The Twins are closing in fast on Opening Day, and there are still roster spots to be won — or lost.
FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins have entered the final week of spring training with a lengthy to-do list. At least they were able to scratch off one item on Sunday.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire officially named rookie Aaron Hicks his starting center fielder. Sure, it became a foregone conclusion when Joe Benson was cut from camp last week, but we had to have the announcement so we could ask the young man how it felt.
“It feels great,’’ said Hicks, who’s batting .350 with four home runs and 16 RBI this month. “It’s everything I’ve been working hard for ever since I’ve been playing baseball, so it just feels really good to be named center fielder.’’
With that out of the way, we can focus on unanswered questions this week at the Lee County Sports Complex.
Who’ll be the Nos. 4 and 5 starters?
Cole De Vries, with a 0.64 ERA this spring, should join Mike Pelfrey, Vance Worley and Kevin Correia in the rotation. Scott Diamond, the only lefthanded starter, will join them on April 12, provided he completes his return from minor elbow surgery. P.J. Walters is being stretched out but lasted just three innings on Sunday and doesn’t have enough time to build up to 90 pitches. That leaves Liam Hendriks (4.74 ERA), but he hasn’t pitched as well as De Vries.
Samuel Deduno should be in the middle of this battle, but he has a sore left groin and will not pitch until he’s 100 percent. He’ll have to throw in the bullpen before he’s allowed to start a game. Unless he wakes up over the next three days cured, his window of opportunity appears to have disappeared.
Keep in mind that April 7 is the first day the Twins will need a fifth starter.
Who is in the bullpen?
The bullpen battle has taken care of itself as well. Tim Wood reported a sore shoulder when he arrived for work on Sunday. He’s been backed off because of a strained rotator cuff.
Glen Perkins will close. Jared Burton will be the main setup man. Brian Duensing will be the only lefthanded reliever. Alex Burnett, Casey Fien, Ryan Pressly and Josh Roenicke should round put the bullpen. Roenicke helped his cause on Sunday with two scoreless innings. Tyler Robertson could have pushed to be another lefty in the bullpen but has pitched poorly.
One thing to watch is if the Twins put De Vries or Hendriks in the bullpen as a long reliever. Gardenhire said on Sunday that Roenicke, who was a long reliever last season with Colorado, will be used more as bridge to the eighth inning this season.
Once again, the best players don’t make teams. The healthiest ones and the ones out of options do.
What is the batting order?
He’s used Hicks in the leadoff spot all spring and is excited about the quality of Hicks’ at-bats. He might mess around with the No. 2 hole (Joe Mauer?) but has liked Brian Dozier’s work. Dozier bunted for a hit on Sunday and later homered.
“I feel comfortable right now with Dozier right there,’’ Gardenhire said. “He’s been swinging it, having quality at-bats.’’
Mauer, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Chris Parmelee and Trevor Plouffe will fill out the lineup. Pedro Florimon will bat ninth. The hope is that the slick-fielding Florimon can bat .250 and turn the lineup over once in a while.
Two or three catchers?
Brandon Boggs, Wilkin Ramirez and Jeff Clement remain in camp as options to be a bat off the bench. The Twins will look around the league this week to see if better options exist. If the Twins add a bench bat, it will mean Drew Butera is out as the third catcher. Butera has an option left and can be sent to the minors. There is some interest in Butera on the trade market — many teams lack catching depth. Keep in mind that the Twins have considered using two catchers before but stuck with Butera.
A week from now, we should have answers to all these questions.
La Velle E. Neal III email@example.com
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