After 16 games in spring training, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he likes what he has seen out of his ballclub.
Gardenhire is confident the team will score runs. But the team clearly needs to see the pitching improve from last year, when starters posted a 5.40 ERA and the team went 66-96 with the worst record in the American League.
“We have guys that we’re running out there. [Vance] Worley [four innings, 6.75 ERA], we got him and [Mike] Pelfrey [7⅔ innings, 3.52 ERA],” Gardenhire said. “[Liam] Hendriks [11 innings, 5.73 ERA] is throwing the ball pretty good. [Cole] De Vries [seven innings, 0.00 ERA] has been doing OK, [Kevin] Correia [6⅔ innings, 6.75 ERA] has been throwing the ball pretty good.
“[Kyle] Gibson had one good one [1⅔ innings, three strikeouts, one earned run on March 2] and the last one was a little bit shaky [2⅓ innings, one strikeout, six earned runs on Thursday].”
Some of those ERAs will obviously have to improve if the Twins will succeed this season.
“We have people going right now,” Gardenhire said. “We just have to put them in order. Eventually we will, and we’ll figure out who [the starters] are going to be.”
Hicks shows poise
The Twins manager is also excited about center fielder Aaron Hicks, who hit three home runs in one game this week and is hitting .406 in Grapefruit League play.
“He’s been a lot of fun to watch. He’s really playing well in center,” Gardenhire said of the 2008 first-round draft pick. “He’s really, really swinging the bat good. He doesn’t remind you of a rookie, let’s put it that way. He steps up there and has a real nice swing. He handles everything, doesn’t get too high and low. He has been a lot of fun to watch play baseball.”
Gardenhire added that he liked what third baseman Trevor Plouffe was doing until Sunday, when he suffered a calf injury that will sideline him for a week or so.
“He had that [injury] earlier and he was doing a workout in the weight room and he pulled a calf muscle,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been swinging really, really good, so that’s unfortunate that he hurt his calf again.”
Gardenhire sang the defensive praises of several other infielders, including Jamey Carroll, Eduardo Escobar, Pedro Flormion and Brian Dozier, who are battling for the shortstop and second base positions.
“We’ve been using all kinds of [middle infield] combinations and we like the way they’re catching the ball,” he said. “Now let’s see about the offense and see which one can probably give us the most offense, also. But they’re really playing well, we’ve been catching the ball pretty good up the middle.”
Gardenhire added: “I’m excited. If we keep our pitching staff intact, you know, all we need is innings. We believe we can score runs and we have some people who can do some things, and some of these young kids are going to really step in and be a big part of it. We just need to pitch and give ourselves a chance for five or six innings, seven innings, and anything can happen. We’re excited from what we’ve seen so far.”
Must raise level
Winning on the road was not easy for any team in the Big Ten this season, as road teams went a combined 39-69 overall.
The Gophers went 1-8 on the road in Big Ten play this year, tying them with Nebraska and Penn State for the worst road record in the league. Only Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin had winning road records; of those schools, Indiana was the only one that was better than 5-4 on the road, going 7-2.
So it’s no mystery that Tubby Smith believes that the Gophers will have to raise their level of play compared to how they performed in their last two losses at Nebraska and Purdue if they are to go far in the Big Ten tournament, which begins Thursday in Chicago when the Gophers face Illinois.
“It’s interesting, we’re sitting here at 20-11 and 8-10. I never … I really felt good that we’d at least have a winning record in the Big Ten, and we didn’t,” the Gophers coach said. “We’re 2-2 in the last four games. If we can pick it up and play well in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament and set the tone for us and feel good about ourselves, then I think we can go deep in the Big Ten tournament.”
• Rob Moor, CEO of the Timberwolves, said the club is definitely going to make every effort to sign center Nikola Pekovic, who is a free agent, even though his salary might jump from $4 million to as much as $10 million. … On another subject, Moor said that current President of Basketball Operations David Kahn is not signed for next year, but the club has an option on his services for the 2013-14 season.
• The United States defeated Canada 9-4 in the World Baseball Classic on Sunday, eliminating Canada from the competition. Twins stars Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins all played key roles. Both Morneau and Mauer went 2-for-4 and scored a run. Perkins pitched one inning of relief and gave up one run. Morneau hit .636 in three games for Canada.
• De Vries is a big supporter of new Twins bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar. “I love Bobby, I worked with him the last couple of years in Triple-A,” said De Vries, the former Gophers pitcher from Eden Prairie. “I think he’s a great guy. I think he knows a lot about pitching and is going to be a real asset to the team and the organization this year.” … According to Baseball America, the Twins have six of the top 100 prospects in all of baseball: They are third baseman Miguel Sano (No. 9); outfielders Byron Buxton (10), Oswaldo Arcia (41) and Aaron Hicks (72); and pitchers Alex Meyer (59) and Kyle Gibson (68).
• Approximately 1,000 tickets remain available for the Twins season opener with the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. Justin Verlander is expected to pitch for the defending American League champions. … Despite a decline in attendance, the Twins paid more than $15 million in sales and use taxes in 2012. The team has paid more than $51 million in sales and entertainment tax to the state of Minnesota, Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis over the first three seasons at Target Field.
• Look for the Twins to honor the great Mariano Rivera, who announced that this is his last season, when the legendary closer and the Yankees visit over the 4th of July.
• Former Twins player, manager and broadcaster Frank Quilici will be honored in his hometown September 18 when he is inducted into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com