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Gardenhire sticking with hot lineup

Gardenhire playing hot lineup

SAN DIEGO -- Twins infielder Nick Punto is well aware of manager Ron Gardenhire's tendency to play the hot hand.

That's why it came as no surprise to Punto that he was not in the lineup on Tuesday when he rejoined the team for the start of a three-game series in San Diego.

"We're playing really good so I'll just sit there on the bench and stay out of it," Punto said. "If there is one thing I know about Gardy, having played for him for the last three years, is he's not going to mess with that lineup. Not when we are playing well. So I'll stay out of it and be ready to play in the late innings."

The Twins entered Tuesday's contest having won six straight games -- their longest winning streak since July 2006.

And with the streak has come consistency in the lineup. Besides shifting Jason Kubel to left field, with no designated hitter in a National League park, Gardenhire did not make any changes to his batting order for Tuesday's game.

"Guys are playing good," Gardenhire said. "I'll try to mix them all in, but I'm not out here to change all those different things. Right now, [Punto] gives us another guy off the bench with versatility. We'll see how it all works out ... As long as we're playing well, that's all that matters. It's about winning on the field. But all of them have to take part in it."

Punto, who returned following a second stint on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, said that his hamstring is feeling great and there is "nothing there." He played in three straight games for Class A Fort Myers in his rehab stint from last Thursday through Saturday and had no problems.

So, whenever his chance for playing time does come, Punto said he will be ready.

One player who is still waiting for his chance at playing time during this hot stretch for the team is Mike Lamb. The third baseman was not in the lineup again on Tuesday, making it 10 days since his last game appearance.

Gardenhire met with Lamb during the team's last homestand to explain to him why he has not been in the lineup. But Lamb, who is hitting .224 this season after being signed to be the team's starting third baseman, said he places the blame for his lack of playing time squarely on himself.

"I'm disappointed for having put myself in this position," Lamb said. "The Twins have taken a chance on me, and this is what I'm doing. It's frustrating in that way. I have put more pressure on myself than I realized to try to justify being here. And for that, I should know better. Good grief, I'm 32 and this is my seventh year. I should know better. But, I'm human. You get into these situations and you start trying too hard, instead of going the other way and relaxing."

Gardenhire said that he isn't concerned about how Lamb will take to the decreased playing time, due to his history in the role. Lamb spent the last four seasons coming off the bench in Houston.

"He's a veteran and he's been there before" Gardenhire said. "He's sat on the bench and done those things. I'll get him in this series some way or another, pinch-hitting or whatever, try to mix him in. I know I have to use him and he needs to play. We're just trying to ride this thing as long as we can and go from there."

Lamb said he understands why Brian Buscher has been getting the majority of starts at third base, considering that he's batting .353 in his 10 games with the Twins this season. Lamb also acknowledged that because both he and Buscher are left-handed, it has limited Gardenhire's options of switching up the batting order.

But while he won't complain about his playing time diminishing, Lamb does hope he gets at least one more shot to prove that he's a better hitter than he's shown to be so far this season.

"I've been treated more than fairly in getting my chance," Lamb said. "I just hope that's not it."

Lamb actually saw action on Tuesday night, pinch-hitting for Kevin Slowey in the seventh. He grounded out.

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

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