MINNEAPOLIS -- Infielder Nick Punto started at third base in the Twins' series opener against the Rangers on Friday after missing four games with a sore finger.Punto had injections in his left ring finger after injuring it while swinging the bat against the Brewers last weekend, and he hadn't started for the Twins since May 22. Manager Ron Gardenhire said he was cleared to play after taking early batting practice and fielding drills Friday, stating everything felt good afterward.
Twins' defense even better than anticipated
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins expected their defense to be strong this season, having acquired shortstop J.J. Hardy and second baseman Orlando Hudson to join an already solid infield.But the club's defense overall has perhaps been even better than anyone expected. The Twins have committed just 10 errors this season, the fewest in all of baseball. The next closest team is the San Francisco Giants, who have 19 errors on the year. The Twins are also the only team in baseball without an error from their third basemen. Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, Luke Hughes, Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert have combined for 129 chances without recording an error. "That's something special," said Twins first baseman Justin Morneau. "Hopefully it gives our pitchers confidence that if they get the ground ball [we'll get the out]. And it's not like they're just standing there and catching stuff. They're making good defensive plays. Sometimes those errors can be misleading, but with those guys, Nicky's all over the place. Whoever we put over there [at third] has done a great job." The addition of Hardy, who has yet to make an error this season at shortstop, has certainly made a big difference as well. When the club was without Hardy for 17 games due to a bruised left wrist, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire noted how much they missed his presence up the middle of the field. But while Gardenhire said his team has been playing good defense, he doesn't base his assessment of his defense on errors. The skipper said he didn't even know how many his club had made this season. Instead, he's aware of other things that his fielders are doing to help improve their play so far this year. "The mental mistakes aren't happening, which is a good thing," Gardenhire said. "We're throwing the ball to the right bases. We're catching the balls we're supposed to catch and not giving extra outs." Others have noticed how well the Twins have been playing defensively too. "Going outside hasn't affected their defense," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "People said in the [Metrodome] they had no bad hops, but now that they're outside, they can still catch that rock."
Kubel hopes big game ends cold stretch
MINNEAPOLIS -- After hitting two home runs against the Yankees on Thursday night, it seems Jason Kubel's struggles at the plate are finally turning around.Since May 16 -- a span of 10 games -- Kubel has recorded nine hits and 16 RBIs, entering Friday's series opener against the Rangers. Three of those hits and five RBIs came in Thursday's game alone. Kubel also struck out 10 times in that span. While he said he hasn't been doing anything differently at the plate, Kubel did say having a big game will help him mentally on the field. "I feel better already," Kubel said. "That's all it takes is one good game to get a good feeling. I hope it sticks around for a while, and I hope I can go out and have that same feeling tonight. We'll find out soon." Kubel said he felt like a "big load" was taken off his back with his performance Thursday night and felt more comfortable and relaxed heading into the three-game set with Texas. Manager Ron Gardenhire said Kubel is someone who is hard on himself, and this added confidence should help him out on the field. "After a night like last night, he's going to go out there full of confidence, and we'll see what happens," Gardenhire said. "Confidence is a snowball effect, and you feel better." Kubel started in left field Friday for the second consecutive game. Gardenhire tweaked his lineup slightly before Thursday's 8-2 win over the Yankees, slotting designated hitter Jim Thome in the fifth spot behind Justin Morneau and moving Michael Cuddyer to the sixth spot. The move was to give Morneau a little more protection behind him with another left-handed hitter, and Thome was in the same spot for Friday's contest against right-hander Colby Lewis. The lineup was designed solely to compensate against a right-handed pitcher and to get protection behind Morneau. And if Kubel continues to get hot at the plate, he may get moved up to that fifth spot where Thome's batting -- a space that he occupied for much of last year. "I want Kubel in the lineup," Gardenhire said. "I know we're going to need him. The big thing is to get Kubel going along with the other guys. That's a big part of our offense."
Pace-of-game enforcement upsets Gardenhire
MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire agreed with Yankees manager Joe Girardi's assertion that the New York skipper did nothing wrong when he sent Andy Pettitte to the mound on Wednesday night for the ninth inning to buy extra time for closer Mariano Rivera to get warmed up."It's all within the rules," Gardenhire said. Gardenhire was upset after Wednesday's loss about the move, but he made clear that his displeasure was with Major League Baseball, and not Girardi. He said that at a time when the league is pushing all kinds of measures to help speed up the game, a situation like that should not be allowed to occur. "My only issue is everything we do is for pace of the game," Gardenhire said. "And then he goes out there with his starting pitcher, which is completely within the rules, as they say, and [Pettitte] lobs five balls, bounced like three of them. The catcher takes his mask off, is rubbing his eyes, looking in the dugout. They're all laughing about it. So we all know this is just a joke, just to get [Rivera] ready, right? "If we're going to keep talking about pace of the game, then control situations like that. That's all I'm saying. It's perfectly within the rules, and he did the right thing. That's what he had to do. He had to get Mariano in the game." Asked whether he would ever consider such a move, Gardenhire said it's something he could have done in the eighth inning on Thursday night when Jose Mijares replaced starter Nick Blackburn. But even though Mijares was already warmed up in the situation, Gardenhire indicated that he wouldn't have done it.
"But I could have done it," Gardenhire stressed."Never say never, but like I said, I just get irritated at baseball," Gardenhire said. "Not at Joe Girardi, not at that, but at baseball, for pace of the game stuff."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins' contest against the Rangers on Sunday is scheduled to be aired on ESPN2. But if the NBA series between the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic ends tonight, the game will be moved to ESPN. ... According to the Twins' baseball communications staff, only two of the 33 home runs hit this year at Target Field have gone to the opposite field. One was by Michael Cuddyer on April 21 vs. Cleveland, and the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera hit one on May 5. ... Jason Kubel, who hit two homers Thursday against the Yankees, is the first Twins player to hit two home runs in a home game against New York since Chili Davis did it in 1991, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. Jocelyn Syrstad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.