Twins GM remains optimistic

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 16, 2011 - 8:45 PM

Bill Smith is hoping his team, once several injured players return, can climb in the standings after a slow start.

The Twins have lost eight consecutive games and have the worst record in baseball. But General Manager Bill Smith, being the optimist he is, is not ready to conduct a fire sale. He's confident that once Joe Mauer and all the other injured players get healthy, the team will make a bid for another American League Central title.

One reason for the optimism is that even though it might be some time before Mauer is ready to catch on a regular basis -- maybe weeks -- Smith believes the Mauer of old, the 2009 AL MVP and three-time league batting champion, will make a strong comeback.

"Joe continues to make good progress, and I think we'll get him down to Fort Myers here in the coming days, this coming week," Smith said. "We need to get him going. I had a good chat with him and he's making good progress and that's good for all of us."

It's hard to blame the horrible play of the Twins on the absence of one player, but Mauer's replacement, Drew Butera, is hitting .113, has only four RBI and doesn't have the experience handling Twins pitchers that Mauer has. With Mauer in the lineup, the Twins' record would be much improved.

"We're in a terrible rut right now," Smith said. "We got a real good pitching performance from Nick Blackburn on Saturday and we couldn't get the big hit to close it out early. Then once the wheels fell off in the 11th, it was an ugly inning."

Came back before

Smith pointed to 2006, when the Twins were 12 games out of first place on July 15 with a 49-40 record and finished in first place in the AL Central with a 96-66 record.

"We've been counted out many times over the years," Smith said. "Anything can happen. You look at the Tigers, they've won seven in a row. A week ago they were scuffling and I think we were only a game and a half behind them and now they've had a great run. When this team starts clicking, there's a lot of baseball left, but we're going to have to fight our way out of it."

Still, the Twins have never had a record as bad as 12-26 through 38 games and come back to win the division.

Their current record is the third worst since the Twins moved to Minnesota in 1961. In 1982 and 1995 they started 11-27 and finished in seventh in the AL West and fifth in the AL Central, respectively. They also started 12-26 in 1981 and finished seventh in the West that year, too.

"We're going to have to right the ship here," Smith said. "I know guys are battling, but it's just everything we do doesn't work. I'm glad to see [Michael] Cuddyer had three hits Saturday, including a home run. [Cuddyer went 1-for-2 on Sunday.] [Justin] Morneau has had three multihit games in the last [six games]. I'm pleased to see some of those things coming. It's good to get Delmon Young back in the lineup and he's going to get going."

Smith said outfielder Jason Repko (sore left quadriceps muscle) and designated hitter Jim Thome (oblique strain) need to get some at-bats in Florida before being ready to play here.

As for infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Smith said: "He has not started playing in games, and he hasn't done any sliding. We said from the start this was going to be six to eight weeks. This is going to be eight weeks. I don't think we're looking at anything before the first of June with him. But he is down in Fort Myers and he's swinging the bat and throwing and doing some straight-on running. We haven't done much lateral work, but that will come here hopefully in the next week."

The Twins are not the only team needing pitching, according to Smith.

"I did a quick count this morning," he said. "I think there's 73 or 74 pitchers on the disabled list right now. One team's got five, another team's got six pitchers on the disabled list. It's tough; everybody is looking for pitching. Unfortunately some of the guys that are available are guys that we wouldn't have much interest in, so we're constantly looking. Right now it's a tough fit to try and find pitching."

The one pitcher who has been a surprise is Glen Perkins, who has an impressive 0.92 ERA in 19 2/3 innings pitched.

"Glen came to camp, he was in good shape, and he did well. I know he wants to be here, and we're certainly glad to have him right now," Smith said.

Smith said nobody has given up. "We've just got to keep banging away and I know one thing, these guys haven't quit trying," he said. "I know that. They're still pulling for each other and so we're going through a horrible stretch, but we're going to bang our way out of it and see if we can get back into this thing."

Jottings

• Twins President Dave St. Peter said Commissioner Bud Selig has appointed Twins owner Jim Pohlad to the Major League Baseball Finance Committee. Pohlad also continues to serve on the board of directors for baseball's Internet-focused company, MLB Advanced Media.

• Look for the Twins to announce a major concert at Target Field in the near future.

• Corey Brewer, the former Timberwolves guard who was traded by David Kahn to the Knicks, then signed by Dallas when he was cut, at least wound up on a winning team. The Mavericks swept the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the playoffs. Brewer didn't see a lot of action with the Mavericks in the Lakers series. He played eight minutes in Game 1, going 2-for-4 from the field, including a three-pointer, for five points. He did not play in Game 2 and played only one minute in Game 3. In the clinching game, Brewer only got in after the contest was well out of hand but scored two points and had two steals in five minutes.

• Three Gophers freshmen were named to the Amateur Wrestling News' All-Rookie team. Tony Nelson and Kevin Steinhaus earned first-team mention and David Thorn made the all-rookie fifth team.

• Wilson Ramos is not only holding up at the plate for the Washington Nationals, hitting .267 with two homers and seven RBI in part-time duty, but the former Twins catcher has been excellent at throwing out base stealers this season, too. He threw out Logan Morrison and Hanley Ramirez on Saturday in the Florida Marlins' 1-0 victory, putting Ramos at 7-for-14 against stolen-base attempts. ... Before going 0-for-4 in a victory at Tampa Bay on Saturday, Baltimore's J.J. Hardy hit .500 (8-for-16) in his first four games since coming off the disabled list (strained oblique). The former Twins shortstop, who had two more hits including a grand slam Sunday, is hitting .325.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. shartman@startribune.com.

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