Twins General Manager Bill Smith isn't going to panic because of his team's 5-10 start. But at the same time, he said Sunday: "We understand the importance of every game. You can lose a division in April just as easily as you can lose it in September. You can win it in April just as easily as you can win it in September. We've got to right the ship, and we're going to get our guys back on track."
However, Smith looks back to 1991, when the Twins also were 5-10 after 15 games, having gone through a seven-game losing streak. That team went on to beat Atlanta in the World Series, and Smith sees hope that this year's club can turn it around, too.
"We've had a tough few days here, and you know they really hurt when ... late in the game, you've got a lead and they get away from you," Smith said from St. Petersburg, Fla., where the Twins lost three of four games to the Rays. "We've got a lot of work to do."
The big news from Sunday was that Matt Capps was taking over the closer role from Joe Nathan, who had blown two save opportunities against the Rays after converting his first three chances this season. Capps came on and pitched a scoreless ninth inning in the Twins' 4-2 victory on Sunday.
"We're going to get Nathan in the game a little bit earlier," Smith said. "The good news, both guys are healthy. Their arms are fine and all that. We just need to calm things down and get ourselves back on track. But I know one thing: If we're going to have any success this year, Nathan and Capps and some of these other guys that have struggled a little bit lately, they're going to be a big part of it."
Smith said that the Twins -- who are dead last in Major League Baseball in runs scored at 45 through 15 games and are hitting .235 as a team -- have to get their offense going. For instance, in this four-game series with Tampa Bay, veteran Rays outfielder Johnny Damon had more RBI (six) than Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Delmon Young and Danny Valencia had combined (four).
As for Joe Mauer, who is on the disabled list, Smith said the All-Star catcher has been "sick as a dog" for the past few days.
"I don't think anyone thinks this is any kind of long-term issue with him," Smith said. "We're going to get him back on the field, get him healthy, and then have him back for the long run of the season.
"He's had all these aches in his legs, and his legs have been very weak. All of a sudden ... the day that we put him on the DL, some of this other stuff came up. This flu or viral infection, whatever, kind of hit him and it hit him hard.
"So you know, that helps kind of explain some of the other symptoms he was having."
Smith said Mauer did have to go to a hospital in Florida, but it was precautionary.
"The Rays doctor in Tampa, he treated him during the game and then he said, 'You need to take him to the hospital, just to get some tests run.' They treated him and released him, but they got some fluids back in him and got him on some antibiotics to try and get rid of this."
Smith reported Morneau didn't play Sunday because he was ill. The slugger had played every game this season before Sunday.
"He's hit some balls hard," Smith said. "He's gotten robbed on a few, he's gotten a few soft ones, and that's what happens, they all even out over the course of the year. But we're thrilled with the progress Justin's made from the concussion last summer. We're thrilled to have him back in the lineup."
• While the Twins are playing the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim from Sept. 2-4, the Gophers football team will be playing its opening game under new coach Jerry Kill against Southern California in Los Angeles on Sept. 3.
• Longtime Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, who missed all of spring training and the season to date because of eye surgery, will rejoin the team when it comes home from its road trip Friday. Former Twins catcher and minor league manager Phil Roof has been subbing for Stelmaszek.
• It's no surprise Nathan is having some problems after having the Tommy John elbow surgery. Speaking with him before the Twins left for their road trip, he said he didn't expect to be 100 percent before June 1. ... Meanwhile, Capps hadn't been that great this season, with a 4.50 ERA in his first seven games, but he did look good recording his first save Sunday, needing only eight pitches to finish off the Rays.
• While scouting for Toronto, former Twins catcher Sal Butera was able to watch the two-game Twins-Kansas City series at Target Field and was able to watch his son Drew catch Wednesday. ... The Twins' decision to trade both Wilson Ramos and Jose Morales isn't looking that great right now with Mauer on the DL and both of those players having nice starts to the 2011 season. Ramos, traded to Washington for Capps last summer, has been excellent this season, hitting .414 (12-for-29) with two doubles, two RBI and six runs scored. He has been platooning with 14-time All-Star Ivan Rodriguez. Morales has seen limited action with Colorado, appearing in five games, but he has three hits in 11 at-bats to go with three RBI and one run.
• More evidence indicating Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith doesn't have any plans to leave is that the Tubby Smith Foundation, which had Lexington, Ky., as its headquarters, will now share that with an office in Minneapolis. Smith will hold a golf tournament at the Edina Country Club in September to raise money for the foundation.
• When the Vikings had 30 top draft prospects in town, Vice President of Player Personnel Rick Spielman offered the following information: "They'll watch tape of themselves, too," he said. "We do a pretty thorough job with grilling these guys when they come in here. We have the cut-ups on these guys that show all their strengths and weaknesses as players. We do run those tapes while we're sitting there talking about them in the draft meetings as well. It gives you a pretty good picture of what that player is."
• The Gophers football team has three more spring practices, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, when the spring game will be held at 1 p.m. at TCF Bank Stadium. After that, Kill will spend time interviewing every player on the squad and talking to them about their strengths, their weaknesses and what they have to do to get better. While he is doing that, most of the other coaches on the staff will be out recruiting. ... The Big Ten Network will stream the Gophers spring game online at bigtennetwork.com and televise it at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • email@example.com