Gardenhire flips on Willingham, puts him in left field instead

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2012 - 12:18 AM

The move appears to be another hint that Chris Parmelee might make the team.

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Josh Willingham

Photo: Charles Krupa, Associated Press

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JUPITER, FLA. - Twins manager Ron Gardenhire named Josh Willingham his starting left fielder Sunday, changing a projected outfield alignment that originally had Ben Revere in left, Denard Span in center and Willingham in right.

"I thought Ben in left field sounded fine, but then you start seeing everything, and things start changing a little bit," Gardenhire said. "If he's going to be a part-time starter and part-time extra guy, you've got to be able to play [all three outfield positions]."

Gardenhire said he is sticking with Span in center field, acknowledging that Revere, Trevor Plouffe and Chris Parmelee all could see time in right.

Parmelee, in fact, has started the past two spring training games in right. He has put together so many quality plate appearances this spring, batting .286 with three home runs and eight RBI, that the Twins are searching for ways to keep him in the lineup.

Justin Morneau's past seven games have all come at designated hitter. If the Twins decide he needs to stay at DH, Parmelee could take over at first base.

Asked who would play right field, Gardenhire turned it into an Abbott and Costello routine, saying, "Who's on first?"

But he was serious, adding: "Yes, it does hinge on that. A lot."

That was a clear indication that the Twins are serious about Parmelee's chances of making the team, something that seemed a longshot heading into camp. Parmelee batted .355 with four homers, 14 RBI and a .443 on-base percentage in his major league debut last September, but he made the jump straight from Class AA, and the Twins were expected to send him to Class AAA for more seasoning.

At 6-1 and 228 pounds, Parmelee is no speedster, but he has a strong lefthanded throwing arm and experience playing right field. In the minors, he played 323 games at first base and 282 in right, according to baseball-reference.com.

Plouffe is a converted shortstop, and the Twins hope his transition to the outfield helps him get the most of his offensive abilities. After a 2-for-17 start this spring, he was 6-for-12 in four games before straining his hamstring on March 18. He could return for a minor league game early this week.

The Twins will sacrifice significant range if Revere isn't given a starting spot, but his throwing arm remains a concern for the Twins. His throws were particularly erratic in left field this spring.

"I don't know what the difference is, but every time I get a throw in right, it seems like it's on the money all the time," Revere said. "But in left field, it's a totally different story, I have no idea why."

Revere has played primarily center field throughout his professional career, of course, but Gardenhire said he's not afraid to put Revere's arm in right field.

"His arm's getting better and better," Gardenhire said. "If he releases it right and doesn't try to overthrow the ball, his arm's fine. ... And baseball's so different. It used to be right field was the big-arm field, but the fields are all different. Our right field [in Minnesota is] almost the shortest place to throw the ball."

The slow-footed Willingham is way more familiar with left field. He has 647 major league starts in left, compared to 33 in right. So this move will mean one less adjustment for him as he begins his three-year, $21 million contract, trying to build on last year's 29-homer, 98-RBI season for Oakland.

"I've talked to Josh about left field, and he's obviously more comfortable there," Gardenhire said. "He'll do whatever we need done, but I'm trying to get as many people comfortable in one spot as we can."

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