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Notes: Rookie Casilla observes, learns

Notes: Rookie Casilla observes, learns

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KANSAS CITY -- Alexi Casilla understands that, as a rookie, sometimes one can learn more by watching, listening and asking questions rather than playing. That's exactly what Casilla has done for the past week.

"I don't think it is something bad," he said. "I think it is good for me. I never get tired of people talking to me and giving me advice."

"They have to be able to sit there and be willing to learn a little bit -- that has never hurt them," manager Ron Gardenhire added. "That is not bad for young guys to sit back every once in awhile and watch guys."

After a week of learning and development, Gardenhire and Casilla talked by the batting cage on Sunday before the Twins faced the White Sox. As usual, Casilla displayed a good attitude and he was willing to listen to anything that his manager passed along.

"Casilla has been working really hard at shortening up his swing and has been working really good ... I told him that I would get him back in here in Kansas City and we will see how he does," Gardenhire said. "[I] told him what is expected of him once he gets back out there. He has been really good. He wants to learn, and that's what young guys have to do."

Casilla was back in the Twins' lineup for the start of the three-game series against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. He played second base and batted ninth and will see his first game action since Sept. 4.

Casilla has split 2007 between the Twins and Triple-A Rochester. Considered one of the best second baseman prospects in game, Casilla hit .269 with 24 stolen bases at Rochester. In 156 at-bats and 44 Major League games, Casilla has fashioned a .244/.279/.288 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) line.

The projected starting second baseman for 2008 is blessed with raw speed, which makes him a perfect leadoff hitter. To do that, though, Gardenhire would like Casilla to focus on hitting the ball on the ground more often. In his first at-bat Monday night, Casilla grounded a single back up the middle and stole his 10th base of the season in 11 attempts.

"Just overall in general, we want him to concentrate on getting the ball on the ground and using his speed and hitting line drives and staying out of the air," Gardenhire said.

Santana for Cy? Johan Santana is still considered one of the best -- if not the best -- pitcher in baseball, but his status for his second straight Cy Young Award and third of his career remains in doubt. Santana's statistics are still very impressive: a 15-11 record, 3.09 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 201 innings pitched.

Santana is second in strikeouts to Erik Bedard, but will probably win his fourth straight strikeout crown. Bedard, the Orioles' ace and another Cy Young candidate, will miss the rest of the season because of a strained rib cage muscle.

Santana stands third in ERA and fourth in innings pitched, but his lack of wins -- caused by little run support -- will probably be the deciding factor in the voters' minds. Santana's 15 wins rank eighth in the American League, but few pitchers win a Cy Young with 11 losses.

The last pitcher to win the Cy Young with 11 losses was Greg Maddux in 1992, when he went 20-11 with a 2.18 ERA. Only one pitcher who didn't win 20 games has won a Cy Young while still notching at least 11 losses. That was Mike Marshall, who went 15-12 with 21 saves and a 2.42 ERA for the 1974 Dodgers.

Several pitchers with gaudy win-loss records, including the Red Sox's Josh Beckett, the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang, Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia and the Angels' John Lackey have merited strong consideration.

However, according to one metric, Santana is the second best pitcher in the American League -- and could take over the top spot by season's end.

According to Baseball Prospectus' Value over Replacement Player (VORP) statistic, Santana's 58.6 mark betters every pitcher but one. Sabathia, who leads the Majors in innings pitched (220), leads all American Leaguers with a 60.2 mark.

"If you laid them out there on a line and picked you who we going to start a new team with and pick five or six of the best, I guarantee most people would take Johan Santana No. 1 -- and there are certainly a lot of good ones out there," Gardenhire said.

Lineup in flux: Gardenhire started Jason Kubel for the second straight game and the second time this season in the No. 2 hole. Joe Mauer, who has had trouble running since straining his left hamstring, hit his usual third.

"Just going day-to-day and mixing some guys around," Gardenhire said. "With all of the other guys I got, I don't really know where to put Joe right now. He isn't really running where he hits the ball, but he still hits the ball.

"It is kind of hard to figure out, so I just put him in his normal slot and you go from there. His name just fits there pretty easily, so you just fit Kubel in there and let him take some swings."

Justin Morneau, who was the designated hitter on Monday, could see more starts at DH in the coming days. Gardenhire wants to give more playing to Garrett Jones, who hit .280 with 13 homers and 70 RBIs for Triple-A Rochester.

"I really want to see a few things about him," Gardenhire said. "I want to see him get some at-bats, because I know that he can drive the baseball."

Twins tidbits: Gardenhire said the team will use the "best available pitcher" against left-handers. Carmen Cali has not been pitching well as the situational left-hander, allowing a .267 average against left-handers and a 5.03 ERA in 22 games. Other than closer Joe Nathan, the best relievers against left-handers are Matt Guerrier (.238 average against) and Pat Neshek (.167). ... Catcher Jose Morales will head to Florida to rehab his ankle. ... Glen Perkins will be activated on Tuesday.

Coming Up: Right-hander Scott Baker (8-7, 4.14 ERA), who nearly threw a perfect game in his last start against the Royals, faces Kyle Davies (2-4, 5.97 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. CT.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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