Twins' first rule of camp: Forget 99

Ron Gardenhire is trying to purge his memory of last year's losses. Having healthy stars is the best way to do it.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is set to address his team Friday morning before the first full-squad workout of spring training, and his restraint will be tested.

Every year, he tries to set the tone for camp with a provocative speech. He's worried that, in mid-speech Friday, he will begin to think about last year's 63-99 record -- and all that went into it -- and his blood will boil.

"I've got some things I'm going to touch on, it just depends on how fired up I get with how different my message will be," Gardenhire said. "If I [get angry] when I'm talking and thinking about things, it'll probably be pretty rough. Might hurt a few feelings. But if I can remain calm myself, it'll be nice."

Gardenhire chuckled at the thought, but last season was no laughing matter. The Twins have extended their workout schedule by three days and brought in a whopping 66 players to camp, showing how badly club officials want to turn things around.

The Twins want to remodel the bullpen, keep the starting rotation healthy and put the most sure-handed team in the field they can find.

Even if they achieve all of that, the Twins likely will go nowhere unless the fulcrum of their offense, catcher Joe Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau, are healthy.

"We've got good players," Gardenhire said. "We just have to play the game the right way."

As the Twins begin full-squad workouts Friday, here are five players to watch in camp.

1. Justin Morneau

Unfortunately, the question of whether he can return to MVP form can't be immediately answered. Morneau has battled concussion issues for 1 1/2 seasons, during which he has played in only 150 games. He played in 69 games last season, batting .227 with four homers and 30 RBI. He has to prove he can get through the daily grind of workouts and games here, then get through the regular season. He's been through a lot and still has a long way to go to prove he's back.

2. Joe Mauer

Mauer entered camp with no health concerns, which is refreshing because that was a constant topic last season. He was slowed by what the Twins described as bilateral leg weakness, which touched off a storm of speculation about the root of his ailment. Mauer has maintained that he has nothing seriously wrong, although he missed the final weeks of the season because of pneumonia. He dedicated himself in the weight room during the offseason and appears to be in terrific shape. Still, the $184 million man is always going to be judged differently, and fans likely will want to see results before they are satisfied.

3. Danny Valencia

Valencia often was in Gardenhire's cross hairs last season for his approach and attitude. The manager wants his young third baseman to work on his defense and stay focused during games. There also was a point last year when teammates privately pointed to a me-first attitude as a problem. Valencia batted .246 last season with 15 homers and a team-high 72 RBI, and the Twins want to see more. "I liked the way he was at the end of the year.'' Gardenhire said. "We'll see how it carries over."

4. Jamey Carroll

Carroll is 38 years old and has played more games at second base than shortstop in his career. But the Twins have signed him to a two-year, $6.5 million contract to stabilize a shortstop position they've been unable to secure since the days of Jason Bartlett. Gardenhire also indicated Carroll, who batted .290 with a .359 on-base percentage last year with the Dodgers, will bat second. Carroll has been called a late-bloomer (he debuted at age 28) and a survivor. Will Carroll, the man of a certain age, prove that 38 is the new 28?

5. Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Will Nishioka have to begin the season at Class AAA Rochester? "I'm not really thinking about that at this moment," he said. He might have to if he has a bad camp. Barring injury, Nishioka's only chance of making the team is as a utility player. That could be a challenge for him because most utility players are good defensive players, and Nishioka committed 12 errors in 66 games last season and missed other makeable plays. So he has to make all the routine plays during spring training and show that he's adjusted to MLB pitching and the MLB strike zone. He says he's more comfortable here in his second season in the U.S. He must prove it.

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Toronto 3:00 PM
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