FORT MYERS, FLA. – Twins manager Paul Molitor had his postgame media session on Tuesday and was surprised when the questions had ended.
“Nobody asked me about Ricky,’’ Molitor said. “I guess we’re taking him for granted. That’s good.’’
Ricky Nolasco had pitched five strong innings against a representative lineup. His work and physical condition this spring have taken him off the list of big questions for the Twins as they close in on the end of spring training.
That’s OK, because Molitor has other headaches: a couple of small ones and a migraine.
The Twins have to decide if Tommy Milone, Trevor May or Mike Pelfrey will be the fifth starter. They have to decide between Eric Fryer and Chris Herrmann as the backup catcher. And there are decisions to be made for a seven-man bullpen, although the guess here is that givens Glen Perkins, Casey Fien and Brian Duensing will be joined by four righthanders: Blaine Boyer, Tim Stauffer, J.R. Graham and Pelfrey.
These are decisions where the differences between Players A and B could be minute. Small headaches.
The migraine will be in choosing the best options for two-thirds of the outfield: center … and left.
Even though he’s new to this, Molitor took a time-honored managerial tact and framed the center field quandary as if he were choosing among worthy contenders and not out of desperation.
“[Aaron] Hicks has been fine down here,’’ said Molitor, knowing any outfield conversation would lead to the 25-year-old who now seems more a center fielder of the past (538 plate appearances in 2013-14) than for the present.
Molitor said Jordan Schafer has made improvements at the plate from his brief time with the Twins last season. The manager was asked whether a platoon was possible — meaning the lefthanded Schafer and Hicks from his better side (right) — and he said, “That’s one of the options.’’
And then he mentioned that Shane Robinson, a righthanded hitter signed as a minor league free agent, has shown more this month than the big-league staff might have expected.
Based on nothing more than opinion, I’m saying the next few days will determine Hicks’ fate with the organization: Either he will open the season sharing center field with Schafer, or the Twins will move Hicks for a fringe prospect before departing Florida.
If it’s Option B, the Twins could have Schafer and Robinson hold down center field until the blessed day in July when Byron Buxton arrives to save the summer.
More intriguing than what’s going to become of Hicks is what’s going to happen with Oswaldo Arcia in left field.
Molitor hasn’t flat-out said it, and General Manager Terry Ryan hasn’t flat-out said it, but others have: The persistence of wasted at-bats and poor play in the outfield have made Arcia a sizable disappointment this spring.
Excuses can be made that Arcia had a stomach problem for a week, and that he has been flipped from right field to left, but the fact is, there has been no more consistency, no more maturity in Ozzie’s game, than when he batted .231 with 127 strikeouts in 372 at-bats last season.
As a 21-year-old, he had a stroke to the ball that was short, quick, powerful, wonderful, and then he hit some bombs at Target Field, and heard the cheers, and enjoyed the journeys around the bases, and now he has this long swing with a wild finish, and he’s often futile against lefties, and what has to be done for Ozzie to be the standout hitter that most everyone thought he would become?
“What is he … 23?’’ Molitor said. “He has a lot of energy. Sometimes it’s diverted to the wrong things. He has the ability to hit the ball over the fence. He also has the ability to become a complete player. To get there as a hitter, he has to decrease the number of noncompetitive at-bats.’’
Asked if Arcia is in competition for a job in these final days of exhibitions, Molitor said: “I believe so.’’
The competition is rookie Eddie Rosario, a different kind of hitter, but a good one, and also a better outfielder. Arcia might be advised to spend less of his energy raising Cain after bad at-bats, and more of it having good at-bats, or …
OK, it’s probably not going to happen, such a dramatic change in the Twins’ Plan A, but with 10 days left in Florida, know this: Left field has been as much of a mess as center.
Maybe Miguel Sano should start taking fly balls next to Buxton.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500.