Ponson's heft is just one question among many

As spring training begins, the Twins' starting rotation behind Cy Young winner Johan Santana remains unsettled.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - Sidney Ponson tried to make a point Sunday: As long as his pitches pack a punch, why should everyone worry about his paunch?

"My arm shape and staying healthy is my main concern," he said. "Just do the things you need to do, PFPs [pitchers fielding practice], covering first base.

"What would you say about David Wells?"

As Twins pitchers and catchers reported to camp Sunday, the focus was on how the starting rotation will fall into place behind two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

Righthander Carlos Silva is trying to bounce back from a poor 2006 season. Righthander Ramon Ortiz is a middle-of-the-rotation starter. Righthander Boof Bonser is the most accomplished of several prospects -- and that's based on a six-week run during the second half of last season.

So Ponson, a former 17-game winner who's made headlines for his weight and run-ins with the law in recent seasons, looms as a potential solution.

For that to happen, Ponson has to rediscover the form that helped him go 17-13 in 2003. By the way, the righthander said he weighed a career-high 269 pounds that season.

"I've had my ups and downs with weight in the past," he said. "and I've pitched good on high weights."

Ponson wouldn't divulge his current weight, but he didn't look close to the 280 pounds he was rumored to be last season, when he was 4-4 with a 5.24 ERA in 14 games with the Cardinals and 0-1 with 10.47 ERA in five games with the Yankees.

"He looks like he's in decent shape," said closer Joe Nathan, Ponson's teammate in 2003 in San Francisco. "So hopefully he'll get back to the form I saw him in in 2003 when he takes the ball and he can chew up some innings and go deep into games."

Ponson's arm definitely has improved. He said he has pitched the past three to four seasons with bone chips in his elbow. He had surgery to remove them in October.

"My arm felt better right when I came out of surgery," he said.

Ponson addressed a few other subjects as teammates unpacked and headed to a field to play catch or to a batting cage to get in some swings.

• On his past, which includes spending 11 days in an Aruban jail after punching a local judge, two drunken-driving incidents and an injury to his right hand after an altercation in a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., restaurant: "You go forward in life, not just baseball but your personal life. You guys know what I have [done] in the past, and I'm not going to do that again."

• On spending more time in Florida this offseason instead of his native Aruba: "I got away from Aruba. I had to get away from people who really know me. I didn't do much, stayed low. Worked out. I'm engaged and now looking forward to [marriage]. Hopefully that will last forever."

• On working with Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson: "Oh yeah. I have heard really good things about him. I've talked to him on the phone, and I'm looking forward to it. This pitching staff has been one of the best in the league for years."

• On this possibly being his last chance: "It is make or break my career this year. If I mess up this year I don't think I will get chances, but you never know. Hopefully I can come in and help this team win and do what they want to do: have a parade in October."

  • TWINS SPRING TRAINING • Position players report on Friday Spring training opener: vs. Boston • 6:05 p.m. Feb. 28

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