Jim Souhan: Sure, power is nice, but Gardy has need for speed

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 19, 2009 - 7:43 AM

The Twins envisioned a deep, versatile lineup this year. Instead, they have become too reliant on their best few hitters, and the home run.

Carlos Gomez
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Carlos Gomez, popping out against Pittsburgh on Thursday, has frustrated his manager with his approach at the plate. “Go-Go just flails away,” Ron Gardenhire said. “I don’t know if he’s a power guy or a speed guy, and I think he’s caught right in between.”

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The Twins had just hit two home runs to support Nick Blackburn's complete game in a 5-1 victory over the Pirates on Thursday afternoon at the Metrodome. Ron Gardenhire was disrobing when first base coach Jerry White stuck his head in the manager's office.

"See you at the house tonight," White said.

"I can't wait," Gardenhire said.

Gardenhire is rebuilding an old Mustang in his garage in Little Canada, and White shares his affinity for muscle cars. "It's Wimbledon White with a blue stripe," Gardenhire said. "It's gorgeous."

Gardenhire would like his lineup to work like a succession of sports cars, but, with his dragsters up on blocks, he has increasingly and uncomfortably come to rely upon SUVs.

Thursday, outfielder Michael Cuddyer homered, giving the Twins five players with 10 or more home runs on June 18. "That's a lot better than last year," outfielder Jason Kubel said.

The new-millenium Twins were defined by their opponent. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called them "Piranhas." The nickname became fad, then folklore, before morphing into what it is today:

A myth.

The Piranhas have gone belly up, leaving the Twins reliant upon a small core of pure hitters more remindful "Moneyball" than "small-ball." The Twins are 24-16 when they homer and 10-18 when they do not. They have become one-dimensional not because Gardenhire has changed his philosophy, but because so many of his speed and complementary players are ailing or failing.

Denard Span, their only true leadoff hitter, is on the disabled list. Carlos Gomez, one of the fastest players in the majors, is hitting .224 with one homer and six steals. Delmon Young, once thought of as a running threat as well as a power hitter, has one homer and two steals. Nick Punto is hitting .218 with six steals. Alexi Casilla earned two demotions to the minors in the first eight weeks of the season.

"You manage with what you have," Gardenhire said. "I've sat out there a lot of times saying, 'Boy, I wish I had a hit and run or a running situation,' but it's just not available. So you wait, and you hope for doubles, and that's a little different than what we're used to.

"I don't mind it, but I have a little more aggressive nature than that."

The Twins envisioned a deep, versatile lineup this year. Instead, they have become too reliant on their best few hitters, and the home run.

"Go-Go just flails away," Gardenhire said of Gomez. "I don't know if he's a power guy or a speed guy, and I think he's caught right in between. He really believes he can hit it 10 miles, and he's not going to be satisfied with shooting it the other way. That's in his mind and until he decides that he has to use a little of both, he's going to do what he's doing.

"Delmon's a different story. He's supposed to drive the ball. He's working on it, supposedly, and we'll see. Span knows his role."

Casilla? "He's an enigma to me," Gardenhire said. "I don't know where he's at mentally. When I sent him down, the stuff he was saying to me ... I was like, 'Listen to you!' He's just not understanding the game. That's where I'm lost. Those are the things that wear you down, and that's what I'm trying to sort through."

The Twins were at their most exciting and effective in 2008 when Punto, Gomez, Span and Casilla would get on base in front of Mauer and Morneau. With Span ailing and the rest flailing, Mauer and Morneau not only have to set their own table, they have to serve the meal and do the dishes.

Cuddyer, Kubel and Joe Crede also have reached double-digit homers, giving them as much potential power in the middle as any Twins team since their glory years, but the failures of the speed players have left voids at the top and bottom of the lineup.

"We do a lot more standing around and waiting," Gardenhire said. "The only Piranhas around here are those ones up on my shelf."

And those are stuffed.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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