After 16 games in spring training, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he likes what he has seen out of his ballclub.
Gardenhire is confident the team will score runs. But the team clearly needs to see the pitching improve from last year, when starters posted a 5.40 ERA and the team went 66-96 with the worst record in the American League.
“We have guys that we’re running out there. [Vance] Worley [four innings, 6.75 ERA], we got him and [Mike] Pelfrey [7⅔ innings, 3.52 ERA],” Gardenhire said. “[Liam] Hendriks [11 innings, 5.73 ERA] is throwing the ball pretty good. [Cole] De Vries [seven innings, 0.00 ERA] has been doing OK, [Kevin] Correia [6⅔ innings, 6.75 ERA] has been throwing the ball pretty good.
“[Kyle] Gibson had one good one [1⅔ innings, three strikeouts, one earned run on March 2] and the last one was a little bit shaky [2⅓ innings, one strikeout, six earned runs on Thursday].”
Some of those ERAs will obviously have to improve if the Twins will succeed this season.
“We have people going right now,” Gardenhire said. “We just have to put them in order. Eventually we will, and we’ll figure out who [the starters] are going to be.”
Hicks shows poise
The Twins manager is also excited about center fielder Aaron Hicks, who hit three home runs in one game this week and is hitting .406 in Grapefruit League play.
“He’s been a lot of fun to watch. He’s really playing well in center,” Gardenhire said of the 2008 first-round draft pick. “He’s really, really swinging the bat good. He doesn’t remind you of a rookie, let’s put it that way. He steps up there and has a real nice swing. He handles everything, doesn’t get too high and low. He has been a lot of fun to watch play baseball.”
Gardenhire added that he liked what third baseman Trevor Plouffe was doing until Sunday, when he suffered a calf injury that will sideline him for a week or so.
“He had that [injury] earlier and he was doing a workout in the weight room and he pulled a calf muscle,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been swinging really, really good, so that’s unfortunate that he hurt his calf again.”
Gardenhire sang the defensive praises of several other infielders, including Jamey Carroll, Eduardo Escobar, Pedro Flormion and Brian Dozier, who are battling for the shortstop and second base positions.
“We’ve been using all kinds of [middle infield] combinations and we like the way they’re catching the ball,” he said. “Now let’s see about the offense and see which one can probably give us the most offense, also. But they’re really playing well, we’ve been catching the ball pretty good up the middle.”
Gardenhire added: “I’m excited. If we keep our pitching staff intact, you know, all we need is innings. We believe we can score runs and we have some people who can do some things, and some of these young kids are going to really step in and be a big part of it. We just need to pitch and give ourselves a chance for five or six innings, seven innings, and anything can happen. We’re excited from what we’ve seen so far.”
Must raise level
Winning on the road was not easy for any team in the Big Ten this season, as road teams went a combined 39-69 overall.
The Gophers went 1-8 on the road in Big Ten play this year, tying them with Nebraska and Penn State for the worst road record in the league. Only Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin had winning road records; of those schools, Indiana was the only one that was better than 5-4 on the road, going 7-2.
So it’s no mystery that Tubby Smith believes that the Gophers will have to raise their level of play compared to how they performed in their last two losses at Nebraska and Purdue if they are to go far in the Big Ten tournament, which begins Thursday in Chicago when the Gophers face Illinois.