MLB.com: That certainly was the case last year, with many people predicting your team to finish a distant third behind the White Sox and the Indians. And in the end, it was you and Detroit battling for the division title. Do you use that as motivation for this team now?Gardenhire: That's the great thing about this game. It plays out on the field. Hopefully this year we'll be consistent from the beginning until the end. But you just never know how it's going to turn out. Injuries come into play, all kinds of things come into play. So we try not to think too much about it. MLB.com: Position battles have usually been an annual rite of spring for this ballclub. But this year it's been the rotation that was under debate all spring. Do you feel good about the group as you prepare to break camp? Gardenhire: We've been sitting here and trying to make up our minds on it. But the thing is, you don't really get a good feel for it until you start playing and start seeing whether it's going to work or not. The first two, three weeks or month of the season, that's when you get a feel for how your staff is going to do. It's hard to say how [Sidney] Ponson is going to react once the season gets going, it's hard to say how [Ramon] Ortiz is going to throw the ball. Ponson is throwing the ball really well down here and we're confident about him right now. Ortiz is throwing the ball OK. Then we've got [Johan] Santana, and [Boof] Bonser is throwing the ball well. There are issues, but I think once we get to the season and we see how these guys react to it, whether it's Carlos Silva or Matt Garza in that final spot, then we'll get a better feel. I think you just have to start the season and then evaluate where you're at. MLB.com: How different has it been this spring to be concerned with the rotation, considering that it normally has been one of the team's strengths, not weaknesses? Gardenhire: Last year was funny because we left for the season and everybody was like, 'Wow, this is a solid rotation all the way through,' and then it was like the bottom fell out. We didn't know which way to go. You couldn't imagine that much trouble at the beginning of the season with your rotation. Honestly, I have a little shield up about this stuff with the pitching this year. We're trying to let them feel their way through Spring Training and once we get to the season, we'll go from there. I put up a little shield here because we thought we had it all figured out last year, and it darn sure wasn't. MLB.com: The rotation aside, what have been your biggest accomplishments so far in camp? Gardenhire: I think our lineup. We haven't been able to put it all together lately because of a few injuries, but I think hopefully getting through Spring Training with our lineup intact means a lot. And it looks like a pretty good lineup. The bullpen also looks good. You're always worried about who is going to remain healthy, but we think we're going to be going into the season on a roll with our bullpen, so those things are fantastic. Our rotation, that's where the questions are going to be -- even when the season starts we're asking ourselves, 'Well, can this guy get it done?' Everybody goes through the same thing and every team goes through the same thing. The Yankees are going through it right now, too. So we'll see how it plays out. MLB.com: The motto this spring from inside the clubhouse has been trying to get back to the playoffs to prove that this team isn't the same one that was swept in three games by Oakland in the ALDS. What do you think is the key to returning to the postseason? Gardenhire: Consistency will play a big part. But really, it's all going to come down to our starting pitching. If we can get enough innings out of our starters, I think the rest of the ballclub can rise to the occasion. We have enough hitters, we can score runs and I think our bullpen is solid, so it's going to come down to the starting pitching -- how deep they can get into ballgames so as not to put so much pressure on our bullpen. That's going to tell you how far we can go. MLB.com: Your first test of the year will come against the Orioles as you face them at home for a three-game series. You've seen that ballclub a few times already this spring, so how good of a test will this be? Gardenhire: When you're seeing them and scouting them, watching how you're pitching their hitters and all those things, it's going to be a good baseball team. You've got Bedard, he's going to go the first game against Santana and he's one of the best left-handers in the league right now. He's developed himself into a pretty good pitcher. You always know that Opening Night, there should be a premium on runs and you've got to figure out if you can execute. It should be fun. It's a good baseball team, it's a good start to the season. They've got a great offense -- Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora -- and overall, they just have a good team. We're going to have to come in and be ready to play. MLB.com: So you'll get a good chance to see how that rotation will fare, huh? Gardenhire: Well, after Baltimore I think we've got Chicago and then New York, so I think our first nine games ought to be real entertaining [laughs].
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.