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Cirillo in; Punto nudged to bench

  • Article by: Joe Christensen
  • Star Tribune
  • June 19, 2007 - 11:47 PM

NEW YORK - Nick Punto's days as the Twins' everyday third baseman appear to be finished.

Jeff Cirillo went 3-for-5 in the team's 9-0 victory over the New York Mets on Tuesday, and manager Ron Gardenhire said Cirillo would probably play third base again tonight.

Cirillo also went 3-for-4 as the third baseman in Sunday's victory over Milwaukee.

In those two games, Cirillo has raised his average from .207 to .253.

After getting most of his playing time as a designated hitter, Cirillo has been better offensively when he's had time in the field.

"I think playing third base has been a big factor," Cirillo said. "I tip my hat to the DHs in the league. Even though you sign up and say, 'Oh, just DH and get some at-bats that way.' ... I think it's just a matter of sweating. When I go up there as a DH, I feel like I'm going up there for my first swing during [batting practice]. Obviously, it's not quite that drastic, but I think playing third base has helped."

Punto, who is batting .225, was on the bench Tuesday. Gardenhire said he might play him at second base or shortstop tonight, which sounds more like the utility role Punto had before he took over third base last June.

"Punto's going to play," Gardenhire said. "He can go to short, he can go everywhere. This just gets [Cirillo] some at-bats, and gives Nicky a breather here.

"He'll be out there [tonight], I'd imagine. And if not, we're just going to try to win ballgames.

"We're going to figure out what lineup works. That's all we're trying to do here."

Baker's turn

There have been indications Scott Baker will get bounced from the starting rotation if he struggles again tonight. But the most logical replacement, Matt Garza, hasn't exactly been dominating at Class AAA Rochester.

Garza is 3-6 with a 3.71 ERA with 81 strikeouts and 29 walks in 80 innings pitched. He has pitched exactly six innings in each of his past four starts.

For now, Baker is in the rotation, Gardenhire stressed.

"If you have to go down there and get another pitcher because it's not happening here, obviously Garza's there, and he's pitched up here," Gardenhire said. "But we expect Baker to step up and do a good job. I think he expects it too."

Baker, who had stints with the Twins in 2005 and '06, is 0-2 with a 16.39 ERA in his past three starts.

"He's handled it a lot better than he ever has," Gardenhire said. "He's not lost. He knows what he has to do. It's about getting it done, it's about making it happen out on the field."

Etc.

• Gardenhire also sat Jason Kubel, starting Jason Tyner in left field. The manager said Lew Ford could get a chance to play tonight against New York lefthander Oliver Perez.

• The Twins will hold their official groundbreaking ceremony for their new ballpark Aug. 2.

• Based on the latest All-Star voting results, released Tuesday, the Twins likely won't have an AL starter elected. Justin Morneau is running second to David Ortiz in voting at first base but is getting outvoted almost 2-to-1. Torii Hunter ranked fifth among outfielders, and Joe Mauer ranked fourth among catchers, trailing the leader, Ivan Rodriguez by 230,000 votes. The voting ends June 28.

• After having another setback with his strained right calf Saturday, Rondell White resumed running this week and was "much improved" Tuesday, according to the team's medical report. But he still felt mild soreness and tightness when he ran.

Joe Christensen • jchristensen@startribune.com

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