Spring Training Quick Hits: March 18

In this edition, the Twins appear to be at full strength, Francisco Liriano continues to advance in the WBC, Juan Rincon seems to be ready, and much more.

TOPIC A:

The Twins lost numerous key players from spring training due to the World Baseball Classic.

But they not only survived the tournament with their health intact -- unlike some other teams -- but they found positives within the adversity.

"I've enjoyed this camp very much because we've had a lot of young kids get a chance to get out there on a little bit more of a consistent basis," said general manager Terry Ryan, whose baseball background is heavy on the scouting side.

With eight projected members of the Opening Day roster out of camp for the first round of the tournament, and six still gone through the second round, the Twins used several minor-leaguers in big-league camp, including last year's top draft pick, right-hander Matt Garza.

Garza got four Grapefruit League appearances and produced a 1.23 ERA in 7 1/3 innings, including a scoreless, two-inning start just before being sent back to minor league camp.

And Triple-A right-hander Boof Bonser, a former first-round pick of the Giants who could be in line for his big-league debut this year, also got bonus innings with higher-profile pitchers out of camp.

"I'm not worried about (Johan) Santana. I'm not worried about (Carlos) Silva," Ryan said of the two frontline starters who pitched for Team Venezuela in the WBC. "I'm not worried about (Team USA's Joe) Nathan. It's given Garza and Bonser and some of those types of guys an opportunity to toe the mound."

NOTES, QUOTES:

  • LHP Francisco Liriano, the Twins' top pitching prospect and a candidate for the fifth-starter spot, was the lone Twin remaining in the World Baseball Classic through the first two rounds. Liriano's Dominican Republic team has reached the tournament semifinals. Meanwhile, seven other potential members of the Twins' Opening Day roster have returned to camp healthy.

  • OF Jason Kubel missed all of last season recovering from a severe knee injury and entered camp with a lot to prove, but he has put himself into a legitimate position to compete with Michael Cuddyer and Lew Ford for the starting right field job, manager Ron Gardenhire said. Kubel, who was considered a near-lock for a Triple-A assignment when camp opened because of the injury, likely must win the starting job to break camp with the club, because the two others in the right field race are more versatile as backups.

  • RHP Juan Rincon, who has been bothered by elbow soreness, continued to make good progress in side work as he neared a possible exhibition debut. Rincon, who had minor elbow surgery in the offseason and has experienced discomfort in the surrounding muscles when throwing breaking balls this spring, is expected to throw a simulated game next week. If that goes well, the team's top setup man should be able to avoid opening the season on the disabled list.

  • Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew joined camp as a special instructor last week after agreeing to the uniformed role for the first time in more than 15 years. "It's pretty special, to tell you the truth, to have Harmon Killebrew down here," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't want our young players to forget where the game's been. You should always know why you're here."

  • The Twins continue to look at pinch-hit specialist Ruben Sierra as a backup first baseman, despite no career games at that position for the 18-year veteran. He's been taking grounders at first for much of camp.

  • Shortly after Team Canada players 1B Justin Morneau and RHP Jesse Crain returned from the World Baseball Classic, manager Ron Gardenhire found a Team Canada baseball pennant hanging on his door, and Team USA RHP Joe Nathan -- who was still pitching in the tournament -- had another hanging from his locker in the clubhouse. "That's the first shot fired from the United States-Canada border war in our clubhouse," Gardenhire said. "Really, we have no grounds to get on them. I know the U.S. team is still playing, but Canada waxed us. I asked them to sign my pennant."

  • Manager Ron Gardenhire held a team meeting Tuesday morning to regroup after much of the coaching and front office staff, as well as several players, returned from Sunday's memorial services for Twins legend Kirby Puckett, who died a week earlier following a stroke. "We talked about the Puck situation and what he meant to us and what's expected in this organization," Gardenhire said. "Some of these kids have not had the chance to see him play. We let them know he played the game the right way."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 34 -- Number belonging to Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, who died March 6 at age 45 following a massive stroke. The memory of the Twins legend is to be honored this season with patches bearing his number on the team's jersey sleeves.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Maybe one of the reasons we've settled down and played some solid ball is because guys aren't pressing. Guys took a look back at what's really important. When you lose someone like Kirby, if you don't step back and look at what's really important in life, there's something wrong with you." -- Twins bench coach Steve Liddle, after the team won for the fifth straight time early last week.


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