Notes: Nathan lacks Classic velocity

Notes: Nathan lacks Classic velocity in spring

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Concerns surrounding players participating in the World Baseball Classic have ranged from such topics as potential injury all the way to whether a player's absence will affect his ability to make a ballclub.

For Twins pitcher Joe Nathan, the concern is something a little more trivial -- velocity.

March has traditionally been a slower progression month for the Twins closer. Nathan's usual mid-90s fastball hits closer to numbers in the 80s during this time of the year. So whether or not his velocity will be there for the early Team USA games is somewhat of a question mark.

It's something that even manager Ron Gardenhire joked about during one of his daily meetings.

"When Buck Martinez (manager of Team USA) sees him throwing 84 mph on March 6, he's going to have a heart attack," Gardenhire said with a laugh. "Just like we did his first year here. Like Nathan says, 'My slider's going to be 88, and my fastball's going to be 84.'"

But despite Nathan's tendency to start slow, Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson doesn't feel that the Twins closer will be any different than other pitchers in the event. Having such an event so early in Spring Training doesn't quite allow the pitchers to get to their normal range of velocity.

"He has some concerns of velocity being down, but he's not the only one -- everybody else will be the same thing," Anderson said. "Once you're there you will have plenty of time to get yourself ready."

Despite his propensity to take longer to get back to regular velocity, Nathan didn't feel it was necessary to change his preparation to pitch in the inaugural event.

"I didn't really change anything," Nathan said. "This is an important event, but I think at the same time, getting ready for [the Twins] is more important."

No matter if Nathan is in perfect form for the event or not, he is still one of the best relief pitchers for the U.S. With his impressive stats over the past two seasons such as back-to-back 40-save seasons and two straight All-Star appearances, Nathan has joined a select group of those considered among the game's elite. Others may have acknowledged that, but his modesty still lets Nathan think otherwise.

"To be selected as one of the few on the team, it's something that really surprised me," Nathan said. "When you look at the options they had to choose from ... wow."

First look: Jason Kubel will have his first opportunity to get in game action as he will be a designated hitter during the Twins' exhibition game with Concordia University-St. Paul on Wednesday morning.

The 24-year-old outfielder has only faced live pitching in the instructional league this past fall since tearing three ligaments in his left knee during the 2004 Arizona Fall League. Kubel will be competing for the right field spot alongside Michael Cuddyer and Lew Ford this spring, but Gardenhire isn't going to rush him into defensive play.

"I want to protect him the best I can and we'll go from there," Gardenhire said of Kubel. "He's doing the drills and he's doing fine, but I don't want to kill him. I think breaking him in slowly by allowing him to hit and then eventually getting him into the outfield is the right thing to do."

15 and counting: Even as many of the Twins prepare to leave for their respective countries' camps for the World Baseball Classic later this week, the exact number of players departing is still unknown.

It appears that there will be 15 from the organization involved in the inaugural event, but additional names keep popping up. One such player is infielder Luis Rodriguez, who was named to one of the early rosters for Venezuela. Twins general manager Terry Ryan told Gardenhire on Monday that Rodriguez is still on the extras list for the country and likely will remain with the team.

Countries don't have to finalize their rosters until five days before their first game, so changes are still possible within the coming days. That type of uncertainty is something that Gardenhire wishes would just end.

"I would just like to get a list saying these are going and these guys aren't," Gardenhire said. "It's kind of like flipping a coin daily to see who is going to play in this thing."

More stability: Gardenhire hasn't made up his mind as to what order he will place Shannon Stewart and Luis Castillo at the top of the lineup, but once he decides on a leadoff hitter it will likely remain that way.

"I would like to have one guy do it for most of the year," Gardenhire said. "Go with one lineup and stick to it."

Staying with one lineup was a problem that the Twins had last season. Only two spots in the order had a player see more than 75 starts at that slot. The inconsistency is something that Gardenhire hopes to change.

"Really, how many different lineups did we have to write up last year?" Gardenhire said. "It's a lot better when you can stamp a lineup down -- well, makes it a little easier, anyway."

Quotable: "We had physicals, team pictures, video board photos, building a house and we were actually able to do some baseball, too." -- Gardenhire, on the team's busy day Monday

Etc: The Twins agreed to terms with four more players on contracts for the 2006 season: outfielder Lew Ford, shortstop Jason Bartlett, pitcher Dave Gassner and catcher Chris Heintz. The Twins now have 34 of their 40 players signed for the 2006 season.

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