Aggressiveness key for Span on bases
Speedy outfielder gaining confidence in ability to steal
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota first-base coach Jerry White thinks back to a few years ago, watching then-Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett start to develop confidence in his basestealing ability, having played a couple of seasons at the big league level.It's the same kind of confidence that White is starting to see from current Twins leadoff man Denard Span. "When Bartlett came up, he was a little slow in taking off, but each year they learn and it's been the same way with Denard," White said. "And he's going to get even better. But he's surprised me lately in a good way with a couple of his steals. He just needs to keep working on his confidence and start taking opportunities when they're there. Some will be outs and sometimes you'll be safe, but he's got to continue to be aggressive." After stealing 23 bases in 2009, Span entered Thursday with 13 steals through 46 games, including four stolen bases in his past three contests. He's been making the most of his attempts, having been caught only once so far this season. Span's goal has been to increase his total of steals this season but also to be smart about when he tries to steal. "Jerry White has been trying to get me to be more aggressive," Span said. "That's one reason I've been more successful lately. And it's also just knowing who is on the mound, who is pitching and who is catching. It's about picking the right time to be aggressive." In the first inning of Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Yankees, Span stole third base for the first time this season after leading off with a double. The decision wasn't quite applauded by the coaching staff due to the fact that Joe Mauer was at the plate with one out, but the club is happy that Span is getting more comfortable reading situations and figuring out when the best time might be to try to steal. "Ideally, I wouldn't steal third with Joe Mauer up, but it's something where I feel that we're playing the Yankees and we always seem like we can't get over the hump," Span said. "I said, 'Let's take a chance and put some pressure on these guys.' It seems like we always play too safe against these guys, so I just decided to take a chance." The Twins entered Thursday leading the Majors in stolen-base percentage at an impressive 86 percent, although the team has been pretty frugal with those chances. Minnesota's 25 stolen bases rank in the bottom half of the Majors, with the Padres leading the big leagues with 54 steals.
Twins won't change approach to suit park
MINNEAPOLIS -- Before the start of this season, there was a lot of focus on the additional power threats the Twins had added to their lineup. And after the Twins hit nine home runs in their first four games of the year in Anaheim, it certainly looked like the long ball wouldn't be a problem for this team.But when Jason Kubel went deep off Javier Vazquez to lead off the sixth inning on Thursday for the first of his two homers on the night, he snapped a streak of 349 plate appearances -- and more than eight games -- by the Twins without a homer. It was the ninth-longest streak in club history and the Twins' longest since 1993. Even some players on the club admit that it has been strange to see from a team that ranked 13th in the Majors in home runs last year go through such a spell. "It's weird," Kubel said of the drought before Thursday's game. "I didn't think it would be like this. But it happens, and hopefully we start hitting some liners and not high ones here at Target Field." Five of the eight games without a home run came at Target Field, and much has been made about the lack of home runs being hit at the Twins' new ballpark -- lack of homers by the Twins, that is, as opponents entered Thursday outhomering Minnesota, 21-10. Part of the reason for opponents having more success could be that the majority of the home runs have come down the lines and the Twins have traditionally been a gap-to-gap team. As for whether his players might change their approach and try to start pulling the ball more at home, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he didn't believe they would. "What we don't want to do is get out of whack and do something you're not capable of," Gardenhire said. "Just keep swinging, and that's what we've done."
Punto expected to return Friday
MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins third baseman Nick Punto, who has been battling a strained left ring finger, is expected to return to the starting lineup for Friday's series opener against the Rangers.Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that Punto took part in all of his typical pregame activities -- taking some swings in the cage and fielding ground balls -- on Thursday and reported that his finger was feeling better. Punto had a cortisone injection in the middle knuckle of the finger on Sunday. "I'm sure he'll be in the lineup [on Friday], unless something happens between now and then," Gardenhire said.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he'd like to start finding more opportunities to use left-hander Jose Mijares in late-game situations. Entering Thursday, Mijares had not pitched since May 21, but Gardenhire said that was based mostly on matchups. And with left-hander Brian Duensing stretching out to possibly be used in longer stints, the club will likely find more use for Mijares in those late-game roles. ... The Twins had a little entertainment on the field during batting practice on Thursday afternoon at Target Field when a group of NHL players came out and took some swings in the cage. The group included Wild players Nick Schultz, Derek Boogaard, Andrew Brunette and former Wild player and Bloomington, Minn., native Mark Parrish. When asked whether any of the players could consider a baseball career if the hockey thing doesn't work out, Gardenhire joked that Boogaard could hang out on the Twins bench and act as the club's enforcer.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.