Notes: Rodriguez goes for roster spot

Notes: Rodriguez goes for roster spot

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Before Spring Training games even began, infielder Luis Rodriguez had a big decision to make. Should he stay in Twins camp or compete for his home country of Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic?

Rodriguez went back and forth on the decision but thinking that he would get more playing time at camp, the infielder opted to stick around and fight for a job. Right now, it looks like the choice could pay off in a possible roster spot.

"I know if I go [to the Classic], I don't play too much," Rodriguez said. "I stay here and I play a lot, which is what I want. I want to be ready for the season."

The possibility is there that Rodriguez could be getting ready to start the season with the team in Toronto. One of the big dilemmas right now for the Twins appears to be who will fill Ruben Sierra's spot if his injury prolongs and he has to begin the season down in the Minors.

Names that have been mentioned as possible replacements for Sierra are Terry Tiffee, Jason Tyner and Rodriguez. All have the ability to be a left-handed batter off the bench for the club. As for Rodriguez earning the opportunity over the others, there is no question that manager Ron Gardenhire likes the young infielder and appreciates what he could bring to the table.

"He's definitely one of the candidates," Gardenhire said. "Like I've said before, I'm going to try to find a way to keep Luis Rodriguez on the ballclub. I think he's a pretty good little player. I think he knows how to play the game and I'd really like to keep him."

A switch-hitter, Rodriguez got the opportunity to fill in a similar role for the team last season. He only pinch-hit six times but he saw action on the field in 77 games. Rodriguez hit .269 in 175 at-bats and drove home 20 runs. He was 2-for-6 as a pinch-hitter and Gardenhire liked what he saw from the 25-year-old in the spot.

"That wasn't the prototype guy you like coming off the bench. You like a veteran, but he was one of our better guys doing it," Gardenhire said. "He had quality at-bats in that role. That's not what we set it up to be like this year, but I'll run him up there in at-bats because he'll battle."

Rodriguez has also showed versatility by playing a few different positions in the field, as well. He started at second base on Thursday and then moved to first, the position that the Twins were going to try Sierra at if he hadn't gotten injured. For Rodriguez, though his time has been limited at trying positions like third base, he feels very comfortable doing just that.

"Last year, they didn't give me a lot of chances early," Rodriguez said of showing what he is capable of doing. "Gardy, he knows what I can do. This year is different, I'm playing a lot. It's what I want, to play."

Lefty concerns: Thursday's game against the Red Sox provided another chance for one of the left-handed bullpen candidates to prove that one of the open spots should be his.

But Darrell May didn't exactly do that.

May gave up a two-run homer to Red Sox second baseman Mark Loretta in the eighth inning. The veteran left-hander has struggled to a 6.75 ERA this spring. Gardenhire said that he is trying to be patient with the competition and knows that it will take more time.

"I haven't seen enough to decide that I want somebody out there," Gardenhire said. "I don't know if that's concern. Some people call it worry, I'm just waiting for somebody to step up."

Welcome to the show: One intriguing Minor Leaguer also made his Twins debut on Thursday.

Alexi Casilla, the infielder the Twins acquired in the trade for J.C. Romero, replaced Nick Punto at the shortstop position in the seventh inning. Casilla was able to get to the plate for one at-bat and grounded out to third.

Taste-off: Prior to the game between the Twins and Red Sox on Thursday, there was another way the two teams competed -- in an ice cream contest.

Each team has their own brand of ice cream now, T.C.'s Fudge Sundae ice cream for the Twins and Red Sox Fenway Fudge ice cream for Boston, so an idea was formed to put them in a taste-off.

Fans were able to get a free sample of each ice cream and vote for their favorite. Tony Oliva was one of the Twins on hand to help scoop some of the ice cream to waiting fans.

And in the end, it was the Twins that prevailed in both the game and the contest. The vote for the ice cream winner was close, but the Twins won, 208-177.

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Quotable: "We had the shortest infield. We had the shortest team out there of all time -- 5-foot-11 was our tallest player on the field. I mean, that was facing home plate. Now, [catcher Rob] Bowen, of course, is 6-3. We were very entertained in the dugout. You have to entertain yourselves sometimes, and that was entertainment." - Gardenhire, on his team in the later innings of Thursday's game

Twins tidbits: Juan Castro took batting practice for the first time Thursday since returning with a wrist sprain. The infielder said that he feels like everything is progressing well. ... Michael Cuddyer is also progressing with his oblique strain. Gardenhire said that it's still something that he feels will be a nagging problem, which could make the competition for the right field spot a bit more interesting. ... Juan Rincon is still set to face live hitters in batting practice on Friday. ... No one can complain that Carlos Silva is lacking in fun. The right-hander got quite a bit of TV air time on Thursday with a piece of tape covering his mouth and teeth drawn on it. ... Thursday's game marked the fifth and final time that the Red Sox and Twins will play each other this spring. The Twins captured the 2006 Mayors Cup by winning four of the contests that took place between the clubs. The Twins' only loss was a 4-3 defeat on March 16.

Coming up: The Twins will host the New York Yankees at Hammond Stadium for a 12:05 p.m. CT game on Friday. Silva will take to the mound for the Twins while the lanky left-hander Randy Johnson will start for the Yankees.

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