February 21, 2005

Gardy's Q&A

Friday's edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune included a Q&A session with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. Normally this sort of thing is filled with cliches and similarly uninteresting stuff, but the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, La Velle E. Neal, actually managed to get a few interesting tidbits out of Gardenhire.

For instance, regarding Jason Kubel's strikeout against Mariano Rivera in a key spot against the Yankees in last year's American League Division Series, Gardenhire was brutally honest:

If I had known that Jason Kubel was going to go up there in that situation and have a panic at-bat, I would have done something else. He hadn't done that the whole time he had been here. He had been right on the ball and was on Mariano Rivera the last time he faced him, and not many others had been. You think about that all the time.

I think calling it a "panic at-bat," while perhaps not Kubel's preferred wording, is a perfect description of what took place. In fact, here's what I wrote about the at-bat the day after it happened, back on October 7:

[Kubel] had perhaps the worst at-bat I've ever seen. Facing Rivera with the game tied at five and runners on second and third with one out in the eighth inning, Kubel took a first-pitch strike right down the middle of the plate and then swung at consecutive pitches that were literally above his eyes. Just a brutal effort in a crucial situation.

Of course, in Kubel's defense, Rivera makes a lot of hitters look bad against him and Kubel was a 22-year-old rookie getting a surprise postseason start. Plus, when Gardenhire says Kubel "hadn't done that the whole time he had been here," he is referring to a grand total of 67 plate appearances.

Asked which jobs were open for competition as spring training gets under way, Gardenhire said:

There are not many open. We have to see who will come off our bench, third base and shortstop. We think we can fill them with what we have here in camp. A pitching spot is open, depending on Joe Mays. We want him to be that starter. He'll have a good shot. There's not too much after that.

We have some veterans from other ballclubs who can give us some depth, and that could be huge.

Gardenhire later followed up on those comments:

[Cuddyer] could still play second if Luis Rivas comes in and doesn't play well. I could put Cuddy over at second. Then I can put [Eric] Munson at third or Terry Tiffee. I've got options. There's lot of things that could happen here, but I want Cuddyer over at third. I think it is time. I think he is comfortable in the major leagues and has been able to make adjustments to different roles. I think he likes second base a lot, but he also understands the opportunity to get 400-500 at-bats at third, and I think he's ready for it.

Those two comments are very interesting when taken together, because they would seem to contradict each other to some degree. Gardenhire lists third base as one of just four "open" spots on the team, but then says, "I want Cuddyer over at third. I think it is time." On the other hand, he does not list second base as an open job, but then goes on to say that Luis Rivas could lose his handle on the spot if he doesn't play well and Michael Cuddyer would be the next option there.

I would be interested to learn what separates the second-base situation from the third-base situation in Gardenhire's mind. Rivas is the favorite at second base, but could face competition from Cuddyer; Cuddyer is the favorite at third base, but could face competition from Eric Munson and Terry Tiffee. Yet one spot is "open" and one isn't. I'd also love to hear what exactly Rivas would have to do to qualify as not "playing well," since I was under the impression that he had been doing that to a sufficient degree for the past four seasons or so.

Basically, I think Gardenhire feels strongly about what he would like to see happen at every position except shortstop. He wants Rivas to come in and claim second base by playing well, he wants to give Cuddyer a chance to play every day at third base, and he would love it if Joe Mays would prove he is healthy and able to take the ball every fifth day. At shortstop, I assume everyone involved would love to see Jason Bartlett have a monster spring training and stake his claim to the job on a long-term basis, but even if he does that I'm not sure that he'd head north with the team.

Asked about Joe Mauer's health status -- the question on everyone's mind -- Gardenhire said:

He's got nothing wrong with his knee, but we want to make sure he gets through the early part of this camp. We'll see how it goes, because there's a lot of work for catchers the first part of camp. We will take it slow and protect him as much as we can. We've got extra catchers here. He looks great, but we still have to use some caution.

That's stretching things a bit, because clearly Mauer does have something wrong with his knee, but Gardenhire is essentially just continuing to toe the company line about Mauer's health. At this point, everyone involved with the Twins has come out so strongly about Mauer being ready to go and ready to catch that the only thing we can all do is wait and find out. In other words, all the talk is going to be meaningless very soon. Mauer either can or he can't, and if you trust the Twins' medical staff and people like Gardenhire and Terry Ryan, the organization thinks he can.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Smoltz for Alexander (by Studes)

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