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Continued: Rationing Jim Thome's play guarantees long ball for the long haul

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 2, 2010 - 6:30 AM

There is one thing preventing the Twins from fielding the best lineup in baseball every day: the rule book.

We need Jim Thome to get special dispensation allowing him to use a Segway on the basepaths. Or a scooter. Or those cool sneakers with wheels in the heels.

If we can get Thome around the bases without wearing out his knees, or breaking the Minneapolis city curfew, the Twins' lineup will look deeper than Thoreau.

There is a problem. The rule book does not allow runners to be assisted around the bases. Not even, anymore, by steroids.

Without assistance, Thome, after a few days of exertion, looks older than the Shroud of Turin.

Wednesday, the Twins beat the Tigers 5-1. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire again played regular right fielder Michael Cuddyer at third base, allowing Jason Kubel to play in right and Thome to be the designated hitter.

This makes for the Twins' best possible lineup. The catch, Gardenhire says, is that when Thome plays several days in a row -- even at DH, which seems about as physically demanding as miniature golf -- Gardenhire sees signs of wear.

"We can run Thome out there every day, but he wasn't as good today as he was the last two days," Gardenhire said. "You can see he's a little stiffer in his swing. You're pushing it when you play him three days in a row. If you kill him now, he won't be any good the rest of the way. You have to pick your moments."

I would pick these moments: Every day the Twins play a game. But Gardenhire's right. There is a reason a future Hall of Fame slugger was available on an affordable one-year deal -- because Thome is wearing down the way most non-juiced athletes wear down at 39.

Monday, he hit a bad-bounce triple, and looked like a slower version of Forrest Gump chugging around second. It was like watching a Merchant Ivory film. In slow motion. It was like watching grass dry. Like watching "Sex And The City 2: Did You Really Think We Had More To Say?"

Tuesday, Thome hit a homer. Wednesday, he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.

At least Gardenhire is willing to go with his A-plus lineup on days when Thome is ambulatory. Once shortstop J.J. Hardy returns from the disabled list, here's the A-plus lineup: Denard Span in center, Orlando Hudson at second, Joe Mauer at catcher, Justin Morneau at first, Cuddyer at third, Kubel in right, Delmon Young in left, Thome at DH and Hardy at short.

"If I was a fan, that would be a fun lineup to watch," Kubel said. "It's definitely working. I'm hitting fifth [Wednesday], and I've got Cuddyer, Thome, and sometimes Young behind me. It's like, 'You'd better not mess up to any of us.' I kind of hope it keeps up for a while."

Because Thome won't play every day, Nick Punto frequently will be in the lineup. Even when Thome is the DH, Punto is an ideal utility player and spot starter.

"We get Hardy back, we've got decisions to make," Gardenhire said. "Punto has been playing his butt off. Hardy will come back, and we'd like to keep Nicky out there for his defense, so we just have to fix it the best we can each day.

"I can give Hudson a day, put Nicky there, we don't lose anything. Hardy won't be able to come back and play every day, so Nicky fits there, too."

Cuddyer made a difficult stop at third base to start a double play in the first inning. He had a hard-hit ball handcuff him in the second. He also had a single, double and walk.

Does he like playing third? "I enjoy seeing Thome hit those home runs in the DH spot," he said. "I enjoy seeing the potential of this lineup."

MLB Rule 5.10 (c) reads: "If an accident to a runner is such as to prevent him from proceeding to a base to which he is entitled, as on a home run hit out of the playing field, or an award of one or more bases, a substitute runner shall be permitted to complete the play."

So that's it: Thome can swing, then execute a soccer flop, arching his back and flailing his arms, and Matt Tolbert can become his baserunning avatar.

Bud Selig should be in favor of that. Here he has a guy approaching 600 homers who hasn't been accused of steroid abuse. Selig should let the guy use a Harley.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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