Doumit has leather in locker, some pop in bat

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 10, 2012 - 8:59 AM

The former Pirates catcher was added for his hitting and mostly will serve as Twins DH.

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Ryan Doumit will serve as Joe Mauer’s backup catcher, but he is expected to be the Twins’ primary designated hitter.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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FORT MYERS, FLA. - Ryan Doumit keeps four different models of gloves in his locker stall. One for when he plays catcher, one for outfield, one for first base and one for, well, not sure exactly. Perhaps an infielder's glove.

"All I need," he said, "is a shortstop glove and a closer's glove."

In reality, the Twins are counting on his bat more than his plethora of gloves, but it's nice to have options, particularly if a tidal wave of injuries and maladies sweeps through the locker room again this season.

As it stands now, Doumit's primary role will be as designated hitter. But he'll also serve as Joe Mauer's backup, plus an occasional game in the outfield and, in really desperate times, spot duty at first base.

"That's the great thing about it, I finally got that guy who is a multipositioned guy who also catches," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I've kind of been wanting that for a few years around here. It's good to have him here."

This was the kind of role Doumit sought -- especially the DH part -- after spending his 13-year professional career in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, the past four as the team's Opening Day catcher.

"It was time for a change of scenery," he said.

He found it in a strangely familiar place. Doumit grew up in a small farming community in the middle of Washington state. His friend and high school classmate was former Twins first-round pick B.J. Garbe. Teammates in baseball and football -- Doumit played cornerback, Garbe was the star quarterback -- both were selected in the 1999 draft. Doumit went in the second round, No. 59 overall.

As "young pups" trying to establish their footing in professional baseball, Doumit lived with Garbe in Fort Myers during the offseason and trained with other Twins players at the team's complex, including Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and A.J. Pierzynski. Doumit had met Justin Morneau a few years earlier during a pre-draft workout for the Seattle Mariners.

"I had a pretty good feel for some of the guys here and how this organization is run," Doumit said.

Mostly, he welcomed a fresh start and a new role after getting pulverized physically in recent seasons as the Pirates catcher. He suffered multiple concussions, "blew out" his hamstring in 2006, broke his left thumb in '08 and his right wrist in '09 and fractured his left ankle in a home plate collision last season. He had enough of that gig, at least on an everyday basis, and found a landing spot with the Twins after the Pirates declined to pick up his option. 

"I was ready to get out of the National League just because with the opportunity to DH a little bit, it will give me a chance to stay healthier than I have been in the past," he said. "This is an opportunity to get out from behind the plate, play some more positions and just stay healthy. Make no mistake, I love to catch. But I'm also realistic enough to know that I'm playing on the same team with the best catcher in the game and if he's healthy, he's going to catch and I'm all for that. I'm also at the point where my body is telling me this is a good thing. Maybe if I can catch once or twice a week and play a couple more positions, that adds some longevity."

Doumit's versatility gives Gardenhire some position flexibility, but the Twins didn't sign him to a one-year, $3 million contract because of his defense. They needed to add some production to their offense and, when he's healthy, Doumit's hitting can mask his deficiencies in the field.

A switch hitter, Doumit has a career. 271 average with 67 home runs. His best season came in 2008, when he hit .318 with 15 homers and 69 RBI in 116 games.

"He's got some pop in his bat," Morneau said.

Doumit described his hitting style as "gap to gap." Sometimes, he said, those doubles carry into home runs. He probably won't make many highlight packages with his defense, but if he can be functional in the field and add some power to the lineup, that's a welcome tradeoff.

"My defense is something I'm never going to be completely satisfied with," he said. "I'm going to continue to push myself."

He paused.

"I know I can hit," he said. "I'm pretty confident in my hitting."

His offense should benefit from a chance to avoid the day-to-day grind of catching. He played catcher and went 1-for-2 Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals. He started in right field one day earlier and also has seen action in left field and designated hitter this spring.

"It's like summer ball in high school all over again," he said. "You didn't put too much thought into it. You just went out there and played. That's the approach I'm taking."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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  • Ryan Doumit likely will play a variety of positions for the Twins this season, but he was signed in the offseason primarily to add some punch to the lineup.

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