Notes: Lineup should be more stable

Notes: Top of lineup should be more stable

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Changes to the lineup throughout a season are a common occurrence for any club, but for the Twins last year, the second slot in the lineup was more chaos than anything else.

Thirteen different players started at the second spot in the lineup, with no one player establishing a permanent home there. Among those hitting in the No. 2 hole were Nick Punto, Luis Rodriguez, Jason Bartlett, Juan Castro and Joe Mauer.

Punto led the team with 63 starts at the spot, with the next most coming from Rodriguez, who had 22. With a combined .244 average in the slot, it was no wonder the team tried to shake things up by trying a number of hitters in the position.

That state of transition appears to be over, though, as there are only two candidates for the top two slots in the order this season. Shannon Stewart and Luis Castillo are the two players Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has planned for the top of the order, but exactly which hole each will occupy remains a question mark.

"I could do it either way," Gardenhire said of which player will bat leadoff. "I'm going to sit back and take it in a little bit [this spring]. I'll start fiddling around with it and go from there."

The likely order seems to be Stewart remaining in the leadoff spot, his primary position the past two seasons, with Castillo batting behind him. Though he has batted in the second slot before in his career, Stewart has never hit there for the Twins. Despite that fact, Stewart told Gardenhire at TwinsFest that he would hit in any spot in the order that he was placed.

"It doesn't matter where I hit, I'm just here to play," Stewart said. "Whether I'm first or second, it would just be nice to be able to feed off (Castillo) and have him feed off me too. If we could get things rolling, good things could definitely come out of it."

Castillo has spent the past three years as the No. 2 hitter for the Marlins after leading off for most of his early career with the club. Since switching spots in the order, Castillo's number of stolen bases has dropped significantly. While many have blamed injuries as the cause, Castillo said that it has more to do with a different approach that he takes to hitting in each spot in the order.

"People maybe don't see it, but when I steal, I'm hitting first," Castillo said. "So when I hitting second, that's a different [approach] for me."

The fact Castillo even has two separate approaches to the different spots in the order is something that impressed Gardenhire.

"If you have two different theories for where you hit in the lineup, you're a pretty good hitter," Gardenhire said.

The Twins manager knows he will have more consistency at the top of the lineup this season if all three players can stay healthy. No matter exactly how the order finally stacks up, it is assured in Gardenhire's mind there will be a more dangerous top of the lineup this season.

"You put Castillo with Shannon Stewart and Joe Mauer in your first three hitters and you're looking at a 38 or 40 percent average of getting on base between those guys," Gardenhire said. "That's pretty good at the top of your lineup. That's three guys that know how to take walks, get on base, how to work counts, and have quality at-bats."

Time table: One of the biggest concerns for the Twins with so many of their pitchers participating in the World Baseball Classic is whether the starters participating will get enough work to make sure they are stretched out for the season.

The worry over one player was squashed when general manager Terry Ryan was assured by the Dominican Republic team that Francisco Liriano will be kept on a similar pitching schedule to what the Twins had planned for him.

Liriano is scheduled to pitch in the country's first game March 5 and will be limited to 30 pitches. He will stay on a regular five-day routine with his next appearance coming March 10, when he will be on a 50-pitch count.

"The good news is that we'll get his innings stretched out and he'll be somewhat ready to start the season," Gardenhire said. "Whether it's here right away or down the road, he'll be on that schedule."

The Twins are still concerned about pitcher Carlos Silva, however, as they have been told that he will be pitching out of the bullpen for Venezuela.

"If they go all the way to the finals, he might be stretched out to two innings while we are trying to stretch him to six, seven innings," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "That's the biggest concern."

Rallying cry: As has become tradition on the first day of full-squad workouts, Gardenhire met with the entire team to give his players a little pep talk prior to heading out to the fields.

The theme of this year's talk seemed to be what it takes to make a winning ballclub. Though much has been mde of the Twins' shortcomings last season, Gardenhire wanted to stress to his players that he didn't feel they were that far off from success.

"We had too many one-run losses, but if you turn those games around, we were right there," Gardenhire said. "That's how close this ballclub was last year. We've added a few people and we could be right where we want to be if we continue to pitch and catch the ball and get a few big hits here and there. If we can do that, then we'll be right there again at the end where we need to be."

Twins tidbits: The pitching rotation for the early Spring Training games has not yet been set, except that starters Johan Santana and Silva will both see action in the team's first game March 2 against the Red Sox. This assures that both will get work in before leaving camp for the Venezuela team, which plays its first game March 7. Gardenhire also said that the goal was to make sure that every pitcher participating in the World Baseball Classic will see action in a Spring Training game before they leave for their respective national team camps. ... The Twins were able to conduct their first day of workouts with all 63 players expected to be in camp there to partake in the workouts. ... Nine Twins players were signed to contracts for the 2006 season Friday: pitchers Boof Bonser, J.D. Durbin, Willie Eyre, Adam Harben and Jose Mijares; catcher Rob Bowen; first baseman Garrett Jones; and outfielders Jason Pridie and Alex Romero.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.