Notes: Twins looking for answers

Notes: Several questions left unanswered

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- March Madness might be just the right title to use for how life has been lately for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

There are plenty of question marks left on the club less than two weeks away from Opening Day. Between the battle for the shortstop spot, the opening in right field, some question marks on the bench and then the spot for a left-hander out of the bullpen, it has been enough to keep Gardenhire awake at night.

Those worries are extensive enough, but with the club's recent string of injuries, they have been made even more difficult.

"It wasn't that complicated five days ago," Gardenhire said of his decisions. "But we knew it was going to get a little entertaining here. We were hoping we could get through spring without injuries, but they are going to happen. It just throws a little wrench in there."

Injuries to players competing for spots -- like Ruben Sierra, who strained his right quad in Sunday's game and Michael Cuddyer, who strained an oblique muscle the following day -- have made some of the competitions a little difficult to judge at a time when they should be finishing up.

But beyond just the plaguing injuries that have hurt some of the races are two undecided spots where no clear candidate has emerged. The opening in the bullpen for a left-hander has been an iffy prospect, as has the battle for the starting shortstop job.

One of the worries for Gardenhire is that no shortstop has emerged as the leading candidate.

"Shortstop is a very important part of this ballclub -- of any ballclub," Gardenhire said. "I was hoping to see one person take over and run the ballclub out there, and I haven't seen it. I'm not like panicking or anything. I would just like to see more of what I was expecting."

Jason Bartlett has had his share of struggles on defense this spring, including dropping a popup during Wednesday night's game. Nick Punto has also put together some good performances, but nothing to separate himself. With Juan Castro playing for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic and returning with a sore wrist that has kept him off the field, the Twins haven't had much time to see all of their options.

So with no clear-cut candidate, Gardenhire adds the shortstop spot to his pile of impending decisions. With all the decisions facing him in the coming days, Gardenhire is understandably a little overwhelmed.

"I'm kind of spinning a little bit, to tell you the truth," Gardenhire said.

Feeling better: One piece of good news for Gardenhire could be the fact Cuddyer appeared to be feeling much better Wednesday afternoon.

Cuddyer strained the oblique muscle in his left side during Monday's game when he made a diving catch in the outfield, and then felt it catch when he tried to throw the ball home. He came in on the team's off-day Tuesday to receive treatment on the injury, and by Wednesday, Cuddyer was feeling a little less pain.

The prescription for the type of injury is rest, so Cuddyer has been limited in his ability to practice. Throwing is out of the question, but he has tried to get in a few swings. With the way he was feeling just two days later, Cuddyer has hope that he won't be sidelined long.

"It's nothing that I see taking a long time," Cuddyer said. "I don't foresee it going into next week."

Knowing he is in the midst of yet another position battle has made the injury more of an annoyance for Cuddyer. He knows now is a critical time to prove that the outfield spot is his. Cuddyer appeared to have the lead in the race, as he was batting over .500 and playing adequately in the field, but now the injury has clouded the issue.

"It is frustrating, because I've been feeling good at the plate and it's getting closer to the start of the season," Cuddyer said. "We only have 12 games left. It's frustrating, but you can't do anything about it but just try to get back to full strength."

But one thing that Gardenhire doesn't want to occur is for Cuddyer to rush back due to the position battle.

"Hopefully it's something not too serious that it won't take us to a long, extended period of time," Gardenhire said. "He definitely has an oblique strain and we have to be patient with it because we know what those things can do to you. They can linger on and you can rehurt them and make it last a real long time."

Average outing: In a tight battle for the fifth spot in the Twins rotation, Scott Baker didn't exactly have the outing he may have wanted.

Baker threw 4 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on two hits. He walked three batters and struck out five while also hitting a batter.

"He was okay," Gardenhire said. "When he got out of whack, he made a few adjustments to get back in the zone. We like the way the ball is coming out of his hand."

But the shortness of his outing wasn't the best sign as the club tries to stretch him out to starting length.

"He was up a little bit, 75 pitches in less than five innings is getting up there," Gardenhire said. "He battled OK, but we had some ugly plays out there."

Quotable: "I'd like to trade places with him right now and be in his shoes. Because he has a very good chance to have a nice career ahead of him." -- Gardenhire, on young left-hander Francisco Liriano

Twins tidbits: Juan Rincon threw another bullpen session on Wednesday evening and the results were outstanding, according to Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson. Rincon is now expected to face live hitters in batting practice Friday and Sunday before seeing actual game time. ... Sierra is listed as day to day with his quad strain, but it could even prevent him from being with the club Opening Day. "He's working very hard in there, but it's going to be a few days," Gardenhire said. "I'm not going to try to guess how many, but let it go day by day." ... Dennys Reyes, who is competing for the vacant lefty spot in the bullpen, was a bit shaky in his 1 2/3 innings of work Wednesday. He allowed two runs, both unearned, and walked a batter, but it was his inability to hold runners that displeased Gardenhire. "He was also kind of spotty with his pitches," Gardenhire said. "We haven't seen enough of him to know where we're at there." ... To give Liriano a start Saturday, Johan Santana will instead pitch his outing in one of the Twins Minor League games. Joe Nathan will also pitch that day over at the Minor League complex.

Coming up: The Twins will host their Fort Myers neighbors, the Boston Red Sox, for a 12:05 p.m. CT game on Thursday. Kyle Lohse will get the start and face off against Boston's Matt Clement.

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