Sid Hartman: Cuddyer shows confidence as the everyday right fielder

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 10, 2007 - 11:36 PM

After a rocky experience trying to fit in at third base, he has developed into one of the game's best at his position. Finding his niche has also helped him at the plate.

Michael Cuddyer now has four assists from right field in his past six games.

The Twins right fielder leads the major leagues with 13 assists, already two better than his best of 11 for the entire 2006 season.

As a third baseman, Cuddyer was average. As a right fielder, he has certainly become one of the best in the American League.

"I feel like I can actually help the team out there on defense," Cuddyer said. "I can actually do some good things rather than just being out there at third base and trying not to mess up.

"I'm comfortable out there, I feel good out there, and it works for our lineup with Nick Punto at third base. I always had a pretty decent arm -- I could always hold my own out there in the field."

Cuddyer said he has a lot more confidence playing right field than he had at third base.

He made 15 errors at third base in 2005 before being shifted to the outfield, where had no errors in 20 games. He made five errors last year in 143 games in the outfield, and he has one this year.

"Again, I feel like I can help the team -- when a ball goes out there, I feel like I can do some things. I think that takes a little bit of pressure off you at the plate as well."

And the fact that he knows he is in the lineup in right field every day, regardless of what happened the day before, makes a difference. It's quite a contrast to when he not an everyday third baseman.

Even as a kid, Cuddyer added, he showed a strong arm even when playing catch.

"I threw every single day. In the summer, I don't think there was one day when I didn't throw," he said. "In high school I played football. I was a quarterback -- so again I was throwing the football. So I think it's just a matter of playing catch and throwing the ball, which you don't see too many young kids doing nowadays."

Cuddyer was a good enough in football to be recruited by North Carolina and Virginia but gave up the sport his senior year to concentrate on baseball.

While there isn't as much talk about signing Cuddyer to a long-term contract as there is with Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau, Cuddyer has a great future.

Fortunately, he won't be a free agent until after the 2009 season, so right field will be in good shape until then.

Morneau blanked

Morneau is hitting .273 with 46 RBI, second on the team to Hunter's 49, and leads the team with 17 home runs.

But the 2006 American League MVP is not happy with his production.

"I'm just battling. It's been inconsistent all year. I'll eventually turn it around, and it should be fun," he said after going 0-for-5 on Sunday against Washington.

One problem, he said, is that he sometimes overthinks.

"You just have to try and relax and do whatever it takes to help the team win," he said. "You know today [Sunday] it didn't matter because we won the game, so hopefully in the games where we need me, I'll get the big hits and that's it."

In three- or four-game spurts, he said, he feels fine. "But I haven't really felt like that for more than three or four days in a row. ... I feel good, and then all of a sudden I think it's going to start going, and then I take a step backwards and you have a couple bad days, so it's been a little frustrating that way."

A lot of hitters would like to have Morneau's statistics, but his own high standards make him a great hitter.

Jottings

In the past, when the Twins had winning teams, they dominated at home. When they won the World Series in 1987 they were 56-25 at home. And in 1991, when they won it again, they were 51-30 at home. As of Sunday, they are a poor 16-16 at home.

If Twins General Manager Terry Ryan is looking for a switch-hitting DH with power, one possibility is Dmitri Young, who is hitting .342 for Washington with 33 RBI and six home runs. A Nationals official here for the Twins series said that Young signed a one-year contract for $850,000 and that he is definitely available for the right deal.

Dr. John Steubs, the Twins' team physician, said that Jason Kubel's injured knee suffered on Saturday was so much improved that an MRI was not scheduled. Kubel said he was sure he could play Tuesday.

Twins pitcher Glen Perkins, who is on the disabled list and hasn't touched a ball for three weeks, will do some throwing here this week. When the team goes on the road next week, the former Gophers lefthander will head for Fort Myers, Fla., for a rehab stint. ... Twins outfielder Rondell White continues to rehab in Fort Myers and ran bases the past couple of days. ... The Twins' minor league player of the week is Nick Blackburn of Class AAA Rochester, a righthander who went 2-0 last week with a .000 ERA in 17 innings. Blackburn, who moved up from New Britain, pitched a nine-inning shutout this past week vs. Indianapolis. He was the 29th pick in the 2001 draft.

The Timberwolves will continue to work out prospects for the NBA draft today with Chris Richard of Florida, Herbert Hill of Providence and Anthony Tolliver of Creighton on hand at Target Center. Two of the players scheduled for Wednesday are Dustin Salisbury of Temple and Finnish point guard Petteri Koponen.

Friday will be big with a great group to Corey Brewer of Florida, Julian Wright of Kansas, Florida State's Al Thornton and Thaddeus Young of Georgia Tech.

Tony Batista, who started the 2006 season as the everyday third baseman for the Twins but was released last June, is now hitting .304 for Washington after spending time with Class AAA Columbus. ... Former Twins outfielder Michael Restovich is back in Columbus after hitting only .143 with the Nationals.

Craig Dahl, who was a college hockey coach for 25 years and is now selling insurance for Principal Financial Group, is proud of the fact that he coached two St. Cloud State players who were with the Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes last year and two who were on the champion Anaheim Ducks this year. Bret Hedican and Matt Cullen were with Carolina last year. Joe Motzko and Mark Hartigan are the former Huskies who played for Anaheim this season. Meanwhile, Dahl has been very successful in the insurance business, joining the top 1 percent in sales for his company.

Gophers shortstop Dan Lyons was drafted in the 14th round by the Nationals.

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