SEATTLE -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire knows he could have a bit of a dilemma on his hands by the end of the six-game road trip his club began on Monday night. And that's how to find playing time for what will be a stockpile of outfielders. With Michael Cuddyer set to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester on Tuesday and possibly return to the club by the start of next week, Gardenhire will have at least four outfielders he believes are everyday starters in the big leagues. They are Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez and Denard Span.
"The hard part is how am I going to use them all and keep all these guys playing," Gardenhire said. "That's the hard part, but the good part is you have options. We have a lot of good players up here that I'm going to have to find at-bats for." It's a dilemma, but one Gardenhire knows other skippers might gladly take on if they had the chance. "This time of the year, it's a very good problem to have," Gardenhire said. Cuddyer's impending return also could provide the Twins with a boost to their lineup, after the club just recently got one in the rotation with the callup of left-hander Francisco Liriano. "Everybody talks about needing a right-handed bat to help us out," Gardenhire said. "There is your right-handed bat if we can get Cuddy back swinging good. That would be another big right-handed bat swinging in the middle of our lineup who has got a track record of doing pretty good. He can be a big influence on our ballclub." What might be most surprising about getting Cuddyer back is where the Twins might be in the standings when he does return. The club entered Monday's game in first place in the American League Central, and that's after having been without Cuddyer for more than a month. Losing the No. 5 hitter in the batting order and a player who has been considered a clubhouse leader undoubtedly is a devastating loss to any ballclub. Yet somehow the Twins have managed to survive the loss of Cuddyer much better than anticipated. Since June 28, when Cuddyer first was out of the lineup with a strained tendon in his left index finger, the Twins have an 18-13 record. In addition to weathering the loss of Cuddyer during that time, the Twins also were without Nick Punto for a span of games due to a finger injury and recently saw infielder Alexi Casilla sidelined with a torn ligament in his right thumb. So what does Gardenhire attribute the club's success at overcoming the injuries to? "We've needed a lot of people be able to step up," Gardenhire said. "I think that goes to show you why Spring Training is so important. You have to figure out players even though you send them down. It's about them getting comfortable with you and you getting comfortable with them. So then you have confidence when they come up here and they have the confidence that they can help us. I know that has played a big part in it this year." The Twins' uncanny ability to bring up players like Span, Casilla and third baseman Brian Buscher, and have them fit so seamlessly into their roster, has been envied by many clubs. Opposing teams and managers, such as the White Sox Ozzie Guillen, have credited the Twins for using their Minor League system so well. "They build good players," Guillen said when his team was in Minnesota last week. "And they play the game the right way." It's been a system of success for Minnesota for some time. But Gardenhire admitted the team placed a little more effort on making sure there were quality players to call upon if needed this year. And so far it's paid off. "We talked about depth in Spring Training," Gardenhire said. "Having a little more depth and actually sending down really good players, instead of six-year free agents, that hopefully if we need them, can use them. We sent down some really good players that could have, and should have, been on our club. And those guys are now the ones that have come back here and done really well."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.