Mix-and-match infield working out

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 23, 2008 - 3:26 PM

Ron Gardenhire has used a total of nine players at either third, second or shortstop this year, presenting a challenge to the Twins manager.

Brian Buscher

Photo: Morry Gash, Associated Press

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The Twins have won seven of eight since a disastrous start to their 10-game road trip earlier this month, where they were swept in four games against the White Sox in Chicago and then lost two of three at Cleveland.

That road trip then went to Milwaukee, where manager Ron Gardenhire, very unhappy over the team's performance, held a meeting where he didn't pull any punches. And apparently, his speech paid off, as the Twins won two of three against the Brewers and just completed a 6-0 homestand against Washington and Arizona.

"Well you always have to do that, that's my job," Gardenhire said. "When you see things not going the way you expect them to go, you have to take care of some issues on and off the field, and it's about focusing on the baseball field. And that's the manager's job, is to make sure that we're focused on the baseball field and on what we're trying to accomplish.

"We just got away from our game, and we just wanted to calm things down and make sure everybody understood that we're not going to throw this season away. We're going to keep playing our kind of baseball and get after it. You know what, the guys have to respond, and we're on a little bit of a streak here, and that's fine."

Gardenhire, in his seventh season as Twins manager, said managing this team is different than any other he has handled.

"We've got a lot of different people, we've had so many injuries with the middle of the infield, so we've been mixing and matching," Gardenhire said. "It's not so much harder, but it's just so many different people that we're trying to find the right combinations out there, and you know what, the guys are all going to get a chance, so we've got to find the right combinations."

Between third base, shortstop and second base, the Twins have started Brian Buscher, Alexi Casilla, Howie Clark, Adam Everett, Brendan Harris, Mike Lamb, Matt Macri and Matt Tolbert; all nine players are currently either on the active roster, on the disabled list or at Class AAA Rochester. It appears Casilla has claimed the second base job, while Buscher has played a lot at third lately and Harris has been getting the bulk of playing time at shortstop after beginning the year at second.

"If we have to mix and match there all year and try to put the best combos out there, that's what we'll do," Gardenhire said.

One of the things he likes about this young club is the chemistry and how his players never give up.

"Well that's our forte and that's kind of our MO. We're not going to give in to anyone, it doesn't matter what other people say," he said. "It matters only what's inside this clubhouse and what we believe. And we believe in ourselves, we're going to fight and we're going to keep fighting and we'll go from there. ... If you see something different, I'll make changes, because I won't accept anything other than giving everything you have. That's just the way we play."

Well, so far they fooling everybody -- myself included -- who believed they would finish below Kansas City after losing Johan Santana and Torii Hunter.

Mauer hot

Despite an 0-for-3 Sunday, Twins catcher Joe Mauer is batting .375 in June, putting his average at .331 for the season.

The last three batters in the Twins batting order had a big series against the Diamondbacks. No. 7 hitter Delmon Young went 4-for-11 with three runs. Harris, who hit eighth Friday and ninth the past two days, went 4-for-8 with four runs scored. Macri had a two-run single in his only at-bat in the series Friday night before leaving because of an injury; Buscher played third the rest of the series and went 3-for-10 with four RBI and two runs scored. The team hit .323 in the series and the starting pitchers went 3-0, giving up three earned runs in 20 innings.

Bob Gebhard, the former Twins assistant general manager now with the Diamondbacks, watched Livan Hernandez stop the visitors Sunday, giving up three runs on nine hits in seven innings in the 5-3 victory. Hernandez pitched for Arizona the past two seasons before signing with the Twins as a free agent this spring; he went 11-11 with a 4.93 ERA for last year's National League West champions. "We couldn't afford him," Gebhard said. As for his opinion of the Twins, Gebhard said, "They are a young team that is getting better all of the time."

Jottings

Vinny Cerrato -- the executive vice president of football operations for the Washington Redskins, and a former Gophers recruiting coordinator who grew up in Albert Lea -- is in the Twin Cities for a family vacation. He said his team is confident that Erasmus James, the oft-injured defensive end traded from the Vikings to Washington, will be ready to play in the final two preseason games this fall. "He spent the last week down with Dr. James Andrews rehabbing his knee, and he had spent the previous few weeks with our rehabilitation guys, then he'll be back for the next three weeks rehabbing," said Cerrato, who believes the former first-round pick out of Wisconsin will play this year after not doing much in his three seasons with the Vikings. "What he wants to do is, in college he weighed like 258-260 [pounds], then when he went to the Vikings they wanted him big, so he was like 275. So, we wanted him back to where he was in college."

Tubby Smith and the Gophers men's basketball staff will have 27 teams involved in a camp Friday through Sunday at Williams Arena, with defending state high school champions Minnetonka, Benilde St. Margaret's and New London-Spicer taking part. Smith held his elite basketball camp with incoming recruits Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson taking part as well as top prospects Rodney Williams of Cooper, Royce White and Mike Broghammer of Hopkins and Cole Stefan of Minnetonka. Broghammer is the nephew of former Timberwolf Christian Laettner. ... Gophers standout Blake Hoffarber, who injured his arm late in the season, is 100 percent healthy and will play in the Howard Pulley League this summer. Hoffarber's teammate on the Petters team will include Gophers teammate Damian Johnson. The Sabes team will have three Gophers: Al Nolen Jr., Sampson and Iverson. The El Amins team will have Travis Busch and Jonathan Williams, and Famous Dave's will include Kevin Payton and recruit Devron Bostick. ... Former Gophers forward J'son Stamper played in the elite Finland league this past season, averaging 27 points and 17 rebounds and making the all-star team.

The Twins sold 5,000 autograph cards at $35 each and raised close to $200,000 for the Twins Community Fund in Saturday's autograph session, team President Dave St. Peter said.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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