Reusse: Some moves were forced, but Gardenhire has lineup he likes

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 9, 2012 - 11:36 PM

The Twins’ starting nine that sprayed line drives all over Target Field on Saturday showed long-term potential.

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Trevor Plouffe, right, welcomed Joe Mauer back to the dugout after Mauer scored on a double by Ryan Doumit in the fourth inning of the Twins' 11-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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The 2011 Twins had lost nine of 11, falling to 52-65 and 9 1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central. They arrived in Cleveland on Aug. 12 to launch what manager Ron Gardenhire hoped would be a last-gasp move toward contention.

Justin Morneau was returning from a pinched nerve in his neck and a rehab assignment in Class AAA Rochester.

This caused Gardenhire to say during a Friday radio appearance: "I'm going to be able to write down the 'A' lineup tonight for the first time since the first week of the season."

An hour later, Gardenhire called back to the station with this bulletin: "We didn't get through early batting practice. Cuddy [Michael Cuddyer] wrenched his neck on his last swing. He's out for a while.''

The combination of injuries and ineptitude caused Gardenhire to use 150 batting orders in 162 games. It also caused 99 losses, the second most in the Twins' 51 seasons in Minnesota.

"We never had anything close to a regular lineup last season,'' Gardenhire said.

He said this after an 11-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs that guaranteed a fourth series victory in a row for the 2012 Twins. There has been a shuffle again this season, although based more on a search for usable parts than a pervasive run of injuries to position players.

Joe Mauer had started 51 of the first 53 games before missing four in a row because of a thumb injury. "It was too bad because Joe really was barreling up the ball," Gardenhire said. "He was starting to hit."

On Saturday, Mauer returned (with three hits) and the manager put out his 47th batting order in 58 games. It also led to what Gardenhire can envision as an "A'' lineup for the first time in what adds up to well over 200 games.

"I like the way what we had out there today comes together as a batting order," Gardenhire said. "If we stay healthy, I'd like to write down this lineup on a regular basis and see what these guys can do."

Saturday's batting order: 1-Denard Span, cf; 2-Ben Revere, rf; 3-Mauer, c; 4-Josh Willingham, lf; 5-Morneau, 1b; 6-Ryan Doumit, dh; 7-Trevor Plouffe, 3b; 8-Brian Dozier, ss; 9-Jamey Carroll, 2b.

The Twins had tried Carroll and Dozier as No. 2 hitters earlier, and now have settled in with Revere as the every day No. 2.

Gardenhire: "He's not a work-a-pitcher hitter, but I like Ben's speed up there behind Denard. Ben's driving the ball more than when we had him last year, and his speed definitely can make the other team jumpy.''

Plouffe has used a power surge to earn a full shot at third base and to keep Danny Valencia on the back burner in Rochester. Gardenhire also has flip-flopped Plouffe with Dozier in the 7-8 spots in recent games.

Gardenhire: "Plouffe's backing up the middle of the order. Those guys are going to be on base, so that spot [7] is huge for us. If he can keep hitting for power, and drives in some runs, that makes this a lot better lineup.''

The manager also likes the Dozier-Carroll combo at the bottom of the order.

"Dozier isn't an out,'' Gardenhire said. "If he's up with two outs and you need a hit, he has a chance. And if he gets on to start an inning, Carroll will advance him."

It must be pointed out that the manager's new favorite batting order will not be on display Sunday afternoon against the Cubs. Drew Butera has caught two much-improved starts from Francisco Liriano, so he will be the catcher.

Gardenhire's early plan for Sunday was to put Butera between Dozier and Carroll at the bottom, split DH and first base between Mauer and Morneau, and have Doumit as a pinch- hitter on the bench.

"Alexi [Casilla] sort of played himself to the backup role in the infield, but I'm OK with what we have on the bench right now,'' the manager said. "Parmelee being back gives us an extra bat we really needed, and I like what [Darin] Mastroianni brings ... speed, and he'll swing the bat.

"We're in better shape with our position players than in quite a while.''

And then there was a rap of knuckles on a table.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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