Twins' center field competition not over quite yet

  • Updated: March 16, 2013 - 12:34 AM

 

– Don’t buy those Aaron Hicks jerseys just yet, the man in charge of his future warned Friday.

“We’re about halfway home,” General Manager Terry Ryan said about the Twins’ three-way battle for the starting center field job. “So don’t forget that, just because one guy got off hotter than the others.”

That “one guy,” who came into Friday’s game batting .345, added a walk and a double against Boston, and made a spectacular diving catch in the Little Fenway “triangle” in dead center, adding to Hicks’ case to skip Class AAA and claim the job. But Ryan noted Joe Benson’s encouraging week —he had five hits in his previous seven at-bats before Friday, though was still batting .195 after a terrible start — and declared the race far from finished.

“I like the fact that we have competition going on out there,” Ryan said. “Even though [Benson] went through a tough stretch, he’s regrouped, and he’s not going to go away. Nothing wrong with that. And don’t forget [Darin] Mastroianni, either.”

Italians prove themselves

There were great moments and awful ones, but for the Twins’ pair of honorary Italians, the best part of the World Baseball Classic was proving they belonged.

“Showing the rest of the world that we’re not just a team you can come in and roll over, that was a big high point for me,” catcher Drew Butera said. “We’re not here just for the experience and free gear.”

“We started feeling like, we can do this,” first baseman Chris Colabello said. “Maybe we put Italian baseball on the map a little bit.”

They did that right from the start, knocking off Mexico in the opener and then drubbing Canada in the second game. They led Team USA in the group finale but, in a pattern that would repeat itself in the second round, coughed up the lead in the late innings.

The team had gelled quickly, as though they had known each other for a decade, and former Twin Nick Punto had taken the lead in making it a real team.

“It was great getting back on the field with him,” Butera said. “We had a lot of good laughs, a lot of good times. He was one of the reasons our team meshed so well together.”

But Italy was eliminated Wednesday by Puerto Rico, and the reaction afterward gave away just how important the tournament had become to them, and they to each other.

“It was pretty demoralized. There were about 10 minutes with nobody saying a word,” Colabello said. “After a while, everybody realized how great an experience we had and what we did, what we accomplished.”

Now they have something more personal to accomplish: making the Twins. Colabello’s longshot chance of making the roster grew far better with his two home runs in the WBC, and Butera has a roster spot to protect. “Now it’s time for them to get down to business,” Ryan said. “They had a good experience, and now they have a chance” to make the team.

On deck

Cole De Vries, who has yet to allow an earned run in four appearances, starts against 2011 overall No. 1 pick Gerrit Cole as the Twins meet Pittsburgh in Hammond Stadium.

PHIL MILLER

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