Ready or not, it's on for Twins

The Twins used a lineup absent four of their most important players to begin Grapefruit League play.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - The Grapefruit League season began Sunday night with Twins director of baseball communications Mike Herman turning his microphone on and announcing, "Hello. Good evening. Welcome to Hammond Stadium."

In Japanese.

The foreign media on hand to cover Tsuyoshi Nishioka's first game with the Twins nodded in approval, and Carl Pavano rocked and fired to Darnell McDonald to start the Twins' exhibition season.

Or has it started?

The lineup manager Ron Gardenhire penned on Sunday missed many of the usual suspects. Joe Mauer is taking lubrication injections in his left knee and is easing into spring training. Justin Morneau, the Twins hope, is in the final stages of his return from a concussion suffered in July. Delmon Young is out because of turf toe, and Michael Cuddyer has a wart on his left foot that, if it has to be removed, could keep him out of action for a couple of weeks.

Until the Twins field a lineup with their key players involved, spring training might not seem like spring training to Twins fans.

Even players are looking ahead to the point of camp when everyone is healthy -- or as healthy as they can be.

"Getting the full squad in uniform and out there together is what everyone is shooting for going into the season," outfielder Denard Span said. "I think it will be fun once we all get out there and feed each other."

When that will happen in anyone's guess. Mauer is teasing everyone by lashing line drive after line drive all over the Lee County Sports Complex during batting practice. Morneau, when he wasn't blasting home runs in batting practice Sunday, stood at first base and tracked balls off the bat. He might not play in a spring game for several more days.

Young should be back in the lineup soon, but the Twins are monitoring Cuddyer's situation carefully.

It's been a while since the fulcrum of the Twins offense (Mauer) and the Canadian clubber (Morneau) have been in the same lineup.

"It was more like the M&D boys last year, Mauer and Delmon," Span said. "Hopefully we can get the other M in there. He looks good. I think he's right on track."

Opening night did allow a sellout crowd of 8,027 to watch Nishioka, who reached on a bloop single in the fifth and was 1-for-3.

Nishioka proved in the second inning that he will be an athletic upgrade in the middle infield. He went to his right to grab Mike Cameron's grounder and flipped while falling to Alexi Casilla for a force play. He then went to his left to make a spinning stop of Jarrod Saltalamacchia's grounder before throwing him out.

It shouldn't be difficult for two infielders to get used to working together. But Nishioka has to learn how to communicate with teammates and adjust to a new league.

"He looks like he's got a lot of instinct to the game," Twins bench coach Scott Ullger said. "And he has an understanding of all the plays we run."

One of the standouts for the Twins on Sunday was Chris Parmelee, who singled, doubled, scored two runs and looked smooth while playing first.

Morneau could be close to returning -- he's going to be examined by a doctor soon. Until he and Mauer and Young and Cuddyer return to make the Twins one of the best lineups in baseball, Gardenhire will watch Parmelee and others fill in.

"I hope people don't get too mad with all of the big names we have down," Gardenhire said. "They are going to see some really interesting lineups with people they don't know very well. I'm excited about it, because I get to see a lot of different guys get in the lineup and get some at-bats."


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