a ball during an exhibition game in late March, Helling broke a bone in his leg and stayed in Florida for rehabilitation.
The right-hander went 1-2 with a 4.94 in five starts for Double-A New Britain and pitched seven shutout innings for Triple-A Rochester Tuesday night before quitting.
"I felt I've done everything they asked me to do," Helling said Wednesday evening on his cell phone from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. A native of North Dakota who has several family members in the area, Helling plans to work out in the Twin Cities and see if he can sign with another club.
His recovery went slower than anticipated, and the Twins were initially concerned because his velocity was down. Helling isn't a power pitcher to begin with, and he has a propensity for giving up home runs.
But once he demonstrated he was ready for the majors, there wasn't room in Minnesota's rotation. Right-hander Seth Greisinger, who is 2-4 with a 5.63 ERA in 10 appearances and seven starts, has pleased manager Ron Gardenhire and his staff.
The Twins are currently carrying 12 pitchers, too, so they'd like to drop one and add a hitter for the stretch of games in National League parks later this month.
"We're not really in a situation where I can just say, 'Seth, you're out' or something like that," Gardenhire said. "He's thrown the ball very, very well for us. We think he has good stuff. ... He's given us a chance to win just about every time out."
Gardenhire empathized with Helling's situation, but he wasn't willing to create space for him.
"If people told me he was better down there than the pitchers we have up here ... then you've got to start thinking about it," Gardenhire said. "But that wasn't the report that I got."
Helling, 33, has been in the majors since 1994, pitching for Texas, Florida, Arizona and Baltimore. He won 20 games for the Rangers in 1998 and built a reputation for durability. After going 7-8 with a 5.71 ERA in 24 starts for the Orioles last season, Helling was released. He joined the Marlins for the stretch run and wound up with a World Series ring.
Although disappointed with his extended stint in the minors, Helling said he harbors no hard feelings and would be willing to rejoin the Twins if a spot opened up.
"Unfortunately I don't see that happening anytime soon," he said. "I stuck around to see if anything would change. This is the team I wanted to play for. Honestly, I probably wouldn't have stayed as long with another team."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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