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Continued: Brendan Harris offering very little

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 17, 2010 - 7:34 AM

Larry Wolfe was a Twins rookie in 1978 and the righthanded part of a third base platoon with Mike Cubbage. Wolfe was going through a tough stretch in midseason, to the point a St. Paul baseball writer was forced to offer this theory in an afternoon edition:

"Larry Wolfe must wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say to himself, 'I can't believe I'm still in the big leagues.' "

Wolfe finished that season batting .234 with three home runs and 25 RBI in 235 at-bats. He also drew 36 walks compared to 27 strikeouts for an on-base percentage of .332.

In other words, if Wolfe was around in 2010, the fans would have been calling him "Thumper'' and lobbying with manager Ron Gardenhire to get more duty for the rookie.

The puzzle at the moment over an infielder's major league status concerns Brendan Harris. He's a player with nothing to offer when he can't hit, and he's currently sitting at .160 with one home run and four RBI in 106 at-bats.

The Twins signed designated hitter Jim Thome on Jan. 26 and that left only three places on the bench: a second catcher, a backup infielder to also serve as a pinch runner for Thome and a righthanded hitter with some versatility.

The last of those jobs went to Harris, mostly because the front office had chosen to give him a two-year contract for $3.2 million during the offseason. Asked why the Twins would give two years to such a modest contributor, a team executive said the deal was extra-reasonable and Harris would be easy to trade, if necessary.

Reporters visiting Florida for spring training kept suggesting that Harris and Nick Punto were in competition at third base. Gardenhire didn't discourage this conjecture, yet the manager always had preferred the speed and fielding excellence of Punto over Harris' occasional contributions as a hitter.

Punto opened as the regular at third. Harris had some chances in April, batting .200 with four RBI in 45 at-bats. Basically, that put him on the pine -- as a confused hitter, a mediocre defender and a subpar runner.

The Twins have been searching for reliable infielders in recent weeks. Shortstop J.J. Hardy has started only three of 38 games dating to May 4. Second baseman Orlando Hudson has not played this month.

In this dire circumstance, Harris has only managed to lower his status with the manager. He was in the lineup on May 8 against Baltimore and went 3-for-4. Since then, he's gone 5-for-53. And he drove in his fourth and last run on April 21.

The Twins hope to regain Hudson on Friday night for the start of a nine-game road trip to National League cities. The expectation is that rookie shortstop Trevor Plouffe will be sent back to Class AAA Rochester. That would leave Punto at shortstop and Danny Valencia, the other rookie, at third base.

It also would leave Gardenhire with a continuing need for a righthanded hitter on the bench. A guy named Brian Dinkelman has been in the minors for five years and is now at Rochester. He isn't much to look at it in the field, but he can get a hit. And ex-Dodger Jason Repko is there, too, and could give the Twins a backup in center field.

Gardenhire has been playing with an inadequate bench since May 4, when Hardy slid into third base and jammed his left wrist. Over the next six weeks, there was an opportunity for Harris to regain his value.

Instead, he has batted .094 in that time, and the chances have become fewer, and the Twins' brain trust must be asking, "Why was it we went for two years?''

The last time the Twins did this was in 2008, when they signed Mike Lamb, a free agent third baseman, to a two-year, $6.6 million contract. He batted .234 with three home runs and 25 RBI before being cast away.

The Twins suffered with Lamb until Aug. 25 of '08. And even with the smaller payoff, the front office undoubtedly will remain reluctant to eat Harris' deal and improve the manager's options off the bench.

That's if they don't become overwhelmed with trade suitors, of course.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • preusse@startribune.com

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