The good news for the Twins is that problem could be gone soon.
During an extended Spring Training game in Florida on Saturday, Sierra saw action in the outfield for the first time since straining his right quadriceps, playing right field for six innings. The medical report following the game said Sierra did not experience any pain. He ran the bases fine and even tried to steal a bag in the outing.
"It's looking like another week or four-to-five days and then maybe we'll have Ruben up here," Gardenhire said. "I think that will help our bench situation."
It will help with the bench, but the question for the Twins then becomes which player will be moved to make room for Sierra. One of the possible candidates Gardenhire mentioned -- Jason Kubel -- wasn't a name that was expected.
Kubel has received the majority of playing time in right field as he has started four of the team's six contests to start the year.
Gardenhire didn't say that Kubel will be the one to go should the move be made soon, but he has been playing the young outfielder to see really where he is at in his return from knee surgery. Despite a very strong Spring Training for Kubel, Gardenhire knows that the regular season will be the real test.
"We have a roster move coming, and I'm seeing how he reacts to a lot of early situations here," Gardenhire said. "If it looks like he's pressing a little bit, then when I bring Sierra up here in a week, I could send Kubel out and let him get swinging."
The start for Kubel offensively has suggested he's pressing just a bit. Kubel had only one hit in 10 at-bats through three games entering Sunday.
As far as Kubel is concerned, he knows that he has to make a strong impression to remain with the club.
"I feel like even though I'm up here right now, I have to do something to stay up here," Kubel said. "I'm kind of worried about that, along with just trying to get a feeling back again. I'm thrilled I'm up here right now, but I'm also trying to do something to help out a little bit."
The biggest highlight of Saturday's loss for the Twins likely was the performance of Francisco Liriano out of the bullpen.
Liriano effectively shut down the Indians lineup, allowing only two hits over his 2 2/3 shutout innings. Liriano registered up to 98 mph with his fastball and threw his changeup between 82-84 mph. Gardenhire agreed the southpaw has been one of the team's best pitchers and right now is ahead of where Johan Santana was at the same age.
So does that mean that fans could be seeing Liriano in the rotation soon?
"He could pitch his way in and somebody can pitch their way out, sure," Gardenhire said. "We brought him up here for a reason, and that was to come out of the bullpen. Eventually, sure, he will be a part of the rotation -- you don't want to leave that [talent] out in the bullpen. You want to use that. But when? We're going to see how it goes along."
That scenario won't likely occur in the near future, as there are other issues besides an already set rotation. It wouldn't exactly be a quick switch if that were to be the case. Liriano would only be available for three or four innings in a start and would have to be stretched out in length. It's something the Twins are willing to do, but for now, they are happy to have him as a relief pitcher.
"Right now, we just want to make sure he gets his feet grounded," Gardenhire said. "There is going to be a couple of rough [outings]. He's going to have some rough ones where he misfires because he's done that everywhere. But yeah, he's pretty good."
Need more time:
While Gardenhire has tried to see a lot of Kubel, it has been at the expense of playing time for outfielder Michael Cuddyer.
That fact hasn't escaped Gardenhire, either, as he wants to try to get Cuddyer more playing time. One opportunity could come Tuesday, as Gardenhire said he might give the starting nod in the home opener to Cuddyer to help ease the pressure on Kubel.
"I may just put Cuddy out there with all the commotion," Gardenhire said. "Give Kubel a day to see the roof and the whole package. I don't want to put that pressure on him the first day."
Lew Ford wasn't available again on Sunday after suffering a mild left-hamstring strain. With the team's off-day Monday, Gardenhire expects Ford could be available for the team's home opener Tuesday. ... Joe Mauer started at catcher Sunday in a day game following a night game. It might not seem unusual, but it was something that didn't seem possible last season with questions surrounding Mauer's knee. Gardenhire said that the day off Monday along with Johan Santana starting were factors in the decision.
Down on the farm:
Outfielder Erold Andrus blasted a grand slam with two outs in the seventh inning to help lead Class A Fort Myers to an 11-7 victory over Sarasota on Saturday. Andrus, one of the Twins' Minor League Rule 5 Draft picks in December, finished the game with six RBIs as he went 2-for-4 in the game.
Shortstop Jason Bartlett was 1-for-3 in Triple-A Rochester's 4-1 loss to Syracuse. Bartlett helped assist on two double plays while third baseman Terry Tiffee went 1-for-4 with two errors.
The Twins will enjoy an off-day Monday before their home opener against the Athletics on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. CT. Brad Radke will get the start against Oakland right-hander Dan Haren.