Notes: Twins shuffle lineup

Twins notes: Lineup shuffle

MINNEAPOLIS -- For the first time in more than three weeks, Luis Rodriguez arrived at the Metrodome on Wednesday to find his name in the starting lineup.

Starting at second base in place of Luis Castillo, who is fighting a sore leg, Rodriguez was one of three changes made by manger Ron Gardenhire. Rondell White started in left field and Lew Ford started in right field in place of Michael Cuddyer, who was the designated hitter.

"You want your guys in there, but you also know some of them need a little bit of a break because they've been playing a lot," Gardenhire said. "The good thing is, we've got enough people here where we can mix and match."

White has missed two games because of hamstring issues.

"Rondell told me yesterday during the game that he was ready to go," Gardenhire said. He added that it's important to get Ford some at-bats as well, because he could see a lot of time in the playoffs, depending on the situation.

Jason Bartlett may get Thursday off.

"With a sinkerballer going tonight, I definitely want him out there at shortstop," Gardenhire said.

Sent up to bunt runners over, Rodriguez hit the game-winning sacrifice fly on Tuesday to lift Minnesota to a 3-2 win over Kansas City, keeping the Twins a game behind the Tigers in the American League Central.

The at-bat was his first since Sept. 3, in his last start. Rodriguez's last action was as a defensive replacement for one inning on Sept. 10.

"It's a good feeling," said Rodriguez, who entered Wednesday's game hitting .217 in 106 at-bats this year. Since getting a career-high three hits on Aug. 16, he is 3-for-20.

"I've just got to be ready to play every day," Rodriguez said.

Still, those in the clubhouse know that without bench players like Rodriguez, White, Ford, Phil Nevin and Jason Kubel, the Twins would not be assured of playing after Oct. 1. Nevin had a two-run homer in Sunday's win at Baltimore and Kubel hit a walk-off grand slam against Boston on June 13.

"We have 25 MVPs in here," Justin Morneau said Monday, looking around the clubhouse at champagne and beer-soaked teammates while the Twins celebrated the clinching of a playoff spot.

"It's not just me. We're here today because it's a team. It's 25 guys. It's a great feeling to know it's a team that got us to where we're at," he said.

And the winner is ... : Johan Santana is the odds-on favorite to win the American League Cy Young Award, and Morneau is in the race to be the league's most valuable player.

Santana, who won his Major League-best 19th game Tuesday, will not pitch until Game 1 of the Division Series, Oct. 3. He leads the Majors with 245 strikeouts and a 2.77 ERA. His 233 2/3 innings pitched is tied for the most in the Majors with Bronson Arroyo of Cincinnati.

"[Santana's] a great pitcher, and great pitchers step up and do their thing, and he's done it every year," Gardenhire said. "He should have been the Cy Young winner last year. I think everybody in baseball knew he was probably the best pitcher in the game. This year, I think he'll get recognized."

Morneau has 34 home runs and 129 RBIs, but Gardenhire said that success is due, in part, because of the players around him.

"All the guys have to get on base for him to drive them in, and all those things," Gardenhire said. "A lot of people have done a lot of good, but you still look at the guy in the middle of the lineup that has really got us going and it was Justin.

"Justin got us really rocking offensively, driving in runs, hitting home runs and making this offense a force."

Gardenhire and other Twins officials can talk until they are blue in the face about some of the league's best players, but they know the player's performances speak for themselves.

"[Morneau's] numbers make the statement that he's an MVP candidate. Johan Santana's numbers make a statement. Joe Mauer's numbers make statements, he's leading the league in hitting," Gardenhire said. "They're going to get the publicity and notoriety because their numbers say it. You have to have guys having good years, and we've got some guys having very good years, to win baseball games."

Gardenhire said he already voted for Detroit's Jim Leyland as Manager of the Year.

"If I had a second vote, it'd be Jim Leyland," Gardenhire said. "He did a [heck] of a job with that baseball team, and I have a lot of respect for him."

Radke ready: Right-hander Brad Radke, out since Aug. 25 because of a stress fracture in his right shoulder socket, is expected to start Thursday.

"I'm excited to give him the ball, it's incredible," Gardenhire said. "It's going to be nerve-racking for me because I don't want to walk out to the mound with him grabbing his arm or anything like that. I know this is all he's wanted, to take the baseball and go back out on the mound, and we're going to give him that opportunity. Once he starts throwing the baseball, it's going to be a really, really good thing."

The start could be Radke's final outing as a Twin, something that he said has crossed his mind for a few weeks. The 33-year-old has indicated he will retire after this season. Depending on how he feels, Radke could get a postseason start.

"I just hope for the best. That's all I can do," Radke said, noting with the adrenaline, it could be easy to try and overthrow his pitches. "I don't know if I can overthrow. I have to take it a pitch at a time."

Gardenhire said another potential starting pitcher, such as Scott Baker or Glen Perkins, will also warm up in the bullpen in case something goes wrong with Radke.

Nathan available: Gardenhire said that closer Joe Nathan would be available Wednesday, despite pitching one inning in four straight games, earning three saves in that span. It is the first time this year that Nathan has thrown four straight days.

"I've got an inning in me," Nathan said.

Nathan threw 22 pitches on Tuesday as he rallied from a two-on, no-out situation. He struck out Angel Sanchez and David DeJesus with runners on second and third for a save.

"When you're one game out in the division, they're all ready to go," Gardenhire said. "There's nothing conceded here. We're trying to catch 'em."

Remembering a former Twin: A moment of silence was held before Wednesday's game for former Twin Craig Kusick, who passed away earlier in the day at age 57. In December 2004, he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, which can lead to leukemia.

Kusick played in 473 games for the Twins from 1973-1979, with 44 home runs and 164 RBIs. Most recently, he was the baseball coach for 14 years at suburban Rosemount High School, leading the Irish to seven state tournaments. He stepped down before the 2005 season.

Coming up: The Twins will face the Royals in the final game of this four-game set at 7:10 p.m. CT on Thursday. Radke (12-9, 4.46 ERA) is expected to face right-hander Luke Hudson (7-6, 5.49 ERA).

Mike Cook is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.